Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Germany promotes sanitation in Malawi schools

The relationship between the Federal Republic of Germany and Malawi must have deep roots, for, if not contributing directly to the national budget, the Germans fund non-State actors engaged in a number of initiatives.

LET THE FACILITIES BE OPEN FOR USE: Bosch (centre) cuts the ribbon
This time, the lucky area is sanitation in school, as German Ambassador to Malawi, J├╝rgen Bosch, has led efforts to ensure that girl-learners remain in school, even when menstruating.
Last week, the Ambassador left the comfort of his offices in the capital Lilongwe, travelled to Blantyre, mingled with learners and school authorities and, finally, handed over sanitation facilities at Sonzowa Primary School, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chigaru, in Blantyre District.

Borsch said every child needs a chance to access education services at an early stage as it is easier to absorb information than when one is fully grown up.

“We want to give every child a chance to go further with their education,” Borsch said.
After saying those words, he handed over facilities such as four blocks of toilets for learners and a changing room for girls, which will create a safe environment and help retain learners in school, especially girls who abscond classes due to lack of privacy during menstruation.

Sonzowa Primary School Head teacher, Juma Eleven, was over the moon, saying the facilities would ease the problem of access to toilets.

Meanwhile, Bosch is looking for the next place to bail out. Such has been the German spirit over the years.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Peter’s second turn: is path paved, littered?


Hubbub will be the order of the day at Comesa Hall in Blantyre, as President Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) presents his nomination papers— not for the first time.

In 2014, as a new-comer to high-level politics, he trudged to familiar grounds, Comesa Hall, to present his nomination papers to the then Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) chairperson, the late Justice Maxon Mbendera.

Today, although he heads to the same familiar grounds, he faces a completely different situation; a new Mec chair, Justice Jane Ansah. In fact, he wears the cloak of sitting president, unlike five years ago, when he was just one of the opposition figures aspiring for high office.

They say ambitions may be cultivated with comparative ease; turning them into ‘hard’ reality is the big deal. Nothing short of victory relieves one of the ponderous yoke of ambition.

Sometimes, even when one gets rid of the ponderous yoke of unrealised dreams, one more problem pertains to the unwieldy burden of public expectations.

What, often, acts as the light that sparks public expectations is the campaign tool called manifesto. On their own volition, political parties concoct manifestos and sell them to would-be voters as one sells products or services.

In terms of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the horse APM rode in 2014, its manifesto was one of the most sound, premised, as it were, on people— hence the title ‘Towards A People-Centred Government’.

One of the issues pertained to ridding the presidency of some of its powers.

The other issue related to the promotion of accountability in governance institutions, notably the graft-busting body Anti-Corruption Bureau, prosecution bodies such as the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, law-making institutions and institutions that audit public funds, notably National Audit Office.

The DPP also pledged to promote access to education— by, for example, constructing universities to ease pressure borne by public universities such as the University of Malawi, Mzuzu University, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Malawi University of Science and Technology.

Security found its way to the list, too, which is not strange because a nation afraid is a nation cowed.

Top on the list was, of course, the agriculture sector. Reforms were promised on the issue of the provision of farm inputs, which, we were told, would be accessible to everyone.

Freedom of expression was another ‘goat’ thrown at the altar of political promises.

Economic development was also the main course of the meal.

There are other areas that captivated voters’ attention and the above-listed are just some of those. The self-created burden of public expectations was, therefore, premised on this.

It has been a mixed bag, though.

On economic development the DPP has delivered, as evidenced by factors such as an import cover that, for the better part of the five years, has hovered above the required three months. Economic stability, as evidenced by an unwavering kwacha when pitted against currencies such as the United States dollar, euro and Great British Pound, has been a sub-theme to the economic resurrection story.

What is more? Single digit inflation, for the better part of the 25 years of multiparty politics a far-fetched dream, has been a reality. In November last year, there were fears that it would be a thing of the past as we slid back into double digits, only for us to turn the corner again. As we speak, the song is that of single digit inflation.

Then, there is the issue of reduced policy rate. In the past 14 months, the rate has been revised downwards twice.

In terms of access to education, the government has abolished tuition fees in secondary schools. In fact, Education Minister Bright Msaka has issued a warning that, if students still fail to meet other financial demands of schools and are sent home, the government will not hesitate to act on the ‘heartless’ school administrators.

Other gains have been made in other areas, something that cannot be taken away from the DPP administration.

However, as if the manifesto points were an egg that is thrown back at the hen that laid it, some ‘rotten’ eggs are thrown back at the smooth face of the ruling party.

One of the bad eggs is failure to make access to farm inputs open, instead of targeted, so that every citizen can have a fair share of the cake. As a result, traditional leaders continue to become subjects of ridicule among subjects, notably because the identification of target beneficiaries of Farm Input Subsidy Programme remains a well-kept secret.

In terms of construction of universities, Mombera University remains a dream; a dream at foundation-stone level five years down the line.

Then, there is the issue of relinquishing some of the president’s powers. Instead, we have seen him increasing his grip on power. For instance, he is on record to have vetoed the appointment of the Clerk of Parliament Charles Mkandawire, despite the Parliamentary Service Commission opting for him after exhaustive interviews. Mutharika’s pick was Fiona Kalemba.

In terms of information dissemination, he promised to let Malawi Broadcasting Corporation free. The idea was to make it a truly national broadcaster bankrolled by taxpayers.

Whether that has materialised is everyone’s guess.

Access to education remains a far-fetched dream for the majority poor, which is why the current administration has stuck to ‘quota system’.

But, in a world distracted by demands of daily life, it could be that people were too busy to notice these and are ready to move on.

After all, there is always a second chance.

It is possible that, as APM presents nomination papers today, he has found another way through which Malawi can get out of nauseating poverty.

It could be that, as he presents papers today, he has renewed hope that it is possible to support one’s manifesto points with action and be seen to be under obligation to fulfill them.

Whatever the case, what is clear is that, whoever submits nomination papers and whoever wins, an endless procession of problems will, surely, march through the next five-year-term as if on a mission to frustrate Malawi.

Putting a stop to that is a collective responsibility.

Talking of collective responsibility, framers of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act realised that leading a nation is not a one-person’s act, hence inserted the provision that one should have a running mate.

So far, APM has kept the identity of the running mate under wraps. But, then, today is a day of reckoning. There is no place big enough to hide the DPP running mate and, like all secrets, the secret has to come out.

The nation will be interested in the aftermath of the declaration [of running mate]. Will the individual be a divisive figure or unifying factor?

The desirable outcome is when the nation is more attracted, than surprised, by the choice of the running mate. Whatever the case, ambition is one and indivisible. As such, we also aspire for a prosperous Malawi.

APM could as well be polished for the next course of action— ruling for five more years— but voters are the best judges. That is the sweet-cum-sacred side of democracy; lesser mortals choosing those who, soon, become too important to care about the majority poor.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Atupele’s dalliance with political card-throwing

If, by 5pm today, Atupele Muluzi will have submitted his presidential candidacy nomination papers to Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) officials at Comesa Hall in Blantyre, it will be fair to describe him as someone who thinks with his heart at night and mind during the day.

People who behave like this often discard what they thought at night— even if the situation they thought over at night had persisted for long—when the morning cock crows.

The behaviour of the United Democratic Front (UDF) torch-bearer has been put under the microscope because he has been a bed-fellow of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for over four years now, freely dining at the table of the President as one of his Cabinet minister.

He has served in several Cabinet portfolios, among them as minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining; Lands, Housing and Urban Development; Home Affairs and Internal Security; and Health and Population now.

During this time, the politician— who was born on August 6 1978— had a chance to study his own behaviour and judge every act. More importantly, he had to judge every act in the context of the election loss he suffered at the hands of President Peter Mutharika in the May 2014 Tripartite Elections, when the UDF came a distant fourth.

In the elections, Mutharika floored the rest, chalking 1,904,399 votes against Malawi Congress Party torch-bearer Lazarus Chakwera [1,455,880], People’s Party’s Joyce Banda [1,056,236] and Muluzi [717,224].

Now, when one comes fourth, against the wave of positive public opinion after he rode on the back of Agenda for Change agenda in the elections, it becomes necessary to think over every move— entering the political river with one foot at a time, if necessary.

This seems to be the case with Muluzi, who has, seemingly, been grateful to serve as Cabinet minister but not too glad to put both feet in the river-of-the-political-union with the ruling DPP. It is as if, even after serving in Mutharika’s Cabinet, he has been critical of his behaviour— up to the point of expressing interest in presenting nomination papers today.

Also on course to presenting nomination papers are Cassim Chilumpha of Tikonze People’s Movement, Pastor Baxten Boyd Natulu [independent], London Malingamoyo Phiri of National Salvation Front, among others.

Up for grabs are six-million-plus votes, if the weevil of voter apathy, which Mtendere Election Support Network spokesperson Edward Chaka blames on politicians’ penchant for making false promises, will not spoil the broth. Again.

For, if the truth be told, the negative signs were there during the first phase of voter registration in Salima, Kasungu and Dedza, where would-be voters did not turn up in droves.

This prompted Mec Chairperson, Jane Ansah, to point a finger of blame at those who have taken a liking to making broken promises. The other factor was stakeholders’ failure to sensitise people to the importance of voting.

Well, it seems that voters are simply giving back to the politicians what they [voters] have been at the receiving end of— bluff meals.

Yes, it seems that, after the re-introduction of multiparty system of politics in 1994, Malawians are not as excited as they were then. They, in fact, seem to have outlived that stage of life when excitement makes one the catspaw of feelings.

And, today, there is someone who seems to have, also, outlived the stage when youth-hood, not necessarily political naivety, makes an individual the catspaw of feelings.

The problem when an individual turns into a catspaw of feelings, or even first impressions, is that everything that comes into his or her sight seems to have a magnetic attraction.

Is this not the case with Atupele, who stepped into a river with both feet when he accepted a Cabinet post but now seems reluctant to remain in the water— the said water being the shallow-surface working relationship between the yellow party and the blue side of town.

However, would-be voters better not read too much into Atupele’s political movements. It could be that he wants to behave like a highly sought after woman who wants to walk around, dance and pretend to shun a lover she really loves.

A woman who sways as voluptuously as a wave when, in fact, the heart has been stilled inside.

Perhaps Atupele wants to show the DPP that he is like the woman, with supreme beauty, who has been ignored for long or who did not get the attention she deserved or, better still, who does not get enough respect.

In so doing, it could be that he earns the respect he deserves and get better stakes in any working relationship with the DPP.

After all, it is possible to avail oneself at Comesa Hall but announce, days before the election, that the interest in contesting has, somewhere along the way, been lost.

But, as those at Mec know, a date for presentation of nomination papers is set so that there should not be an infinite wonder about a human being’s real intention.

Today, the human in the centre of a no-longer-infinite-wonder is Atupele.

He could be serious about his presidential ambitions and contest on May 21 or use the occasion today to adjust his pace so that, this time, his embrace with the DPP may be warm and long.

To know the truth today: UDF supporters

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Death in The Water: Malawi's Hippos Suffer Mysterious Deaths

Malawi's hippo population is in danger from an unknown 'beast'.
The worst part is that there is no safe haven for them; for even places hither to considered safe have been death traps.

NATURE'S GIFT: A hippo-- Picture courtesy of Parade

While Malawi's hippo population is not known, the country has lost 22 hippos in death from October this year to date, with Department of National Parks and Wildlife indicating that carcasses of the hippos started floating on October 10.
Sadly, the hippos died in Lake Malawi National Park, the safest place in Malawi.
More worrying, the cause of death is unknown,. although Director of Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa, is of the view that climate change could have played a role in the death.
But the issue is getting complicated, as Deputy Director in the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Julius Chulu, is of the view that over-concentration could be to blame.
During the dry season, water levels recede and the hippos have nowhere to hide, literally.
And, as investigations as to the cause of death continue, they remain refugees of death in Liwonde National Park, the safest place they can ever get in Malawi.
One hopes more do not die.
And one hopes locals do not eat the dead bodies.
Malawi is facing a faceless crisis.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What is in a name?

When a musician or actor’s name weighs as heavy as a lone cross, the process of adopting An artistic or stage name comes easily— like getting out of a white shirt into a pick t-shirt. Whatever that means.
Hence, there must be proper reasons some Malawian artists changed their names from, for instance, Armstrong to Onesmus; Limbani Banda to Lambanie Dube; Young Kay Hyphen; Code Sangala to C.O.D.E. to CO; Dan Lufani to Dan Lu; Big Lu to Bigger Lu; Charles Sinetre to The Reggae Ambassador; Chiyanjano Muheziwa to Anne Matumbi; Fatsani Kalonda to Blakjak; Otis Chilamba to Blasto; among others.
Having looked at some of the local names that have taken this path [of name-change], we analyse some of the reasons that prompt some artists to effect name changes.
According to https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk, “names have meanings – historical, geographical, occupational, and so on – that transcend the individual, and while people do occasionally change their names to match their characters, the most intriguing hypothesis is that they change their characters to match their names. There is plenty for psychologists to get their teeth into”.

In fact, the site lists name change as one of the most important processes in an individual’s life.

It says, among other things, that names “capture and shape the individual”, “making it reasonable to say, as is done in English, German, Mandarin, and other, though not all, languages, not just ‘I am called Nicholas’, but ‘I am Nicholas’. This identity of name as self suggests that it is worth looking for correspondence between names and the characters of those who hold them. There is no shortage of research doing just this. 
 This aside, there are a number of reasons that prompt an artist to keep their original name separate from stage name, including the need to ensure that the real name remains unsullied, innocent, and uncontaminated by goings-on in the creative industry.
Hence, the story of artists is littered with decisions of name change, often done to ensure that the name fits the cap of the creative [is it imaginary] world the artist purportedly inhabits.
For, if the truth be told, when an artist – be it musician or actor, among others— is associated with a particular style, people soon begin to link the artist’s name to the issues he raises in creative work; so that, over time, no artist really escapes the impact of their names on their artworks.
It is like, in serving others, the artist only serves himself.

However, according to www.backstage.com, in an article tilted ‘Six Reasons a Stage Name Might Be’, not every artist— actor, musician, among others— deserves to change a name.

Reads the article: “Not all actors need or use stage names but, for some, it is the right way to go. Some actors choose to legally change their names in court, but many can use and register stage names without ever having to legally change it. In fact, some actors choose to simultaneously use their real names and stage names to keep their work and personal lives separate.” 
The website says artists change names for the following reasons: to avoid confusion; if an individual has a popular or common name; if someone famous is already using the name; if one’s name does not represent who they are; if a different name will be easier to use and understand; and if an individual needs to protect his identity.
According to www.dancespirit.com, for urban dancers, it is more common to receive a name as a sign of respect and acceptance— so long as the name fits “the individual’s physical, psychological or technical characteristics”.
Whatever you decide, it must be a natural fit. Otherwise you will seem foolish…. Finding out what is unique about yourself is crucial, but you have to be aware that whatever you do to manipulate that vision of yourself should be something that you believe in and are fully behind. If changing your name will give you more confidence, change [right] away,” the website indicates.
Another website, www.inta.org, indicates that names, either stage or names given at birth, can be turned into trademarks.
Celebrities or other famous people can easily create trademark rights in their names by using their names in connection with products or services that are related to the reason for their fame. There are thus certain easy brand extensions: for example, celebrity chef sells cookware or opens restaurant; famous home designer markets furniture; musician sells branded instruments.
“In these situations, it will not take much effort to educate the public that the line of cookware they are buying under the Famous Chef brand comes from a single source of origin. This is particularly true because the consuming public to which the marketing is directed already likely knows and loves Famous Chef. If you represent a company that is considering using a celebrity’s name in its marketing (and your client is not associated with the celebrity), be worried if the celebrity is well known and markets products or services that relate to his or her fame. 

“Other brand extensions are a bit more of a stretch: … musician creates line of perfume. Even in these situations taking simple steps to advertise the relationship between the celebrity and the product can sufficiently educate the public that the perfume is marketed by the Mod Musician they know and love,” it says.
However, the site warns artists to guard against unauthorised use of their names.
“Often, the product is marketed to the Mod Musician’s existing demographic first, to take advantage of the reputation that the musician has created in that industry. Indeed, it is in this demographic that the musician’s name will carry the most weight—and thus reap the highest dollar rewards. As a result, unauthorised use by a third party of the individual’s name can result in allegations not only of a right-of-publicity violation but also of a trademark infringement claim,” it observes.
In the African setup, the practice of changing names proliferated with the advent of genres such as hip-hop. Which means, in a way, African artists copied from their American or European counterparts.
In the African Studies Quarterly (Volume 13, Issue 3 | Summer 2012), Msia Kibona Clark-  Assistant Professor in the  Department of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles [with a research focus on African migrations, Africa/African American relations, and African hip hop expressions] notes that  in African countries such as Ghana and Tanzania, hip hop has had a huge influence, a development that has see it being used
as a social commentary.

By widely using hip-hop, the new generation of African musicians has not only commented on social ills, but also sought to re-define themselves.

No wonder, Clark observes that  
hip-hop’s origins lie in its use as a tool of self -expression and self-definition.

“Today, each of Africa’s metropolitan areas has a 
hip hop community, a community that includes rap emcees, producers, DJs, graphic designers,musical performances, and in many cases radio stations, dancers, and fashion designers”.
Not surprisingly, some of these people [rap emcees, producers, DJs, dancers] are at the heart of the practice of changing names. 

In the end, while artists change names to reflect their new status, they can use the same names to generate funds through endorsements.
It turns out, it is not only the music and artwork that matters; the name can be capital, too— so long as the artist does not show signs of being heartily ashamed of changing a name when they are already grown up!

Friday, November 2, 2018

NBS Bank is an embarassment

NBS Bank is a big embarrassment.
Recently, the bank started updating customer accounts. People flocked there, not to be overtaken by events. I went too.
Today, after staying in the banking hall for four hours, I am told my account is blocked because I did not update it. The truth is that I did; two months ago.
Are NBS Bank people serious/
They are jokers.
Big ones at that.

Go to a banking hall at, say, Ginnery Corner. You will find that there is no water for customers inside, except mid-month, when they know that the banking hall is not filled to the 'brim'.
And the stench.

NBS Bank is an embarrassment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Zomba District People's Struggle for Potable Water

Zomba is supposed to be Malawi's first capital.

No. Zomba is Malawi's first capital.

There is Zomba City and Zomba District.

It is a historic place. A place of memories.

But people who live in Likangala and other areas along the Lake Chilwa Basin have no reason to smile.

Lake Chilwa, one of Malawi's lakes-- apart from lakes Malawi, Malombe, Kazuni and Chiuta-- has been drying up, thanks to climate change.

Cholera is an established disease. Between July and September 2012, for example, there were 160 registered cases of cholera in the district. The records are there at Zomba District Health Office.

In 2013, between November and December, there were 210 registered cases of cholera.

In 2014, between October and December, the registered cases were pegged at 300.

In 2015, between February and April, 120 cases were registered.

In 2016, 2017, there were no such cases because, according to Zomba `District Health Office, cholera cases increase every three years.

This year, there are fears that cholera could be back, especially because people have no access to tap water. All they know are boreholes, and open sources such as wells, rivers and swamps.

The pictures below attest to the fact that the struggle for potable water is real. Of course, some non-State actors have stepped in, introducing water dispensers at water points such as boreholes and wells.

Teachers' may soon be rich in bluff meals

Against poor infrastructure in schools: Msaka (second from left)
That Malawi's education sector faces a plethora of challenges is public knowledge.

Poor infrastructure. Demotivated teachers due to poor pay.

Teachers' anger arising out of the fact that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has been 'refusing' to give teachers who have upgraded their fair dues.

There are many problems but none beats that of poor infrastructure.

Earlier this year, innocent learners at Natchengwa  Primary School in Zomba died after a wall of what was supposed to be a classroom collapsed on them.

It is a problem with a deep surface because the solutions cannot be found in the village but Capital Hill, the seat of the Malawi Government in Lilongwe.

Surprisingly, Education Minister Bright Msaka has said the government is preparing a circular; it is banning the posting of teachers to schools that have poor infrastructure.

This, to say the truth, cannot work. It cannot work because it is not the responsibility of school management to construct school blocks.

It is the duty of the ministry and everyone knows that the ministry has been failing in its duty. It, as Central Government, does not provide enough resources to Local Government and then blames the latter for failing to erect structures that meet standards.

It is hypocrisy of the highest level and teachers should not read much into Msaka's recent pronouncements.

The Central Government should provide enough resources first and enforce its new rule.

It is as simple as that.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Melania Trump's Footprint

It is something learners, who sat and shook the United States First Lady Melania Trump's hands, will take years to appreciate.
Why? Most of the learners who were visited by Melania do not have access to television or radio sets and, so, do not know the value of the woman who sat among them.
Whatever the case, it is good that Madam Trump was here, to appreciate the work America is doing in the education sector, and whether resources are being put to good use.
Please come again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

TONGUE TIED: Malawi's vernacular languages sentenced to death!

The loss of some aspects of language may, from a point of view of those not well-versed in it, seem like the shape of nature itself.
In other words, corruption of a language or its death all together may be regarded as an extension of bush rule, which is premised on survival of the fittest.
However, for Botswana-based linguistics scholar Evance Fred Kapwepwe, any loss of aspects of language is bad for posterity, as “future generates may have nothing to cling on, in terms of language, and stand prone to shaking with every puff of air thrown at them in the name of foreign language.
“Whatever happens, language has to be preserved.  That is why I will forever feel sad that one of the bodies that critically analysed one of the languages in Malawi, namely Chichewa, closed shop. I am talking of Chichewa Board.
“Of course, I understand that, in the name of fairness, we needed to have bodies that look into aspects of all languages in Malawi— notably Chichewa, Ngoni, Tumbuka, Lhomwe, Nkhonde, Tumbuka, Sena, among others— the way tax-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts news in languages such as Tumbuka, Lhomwe, Sena, among others. That is what we need,” he says.
In the absence of such a board, or boards, language gets sacrificed on the altar of modernity, so that it is common to hear an announcer on many radio stations in Malawi read “mauthenga”, instead of ‘uthenga’, celebrate ‘maufulu’, instead of ufulu, invite azimayi and azibambo to phone during a phone-in programme instead of extending an invitation to amayi and abambo, among others.
“That is true. The new generation is pronouncing words anyhow, sometimes using words that do not exist long enough that they become part of lexicon. If course, language is dynamic but that should not be at the expense of syntax,’ he says.
The issue of Chichewa Board, and like boards, has been debated including by Gregory Hankoni Kamwendo of the University of Zululand who, in an abstract, submits: “A language academy, known as the Chichewa Board, existed in Malawi from 1972 to 1995. Its three functions were: to compile a Chichewa dictionary; to produce a standard orthography of Chichewa; and to contribute to the general development of Chichewa.
The then President of Malawi, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was very instrumental to the establishment and execution of the functions of the board. Following the defeat of Banda in the 1994 elections, the Board was dissolved and replaced by the Centre for Language Studies. This article is a critique of the Board and its successor. Whilst the Chichewa Board worked in the tradition of language academies (and served as the highest authority on Chichewa in Malawi), its successor (the Centre for Language Studies) is a research unit at the University of Malawi and does not carry a prescriptive tone.”
It could be this lack of “prescriptive tone” that is responsible for confusion lingering over Chichewa use.
Other tongues may be facing a similar predicament, notably Chichewa, although some traditional leaders, including Inkosi ya Makhosi Gomani and Senior Chief Kachindamoto, Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa have been making efforts to revive the language. 
Whatever the case, the truth is that there has always been a mother tongue; sometimes neglected and forgotten, sometimes remembered and preserved through orthographies.
Mother tongues were there when the colonialists made the long trip to Malawi. Mother tongue is not a language but a way of life.
No wonder, then, that organisations such as Malawi Pen have been promoting writing and reading in mother tongues. It is a way of linking literature to the people.
For example, Malawi Pen recently initiated a programme aimed at promoting reading and writing in disadvantaged schools. Three schools such as Chichiri Reformatory School at Chichiri Prison, Ntcheu Community Day Secondary School and Nkhamenya Girls’ Secondary School benefitted from the same.
WORRIED: Kishindo-- Picture by Richard Chirombo
Under the project, Namisu Women’s Reading Club was also included. Pen International website indicates that this was done “as we felt the move required specialised attention in the field of literature. Our support fits the group’s aims because the starting point for the reading club participants is the reading of literary materials before including other reading materials on HIV and AIDS, farming, environment, gender, climate change and health.”
It is common knowledge that groups such as Namisu Women’s Reading Club did not need literature materials published in English, hence the importance of mother tongue.
The sheer joy of communicating in mother tongue outweighs everything else.
No wonder that colonialists did everything to suppress the mother tongue, and made all attempts to treat their own language – the invading language—as a potentate, even if it was a language loaded with words from Latin, French, Portuguese, among other borrowed words. They simply could not tolerate languages such as mother tongues spoken by African natives.
Unfortunately, the gulf between the mother tongue and official tongue, which is often looked down upon, stays unabridged.
From time to time, steps have been taken to suppress the mother tongue, in the rush to the so-called civilisation.
But the ceiling of respect for mother languages such as Chichewa, Tumbuka, Tonga, Lhomwe, Sena, Yao, among others, dropped so low in 2014 that mother tongues were booted out as media of instruction in schools. It is official. Malawians are an English-speaking people.
Those who value mother tongues emerged from the year 2014 to face a falling sun. Their beloved mother tongue was still there, yes; but had been declared unofficial in a country where the speakers are called natives.
It is clear, looking at such developments, that the country’s education system is full of the scars of colonialism and imperialism.
The issue of mother tongue is, of course, haunted by another battle— the battle for supremacy among mother tongues. But that is another story.
Professor Pascal Kishindo, University of Malawi language and linguistics lecturer, observes in a paper titled ‘ Language and the Law in Malawi: A Case for the Use of Indigenous Languages in the Legal System’ that the use of looking down on mother tongues by embracing, for example, English, is as old as the soil we step on.
He cites the use of English in the legal system.
The abstract reads: In Malawi's legal system, English is used as the language of legal proceedings and records. In cases where the plaintiffs/defendants do not speak English interpreters are provided. However, there are two factors which militate against this state of affairs. First, Malawi is a highly non-literate country with an estimated non-literacy rate of 48 percent. Second, English is not the vehicle of communication for the majority of the Malawian population.”
The paper therefore argues that the legal system should make use of indigenous languages; “not only will this facilitate communication but also eliminate the need for court interpreters. It will also give the feuding parties the confidence that they are not being misrepresented. Since communication is only successful when the receiver can interpret the information the source has put in the message, there is need, therefore, to render the law into the languages(s) that is/are familiar to the receiver. This will save citizens from being poorly defended, misjudged and unjustly condemned.”
Kishindo is not the only one to bemoan the fact that indigenous languages seem to be neglected in the country, as Themba Moyo, in an article titled ‘Language loss and language decay of Malawi's indigenous languages’ puts it crudely that Malawi is reeling from the problem of language decay.
The article indicates that, with the exception of Chichewa, almost all of Malawi's indigenous languages face imminent “decay”.
“The languages facing loss and decay have been suppressed, neglected and not developed, particularly since Malawi attained her independence in 1964. This is a crucial matter in issues of national unity, group identity, language choice and community culture, all of which impact considerably on nationhood, state democracy, equality in language use and in the general development of a country,” Moyo observes.
He argues that the neglect of such languages is evident in printed materials.
“This article contends that, in effect, the rest of Malawi's indigenous languages are facing considerable loss and decay with regard to their development. This is particularly in print, where none of them appear as instructional languages in early education, mass communication or in literary publications such as in novels, short stories, poems, plays, etc,”
Moyo then calls for “equitable recognition of linguistic diversity and development of all languages” to act as “a unifying force for the overall development of the country's national life”. 
LEARNING IN VAIN?: Learners like these at Namikasi Secondary School in Blantyre can only learn local languages for knowledge sake; nothing else 
However, in a move that can best be described as a blow to indigenous languages, the Education Act passed in Parliament in November 2013, which former president Joyce Banda assented to in 2014, means government’s policy is that the English language is the only medium of instruction in education institutions.
The Act in question introduces the [English as a medium of instruction] policy as follows: 78. Language of instruction. (1) The language of instruction in schools and colleges shall be English. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of Sub-section (1) The minister may, by notice published in the Gazette, prescribe the language of instruction in schools.”
Malawi Pen president, Alfred Msadala, is bemused with the development.
He, however, observes that the bill was passed when election fever gripped Malawians in 2014, a development that culminated in the bill escaping close scrutiny.
“As it is, Malawi is an English-speaking country. Actually, I was surprised to learn from the Commonwealth Secretariat that Malawi no longer recognises mother tongues,” Msadala says.
So, local languages may exist but are not recognised in the books that matter. It is the final nail on local languages’ coffin.

Permaculture: the panacea to climate change

Agriculture is a world of contradictions. Certainty, uncertainty, balances, imbalances, progression, retrogression have been part of agriculture for ages, rendering it ‘acceptable’ to embrace years of bumper yields along with those of scanty.
This variation in conditions has, in effect, made it natural to refer to materials used in plant and animal production as ‘variables’.
However, this shadow of positives and negatives, enthuses Peter Mazingaliwa- Acting National Coordinator for Malawi/US Exchange Alumni Association (Museaa) - offers room for improvement.
“We can, through science, devise means aimed at changing the status quo. Through science, we can sustain the positives while taming the negatives,” says Mazingaliwa.
PUTTING KNOWLEDGE TO USE: Learners at Namikasi Secondary School
To do this, the world needs such ingredients as favourable policies, unfazed
commitment, continuous research, and responsive communities.
“One of the means to achieve food sustainability, for example, is to promote
permanent agriculture, or permaculture,” says Mazingaliwa.
The term ‘permaculture’ is itself a challenge to agriculture- an area
long-associated with the eternal flux of opposites- because it introduces new approaches to natural systems.
For one, it is premised on the idea that, through paradigm shifts in agricultural systems’ theory and holistic organic ecology, a world balance and, therefore, stability can be achieved.
This is why Museaa, as a platform for Malawians who have learned life’s lessons from the USA, has strengthened the technical;-know-how of communities to address livelihood issues that hinge on agriculture.
“One of the issues is that of climate change. Climate change is contributing towards global food
insecurity. The good news is that permaculture can be used to address climate change issues,” says Mazingaliwa.
Museaa has- with US$23,900 (about K3.8m) funding from the US State Department, Alumni Affairs Division- been running a climate change programme that tools permaculture as a panacea for climate change.
Through it, people have come to understand the concept of climate change, its causes and effects, and human activities that gives it fertile ground. These include deforestation, urbanization and desertification.
Agriculture extension workers, field supervisors, smallholder farmers’, secondary schools’ permaculture clubs have all become part of the stepping stones to food sustainability. It is all because permaculture is an enemy to overdependence on rain-fed agriculture and befriends only water-harvesting methods. Mixed cropping is preferred over mono-cropping, along with the utilization of local materials such as organic manure.
“However, real stability depends on young people, who are better-placed to absorb new
knowledge and change their world.
“For your information, Malawi has not yet attained food security, despite pronunciations to that effect, and this is because we depend on rain-fed agriculture and one type of crop, maize. We are, therefore, more vulnerable to climate change,” he said.
He, however, urges Malawi to continue being part of international community efforts on climate change. Mazingaliwa notes that, so far, Malawi has been a keen participant at international meetings, a process that started some 17 years ago and reached a climax in November 2009- when world leaders met for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climatic Change. In December 2011, leaders met again in South Africa, and the International Conventional Centre in Durban became the focus of world attention on climate change.
Climate change refers to conditions characterized by persistent shifts in the general patterns of the elements of weather. These shifts may be observed as clear trends for some of the elements including temperatures, but may also become random or unpredictable. A good example is that of the onset of rains.
Unpredictable rainfall patterns have spurred Namikasi Secondary School students in Blantyre into action. Students are now planting fruit trees where once bare land lay exposed to the sun and rain water.
“We want to help reduce the impact of climate change. In fact, the best way to encourage people to tame climate change is by encouraging the planting of fruit trees because, apart from anchoring the soil, and absorbing toxic air, people will be able to eat the fruits and boost their immune system,” says Kennedy Lowa, patron of the Permaculture club at Namikasi.  
However, Mugove Walter Nyika- one of local climate change experts, and senior official at the local NGO Rescope- notes that climate change is as old as the planet earth itself, but says current climatic changes are uniquely different from anything that has been experienced before.
“In the past, climate changes were associated with natural cycles such as sunspot activity. The sunspot activity is a change that takes place in the chemical activities on the surface of the sun, which determines the amount of energy that the sun sends outwards to us.
“(But) other climatic changes in the past have been less predictable. These include changes caused by the impact of meteorites smashing onto the earth, or the impact of massive volcanic eruptions, both of which sent clouds of dust into the atmosphere which blocked part of the sun’s rays,” says Nyika.
 Meteorites are large pieces of rock that are moving in space and which, at times, may collide with the planets. In the past, this blockage of the sun’s rays by dust clouds led to drastic drops in global temperatures.
Nyika is afraid: “Previous climatic changes had a large-scale impact on life. Some changes led to the extinction of some forms of life such as the dinosaurs. Some changes led to the cooling of the planet, resulting in large ice sheets covering the surface of the earth.”
He notes, however, that current changes in climate are due, mainly, to human activities’ impact on the earth. For example, the industrial revolution, fuelled by such fossil fuels as coal and oil, has propelled climate change for ages. Other activities, like deforestation and chemical farming, have also accelerated climatic changes.
But it is the later activities that have started to feature prominently locally. This could be attributed to recent findings by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that, while the main source of global food remains the soil, the climate that influenced rainfall patterns has really changed- the sort of change that honours no human boundaries.
WMO indicates, for instance, that the year 2010 was the warmest on record. It also says that the years between 2000 and 2010 have registered the warmest period in time since records began. Among others, communities from across the globe are experiencing unusual weather patterns and more frequent incidents of extreme weather events.
“All these will impact on agriculture productivity,” he says.
That is where permaculture, as one form of climate smart agriculture, comes in. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, climate smart agriculture entails activities that increase productivity, resilience, removes greenhouse gas emissions, and enhances national food security and development goals.
Among other approaches, this is achieved by revolutionizing the management of soil, water, landscapes, technologies, and genetic resources to ensure higher productivity and resilience, while reducing the greenhouse footprint, according to Bunda College of Agriculture
Environment and Development expert, Dr. David Mkwambisi. Mkwambisi openly hopes for a balanced world that will reduce the trade-off between productivity (output) and emissions per unit of agricultural product.
“Global experts on environment and development have realised that agriculture can be a critical tool to solve problems associated with climate change and weather variability in many countries,” says Dr. Mkwambisi.
What is clear, in the end, is the fact that climate change has sired a son called hope: the hope that, while climatic patterns may change, at least agricultural productivity cannot!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

African Mythology As A Form Of Discourse

By Richard Chirombo

African Mythology constitutes a discourse because myths, by their nature, are narratives that serve to connect individuals to their culture by explaining nature and supernatural phenomenain a carefully structured manner that conceals real meaning.

Michel Foucault, who is variously regarded as a philosopher, social theorist, cultural historian and an historian of political thought, captures this  aspect very well when he implies that mythologies and other forms of narratives are forms of discourse in the sense that there are subtle rules and, therefore, hidden meaning below the surface of their seemly harmless message, observing thus: “They (ordinary people) have probably found it difficult enough to recognise that their history, their economics, their social practices, the language (langue) that they speak, the mythology of their ancestors, even the stories that they were told in their childhood, are governed by rules that are not all given to their consciousness (…)”2. In other words, “things and events” will only become discourse “in the unfolding of the essential secrets. Discourse is no longer much more than the shimmering of a truth about to be born in its own eyes; and when all things come eventually to take the form of discourse, when everything may be said and when anything becomes an excuse for pronouncing a discourse, it will be because all things having manifested and exchanged meanings, they will then all be able to return to the silent interiority of self-consciousness”3.

In fact, the link between mythology and discourse becomes more pronounced when the term ‘discourse’ is defined. For instance, Bertrand and Hughes (2005) define discourse as an organised series of statements about the natural and social world which have, over a period of time, become formalised into ‘rules’ which govern the behaviour of members of a social or cultural field, operating through architecture, habit, practices and ethics to permit or constrain behaviour thereby shaping the individual sense of self4A Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory, on the other hand, defines discourse as ‘talk’ or ‘conversation’ with the hint of a ‘didactic’ purpose5, acknowledging, however, that  this definition rather contradicts the word’s etymology, going back to the Latin verb discurrere, which means ‘to run about’, ‘range widely’, ‘wander off course’, among others. In both cases, language is used to deduce meaning.

More importantly, mythology shares the features of discourse in the sense that the narratives’ arrangement is not arrived at by chance, but is purposefully arranged to control people. For example, Seymor Chatman6captures this aspect well when he proposes that a narrative must have both story- which he describes as the content, the events and existents it talks about, the ‘what?’- and discourse, “the way in which it is told, the selection and ordering of events and existents, the ‘how’”- further observing that, “For, though a narrative must have a beginning, a middle and an end, they need not always be presented in that order. From this perspective, story is potential, discourse is actual; story elements (plot, functions, characters) are predictable whereas discourse provides variety/surprise. Indeed, literary critic Mark Shorer emphasises this point by analysing the function of myths in society, observing that, “Myths are the instruments by which we continually struggle to make our experience intelligible to ourselves. A myth is a large, controlling image that gives philosophical meaning to the facts of ordinary life”7.

However, it must be borne in mind that it is not always true that all narratives are discourse. For instance, while a number of scholars and theorists have described narratives as a form of discourse, this school of thought is not always true because some narratives have varied meanings in various societies. “There is no fixed meaning to any narrative, therefore, and it is always open to multiple interpretation”8. Therefore, to brand all narratives as discourse is to deny the “plural quality” of various writings.

Additionally, even Foucault himself recognises the fact that there is “false” and “true” discourse when he observes, thus; “A division emerged between Hesiod and Plato, separating true discourse from false ; it was a new division for, henceforth, true discourse was no longer considered precious and desirable, since it had ceased to be discourse linked to the exercise of power”9. It must be noted, however, that Foucault used ‘true’ and ‘false’ in the ironic sense, by which he means that ‘false’ discourse which is not linked to the exercise of power.

More importantly, to always link the term discourse to the exercise of power constitutes flawed reasoning because it presupposes that power only invoke discourses as a covert means of cultivating, or exercising power. To the contrary, some myths relate to sacred history; that is, a primordial event that took place at the beginning of time, ab initio10.

This, notwithstanding, both mythology and discourse share similar attributes. For example, myths have the attribute of discourse in the sense that discourse is the form myths use to portray a message, while the combination of words in the narrative is, in no way, haphazard. They are, in fact, carefully woven. Discourse, too, shares the same attributes. Foucault aptly observes thus, “I am supposing that in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures, whose role is to avert its powers and its dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality11.”

However, it must be noted that discourse often takes the form of ideology, dogma or doctrine. In analysing the impact of doctrine on  ”subjects”, Foucault notes that doctrine, as a tool of exercising power, effects a dual subjection, that of speaking subjects to discourse, and that of discourse to the group, at least virtually, of speakers12. This implies that subjects are not in control of their lives; instead, they are “determined” by language, referring to how “(…) historically and culturally located systems of power/knowledge construct subjects and their worlds”13. Indeed, the use of language to subtly convey dominant ideologies and imperialistic goals has been a topic for debate for a long time.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, for example, observes that every language has two aspects. “One aspect is its role as an agent that enables us to communicate with one another in our struggle to find the means for survival. The other is its role as a carrier of the history and the culture built into the process of that communication over time.14” This holds true for Africa, where former colonial powers lay hold on the continent by imposing their ideologies through language. In fact, ideology assisted in reproducing “colonialist relations through the strategic deployment of a vast semiotic field of representations- in literary works, in advertising, in sculpture, in travelogues, in exploration documents, in maps, in pornography, and so on.15

Therefore, it is imperative that, in order to recapture the culture and history carried by Africa’s original “culture and history carried by these languages (…) thrown onto the rubbish heap and left there to perish”16, literary works such as narratives taking the form of myths should be revived by being told in their original languages. This brings us back to the point that African Mythology constitutes a discourse, more so when the ‘subtle’ agenda behind revitalisation of such myths is to ‘reclaim’ the culture and history that were thrown onto the rubbish heap.

Moreover, myths, more than the other narratives has the unique characteristic of being composed by a number of individuals, thereby cementing the possibility of their utilisation as a discourse. More so because, “Unlike a story composed by a single author, a myth always stands on its own, with a  plot and a set of characters easily recognised by those who listen to the story-teller, poet, or dramatist making use of it”17, thereby bringing “divinity into focus. And their subject matter inevitably touches upon the nature of existence, the world over which the gods rule”.

Therefore, myths can be a powerful tool in reversing the cultural and historical damage inflicted on Africa by the ‘invisible’ hand of language. It goes without saying that disciplinary power “is exercised through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility”18. In the case of Africa, this compulsory visibility was achieved through ideologies imposed in the choice of national language imposed by the conquering masters.

However, turning myths into an ideological vehicle in Africa faces the inevitable challenge that, as in all cases where ideologies are being passed through narratives (discourses) such as myths, there are always differences in expertise over a subject among people. In which case, “members are able to speak or act (only) on the basis of the acquired ideology, but are not always able to formulate its beliefs explicitly”19.

1. Arthur B. (1995) Cultural Criticism: A Primer of Key Concepts (vol. 4.) Sage Publications : California.  P. 122
2. Michel F. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language. Tavistock Publications Limited: New York. P. 210-211

3. Ibid, p. 228

4. Ina B., and Peter H. (2005) Media Research Methods: Audiences, Institutions, Texts published by Palgrave MacMillan. New York. p.166
5. A Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory (2nd Ed.) (2010) Wiley-Blackwell. West Sussex
6. Seymour C. (1978) Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Cornell University Press. Ithaca (Cited in Bertrand and Hughes, ibid, p.212)
7. Arthur Asa Berger, ibid, page 122
8. Stuart S., and Borin L. (2004) Introducing Critical Theory. Icon Books Limited. London. P. 56
9. Foucault, Ibid. p. 218
10. Berger, ibid. p. 122
11. Foucaultp. 216)
12. Foucault, p. 226
13. Gubrium, J.F. and Holstein, JA (2000) Analysing Interpretive Practice in Denzin and Lincoln (eds) (2000) pp. 487-508 (quoted in Bertrand and Hughes. P. 167)
14. Ngugi T. (1993) Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms. East African Educational Publishers. Nairobi. P. 483
15. Ashcroft, B., Gareth H.T. (1995) The Post-Colonial Studies Leader. Routledge. London. p. 47
16. Ngugi T. ibid. p. 50
17. Arthur C. (2005)World Mythology (1st Ed.) Paragon Publishing. London: p.5
18. Arthur C. ibid. p.6
19. Foucault, M. (1995) Discipline and Punish and The Birth of the Prison. Vintage Books. New York. p. 187