Genesis of MEJN

MEJN was formed in November 2000 after a meeting of 27 civil society organizations seeking to maximize their pro-poor involvement in economic governance.

The Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN), in its short life spanning from 2000 can claim a number of successes, especially as regards its influence on socio-economic policy in the country. MEJN is now jostling it out at the apex with the big guns on civil society activities aimed at the promotion of good governance and capacity building in the civil society. Though this is the case, the picture has not always been rosy. The picture MEJN portrays today stems from a history of dedication to vision and self-sacrifice. MEJN began from very humble begins.

The MEJN GENESIS STORY is a story of the hardships, self-denial, blind faith, perseverance, and most of all patriotism that characterized the early years leading to the emergence of MEJN as a leader in civil society interventions today. The story is from the perspectives of people we can term “men of faith” because of their relentless push to achieve this great vision. These stories have been captured so that, as MEJN members we do not lose track of where we are coming from and the experiences we have gained so that we base our future on this strong background.

Francis Ng’ambi- MEJN Board Chair ’00- ’03

In Mr. Ng’ambi’s account of the activities that led to the formation of MEJN, he vividly recalls the ‘Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation campaign’. This was a campaign aimed at lobbying for debt cancellation for the third world countries. In his words, Mr. Ng’ambi recounts; “The saga began in December 1998 as a faith-based idea with roots in the bible books of Leviticus, Isaiah, and Luke which talk of the Year of Jubilee, in which the world is given time to rest and regenerate after every 50 years. To the Jews this meant that debt would be cancelled and prisoners would be set free. Thus the social environment in 1998 was looking at the issue of third world country debt as an issue of bondage….” He continues by recalling that in Malawi, the American Episcopal Conference took the leading role in this campaign. An American came to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) where he (Mr. Ng’ambi) was then employed, to talk of debt issues. He recounts that at first it did not make sense to him… “We borrowed, so it is only proper that we have to pay back. It is our obligation...” were facts in his understanding of it all. It was after further reading and sensitizations that he began to realize the injustice and the disadvantages of the poor with respect to rich countries. ‘I was blind but now I see….’ Through the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and GTZ some small funds were raised to organize a meeting where different sectors in Malawi were to discuss debt issues. Alas! Participants did not understand a thing at the meeting…. In fact Mr. Ng’ambi remembers that at the end of the day their ideologies on debt cancellation made them a laughing stock of every discussion and to make matters worse, government (of Malawi) was very resistant to talk about debt because of the alleged sensitivity and controversy the issues were suspected to connote. Under the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) era, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda was regarded as a good boy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) because he made Debt Servicing a priority. So now, for this ‘new’ government to advocate for debt cancellation was seen as a quest for war against the IMF/WB. “What was both funny and mystifying at this time” Ng’ambi says, “was that the Government did not know its current debt which was then standing at around a staggering US$2.9 billion.” This circumstance did not deter these men (Mr. Ng’ambi, Fr. Andrews Mvula, and Fr. Jos Kuppens) as they continued to link Malawi to the international scene through the Jubilee Debt Campaign and support from African Forum and Network On Debt and Development (AFRODAD). Among stakeholders who joined in this campaign for debt cancellation by the start of the new millennium were; a man called Paul Harper who cycled from Australia to Malawi fighting for debt cancellation for Malawi; the Economic Justice Network (EJN) and the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) all of whom passionately came to talk of debt. These efforts managed to mobilize over 20,000 signatures thereby partially being successful in kick starting the process leading to the birth of the PRSPs, as a procedure and strategy for ensuring that the cancelled debt would actually be used for Poverty reducing activities in the countries concerned, as a precondition towards full debt cancellation. This was the case because International Financing Institutions (IFIs) refused total debt cancellation at the Okinawa Conference in Japan (1998) but instead opted for debt relief. Malawi did not qualify for the conditions of the initial debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC 1) Initiative but after making some more noise the country was eligible for HIPC 2. ‘What followed then…?’ Now that the campaign had achieved somewhat (some) success in its goal, there was a quandary on what would be the way forward for this debt campaign. The group of civil society organizations involved in the debt campaign then decided to meet in Boadzulu, Mangochi in November 2000 to deliberate on the future of the debt campaign for Malawi. They agreed that they should change the focus of the campaign to now look at Economic Justice, a much more broader and comprehensive economic scope - hence the name change to Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN). This network was mandated to be a watchdog; to participate in PRSP formulation processes (as a pre-condition for HIPC 2) and its monitoring; lobbying & advocacy; and fighting for debt cancellation in a different way. ‘MEJN in the beginning…’ MEJN had some serious financial and organizational problems making its operational life difficult. To begin with, there was no funding for both the MEJN secretariat and its activities. Although the Jubilee 2000 campaign was being housed in the CCJP offices, MEJN could no longer be housed in the same premises, thereby bringing about some hitches with the immediate need of finding office space. In the mean time, MEJN continued to be swelteringly housed in CCJP offices amidst those administrative and resource difficulties. The secretariat was set up with great difficulties: no organizational structure, no conditions of service, etc. Mr. Ng’ambi and others used their personal resources to sustain a newly recruited officer for the Secretariat, one Collins Magalasi. This prompted his wife (Mrs. Ng’ambi), Mr. Ng’ambi hazily recalls, to actually say that he was spending money on something that cannot work. But he still had the zeal to set up something (though he did not fully realize it then) that was for the good of the country. ‘Major hardships…’ Mr. Ng’ambi recalls that in the beginning recognition of MEJN activities and goals by government was non-existent. “Government thought of us as a confused bunch….” Despite these setbacks, MEJN fought tooth and nail to find its way into the thematic groups of the MPRSP formulation; it confronted the IMF on its tendency of just dealing/consulting with the Government only without making available any space for consultation with the civil society that elects it.

Jubilee

2000

Partnership

MEJN is a grouping of Civil Society Organizations that exist to promote good economic governance through research based advocacy and grass roots mobilization among the people of Malawi.

Partnership with various stakeholders

2002

International Conference Awards

Over the years, MEJN has been recognised globally

International awards

2010

Change in governing laws

Lobbied for policy change...

Change in governing laws

2017

International leadership training

Trained journalists in economic policy reporting and analysis

Leadership organization scale

2019

Environmental Excellence

Strengthened working relationship with the Malawi government and other stakeholders

UDIA national awards

2020

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