Preparing volunteers and staff for the stresses of a national election in Malawi

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By Hansika Bhagani, IFRC

Malawi will be holding its first tripartite elections (presidential, parliamentary and local government) on 20 May. Held every five years, this year’s elections will be bigger than ever with the addition of local government elections, and with the presidential field boasting 12 candidates. In the lead-up to the election, and on election day, Malawi Red Cross Society will be involved in delivering first aid wherever it is needed.

The society has chosen nine districts where first aid services at polling stations and tracing services will be offered. These districts have been judged as vulnerable places, where incidents of violence are more likely to occur. Already the Red Cross have set up a hotline where the public can call in to report emergencies which may need a response, or refer the situation to the police or local hospital. The hotline operates 24 hours a day, but Malawi Red Cross for the safety of its volunteers responds to the emergency situations during daylight hours only.

Volunteer Stonard Chimbetete has been with the Red Cross for 18 years. The 50-year-old has been involved in disaster relief, mobilizing blood donors, and even assisting victims of riots. This year, he will be working as a supervisor at one of the polling stations. “I don’t expect much trouble,” says Stonard. “There will be some incidents, which is why we will be on duty, but in responding to these, we do not anticipate any problems. I feel people will give us the access to deal with the incidents appropriately.”

Malawi Red Cross Society will deploy 1,160 volunteers across the month of May for its election-based activities. Post-election, tracing lost family members will take centre stage in the election activities. “When there are disturbances during elections, people run,” says Joseph Moyo, Malawi Red Cross’ Disaster Management Manager. “The chances of children getting lost in the riots are high. After the elections we will monitor the situation and help reunite families that have become separated due to the anticipated conflict.”

The society is already covering political rallies in the selected nine districts, cementing its presence as first responders with three rebranded vehicles. Secretary General Ethel Kaimila Namaliya has also been meeting with key stakeholders like Malawi Electoral Commission, Malawi police, media and major political parties to ensure everyone understands the role the Red Cross will be playing during the election process.

“Some incidents have already occurred in the run up to the election,” Moyo says. “So we are making sure we are well prepared to deal with situations that will utilize our core services of first aid and tracing.”

Malawi Red Cross Society relies on Partner National Societies for support in its activities and has received funding from the Belgium and Finnish societies for its plans. The International Committee of the Red Cross has also been working on its preparations and will send a an officer and two vehicles to support the operation.