Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Dying of HIV unknowingly, quickly



Noises of jubilation fill the air whenever a baby is born in the areas of traditional authorities Mchiramwela and Mkhwethemule in Thyolo District. For some households, however, the sense of elation is soon replaced with sadness as children, billed as leaders of tomorrow, succumb to death, thanks to the HIV virus that, not known to the babies and their parents, eats them from within. But, as RICHARD CHIROMBO writes, this state of affairs could be short-lived.

It could be by fluke or design, but the truth is that there is a piece of art that hangs on one of the mango trees leading to Ndalama Nursery School, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mchiramwera, in Thyolo District.
The artwork depicts a baby, perhaps between the ages of six months and one year, trying to jump into an endless lake.
HELPLESS?: Public hospitals like these

Whatever thoughts impressed the mind of the artist who came up with the work of art, what comes clearly is that the artwork portrays the human being as— although touted as the master of the earth— a diminutive creature, dwarfed by the vastness of natural phenomena such as lakes and mountains the size of Dedza, Mulanje or Zomba.
Shora Kauluka, technical assistant at a community-based organisation called Chipembere Communty Development Organisation (CCDO) in the area, is one of the people who have been impressed by the artwork.
“I think a lot of thinking went into that work,” Kauluka says. “At the same time, I think the artist was short-sighted, in the sense that he or she promotes the idea that the only things that cast man in the light of a diminutive creature are physical features such as lakes, mountains, elephants and things of that nature.
“What visual artists often, and sadly, forget is that some things that cast man in the light of a diminutive creature are tiny. I am talking of viruses and bacteria. In T/As Mchiramwela and Mkhwethemule in Thyolo District, for example, the real giant has been HIV, a tiny, invisible virus that causes Aids. People, especially children, have been succumbing to it without knowing it. HIV is the giant of our time, and not lakes or mountains.”
Kauluka , therefore, treats the artwork with an almost good-humoured contempt.
The truth is that the creator of an artwork never really knows how people will interpret it, or whether it makes any difference in society.
But Kauluka could be right on HIV being the tiny giant that eats through the fabric of good health, slowly but resolutely.
In the areas of the T/As in question, a sense of oppression is everywhere. Just that there is no physical force, like a lake or mountain, that is responsible for this state of affairs; it is something from within; something that cannot be felt through the sense of touch. That something is HIV.
At first, according to Kauluka, HIV created a sense of fear among people of Thyolo District. Those were the days of stigma and discrimination which, in the past, and according to Health and Population Services Minister Atupele Muluzi, were [stigma and discrimination] being fuelled “by ignorance”.
In those days, the days of stigma and discrimination, the individual living with HIV instantly became a prisoner of conscience.
As such, the individual living with HIV felt isolated, haunted by the fear of being ‘found’ out. Even among his own family members and peers, the individual never quite belonged.
“But this changed. Those with HIV are no longer subjected to stigma and discrimination. Treatment, in form of antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, is commonplace. These is no reason to be ashamed of one’s HIV status,” Kauluka says.
However, having passed the stage of stigma and discrimination, having passed the stage where ARVs were not free and in short supply, the people of Thyolo find themselves in a precarious condition.
The enemy, this time around, is ignorance of one’s sero-status, a development that has seen dozens of children die of Aids-related complications without knowing it.
At the moment, two community-based organisations that are working on an HIV and Aids project targeting children in Thyolo District have bemoaned increased cases of children who are diagnosed with HIV and Aids “too late”.
CCDO, which is implementing the ‘Accelerating Children`s HIV/Aids Treatment Initiative’ in T/As Mkhwethemule and Mchiramwela in Thyolo District, has, meanwhile, urged stakeholders to intensify efforts aimed at promoting identification and continuum care for children whose parents are HIV-positive.
CCDO is implementing the project in consortium with Umodzi Youth Organisation (Uyo). Shy Ali, Executive Director for Uyo cites laxity, in terms of sensitisation campaigns, as one of the factors that have led to people failing to know their HIV sero-status, hence increasing cases of preventable deaths, especially among children. 
Kauluka says it is disheartening that cases of children who are born with HIV without knowing it abound in the Southern Region district.
These are the sentiments he raised during a Paediatric HIV/Aids Awareness Campaign Open Day at Ndalama Nursery School, T/A Mchiramwela, in Thyolo.
“Although Malawi has made great strides in ensuring that those who are HIV infected have access to ART (antiretroviral therapy), there has been slow progress in terms of the number of children accessing ART services,” Kauluka said.
A Ministry of Health and Population Services report indicates that less than 40 percent of HIV-infected children in Malawi are accessing ART.
Kauluka adds that HIV infection tends to be progressive and fatal among infants and children who have no access to ART.
According to the Department of HIV and Aids, approximately 20 percent of HIV-infected infants die by the time they clock three months, a development attributed to failure to access treatment.
It further says 50 percent of infants and children die before reaching their second birthday while 75 percent die by five years of age, all this because they either had no access to ART or discovered that they needed treatment “too late”.
“In an effort to reduce paediatric HIV and Aids-related deaths among infants and children, CCDO, under its health programme, is carrying out the ‘Accelerating Children`s HIV/Aids Treatment Initiative’ through which we seek to identify HIV-infected children and link them to care and treatment in health facilities in Malawi, particularly in Thyolo District.
“Our organisation— in partnership with various stakeholders— wants to reduce the mortality rate among HIV-infected infants by as much as 75 percent upon ART initiation. The project is directly working with 20 community-based organisations and 10 Health facilities in targeted areas,” Kauluka says.
The National Aids Commission indicates that Thyolo is one of the districts with the highest adult HIV prevalence rates in Malawi, now pegged at 22.4 percent.
“Sadly, children are ignorantly dying of Aids-related complications because their parents do not take them for HIV testing, hence getting wrong treatment in their localities. Parents believe in getting treatment from herbalists, thereby putting lives of children at risk,” says Marcus Chonde, one of the community members in T/A Mchiramwela.
Mkhwethemule has, meanwhile, lauded the impact of the project, saying it has sparked health-seeking behaviour among residents of the district.
“We all have a role to play to ensure that no life is lost to HIV,” Mkhwethemule says.
The traditional leader says it is not “on, especially because we have made strides in ensuring that people have access to life-prolonging drugs, know their HIV sero-status, among other things”.
As part of the project, community volunteers have received bicycles for use in their community outreach programmes.
One only hopes that, moving forward, HIV will not put spanners, such as ill health and even death, into the wheels of progress.
That is the only way those affected can travel back to normal living.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Madonna fights for rights of people with albinism through this pose!



American pop star Madonna poses with Malawi's folktale banjo musician, Lazarus, at Chilembwe Primary School, Kasungu District, in Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa.

People with albinism have been facing challenges in Malawi. Some of them have been abducted, while others have seen their body parts being chopped while alive.

At the moment, Joseph Kachingwe, a 12-year-old boy with albinism in Phalombe District of Southern Malawi, went missing on July 6 this year and police are yet to recover his body.

National Police spokesperson,  James Kadadzera, says six people have, so far, been arrested in connection with the suspected murder of the boy.

And, against such a background, Madonna's pose with Lazarus serves as a condemnation of people who attack albinos.


Monday, July 16, 2018

Madonna jovial as she visits Malawi


  • I came here to check on activities
  • Reveals plans to establish football academy 
American Pop singer Madonna returned to what has become her home away from home-- Malawi-- on Monday afternoon, where he toured facilities at Mercy James Centre.

On July 11 last year, Madonna was back to Malawi on a trip that saw her open her heart to the children of Malawi, who she aided by gifting the Mercy James Centre.

The centre, located at Malawi's major referral hospital of Queen Elizabeth Central, has, since its opening last year, helped Malawian children access treatment that would, otherwise, not be available without Madonna.

On a cool afternoon, when the weather hovered between 8 and 12 degrees Celsius, Raising Malawi Executive Director, Sarah Ezzy, could not be blamed for being on top of the world.

Ezzy said, in a well-crafted statement: "Madonna has returned to Malawi, where she has worked since 2006 with her charitable organisation, Raising Malawi, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Mercy James  Centre for Paediatric Surgery and Intensive Care (MJC).

"Located on the campus of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH)-- the largest referral hospital in the country [of Malawi-- the Mercy James Centre, which opened on July 11, 2017, includes Malawi's first paediatric intensive care unit, three operating theatres dedicated to surgery in children, a dy clinic, and 50-bed ward."

Truly, it has been a tremendous first year for the patient-focused team at Mercy James Centre, who have skillfully: performed 1,690 paediatric surgeries; admitted nearly 300 patients into the paediatric ICU; seen 2, 300 patients in the outpatient clinic; admitted nearly 1, 500 patients into the ward.

In fact, the Mercy James Centre has doubled the capacity of the paediatric surgery team, which averaged 700 surgeries per year in their old facilities. Last month, the team made history in Malawi by masterfully completing the first successful separation of conjoined twins in Malawi.


HAS MADE A HOME IN MALAWI: Madonna
Ezzy said: "The Mercy James Centre represents the expansion of Raising Malawi's work at QECH since 2008 with Professor Eric Borgstein, one of four full-time paediatric surgeons in the country. Through the partnership with Raising Malawi, Professor Borgstein has developed a paediatric surgical training programme at QECH, which trained the first Malawi-born paediatric surgeon, Dr Tiyamike Kapalamula, who is now working at the Mercy James Centre.

"Raising Malawi built and donated the two-storey, free standing building to QECH and, as a part of its commitment, will continue to work with the Ministry of Health to help support operations. 

"Madonna founded Raising Malawi in 2006 to address the poverty and hardship endured by Malawi's orphans and vulnerable children. Raising Malawi partners with local organisations to provide Malawian children and their caregivers with critical resources including education and medical care."

On her part, Madonna was ecstatic, saying: "I am thrilled to see that the Mercy James Centre has become a centre of excellence in Malawi in just one year and I am grateful to the many partners, including the Ministry of Health, who have worked with Raising Malawi to make the MJC so successful. Our achievements have exceeded our expectations, and we will continue with our mission to better serve the children of this country."

Madonna indicated that she has plans to establish a football facility for youths, citing progress made by her son David James, who plays for an academy in Spain.

Madonna was in the company of all the four Malawian children she has adopted, including twins she adopted two years ago, namely Stella and Esther.

David looked like a giant he never was when he was under the care of Malawian guardians.

Mercy is growing into a young woman; smiling, forward-looking and out to show that, given a chance, the girl-child can go all the way.

Stella has become clever girl; one who is wary of the paparazzi. Just like Esther, of course. 

They seem so grown up already that they dodged cameras. 

Madonna in Malawi


  • To visit Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre at 1pm
  • Star set to donate items

IN MALAWI: Madonna-- Picture courtesy of NME.com

American pop star, Madonna, is in Blantyre, Malawi.

The pop idol is set to visit Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre.

Madonna is a frequent visitor to QECH, where she handed over the Mercy James Paediatric Ward last year.

The philanthropist, who has put Malawi on the map, will donate undisclosed items to the facility.

She has been on a fundraising drive that has seen her reach out to more than 10, 000 Malawian children, most of them have accessed services at the Mercy James Paediatric Ward, named after her adopted daughter Mercy, in Blantyre.

Madonna has four adopted children from Malawi,  among them David, Mercy and twins she adopted two years ago.

She remains a darling of Malawians.

Holding child marriage bull by the horns



In a country littered with a litany of social ills, it is easy to throw important issues such as those pertaining to the ills of child marriage out of priority trays.

More so when issues related to individual countries are thrown into the tray of global records, which often do not resemble the life of simple bliss local policymakers want it to appear like.

ATTENTIVE: Participants
However, Fountain of Hope Organisation, a non-governmental organisation, has decided to pick issues related to Malawi in global statistics. After observing that the battle against child marriage can be lost, it decided to act on findings of researchers who came up with recommendations that, on an ordinary day, may be trashed as too global to spur the action of individual nations.

What spurred Fountain of Hope Organisation into action is a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report released in March 2018 which shows that 25 million child marriages were averted in the last decade.

The report further indicates that, globally, 12 million girls marry each year before they turn 18— a drop from Unicef’s previous estimate of 15 million.

“That report prompted us [Fountain of Hope Organisation] to intensify the fight against child marriages through the ‘Right To Be A Girl Programme’ being implemented in Karonga District. We have based our work on the Unicef report [released in March 2018],” says Fountain of Hope Organisation Executive Director, Shora Kauluka.

However, other than losing hope, Kauluka looks at Unicef’s figures positively.

He says what the report shows is that “ending cases of child marriage is possible”.

“At the same time, we must recognise that change is uneven and we still have work to do because key figures indicate that little has been achieved. For instance, globally, the proportion of women aged between 20 and 24 years, who are married or in union before their 18th birthday, has dropped from 25 percent [one in four people] to 21 percent [one in five people] in the last decade.

“While, on a positive note, cases of 25 million child marriage were averted in the last decade, 12 million girls continue to get married every year, down from Unicef’s previous estimate of 15 million,” he says.

From whatever angle one looks at it, progress is being made, if one takes into consideration the fact, according to Unicef, that 650 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday, down from 720 million.

This means there has been a reduction of such cases as 70 million women who, under the old order, should have been married by their 18th birthday are safe from the jaws of marriage.

Danger looms, though.

Researchers, at Unicef and elsewhere, indicate that 150 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday between now and 2030— unless, of course, progress is accelerated.

ACTIVE: Kauluka


 


“Similarly, in Malawi, progress is needed for acceleration as well,” Kauluka says.
According to Millennium Development Goal Endline Survey 2014, the percentage of people aged between 15 and 49 years who first married or were in a union before the age of 15 is 10.3 for women and 1.5 for men.
In addition, the percentage of people aged between 20 and 49 years who were first married or in a union before the age of 18 years is 49.9 for women and 9.1 for men  where as the percentage  of people aged between 15 and 19 years  who were  married or in a union is at 28.4 for  women and 2.6 for men.                                                                                                                                                                                
The problem has not spared Karonga District, where evidence suggests that there are variations according to hazard types.
Generally, women, children and the elderly are more vulnerable to child marriage than men, according to research conducted in 2013 by Dodman and others.
In regard to exposure and capacity to respond to risks in urban areas, women are, therefore, more vulnerable than men.
As the United Nations Development Programme observed in 2013, even fatalities after disasters tend to be higher for women than men.
This is not shocking in Karonga District, where residents follow the patrilineal system where men take a leading role in controlling the means of production, resources and power.
“This has greatly affected lives of girls in the district, one of the consequences being that they are forced to marry earlier than men. This has greatly contributed to cases of school dropout among girls in areas such as Traditional Authority (T/A) Kilupula, especially in Group Village Head Mwangwera.
“This has been noticed in five schools, four of them are primary schools while one is a community day secondary school , a situation which has devastating impacts on girls’ education, health and development,” Kauluka says.                                   
It is for this reason that Fountain of Hope Organisation, with support from Mundo Cooperante of Spain, introduced a project aimed at reducing, and curbing, cases of child marriage by supporting the enrolment and retention of girls aged less than 16 years old in T/A Kilupula.
The project targets four primary schools— namely Kakoma, Kasisi, Namuzinga and Lutete —and Ngerenge Community Day Secondary School.
These institutions and villages have over 3,500 girls, some of them are married while others are in school. The organisation is working hand in hand with Ukhondo Service Foundation and Kakoma Community-based Organisation.

The project identifies girls who are married before 18 years, girls who are forced into marriage, those who dropped out of school and those who are in school but face various  forms of violence.

The initiative directly targets 3,500 girl children who are capacitated in fighting against the problem of child marriages.

In the month of June, the project trained 10 girls, 10 women, 10 local leaders, five men, five head teachers, five village development committee members, five school committee members as paralegals in support of victims of child marriage, sexual and gender-based violence and human rights abuses by serving as peer educators.
“This targeted all local players who are crucial in the fight against child marriage in the area. The training was facilitated by Karonga District Social Welfare Officer Atupere Mwalweni, Karonga District First Grade Magistrate Radson Gamaliel, Karonga District Child Protection Officer Rhoda Mwakasungura, Kaporo Police Station Assistant Superintendent Robert Chiotcha and  Constable Christopher Lawrence of Kaporo Police Victim support Unit,” he says.
Kilupula says Fountain of Hope Organisation has come at the right time.
“The intervention has come at the right time, considering numerous cases of child marriage we continue to register in our area. Participants should start working on outstanding cases as a starting point to show that their capacity has been strengthened,” Kilupula says.
Mwalweni further advises participants to avoid favouritism when handling issues.
Kauluka says, initially, the plan was to train 10 girls and women only as paralegals but, after noticing the negative situation on the ground, they decided to include all relevant structures so that 10 targeted volunteers can receive support from all angles.
“For instance, community leaders, head teachers and mother groups are key stakeholders in this project,” he says.
Some of the activities in the project include conducting awareness campaigns targeting 25,000 community members on consequences of early marriages, sexual and gender-based violence; advantages of keeping girls in school; providing income generating activities (IGA) to 650 households where girls are enrolled in school, among others.
IGAs include the use of incubator machines for poultry production, machines for manufacturing candles, a set of solar products  for electricity business and start up farm inputs.
Implementers are also ensuring that five mother groups of 10 members each are operating efficiently at each school so that they can monitor affairs of girls and work hand in hand with project staff to protect the rights of girls in school.

Each school will also have a club to strengthen the capacity of girls so that they can protect themselves from perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

Boys are not foes, though, and have been incorporated in the initiative. Boys and local leaders have put their hands to the wheel and are committed to making issues of human rights abuse directed at girls a thing of the past.

One day, children borne by the targeted girls will look back at history, learn from it, and tell stories that end with a smile.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Same, old electoral hurdles


Malawi— meaning, the state— is no different from a human being; they both breathe.
While a human being breathes every now and then— taking in the so-called breath of life called oxygen while expelling puffs of carbon dioxide— Malawi the nation state has fallen, since the multiparty elections of 1994, into the habit of taking political breaths every five years.
This is because— five presidential elections later, five national parliamentary elections later, two local government elections later— it is written that Malawi has to hold elections every five years, as one way of giving the electorate the opportunity to express themselves so that, in so doing, political leaders can be given a fresh mandate or get banished from national politics altogether.
Over the years, public media have taken a crucial role in elections, giving competing political parties – do not mind their lack of clear ideologies— the platform the articulate their policies.
This is well-articulated by Catherine Musuva, who wrote in Chapter 7 in Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds)’s Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, thus:
“The PPEA [Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act, 1993] states that every political party is entitled to have its campaign reported on by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and in any newspaper in circulation in the country. Furthermore, the Act commits the MBC to neutrality in the reporting of news.
“The Act also empowers the Mec, by arrangement with the MBC, to allocate time on the radio to political parties. Although the Act prohibits political parties and candidates from making commercial advertisements for campaigning in the MBC, all political parties either placed commercial advertisements with the MBC or complained of a lack of financial resources to do so in the run-up to the 2004 elections. At the time, neither the MBC nor the political parties seemed to be aware of the law in this regard.
“The electronic and print media coverage of electoral campaigns in Malawi has generally been extensive. However, concerns over unbalanced media coverage and the unfair use of the state media, namely the MBC and Malawi Television (TVM), have been raised in all four elections held from 1994 to 2009. In order to ensure better-balanced media coverage of the 2004 elections, a number of steps were taken in collaboration with political parties, the Mec, CSOs and the donor community. Most importantly, a media monitoring unit was established within the Mec. Nonetheless, in the 2004 elections the MBC coverage was biased towards the incumbent party, the UDF (Rakner & Svasand 2005).”
However, while the role of MBC has been extensively highlighted, it is not always the case that the institution lives up to citizens’ billing.  Musuva aptly captures this aspect of MBC.
“The Mec once again accused the state-owned media of bias and not abiding by the media code of conduct. The MEC chairperson berated the state media for failing to level the playing field, adding that the MEC's hands were tied in dealing with the situation as the law does not provide it with any significant power (Kasawala 2009).”
While observers such as human rights activist Billy Mayaya observes that the 1994 elections were “fairly” covered by MBC, in that all political parties were given the platform, it can be said, without fear of retraction, that this was not the case in the 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections, as ruling parties enjoyed more pieces of the cake than opposition political parties.
Ironically, the 1994 elections, which observers say were well covered, saw the then ruling Malawi Congress Party lose the elections to the United Democratic Front, whose presidential candidate Bakili Muluzi bought his ticket, courtesy of the ballot, to Sanjika Palace.
The only other time a ruling party – of course, there are questions over whether the People’s Party was really a ruling party, knowing, as it were, that the party found itself in the driving seat using the back door— lost presidential elections is in 2014, but Mec suggested in its media monitoring reports that the elections were no fairer than those of 1994.
Which brings us to the issue of the role of public [read, State] media in elections.
Same old script
Malawi’s post-1994 elections have been predictable in some aspects, notably conduct of public media and voting patterns.
Since 1994, when Malawians transformed the political landscape to a magnitude that signals nothing less than a fundamental mutation in the national character, the conduct of elections have been predictable in terms of regional voting patterns and ruling parties’ conduct over state-run media.
Let us start with regional patterns. In 1994, Malawians voted along regional lines. This is evident in the fact that the eventual presidential winner, Muluzi, got 42.2 percent (South), Kamuzu Banda 33.5 per cent from his Central region stronghold and Chakufwa Chihana (Alliance for Democracy) with 18.9 per cent, mainly from the Northern region.
This was almost repeated in 1999 when Muluzi got 51.37 percent in the South, the Malawi Congress Party/Alliance for Democracy coalition 44.30 per cent in the Central and Northern region, respectively, and Kamlepo Kalua who got 1.43percent of the national vote.
This was further repeated in 2004, when UDF presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika chalked 35.89 per cent in the South, Malawi Congress Party’s (MCP) John Tembo 27.13 per cent and Gwanda Chakuamba of the Mgwirizano Coalition 25.72 per cent.
To cut a disappointing story short, this was further repeated in 2009 and 2014 and, possible, will be repeated in the 2019 elections.
Add to these two challenges factors such as the legal environment in which the electoral body operates, budgeting constraints, complex processes leading to voter registration and voters roll verification, transportation hitches as well as registration periods corroding with the farming season or rains and we have another disaster in the making in 2019.
Perhaps the only positive— which, again, has been challenged— is that data gathered by the National Registration Bureau will be used in registering voters in the 2019 elections, which could solve some of the challenges that affect voters roll credibility.
But some of the challenges may remain because, according to policy analyst Rafiq Hajat, both ruling political parties and the opposition have vested interests in, say, public media.
“There was time, I remember, when the opposition were in majority in Parliament but never
amended the Communications Act, thinking they would go into government and take advantage of the situation,” he said.
So, again, this is just a circle— like breathing in and out— and some of the challenges will, really, never go away because they serve defined purposes.

Political parties’ shelved, living dreams


Before the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, the country’s political parties— be it the then ruling People’s Party (PP), the then opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP),   and even the National Salvation Front (Nasaf), Chipani Cha Pfuko and the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Malawi Congress Party— were flying high on the wings of hope that this, perhaps, could be their year.
Come elections’ day, with the subsequent news that the DPP had carried the day, the hopes were doused in the waters of disappointment. Maybe their day will come, one day.
Surprisingly, some of the vanquished  political parties seem to have buried their campaign promises, some three years into DPP’s reign. It is as if the ceiling of hope has dropped so low that the political parties cannot even master to repeat what they were saying during campaign period.
One of the areas some political parties focused on in the 2014 elections was road infrastructure, as each political party articulated policies it hoped would sway the public.
In this article, I bring to life some of the issues some political parties raised, in the hope that, should the issues crop up again in the 2019 elections, we may know which of those are a replay of a script that was sold in 2014.
Nasaf
Malawi’s road infrastructure is over 20 years behind, with unnecessary congestions, leading to Malawi having one of the highest road traffic accident rates in the Southern African Development Community region. Public transport is also expensive and unreliable. Nasaf’s vision is [that of] a Malawi that has a modern, safe, fast, efficient and affordable public transportation system.
(Our) objectives are to revamp the National Road Traffic Directorate in order to make it corrupt free and be proactive; expand the offices of National Road Traffic Directorate to accommodate increased and better clients’ care; strengthen and eliminate loopholes in the procurement procedures of a driver’s licence in order to eliminate [cases of] insufficiently-trained drivers; empower the National Roads Authority to eliminate all unauthorised use of national road reserves; widen all major intersections on all M roads to reduce congestion; expand the bitumised road network across the country; regularly maintain all gravel roads; construct bridges on all secondary roads that are impassable during rainy season such as the Mangochi-Makanjira Road, the Lilongwe-Kasiya-Bua Road and the Rumphi-Chitipa Road via Wenga and Nthalire to mention but a few.   

Chipani Cha Pfuko presidential candidate
We believe that developing the rail industry is the hallmark of development. We will, therefore, ensure that we improve our rail network by rehabilitating the current network so that rail transport can become the main means of transporting goods, including agricultural produce, in the country.
But our programme of action will not end there; we will make sure that we develop new railway networks which will be integrated with the national and international networks to ease transportation problems. We believe that railway transport is the gate-way to the outside world, and that an improved railway network is key to bringing the cost of goods down, thereby impacting positively on national development.
We believe that there is nothing new that can be done to improve the national road network which has not been done, hence our focus on railway transportation. While taking cognisance of the fact that water, air and road transport are key to national development, we will make railway transport our focus of development.  
DPP
We shall revive the Nsanje World Inland Port Project which will cut transportation costs by 60 percent.  Our commitment towards Malawi roads, railways, airline, postal and telecommunications services can at best be described as our flagship. Improved operations and efficiency of transport and communications infrastructures support increased production and trade.
In addition, the DPP will develop new inter-modal infrastructures to support our agriculture, industry and energy so as to ensure that these sectors help to sustain new levels of growth of our economy. In this regard, the following will be given top priority:- Construct a new and comprehensive network of rural access roads and trunk roads to serve the remote agricultural areas so that produce can reach the urban markets safety and efficiently.
Upgrading, maintaining and repairing roads, bridges, airports and lake harbours to enable them to support our new vision of development. We will complete the Nsanje Inland Port and operationalise into a canal to use barges from the Indian Ocean.
This will support national development programmes and to develop inter-state links with Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania as well as Sadc, Comesa and the rest of the world. Upgrade and maintain Kamuzu and Chileka International airports, and develop international airports in Mangochi, Nsanje, Mzuzu and Karonga.
Improve the railways, which continue to be the main means of transportation for Malawi, through more efficient management on a commercial basis. We shall rehabilitate existing railways and develop new railway networks for integrating with regional networks and harmonise railways policy, administration practices and procedures to ensure that railways networks are compatible with other modes of transport.   

UDF
Infrastructure investments form the backbone of Malawi’s economic and social reforms. Malawi has long suffered from an infrastructure deficit. Agriculture reforms are also dependent on adequate road access and marketing infrastructure. Transportation is cited as one of the key obstacles to private sector investment.
Delays at ports and border posts, unduly complex customs and regulatory and non-tariff barriers along major routes all contribute to higher than necessary transport costs, making it harder for Malawi to integrate into the regional and global economy. Road safety is also a major issue that requires solutions that address institutions, attitudes and physical infrastructure.
Rail transport is underutilised as a lower cost alternative to road freight due to poor condition of rails, rail-beds and shortages of rolling stock. Weak trade supporting infrastructure is profound as
Malawi ranked 73rd out of 155 countries in 2012. Malawi must improve its development prospects by strengthening its hard and soft infrastructure in order to better exploit trade opportunities. Unit costs for transport inside Malawi are at least twice as high as in South Africa as a result of long distances to ports and the low backloads.
The UDF will unlock Malawi’s potential as the transit route for the increasing volume of minerals being produced, including initiating PPP agreements between the Government of Malawi and private sector especially in rail transport; re-establish the Beira Rail Way link as a matter of urgency; strengthen regional development corridors to improve trade facilitation, reduce cross borders and travel time in infrastructure back bones, especially power, IEC and transport; strengthen the capacity of key transport sector institutions including Ministry of Transport.
Conclusion  
While opposition political parties are yet to get their days in the sun of governing this country, the DPP has had its chance. Has it lived up to the dreams?
Next Tuesday, I will highlight where the DPP has fulfilled its campaign promises, and where it had failed big time.

LEVI PRO’S FREE MIND


The barbed wire covering the big part of Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa District can only do much in terms of restricting his physical movements. More so when, as one of the people living in a restricted area, a gate-pass is the only temporary way to the world beyond Dzaleka.
Fortunately, the barbed wire does nothing, if anything at all, to hinder Levi Pro’s wandering mind; a mind so fertile that one would not think he is only 20 years old.
Levi Pro, real name Levis Ndayishimiye, has, in the past three years, been one of young men who have shone during the Tumaini Festival, an annual celebration of culture and creativity that brings people from far and wide to Dzaleka.
“In life, one should have no limits,” says Levi Pro.
It is Friday, March 23, and Weekender is at Dzaleka Refugee camp.
As is the case sometimes— except when there are special occasions or people are having one or two drinks at any of the drinking joints at the camp— the scene is silent and still. Of course, some children, aged between seven and 15 years, create fun by the mere gesture of throwing dust in the air, or at each other.
Unknown to the fist-time visitor is the fact that there is a lot of activity— activities bordering on fun— in the mind of another young man who is, visibly, silent but silently active. In the mind, that is.
It is Levi Pro, the producer who has spent the better part of his life at Dzaleka, having come to the place many call home away from home in 2006. In this home away from home, Levi Pro has, in the past three weeks, been preparing for mock examinations. Before the year ends, in this home away from home, Levi Pro will sit examinations; not as Levi Pro, for that is a name associated with his trade as an artist, but as Levis Ndayishimiye.
I find him in the course of studies, which he combines with business because his guardians run a small grocery, saving other residents of the camp from the trouble of travelling a distance of between 300 and 400 metres to buy groceries, maize flour, rice, tomatoes, onions, fresh and dry fish and whatever tickles their fancy at the bustling market in the camp.
“I call it multi-tasking; studying, selling merchandise, producing music for choirs and individual artists, praising God, in my capacity as a Catholic, and helping children who show interest in the arts with the necessary knowledge,” says Levi Pro, who is fluent in Chichewa, English, French, among other languages.
He says this as we sit in his make-shift studio. It is dark inside. Blackouts have hit again.
“You see, as a producer, I get interrupted by power outages because, sometimes, they come just when you were about to save the work or when a brilliant idea has struck you and you are about to execute it. Sometimes, especially when you are working on deadlines, power outages can make you appear unreliable to people who seek your services. The thing is, I have no backup power,” Levi Pro says.
Well, I first heard of the name Levi Pro during the Tumaini Festival last year, although the soft-spoken artist has performed there three times— meaning, three years.
The artist has over 20 songs to his credit, including ‘Atakamapenzi’, ‘I am Born Again’, ‘Life ndi Yovuta’, ‘You Are The Reason Why’, ‘Anything I do’, ‘Ndinu Nokha God’, I Believe in Christ’, ‘Natakatuwe Pamoja [Ndikufuna Tikhale Pamodzi]’, among others.
He is a hip hop artist, which is not surprising because Levi Pro is a fan of American artist Eminem. But, to serve the interests of R&B lovers, the artist also delves into the same, making him a master of both.
“Since I started taking music seriously in 2014, I have been into hip hop. I have a brother, JB Extra, who is into reggae and dance hall. For the most part, I sing about God because I regard myself as born again, in the sense that I shed off my past and embraced Jesus Christ,” says Levi Pro, who feels at home when playing with instruments or none at all, when performing free style or as programmed by those responsible for organising an event.
He fits in all worlds, or so it seems, because, in his world— a world that sets physical limits despite its failure to arrest the mind— flexibility is the name of the game.
“I may say I am secular but I like the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I have said, I am born again,” he says.
He then delves into the issues of staying at Dzaleka, where the body’s freedom is, to some extent, limited but the mind is always free; so free that, even when wars are still ravaging one’s home country, the mind is always free to take the individual person back home, where the individual can revisit places that were, and are, dear to them.
But only in the mind.
“Of course, if you talk of life here [at Dzaleka], it is tough, especially when it comes to getting money; even when it comes to getting singers. But, then, life does not place a ceiling on our heads. One is free to do whatever they like; so long as they have life. So, I am free in as far as life is concerned. I am free to be creative. I am free to help others. And I am free to being helped.
“What do I mean by saying I am free to being helped? I mean, as an individual, I need things that I may not be able to get on my own. For example, I need a professional studio; a room with buffers, a nice computer, monitors, mid-piano, sound card, mixer, among other things,” says the 2018 Malawi School Certificate of Education candidate.
But, as he waits for a day the sun will shine on his life, a day that will transform his hopes to reality, the wheels of life continue to roll. As usual.
Talking of life, what is life, to Levi Pro?
“Life is a season. That is why I divide my time into seasons. I have a season for recording and producing songs for choirs and a season for producing songs for individual artists. When one realises that life is, simply put, a season, it becomes easy for them to divide the activities they spend much time doing into seasons. That is what I do. The only thing that has no season is any action that borders on reaching out to others, helping them. That is why I am always at the service of those around me. When they give me a task, like selling things in the grocery, I do them,” says Levi Pro.
So far, he has produced songs for 30 choirs, some of them have come from as far as Mponela in Dowa District.
MOVING ON: Levi Pro
In terms of individual artists, he had produced songs for JB Extra, Ranking, RED, among others.
From time to time, Levi Pro finds himself engaging those responsible for the camp on the need for a gate-pass, and that happens when artists have asked him to travel to their base to record songs or when exigencies of duty demand that he should venture out to look at life from the angle of a new comer.
“You see, sometimes, when I am producing songs for a group of six or more people, it becomes cheaper for me to travel to their base, because it is cost effective, in terms of transport costs, than for them to come here [at Dzaleka] because that means incurring more in transport costs [on their part],” says Levi Pro.
His hope is that, in his small way, even when surrounded by barbed wire, he can contribute to the economy of Malawi— the country he calls home away from home.
“What I can say is that, once artists are supported financially, technically and otherwise, they can propel the economy. The arts industry is part of the economy, in the sense that there is the possibility of generating income, creating employment, among other things. There is no ceiling as to how much the arts industry can contribute to the economy. All we, artists, need is support,” says Levi Pro.
At that point, one of the residents at Dzaleka knocks at the counter of the grocery— which is connected to houses in the place Levi Pro calls home—from outside.
“I am coming,” says Levi Pro.
That is what it means to be of service to humanity. One has to combine business with service, especially because helping out has no demarcated seasons.