Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Men should embrace healthcare research

Men are, in many respects, touted as building blocks to development, sometimes to a fault because they, sometimes, monopolise positions.
It is for the very reason that, once they start, men do not seem to know where to stop that we have had campaigns aimed at keeping men in check. We are talking of, just recently, the 50:50 women empowerment campaign premised on the fact that men have too much in their plate of power.
This is, to an extent, true. Come to think of it, despite making up 48 percent or so of the population, men occupy many positions of influence, starting with the presidency where two men preside over the affairs of the majority— namely girls and women.
It, therefore, smacks of hypocrisy of the highest order to learn that, despite holding sway in most sectors of national development, men shy away from participating in healthcare delivery research.
We feel that something is wrong with men here, considering that, without good health, nationals perish.
As well-expressed by the researcher from Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust, research that captures all sexes has high chances of being representative and, in the health sector— which deals with issues of life and death— representative samples can go a long way in saving lives. Literally.
So, while we appreciate that participation in research activities is voluntary, we feel, strongly, that men must come to the health research party and, through their selfless contribution to research findings, help in the creation of a healthy nation. Malawi cannot develop if its citizenry are constantly sick.
If it is a question of leadership, one cannot be complete if they shun life-giving initiatives.
The onus is on men to contribute to overall national wellbeing through voluntary participation in research.


The Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) would like to dispel reports being propagated by some individuals on social media, suggesting that there is water contamination in Area 51, Area 18, some parts of Area 25 and Kawale.


The Board carried out a water quality assessment in the said Areas to verify the reports, and found that there is no any water contamination. Lilongwe Water Board would therefore like to assure its customers that such reports have no basis and are not correct.


LWB would further like to urge the general public to desist from creating such false reports as they only create public panic and disorder. 


The Board has in place well established social media forums and a website through which customers and the general public can report and access any information concerning its operations, water supply updates and other water related issues. Customers are, therefore, urged to always verify any water related issue or report with the Board through its well-established 24/7 Customer Call-Centre by calling 253 for free.


Meanwhile, LWB would like to assure its customers that it will continue to supply them with water of acceptable quality which is produced based on internationally accepted drinking water quality standards.


LWB adopted standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Malawi Bureau Standards-MS 214. The Board guarantees total compliance to these standards to assure supply of potable water to its customers at all times.




Sunday, August 18, 2019

There Is No Better Place To Learn Than The United Kingdom!!!

Can Mutharika Cast First Stone On Attackers of People With Albinism? No!

BALL IN HIS COURT: President Mutharika
Since Malawi accepted the moniker ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’, it has had to be on its toes— with no room for error.

Any slight movement to the right and it is game over!

But, now, keeping it warm is proving to be a challenge, what with attacks on innocent people with albinism?

Not that attacks on innocent people are a new thing in Malawi. In fact, it is not that democracy has proven to be the horse attackers ride on.

At the height of Malawi’s one party regime, marshalled by the Malawi Congress Party, attackers, whose identity will forever remain unknown, descended on one of the townships in Blantyre City, namely Chilobwe, where they maimed at will and killed like there was no tomorrow. This was in the 1970s right under the watch of the mighty MCP and its youth leaguers.

It must have been tough to call Malawi the Warm Heart of Africa then. How, for example, does one deal with negative publicity in a country reputed for warm-heartedness? An impossible task.

Then, after the re-advent of multiparty politics in 1994— ‘re-advent’ because Malawi, the then Nyasaland, voted for multiple parties before local politics suffered a change and Malawians started ruling themselves on July 6— banditry became the in-thing.

For the first time in Malawi’s history, armed robbers could terrorise townships such as Machinjiri, BCA, Bangwe in Blantyre City; Area 49 and other places in Lilongwe City, among other places. In fact, cases where law enforcers were gunned down became commonplace, with one dedicated police officer succumbing to gun shots at Ginnery Corner in Malawi.

Malawi was in a crisis no-longer-silent.

That must have been a bad turn for Malawi, even though a few individuals were causing mayhem.

In an era when armed robbers could not only kill but rape and defile, HIV— in the cases where the long arm of the law did not catch up with the criminals— caught up with them; so that, today, the generation that became famous for armed robberies has been subdued.

Not for long though. With time, especially in the period between 2014 and August 2019, Malawi has registered cases of attacks on, this time, new targets— namely innocent people with albinism.

From January 2014 to date, at least 25 people with albinism have been killed— although, of course, some of the cases relate to missing persons. Malawi’s laws set seven years as the waiting period before an individual can be declared death without a death certificate.

“We are constantly living in fear,” says Association of Persons with Albinism (Apam) President Ian Simbota.

To make matters worse, the National Action Plan designed to stem cases of attacks has been underfunded by the government, meaning that Apam faces two enemies: criminal elements that are targeting persons with albinism for their body tissues and the government!

They could not be blamed for pointing an accusatory finger at the government, whose half-hearted effort to constitute a commission of inquiry into the issue of attacks on persons with albinism— in terms of why they are attacked, who is attacking them and the location of the market where their body parts are sold— has culminated in the commissioners, who were not given a timeframe, taking forever to tell Malawians which is which.

That is why it is difficult to be happy with the “Malawi: The Warm Heart of Africa’ moniker.

Why? Because there is something wrong with the arrangement of the words. To begin with, those who are being attacked— meaning, innocent people with albinism— are Malawians too. But, then, they are being attacked, and their hearts are cold with fear.

No citizen with albinism, children included, has remained unsullied from this fear, which is compounded by the fact that some of the perpetrators of the heinous crimes are blood relations. Literally.

This has been the case in Dedza District in the Central Region and Machinga  District in the Southern Region.

Not that government officials have not tried their best. President Peter Mutharika, for one, has, countless times, rallied against people who attack fellow humans simply because of differences in skin pigment.

“You cannot get rich by selling body parts of people with albinism. No one should cheat you,’ Mutharika said at one of his rallies in Thyolo District in the Southern Region.

At least, for now, cases of attacks have abated, even as the High Court in Zomba continues hearing the case in which MacDonald Masambuka, a person with albinism, was attacked and left for dead by relatives who connived with strangers to kill him.

His crime? He was born with the condition of albinism.

But then, even though cases of attacks on persons with albinism have abated, Mutharika is not about to rest. He has another case in his place.

The High Court, sitting in Mchinji District, last week sentenced three people to death for killing a person with albinism in 2015. 

The court found Douglas Mwale, Sophie Jere and Fontino Folosani guilty of murdering Priscott Pepuzani with a hole handle and metal bar. The trio chopped off Pepuzani’s limbs and buried his body in a garden. 

However, the country’s heads of State have never signed for the execution of murder convicts since 1994, parting ways with tradition.

Malawi’s founding president, Ngwazi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, used to sign such execution orders and, once or twice a year, a hangman from Zimbabwe would silently sneak into the country to, in the open, carry out the ‘heavy’ task of executing convicts.

But Bakili Muluzi, who took over from The Ngwazi in 1994, never signed such execution warrants, citing, as it were, respect for human rights.

His successor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, was not one to depart from the post-1994 tradition and never signed execution orders.

The same with Joyce Banda, who took over from Bingu after he collapsed, suddenly, at the State House in Lilongwe on April 5, 2012.

Will the new Mutharika break new ground, perhaps in a bid to send a strong message that he does not condone attacks on persons with albinism, be the first one to cast the condemning stone at the three murder convicts by signing the warrant of execution?

The answer is no.

Already, the president’s secretary, Mgeme Kalilani, has said it is not good for people to start crossing the bridge before they reach it.

“Ordinarily, the convicts are given a period of 21 days to appeal the ruling. So, in this case, there are two things that might happen. It is either that the convicts might appeal or not. It is only at that time that the issue of warrant of execution shall arise,” Kalilani says.

Even Apam, which has been resolute in calling on the government to act decisively on attackers of persons with albinism, has developed cold feet.

Actually, Simbota is stammering in broad daylight.

“We, as Apam, also realise the sanctity of life. So, we may not say hang them or not. It is up to the President to decide,” Simbota says.

Surely, it is difficult to be seen to be casting the first stone.

No wonder, Simbota does not even make sense when he makes a second attempt at an explanation.

“We do not believe in killing but, in this case, the people that are being killed are Malawians who also wanted to live. These sentences have brought excitement among many people. We are all under the law of the land and we are hopeful that the President will respect the rule of law,” Simbota says.

Surely, the ball is in Mutharika’s court and his decision will spell the fate of both attackers and the attacked. A tricky situation to be in.


There is No Better Place To Learn Than The United Kingdom!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Jeopardising and obstructing Malawi Electoral Commission staff while on duty

The [Malawi Electoral] Commission (MEC) has noted with grave concern and deep regret a misleading and malicious statement from the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) inciting hatred and unkindness towards MEC lawyers and staff that have been going to various district councils to meet with presiding officers to collect information for filing in defence of its action as demanded by the on-going presidential election court case.



In its statement released on July 13, 2019, the MCP is calling on Malawians to be vigilant towards and apprehend MEC lawyers and staff that have been going around collecting relevant information for the court case. The MCP statement falsely alleges that MEC staff are collecting signatures for “clandestine result sheets in exchange for money”.


The Commission would like to dispute and condemn the statement in its entirety as malicious, misleading and aiming jeopardising the preparations by MEC in respect of the case in court.  


The public should know that MEC lawyers and staff are meeting presiding officers to prepare for affidavits for the on-going court case. No presiding officer has been requested, forced or induced with money to sign for a new election results sheet or form as alleged in the statement issued by the MCP.


The truth of the matter is that MEC lawyers and staff are in the process of preparing documents demanded by courts in defence of the action taken by the

Commission in the declaration of the presidential results of the 2019 TPE currently under dispute.

The Commission would, therefore, like to express its disappointment with this careless statement as it has created animosity and endangered the lives and property of MEC staff. There are now threats issued to MEC staff from several quarters following this very careless and irresponsible statement.


In this regard, MEC is calling upon the MCP to withdraw this statement unconditionally or else MEC will make necessary applications in court for redress. The Commission also wishes to state that the MCP shall be held accountable for any loss of life of MEC staff or lawyers or loss or damage to property in the course of this exercise.


URGED TO BE CAREFUL: Electoral stakeholders
It is the sincere expectation of the Commission that all electoral stakeholders and the general public will take time to verify matters before issuing careless and inciting statements that have potential for dangerous repercussions in this country.


Signed this 14th day of July, 2019

Sam Alfandika


Chief Elections Officer

Monday, June 24, 2019

Jane Ansah Answers

… adamant on resignation

Ansah: My conscience is clear
Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson, Jane Ansah, has finally broken her silence on management of the May 21 Tripartite Elections, trashing former vice president and UTM president Saulos Chilima’s claims that she did not want him and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) torch-bearer Lazarus Chakwera to win the presidential election.
Ansah also responded to critics— among them officials from MCP, UTM, Human Rights Defenders Coalition— who want her to resign, equating such a call to the propagation of “lawlessness”.
She said this in an exclusive interview with Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS)’s Joab Chakhaza yesterday evening.
In the interview, the Mec Chairperson dodged the question on Tipp-ex use, saying the matter was in court.
“When time to give evidence [about Tipp-ex] comes, it will be given in court….Tipp-ex is a correction fluid; [Tipp-ex] is a trade name [trademark]; you use it to correct errors. Whether it was used for positive or negative purposes the court will find out. Mec never supplied Tipp-ex,” she said.
Asked if the commission foresaw the problem of Tipp-ex use and why it went ahead to accept forms adulterated with the correction fluid, she said: “We did not foresee that there would be that problem. We did not advise them [polling staff] on what to do [in case they wanted to make corrections on something]; these are staff that are trained. We expected them to do a thorough job. As I have said, I cannot go into details.”
On calls for her to resign, Ansah said: "When the court says, ‘because of these irregularities, the elections were not properly done’, yes [I would resign].
"My conscience is clear that I did everything according to the law and the processes that were there."
Ansah, who acknowledged getting a letter from Chilima, in which he asked her to resign and accused her of influencing Mec staff to turn against him, said she had responded to the former vice president.
“The issues are the gist of the matter and are in court; so, I cannot say what I wrote in my response. I did not even tell my family members what I wrote. What I can say is that I did my work according to law. Some of the issues were dealt with in [Mec] updates [at Comesa Main Tally Centre]. Those [issued raised in the letter] are allegations,” she said.
She went further to say she has eight siblings who belong to a number of political parties, making particular mention of Democratic Progressive Party, MCP and UTM.
Ansah added that they have a family forum where they discuss issues and that, at no time, did she instruct anyone [at Mec and family levels] to vote for, or turn against, a particular party.
The Justice of Appeal further trashed claims that she was anti-Muslim, saying she has relatives at Kamphata who are Muslim.

At the head of Mec: Ansah
“Sometimes, when I attend family events, I attend events at the mosque with them,” she said.
She also said she was yet to get a report on what happened to the Mec worker who transferred Chilima from a polling station in Lilongwe to the island district of Likoma — Chisepo Polling Centre in Chizumulu to be specific.
While waiting for Mec to clear the mess, Chilima said at the time: ''Since I am standing here, people may think that I am trying to incite violence during the election process, but my name cannot be found."
Ansah said at the time that they had discovered that someone transferred the UTM leader’s name to Chisepo Polling Centre. 
“We made a follow-up and found who had done the transfer. It was one of Mec’s hired staff. We do not know if police have found the person. We are interested [in the issue] but we have not received a report from police,” Ansah told ZBS yesterday, adding that, if the individual is apprehended, Mec would act as a witness.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Justice system’s big test

Contesting electoral outcome in court: Chilima
The Constitutional Court case on elections is no ordinary case; it could be a route to democratic maturity.

Malawians purchased their liberty on a peaceful note in June 1993, when a national referendum showed that citizens were tired of the status quo— one party regime— and wanted change; the change being another turn of multiparty politics.

It must be borne in mind that Malawi started off, immediately after changing its name from Nyasaland to Malawi, on a multiparty politics note, with more than two political parties competing in national elections that culminated in the election of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

Then, one turn led to another and another and, when the biggest turn of them all was made, one party regime.  The other parties sort of ruled themselves out of relevance.

And so began Malawians’ romance with one political song, the song that ended in 1994 when, after tilting towards democracy, Malawians voted in the United Democratic Front (UDF).

And, every now and then, especially when Malawians vote in national elections, the experiment that is multiparty politics faces a litmus test— again and again, like an exponential curve.

In 1999, when the UDF won the presidential elections without partnering other political parties, Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and MCP cried foul that the polls were “rigged”. United Party, formed by former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika, lost but its torch-bearer had no qualms.  

Apparently, Malawians abandoned the ‘one party’ for the ‘they have rigged the elections’ song.

In 2004, when UDF won again, this time after featuring the pair of Bingu and Cassim Chilumpha— who was, this year, banned from contesting for the presidency on Tikonze Alliance ticket, apparently because, according to Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec), he did not have the mandate to do so— the MCP cried foul.

It was joined by Mgwirizano Coalition, represented in the presidential election by veteran politician Gwanda Chakuamba. There were protests in Blantyre City and, sadly, the life of a girl, Epiphania Bonjesi from Chilobwe, was lost after she was shot dead by a police officer whose identity will never be established.

The song ‘they have rigged the election’ was not sang in the 2009 elections, when Bingu, who had pulled a fast one on UDF by resigning from the party on Anti-Corruption Day, February 5, in 2005 and forming his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won the presidential election overwhelmingly.

Mutharika won with 66.1 percent of the votes cast, the first presidential candidate to do so. In 2004, Bingu won with 35.9 percent votes.

In 2014, incumbent president Peter Mutharika won with 36 percent of the votes and 38 percent in the May 21 2019 presidential election.

Of these elections, it is only the 1994 and 2009 presidential elections that did not attract calls of ‘rigging’, that song synonymous with Malawi’s nascent democracy.

Otherwise, the MCP cried foul in 2014 and this year, when the party has been joined in the chorus by UTM of former vice president Saulos Chilima.

They lament the use of Tipp-ex, which Mec Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah said surprised the electoral body, as “Tipp-ex is not part of the elections’ package”.

This prompted losing political parties to, using separate ways, seek recourse in the courts.

Justice Charles Mkandawire asked the political parties to consolidate their cases, culminating in Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda appointing five judges to president over the case at the Constitutional Court.

The case is in court and presents the greatest test to the Judiciary.

On Wednesday, the judges will decide on whether the opposition UTM and MCP filed applications to the court procedurally, as argued by DPP’s lawyers, while the opposition parties will pray that their voice be heard.

Meanwhile, people continue to protest across the country, sometimes attracting the ire of police.

Two weeks ago, police teargassed MCP headquarters in Lilongwe, including outgoing United States Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer, who was bidding bye to MCP leader Lazarus Chakwera at the party’s head offices.

Whether police have silently apologised to the American government is not known.

As the case rages, it is clear that there have been bigger and smaller casualties. The bigger casualties, in terms of losing an election, are the MCP and UTM while the smaller parties are UDF and Alliance for Democracy (Aford), which have seen the numbers of their legislators dwindle.   

In the 1994 parliamentary election, Aford scooped all seats in the Northern Region and some in the Central Region.

However, Aford’s numbers in Parliament started to dwindle after the then party leader, the late Chakufwa Chihana, entered into an alliance with the then governing UDF. Currently, Aford has one MP in Parliament.

UDF came to power in 1994 after defeating Malawi Congress Party in 1994. It swept seats in the Southern Region and most seats in the Central Region.

During the 1999 elections, UDF won 91 seats but the figures continued to drop in subsequent elections when it won 49 seats in 2004 and 16 in 2009, 14 in 2014 and 10 in the 2019 polls.

There Malawi’s greatest losers.

Who knows? Maybe the Judiciary may become the next loser, even when Malawians continue to treat it as a potentate in the land of the lake— Malawi.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Malawi Police Officers tear-gas American Ambassador

What started as a normal day ended on a tearful note for United States Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer, whose Thursday scheduled meeting with Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera at the party's headquarters ended abruptly after police 'mistakenly' fired teargas on the premises.

Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, has been the scene of political upheaval as, on Tuesday this week, suspected MCP supporters forced civil servants out of Capital Hill, the seat of the government in Lilongwe.

Chief Secretary to the Government, Lloyd Muhara, on Tuesday released a statement calling on civil servants to return to work, saying the situation had normalized.

On Wednesday, Palmer told the media that she saw no problem with UTM of former vice president Saulos Chilima and MCP's decision to contest results of the May 21 2019 presidential election in court.

She said the political parties had a constitutional right to seek legal redress.

It is under this background that Palmer met with Chakwera at MCP headquarters in Lilongwe on Thursday, when police mounted road blocks and barred people from walking to, let alone driving on the road, to the opposition party's headquarters.

This was happening after MCP supporters gathered at the party's headquarters.

As Palmer and Chakwera meeting went on, police in armored vehicles arrived and started firing teargas canisters into the MCP compound.

One police officer on the ground said they did not know that Palmer was on the premises.

"Of course, we fired teargas canisters into the compound but stopped after we were told that the United States Ambassador to Malawi was in the building. It was too late though, as teargas led to the abrupt end of the meeting," he said.

Meanwhile, unhappy opposition supporters are marching in protest in Nkhotakota District.

On Tuesday, people marched in Dowa District and Lilongwe, the capital.



Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Security Situation at Capital Hill

Government of the Republic of Malawi regrets to inform the general public that provision of Government services was disrupted today 4th June 2019 when the Capital Hill was invaded by intruders. The situation is back to normal and services will continue to be provided.
All Civil Servants are therefore being called upon to continue discharging their duties normally from their offices.
Government wishes to inform the general public that Capital Hill and all other Government offices will be safeguarded, by all means possible, so that the public is not denied the services.  
Government further assures the general public that the Rule of Law will take its course.
Lloyd A. Muhara
4th June, 2019


Government of the Republic of Malawi regrets to inform the general public that provision of Government services was disrupted today 4th June 2019 when the Capital Hill was invaded by intruders. The situation is back to normal and services will continue to be provided.
All Civil Servants are therefore being called upon to continue discharging their duties normally from their offices.
Government wishes to inform the general public that Capital Hill and all other Government offices will be safeguarded, by all means possible, so that the public is not denied the services.  
Government further assures the general public that the Rule of Law will take its course.
Lloyd A. Muhara
4th June, 2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ronny van Geneugden: Good Man Sent Home!

Malawi football and  Ronny van Geneugden (RVG)'s romance, which started on a positive note when he was given a contract to coach Malawi national football teams on April 7, 2017 reaches its lowest point today when the Belgian departs the country through Chileka International Airport in less than one hour.
To be missed: RVG (middle)
This is because, despite being grossly misunderstood, RVG has done a lot for Malawi football.
In fact, the roots of his philosophy will take long to uproot; for his philosophy is positive.
As Football Association of Malawi (FAM) President, Walter Nyamilandu, said the other day, "the Malawi Flames are playing like Barcelona".
RVG is going home barely two months after doing the best things for Malawi football and Malawi development.
This is because he recently took the Malawi under-23 to Belgium, where they camped for weeks on end.
Good man sent home: RVG (left) with Nyamilandu
Just two weeks ago, he donated items valued at over K100 million to flood victims, after Cyclone Ida devastated parts of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe-- killing 60 people in Malawi, hundreds in Mozambique and dozens in Zimbabwe. In total, over 1,000 people died.
RVG, ever the loving father, mobilized his friends in Belgium, the very friends that donated boots to football players that camped in Belgium, and, through such efforts-of-love, brought the items to Malawi.
Today, those in camps have something to smile about.
I met RVG in shopping malls in Blantyre a couple of times. I greeted him in the vernacular Chichewa and he responded accordingly. What an affable fella.
But, then, he came to serve people who are starved of success; people who want so much in so little a time; people who want to sow where they did not sow.
To say the truth, even the best coaches in the world cannot achieve positive results with the Flames; and the problem is as deep-rooted as age-cheating.
Some of the players who play for the under-23 side are 29-plus years.
Some of the players who wear national team colours are too old to learn new skills.
But the nation, starting with journalists who know nothing about football, ganged up against RVG in calling for quick-fire results.
Did a lot in two years for Malawi football: RVG (right)
They ganged up, with the FAM Technical Sub-Committee, to send RVG, a man like no other in technical ability and good deeds, home.
It is a sad day for Malawi, even as the good man RVG heads home through Chileka International Airport.
See you again RVG; in a place better than this.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Chilima's Dedza foray, Malawi's New Politics

After Friday's presidential aspirants debate at Bingu International Convention Centre (BICC) in Lilongwe, Vice-President Saulos Chilima only had to wait for the night to subside to trek to Dedza District in the Central Region to address a public rally.
By 03:30pm, he was at Mlanda Secondary School Ground, where women and students gathered to be the first to be publicly addressed by the Vice President after the debacle of BICC. 
Well, gauging by the attendance at the meeting, the 2019 elections are not dusted; they are an affair unpredictable.
That Malawians vote along tribal lines is a misconception. Maybe Malawians of old; for they knew nothing but three of four parties-- especially after the 1994 multiparty elections.
Since then, things have been changing, more so because, every five years, when Malawians go to the polls, a new horde of youths join them at the ballot, pushed by the excitement of 'first-time' factor.
It is the same situation this year, where thousands of new voters will have their first experience.
At the Mlanda Secondary School rally, the youth were in abundance.
In fact, perhaps for the first time in Malawi history, students calling themselves Mlanda Secondary School UTM Wing danced.
Normally, it is university students who do so.
Perhaps Malawi politics is changing, for, even in public universities such as Mzuzu University, student-teachers, some of them are already civil servants and in the civil service, have been donning political party clothes.
Not just ruling party branded clothes; those for the opposition too.
Meanwhile, political parties have introduced different strategies, including the old strategy of door-to-door campaign. Just that, today, they have 'bought' it new colours.
When not on the road, politicians are in would-be-voters' houses.
When not at BICC, they are in church or mosques.
For the established parties, they are doing little to entice the youth; confident in the blanket or duvet of tribal-line politics.
Well, it is time to reflect on things that are taken for granted. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Shire Valley: Malawi’s man-made or artificial humanitarian disaster?

Every now and then, officials responsible for disaster management have to make short, anguished trips to districts in the Shire Valley, a place well charted, as far as human disasters are concerned.
Chikwawa and Nsanje, the so-called Shire Valley districts, are so visible in disaster time— which is always in the rainy season— that, compared to other parts of Malawi, they wear their guts on the outside— as depicted through their resistance, which they portray with surplus machismo, to the idea of relocation upland.
The Shire River, Malawi’s longest and biggest river, flows in the background— perhaps as a symbol of the guts the people wear outside; for the river, which flows mightily in broad daylight, and in thick darkness, is very much a part of the Shire Valley’s story of disaster— laid out like the map of disaster waiting to happen.
For the most part— at least when disaster strikes— it [the river] is blamed for causing flooding, which often happens when its banks burst.
However, the floods cannot be traced to a single trail, like that [trail] of too much rains; for experts from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) argue that people stay too close to the river.
So, instead of being a single trail of disaster, the Shire Valley is ‘visited’ by a series of disasters— persistent, almost predictable— that has defined the pathways of Shire Valley people to trouble; trouble being the disasters that have become a tear-evoking part of their story.
The Shire Valley story, for what it is, is a story of agricultural production— its bedrock being the fertile, alluvial soils of the Shire River which nourish crops for sound nutrition and replenishment; and livestock, especially cattle, on which residents of Blantyre and other Southern Region districts depend to meet their meat needs— wildlife at Majete Game Reserve; hydro-electric power generation at Tedzani; man-hunting crocodiles; and, of course, floods.
At first, it was the issue of connotation of a name [that question again, what is in a name?] that was the trouble, for the area used to be referred to as the Lower Shire, and politicians such as former Cabinet ministers Harry Thomson, Gwanda Chakuamba and Sidik Mia and parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Chairperson Joseph Chidanti-Malunga did not like that idea.
They said, as Chidanti-Malunga puts it, that calling Nsanje and Chikwawa Lower Shire districts depicted the people as “backward’, ignorant almost.
They won the battle, the politicians; for the Shire Valley is getting more prominent than the Lower Shire.
Sadly, it is the story of persistent floods that continues to put Shire Valley people in the centre of the storm, for all the bad reasons, throwing positive stories such as those of natural resources preservation, hydro-electric power generation, food production, livestock production, among others, in the dustbin of petty things.
In the end, the Shire Valley has turned into, not a place but, an abstract mass whose story is tangled in flood-induced death, injuries, displacements and what have you. Not a desirable position for people desiring to portray a positive image to the world.
Not surprisingly, the people of the Shire Valley have come in for scathing criticism, people criticising them for staying put in a zone that reeks of nothing but trouble: injuries, displacement, death— a people unable to make decisions. Typical Lower Shire people!
But, of course, former veteran politician the late Chakuamba tried to back the people up, saying they, simply, could not abandon it as one abandons a lice-infested bed.
“The Shire River provides fertile land for the cultivation of crops and rearing of livestock, supporting the livelihoods of thousands of people,” he said on November 7 2007.
The Shire River, as Lake Malawi’s only outlet, also flows all year round, making green the grass that lines its path from Lake Malawi to Zambezi River to the Indian Ocean.
The grass is the food that nourishes the bodies of animals such as cattle, which are then slaughtered and consumed in places far and wide.
So, Shire Valley traditional leaders such as Nyachikadza have been refusing to relocate upland. For him, this is because his subjects’ ancestors are buried in the fertile soils that feed the green grass that is food to the cattle that nourishes the health of Malawians that love the Shire River.
In 2001, the government tried the impossible: suggesting that Shire Valley residents who stay in flood-prone areas relocate. In broad daylight, they refused.
This was despite that the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services had issued a ‘fresh’ warning’ that, for the umpteenth time, floods would define life for Shire Valley people during the rainy season that would span from November 2001 to March 2002.
The then director of the department, Donald Kamdonyo, said Malawi would receive average to above average rainfall, making floods inevitable, especially in the Lower Shire Valley districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje.
This came after, according to statistics which the Department of Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation— now Department of Disaster Management Affairs— compiled, at least 157,000 households in Chikwawa and 60,000 households in Nsanje were left destitute after floods messed their lives up the previous year.
That year, floods also affected 12 other districts countrywide, leaving five people dead after houses collapsed on them. Countless others suffered broken bones.
Not to be outdone, crocodiles, which always lurk in the waters, attacked and skilled dozens others in the valley.
That is the story of the Shire Valley when the country’s biggest and longest river, the Shire River, overflows; it washes not only livestock, people, houses and crops but also crocodiles that head for riverside villages.
The floods expose people and livestock that escape collapsing houses and raging waters to death at the hands of crocodiles, a painful ordeal considering that the mouth of a hungry crocodile has long teeth.
But, still, Nyachikadza and Chief Joseph Kwenje of Sekeni 1 Village in Chikwawa, where most houses were destroyed in 2001, refused to move an inch on the issue of relocation.
“This village has fertile land, on which we grow maize, sorghum, bananas, pumpkins, Irish and sweet potatoes, among others.
“For example, we harvest maize twice a year because of the rich alluvial soils. Our maize flourishes without chemical fertilisers. The Shire River is God-given and our crops are our life-blood,” he said.
In the name of lifeblood, they lose their blood to the raging floods, until, maybe, the last individual standing drops his last drop of blood— if not to a collapsing house or drowning, at least a crocodile.
It is a man or woman dying for the land he or she loves; just that death, instant and— in the case of a crocodile attack— painful comes in time of peace.
To 34-year-old father of four Michael Lufeyo, a resident of Thabwa in Chikwawa, there is no way they can relocate.
He says, in 2002, the then Environmental Affairs minister Thomson and the then district commissioner Kiswell Dakamau both tried to reason with him and other villagers to move upland. They failed.
“We nearly stoned them. You see, people often talk about the need to move out of here, our fertile land, but the places they identify for us are worse off than this place. The areas they suggest, including Dyelatu and other places, are dry and less fertile than where we are. We will never relocate,” he said on March 11 this year, even as the Blantyre-Chikwawa Road was cut off at Domasi in the district, leaving transporters and business persons grounded for days on end.
But, as former commissioner for Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation Lucius Chikuni once said, the only solution is to relocate.
"It will be difficult to convince donors, every year, to release funds for relief aid when the permanent solution would have been to move the people upland," he said back in 2001.
That is why, about 17 years later, Lufeyo is still staying on a floods-battered two-hectare piece of land close to Domasi.

Predictable pattern
The Global Framework for Climate Services Adaptation Programme in Africa has been predicting, since 2013, that rainfall patterns in Malawi and other Southern African Development Community member states would be tottering between normal and catastrophic. 
That is why, between then and now, it is either La Nina or El Nino, affecting, positively or negatively, the country’s agricultural seasons.
No wonder, “previous spells of El Nino greatly affected field production,” as Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services Director, Jolam Nkhokwe, observes.
The problem is climate change-related and solution, according to Natural Resources Minister Aggrey Masi, lies in controlling green gases emissions.
He says climate, per se, is not the problem; the problem is drastic changes in climate.
Climate, he observes, is a variable resource that drives economies through hydro, thermal and solar power but even these can be affected by changes in climate.
Another solution, of course, is relocation, an idea Director for Humanitarian Response at Dodma, Paul Kalilombe, supports as a long-term solution to perennial floods.
Fortunately, while those in the Shire Valley continue to snub the idea of relocation, others in equally flood-prone areas are ready to do so.
Other than Nsanje and Chikwawa districts, one of the districts have have fallen prey to persistent floods is Mangochi, where people in Chikundo, Nansenga, Chipala and Mtiyala villages, Traditional Authority Mponda, as well as some parts of T/As Chimwala, Namavi, Chowe, Chilipa and Makanjira have become more-than-one-time victims of floods.
Since the onset of the seasonal rains in November 2018, 15,000 households have been negatively affected in these areas, according to Dodma records.
It is the fifth time— meaning, fifth consecutive year— the households have borne the brunt of natural disasters, a development Mponda blames on climate change.
“We are living in strange days. In the past, disasters were not commonplace, perhaps because we had lots of trees.
“Today, most of the trees have been felled and we are experiencing challenges such as soil erosion, floods, drought, prolonged dry spells, among others. We do not know where to run to,” the chief says.
Of course, his subjects have an idea about where to run to: “Upland, of course.”
It is the voice of Marko Malikebu of Chikundi Village.
There is a problem, though: “I and my family cannot relocate upland because some of the areas identified do not have social amenities such as schools, sanitation and health facilities.
“Besides, we do not have money we can use for building resilient houses. Some of us do not have money for buying pieces of land in safe locations. We need support from the government,” says Malikebu, who has been constructing a new house each year for the past five years.

Most of the affected houses are built with unbaked bricks.
The challenge, according to Kalilombe, is that Dodma is incapacitated, when it comes to the issue of financing the relocation of, otherwise, stranded people.
This is because his department does not have the mandate to finance relocation of people affected by floods because it specialises in supporting disaster-struck people.
The best it can do is to engage other government departments on the issue.
“We, as a department, would have loved it if the people moved out of these areas because it is a concern for us to be assisting the same people each rainy season.
“However, the issue of relocation is a multi-sectorial issue which needs proper policies by relevant government agencies,” he said.
He says, on several occasions, Dodma has been advising affected people to move upland but most of them claim that they do not have a place to move to, let alone a pillow to put their heads on; meaning that, somehow, other government departments have to come in and support those who have turned into ‘customers’ of disasters.

Never ending cycle of trouble
Surprisingly, those who suffer the negative effects of floods and other natural disasters, and those who do not, are warned each and every year.
But, it seems, such news is treated as a myth, until the reality of disaster strikes, turning structures from houses, groceries to rubble— another macabre souvenir of the time bomb that ticks every time the rains are on us.
On October 1 2018, the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services announced that there was a likelihood of moderate El Nino weather conditions during the 2018/19 rainfall season which would cause floods in some parts of the country.
Nkhokwe indicated that the El Nino phenomenon was expected between September and November.
“Global models are currently projecting the development of moderate El Nino conditions between September and November 2018, which are likely to persist throughout the 2018/19 rainfall season,” he said.
An El Nino phenomenon is an unusual warning of waters over the Eastern Central Equatorial Pacific Ocean and is known to influence rainfall patterns across the world including Southern Africa and Malawi.
Nkhokwe said, between October 2018 and March 2019, most of the Northern Region areas, spilling over into Central Region areas of the country, would receive normal to above normal rainfall while most areas of the Southern Region would receive normal to below rainfall amounts.
“This implies that the impacts associated with reduced or increased rainfall amounts such as prolonged dry spells and floods, respectively, are likely to occur during the season,” he said.
He said this is based on observations and analyses in Malawi, with input from a climate experts meeting that took place in Gaborone, Botswana, recently.
Moderate El Nino phenomenon was also experienced in 2002/03 and in 2009/10 in Malawi.
Malawi's climate is influenced by three major factors, which are El Nino Southern Oscillation, The Indian Ocean Dipole and Subtropical Indian Ocean Dipole.
In addition, rainfall patterns are driven mainly by Intertropical Convergence Zone, Congo air mass and tropical cyclones, according to the department.
In the 2017/18 rainfall season, some areas, mostly in the Southern Region of Malawi, were heavily affected by dry spells which affected maize production output.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, at least 3.3 million people were food insecure during the 2018/19 lean period, statistics reflected in a Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee report.
While adverse weather conditions were, truly, foreseen, nobody foresaw events of last week, when rains fell in droves, leaving devastation and bad memories in their wake.
On March 5 2019, the Department of Climate Change and Metrological Services warned that the Southern Region would experience severe weather conditions that would weaken only on Friday, March 8.
The department further warned that the anticipated heavy rains could cause floods, including flash floods, in  prone areas while strong winds could destroy property and endanger life.
“To secure property and lives, the public should, therefore, take precautionary measures such as moving to higher grounds when water levels start rising, avoid crossing flooding rivers and not seeking shelter under trees and weak shelters,” the statement read in part.
Nkhokwe said the department was monitoring weather developments which could directly or indirectly affect weather over the country to ensure seamless use of weather information on all timescales by the public.
He attributed the conditions to a low pressure area initially traced in the Mozambique Channel.
However, the department seemed to doubt its own wisdom for, on Thursday, it changed tune, saying conditions would normalise on Sunday— and not on Thursday or Friday as earlier communicated.
As it were, by Saturday, the rains were over in Blantyre and other highly affected areas.
“When we said that the rains would weaken on Thursday, we didn’t know that the air mass which was in Mozambique and triggering the rains here in Malawi would actually come here in Malawi.
“As we speak, that air mass has come over and we expect the rains to continue up to Saturday when the air mass will be heading back to Mozambique,” he said on Thursday.
Nkhokwe reiterated that the rains could cause floods, including flash floods, in prone areas, destroying property and endangering life.

Trail of death
By Thursday, March 7, floods had claimed six lives— a heavy sacrifice even in the time of war.
Chikwawa Police Station spokesperson, Foster Benjamin, said the victims were swept away by flooding rivers, including Livuza and Mkhate, on Wednesday.
It took a day for rescuers to find remains of the victims.
“One of the dead people is Helles Maperera, a health surveillance assistant (HSA) at Maperera Health Centre. Two of the dead were husband and wife,” he said.
This means, in the case of the HSA, Malawi will have to dig deeper into its pockets to train more HSAs.
In 2011, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund and Ministry of Health and Population, Malawi had about 12,000 HSAs, a vital link between village and the health system. The HSAs work is carefully monitored by the village health committee, which is composed of an equal number of men and women and serves for a term of three years.
In a paper titled ‘Motivation of Health Surveillance Assistants in Malawi: A Qualitative Study’, Kingsley R. Chikaphupha, Maryse C. Kok, Lot Nyirenda, Ireen Namakhoma and Sally Theobald indicate that motivation of health workers is a critical component of performance and is shaped by multiple factors.
They cite salary, accommodation, human resource management, supplies and logistics, and community links as the five main themes that shape HSAs’ motivation.
They, however, observe that human resources for health shortage remain a key challenge to the aspiration of achieving quality universal health coverage in Malawi.
“In response to this, there have been increasing investments in community health worker (CHW) programmes, with the aim of bringing health services closer to communities and making services more accessible in resource-constrained settings,” they write.
A CHW is a health worker who carries out promotional, preventive or curative health services, and who is the first point of contact at the community level.
“A CHW can be based in the community or in a basic primary healthcare facility. In addition to specific aspects of their job descriptions, CHW selection criteria, remuneration and incentives, training, supervision and support structures vary by country and depend in part on the extent to which CHWs are integrated into a health system as well as on the degree to which task shifting has been implemented,” their paper reads in part.
With Maperera, investment in the health worker that was him has been lost to floods, and it will take years before one like him can be trained and positioned to serve rural dwellers.
This means, according to Benjamin, there is a human cost to floods, which is why all efforts must be made to avert such crises where possible.
Meanwhile, as the government and Shire Valley residents grapple with the idea of relocation, relief items have, as usual, been directed to people in affected areas.

Rescue efforts
On Saturday, Homeland Security Minister Nicholas Dausi— who oversees operations of Dodma— left Blantyre City early in the morning with assorted relief items meant for people affected by floods in Chikwawa, only to discover that the M1 Road had been cut off at Domasi, a spot between Thabwa and Kamuzu Bridge across the Shire River.
That has been another effect of the floods: people being cut off from the rest of Malawi, making transportation on land close to impossible.
Such is the situation in Mainland Chikwawa and the East Bank, where six people died last week, the highest among districts, according to Dodma.
By March 11, 30 people were reported dead nationwide.
After some roads have been cut off, Dausi failed to take relief items such as maize, plastic sheets, buckets and blankets to the intended victims of the floods, after President Peter Mutharika declared a state of national disaster last week.
Even Malawi Defence Force personnel and their search and rescue equipment were stuck; meaning that it was mission impossible.
No wonder, the South African government has come in, pledging assistance to Malawi at this point in time.
“I have been here since yesterday. I am going to Nsanje to visit my parents but I am stuck here,” said Joseph Mbundungu, one of the people found at Domasi.
Some motorists forced their vehicles into thick mud and water, with some people pushing them to provide an extra force at a fee ranging from K5,000 to K20,000. Call it cashing in on disaster.
“I have paid K500 for this man to carry me across. I have been greatly inconvenienced because I did not plan for this expenditure,” said Mary Mbamba, a businesswoman.
Linda Saulosi, 70, escaped death by a whisker.
“My house collapsed while I was lost in deep sleep. Fortunately, it collapsed outwards and I am here to tell my story,” she said.
Hers is one of the over 60 households that are being accommodated at Mediramu Evacuation Centre. People homeless in their country. More so because the Shire Valley districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa are, as before, the worst affected.
This being the case, can Shire Valley people be accused of recklessness, or inviting trouble to themselves and waiting to reap the benefits?
“I think, this time, floods have affected most parts of the country and there is no time to blame each other. We, as the government, just want to reach out to all those affected,” Dausi said.
Indeed, as he made a short and anguished visit to Chikwawa that Saturday, his Transport and Public Works Ministry counterpart, Jappie Mhango, was making a long and anguished visit to Mangochi District, where floods have left scars of pain.
On Sunday, Mhango toured Makumba, one of the four bridges which running water washed away along the Mangochi-Makanjira Road last week.
This means rehabilitation works have started.
“We expect that the contractor we have engaged, Mota Engil, will be able to open the road to traffic in the next four days. We want to make sure that people’s economic activities are not negatively affected.
“As you are aware, President Peter Mutharika has declared Malawi a nation in disaster. We are, therefore, set to repair all the damage which water has caused in Mangochi, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Phalombe and other districts. We know that lives of people have been disturbed but
we will try to come in with relevant support,” Mhango said.
Mhango also said it was not time for blame-games, observing that it was time to reach out to those affected in Chikwawa, Nsanje and other districts.
“But, sure enough, we need permanent solutions,” he said.
Mota Engil Project Manager, Jose Emmanuel Pereira, said his team would continue assessing other bridges before advising the government on how best to improve them.
Apart from motorists, healthcare service delivery has suffered a battering in the wake of the floods. In Mangochi, this means no referral services to Mangochi District Hospital from Lulanga, Makanjira, Lugola, Kadango and Lungwena health centres.
But Ministry of Health and Population spokesperson, Joshua Malango, said the ministry was doing its best to ensure that healthcare service delivery is not negatively affected.
Whatever the case, what is clear is that floods, a relatively silent crisis when compared to prolonged drought, spur a ‘loud’ humanitarian crisis.
Unfortunately, the damage floods cause is not based on total ignorance in all parts of the country; in some districts, it borders on neglect.