The National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) is a Civic and Voter Education project, currently funded through the 9th EDF to the tune of 8,930,000 Euros. The present project phase III is implemented under a Financing Agreement signed between the Malawi Government and the European Union in January 2006. Initially the current phase was laid out for four years, but the implementation period was extended by one year till November 2010.

The project started its operations in 1999 and has gone through two successful phases; Phase 1 – from 1999 to 2000 and Phase II – from 2000 to 2006. In the current phase III, NICE forms one of the two components to the "Promotion of the Rule of Law and Civic Education in Malawi" project.

The project is managed by a Project Management Unit – PMU under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance (National Authorizing Officer Support Unit). A Project Steering Committee coordinated by the Ministry of Justice provides policy guidance for the implementation of programmes.

Why It Was Started

The starting point for establishing the National Initiative for Civic Education was a general understanding – confirmed by findings from scientific reports – that the 1999 general elections would face considerable challenges because democratic values, principles and processes were not sufficiently entrenched in Malawian society. It was therefore recommended to establish a project to deliver civic education (CE) on a permanent basis. This permanent character to CE was particularly stressed because the perceptions of most Malawians concerning leadership are mostly guided by long held cultural values (sometimes not compatible with universally accepted principles of good leadership), hence requiring a longer term intervention to improve levels of knowledge, attitude and behavior required for a proper functioning of a democratic system of government.

Stages in the project’s development

At its outset in February 1999 NICE worked in close partnership with the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) as PAC brought the necessary country-wide outreach structures required by a project like NICE. At the same time, the operational aspects of the project were managed under the guidance of the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and its Malawi-German Programme for Democracy and Decentralisation (MGPDD).

In August 2003 NICE and PAC signed a memorandum of understanding in which both parties decided to cordially separate and focus in future on their own respective core issues. The trigger for such a move by NICE was its resolve to uphold its strict neutrality and non-partisanship in all matters of day-to-day politics in a political environment in Malawi that was at that time considerably charged. This move was therefore crucial to again assert NICE’s credibility as a non-partisan civic educator. NICE subsequently embarked on a strategy to create a robust physical outreach structure throughout the entire country.

In July 2005 the GTZ management contract came to an end. As a consequence NICE was thereafter operating solely under a Malawian management. This stage was characterized by NICE strengthening its ties with numerous civil society and other partner organizations. This led to NICE today enjoying exceptionally high levels of legitimacy and representation throughout the country.