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.

Desmond Dudwa Phiri: mysterious sage who, after death, looms over Malawi

Like a falling leaf, Desmond Dudwa Phiri— popularly known as DD Phiri— has returned to, as the Chinese say, roots of the tree. What they mean is that it is good for one to die where they were born.

And, so, it is that DD Phiri's root turns out to be Henry Henderson Institute (HHI) cemetery in Blantyre.

Born in Mzimba District on February 23 1931, DD Phiri would, in the latter part of his life, be known as a relentlessly practical individual; no wonder, he leaves for us a horde of books, over 20, in fact—statistics of work and life well lived.

It is, therefore, fitting that that one man, the London University-trained economist and historian DD Phiri, used to run two columns—DD Phiri Forum in The Nation and DD Phiri Insight in The Daily Times.

That one man wrote countless essays, giving the Society of Malawi no option but to publish them into the book Malawi Our Future, Our Choice.

It is a journey that started in 1968, when the man DD Phiri authored the play The Chief’s Bride. It seems that, at that age of 37, there were publishers who had faith in him; for that is when Evans African Plays, an imprint of Evans Brothers Limited, published it.

However, it would take 39 years— from 1968 to 2007— before he would publish his second play, Let Us Fight For Africa, thanks to the warm embrace of Kachere Series.

Plays were not the only creative product he gave us; for biographies abound.

To his name, and to HHI cemetery he did not go without that story being told, are six biographies:  Dunduzu Kaluli Chisiza; I See You-Clement Kadalie; Let Us Die For Africa – John Chilembwe and, under the banner or series of 'Other Malawians To Remember', published Inkosi Gomani, James Frederick Sangala and Charles Chidongo Chinula.

Then, there are novels, notably Diniwe in Dreamland and novelettes such as Mankhwala pa Ntchito, Kanakazi Kayaya, Ku Msika wa Vyawaka and Ulanda wa Mavunika.

Other books to his name include History of Malawi: Volume One; History of Malawi Volume Two; From Nguni to Ngoni; History of the Tumbuka; History of Malawi to 1915; Hints to Private Students, and; What Achievers Teach About Success.

There are more essays to his name, a man who also offered selfless service when he worked in the diplomatic service until 1976, when he felt he had served enough and had to leave the work to young blood.

He did not sit on his laurels; instead, he established a distance learning institute, the Aggrey Memorial School, because he felt duty-bound to provide quality education at affordable rates to less privileged members of society.

He realised the importance of education way back in 1931 when, after his birth, he experienced, first hand, challenges Malawians were facing to access education services. It was with this picture in mind that he fought his way to Blantyre Secondary School and Livingstonia before moving to England, the United Kingdom, where he studied economics, history and sociology at the London School of Economics.

Looking at DD Phiri’s contribution to Malawi, it is as clear as day that the gulf he has created, through his death, will remain unfilled.

Today, it is difficult to think about DD Phiri and stand strong, let alone with a straight face.

That is why, when DD Phiri’s only son Kwame got the news of his passing on Sunday last week, he could not help but look at the world with a wan emptiness: nothing, not even the fact that his father had been hospitalised for some time, could placate him.

“At the moment, all I can say is that he was the best father and friend I ever had. I will miss him," he said.

He may need an ancient force of belief to get past the sadness that life has imposed on the Phiri family; after all, nobody prepares for the day they may lose their loved one.

Not that thoughts of death may not impress on us the fact that we are not immortal; such thoughts come, but in a context that is almost hallucinatory.

When death turns into reality, one is haunted with another question: Why dad, uncle, mother, sister, aunt, niece, nephew, grandmother or grandfather?

To make matters worse, it is unlikely that, at HHI cemetery, DD Phiri will be encased by his own people [blood relations], but he can find solace in the fact that among those that lie peacefully, but dead anyway, at HHI are people who read his books.

Although death is a journey best carried out alone, book readers may be there with him; this time, simply by reading his books and letting its message green over in our hearts.

It is as if people read through death’s intentions for, as recently as September last year, people gathered at Jacaranda Cultural Centre to celebrate the life of Phiri.

Before that event, in July 2014, DD Phiri had published his latest book on history.
He had given the book to me for review, and I felt humbled to assess the work of the giant-of-a-man that was DD Phiri.

This is what I wrote:
‘DD Phiri's quest for national 'immortality'

There is always a past and this makes history unavoidable, and the eventual absence of national records on our journey from the Partition of Africa, colonialism, independence and democracy akin to committing suicide at the national stage.

It must be that prolific historian and writer DD Phiri appreciated this realism by the strength of his age, experience, academic prowess and familiarity to the Malawian subject.

DD Phiri, as he has come to be known, must have realised, too, that forth-coming generations would be acting within their mandate to demand answers on why records were not set straight.

DD Phiri has 'partially' excused himself from such blame by publishing History of Malawi: Volume 1 in 2004. 'Partially' because the first volume limited the scope of Malawi's history to 1915— a time the pint-sized 'Amwandionerapati?' criss-crossed the land. 

Of course, volume 1 continued the tradition of other historians by making no mention of why the  'Amwandionerapati' were that short despite head of Malawi's 'Chipembedzo Chamakolo', Fred Kwacha, saying, time and again, that height provided cover to the country's early inhabitants, and that they could "spy" on lions, tigers, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, buffaloes, among other game, under the 'cover' of their height and forests.

Even though other issues— such as how the African continent was treated as a piece-of-cloth up for grabs, the toils of United States of America (USA)-trained Providence Industrial Mission pastor John Chilembwe, and founding president Kamuzu Banda's trek to South Africa, USA, the United Kingdom and Ghana, in that order  are mentioned; it is a journey half-covered.

Now, DD Phiri has made 'whole' his escape from blame by publishing History of Malawi: Volume 2.

 "As soon as volume 1 was published in the year 2004, book-sellers were telling me that their customers were eagerly asking for the next volume and wanted to know when it was going to be made available...," DD Phiri says in the preface.

In so doing, he has also satisfied the desire of Malawians because history is unavoidable.

 "...We do not need to be thoroughly versed in astronomy, geology or geometry if the careers we have chosen have nothing to do with such subjects.

"But we must be knowledgeable about personal and public health, as well as the history of our country. We cannot keep ourselves in good health unless we know what it takes to be healthy; similarly, we cannot love our country sufficiently if we are ignorant of its history."

David Hume, in the essay, 'On the study of history', also observed in 1740: "I must think it unpardonable ignorance in persons of whatever sex or condition not to be acquainted with the history of their own country, together with the histories of ancient Greece and Rome."

An individual acquainted with history may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century.

In the new Volume, Published in 2010 by College Publishing Company, we see Malawi, from 1915 to date, pass in review before us.

There is, in this 396 page-volume, the presence of that historical aspect; virtue, too. And orderly tucked in its 26 chapters are people and events in their proper colours. If DD Phiri has personal inclinations; then, they are not so visible to alter the overall state of facts and evidence.

Issues are presented in order of their occurrence. He does the same with personalities involved; he does not introduce them for the sake of it, but ties them to events they played a part in.

The first four chapters start on a social, economic and natural resources' note, with the first chapter chronicling the courage of local men who fought battles that were not theirs, and their contribution to British victory in East Africa during World War 1. The focus on land issues, education history, and rail transportation sets the tone for the brunt tone that characterises volume 2.

But, that aside, the politics of nationalism and independence make chapters four too 26 political— with some unexpected economic and social issues making sporadic appearances in chapters 16 and 22.

The book is a must-read for history teachers, students and the general population because everybody's needs are catered for in its approach. Combined with word economy, logic and a modicum of evidence, the knowledge gates are truly opened.

DD Phiri, a University of London economics, history and sociology graduate, has over 22 fiction and non-fiction books to his credit.

However, the History of Malawi Volume 2 is not a paragon of innocence.

To start with, there are some confusing typos and, second, there are not many books on the subject.

Third, Malawi is still a 'young' nation. As Sir Francis Bacon said, "a young nation is fitter to invent than to judge". Maybe this is why some of the assertions in the book cannot be backed up. Were they invented?

To this, DD Phiri says: "the writing of this book could have taken me even longer if it were not for the fact that most of the events narrated herein happened when I was already old enough to take interest and sometimes participate in them."

Participation and narration can, sometimes, be fortresses that limit the view of the outside world and distort perspective.

Otherwise, DD Phiri's latest publication is written for everyday use, replete with a permanence which the passage of 96 years has very little modified. It presents the Malawi we have always had.

While it is almost like a state of mind for some people to abhor criticism, I was surprised that DD Phiri lauded my review when I met with him at Jacaranda School for Orphans in Chigumula Township, Blantyre, six months later.

This was after Marie da Silva of Jacaranda School for Orphans had brought people from USA to impart some technical skills in local children.

“I liked the review. You were also spot on on criticism. Keep it up,” DD Phiri said.

He, truly, had the heart of a writer— standing ready to accept both praise and criticism.
Other writers turn post-publication time into one of division; standing ready to pounce on critics.

Today, Malawi is in ruins. The creative mind of DD Phiri, forever a scene of constant bustle, has been frozen; his temperate heart stilled at last.

Floods put livestock under threat

Nobody prepares for floods at the end of what is supposed to be the outset of the rainy season.
Which is why the floods that have affected Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have taken the three countries by surprise.
Sometimes you can, at least, prepare for such eventualities and alert people to measures to take to avert disaster.
But not domesticated animals.
On this basis, Malawi has been taken by surprise by the Cyclone Ida and Cyclone Desmond-induced floods.
In that package of surprise is the loss of up to 60 lives now, with thousands more people displaced, including 230,000 women, according to United Nations agencies. 
Now, it has been established that Malawi has lost at least 15, 000 livestock to floods at the national level.
Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development statistics indicate that 15,444 livestock drowned, with the department’s director, Dr Patrick Chikungwa, saying they want to mitigate the risks of the loss to farmers through the Flood Emergency Response Programme in conjuction with World Animal Protection.
Whatever the case, recovering from the loss of 15,000 livestock would be a tall order.
The best solution, for the time being, could be to safeguard the remaining livestock from internal and external parasites by de-worming them.
That work must start now.

Malawi's presidential debates: Gracious Grace Malera!

The moderator for tonight's presidential debate at Bingu International Convention Centre, Grace Malera, is composed.
She is patient, at best.
She is in control of the debate, although indications are that she is letting Atupele Muluzi aim deliberate digs at other presidential aspirants.
Twice, on the issue of agriculture, Atupele has attacked Malawi Congress Party and UTM manifestos, describing Malawi Congress Party's manifesto as "thin" while that of the UTM is "contradictory".
But Atupele, the spoiler, is giving nothing away about his United Democratic Front's manifesto.
After all, the two parties have launched their while Atupele's party has not.
The field is not level. Atupele has an unfair advantage, for he can attack others but others, really, have no chance to critique United Democtaric Front's manifesto.
You do not criticise something you do not know.
In all this, the moderator is trying her best to 'pretend' to be detached from the emotional turmoil that could, probably, be eating through the panelists' hearts slowly but surely.    

Aspiring presidents battle on points

At Bingu International Conference Centre now, those aspiring for Malawi's presidency are tussling it out, with one except-- incumbent president Peter Mutharika.
While the debate was supposed to pit one idea against the other, one supposedly opposition leader, Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) is playing the spoiler-- taking digs at Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera and UTM leader and State Vice President Saulos Chilima.
Just that Atupele is not skillful at doing that.
But this, too, is not suprising. For Atupele is a Cabinet minister in the current administration.
He is Health Minister.
It has never happened before for a 'rebel' to retain a position in a party --Democratic Progressive Party-- he plans to stand against.
But is has happened, which all but gives Atupele's position away.
Atupele, through UDF spokesperson Ken Ndanga, has maintained that he will contest for the presidency.
But it is clear that Atupele may change his mind anytime.
After all, at the debate now, Atupele is not his own person; let alone his party's [UDF's] person; he is his father's person!
There, is the answer to the puzzle. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Malawi's health sector in never-ending woes

Things seem to be going from bad to worse in the health sector in Malawi, where problems seem to be in a race against each other; one problem trying to ride on top of the other.

A case in point is Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH), where nurses have stopped working extra hours after the Ministry of Health and Population turned down their proposal for an adjustment to overtime allowances. They have a right to withdraw their labour, anyway; for they have the backing of labour laws.

If the truth be told, the nurses have not withdrawn their labour. What they have done is to stop working extra hours; work they do at their will, despite getting less than what they deserve.

In fact, it is not the first time nurses have decided to boycott work, after their normal working hours, on the ground that Ministry of Health Services and Population officials do not want to bow down to their [nurses’] demands for allowances they call ‘locum’.
In May 2012, they did the same, demanding an increment to locum after the administration of the then president Joyce Banda devalued the kwacha by close to 50 percent.
And, like this year, the ‘epicentre’ that year was KCH, where nurses refused to work in the paying ward and Ethel Mutharika special ward. Management had no choice but to close the affected facilities.
What the nurses are saying is that, after working the normal hours, they are not interested in stretching themselves-- rather, their bodies-- for an allowance-package that counts for nothing less than an insult.

The other thing they are saying is that they are willing to put themselves up for service, but at a cost; cost higher than their current entitlement.  

It seems that the government is being battered left, right and centre for, in January this year, nurses who offer their services to the government despite not being full-time employees threated to go on strike.
Led by Donald Kanjere Zgambo, the concerned people said they wanted nurses and midwives who are currently not employed, but are working and form a strong force in public hospitals, to be employed.
Some of the nurses and midwives just get locum, internship allocation and upkeep allowances.
They get K2,500 for working during the whole day and K3,000 for working the whole night as locum, yet Malawi is in need of an additional 5,000 nurses for the health sector to tick.
The victims, as usual, are the poor. The situation is, therefore, nothing short of disheartening.

It is disheartening because access to health is listed as a human right, including in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi; meaning that the State is obliged to ensure that services are ticking and that citizens are getting medical services. Any failure to do so smacks of irresponsibility.

It is such irresponsibility that has led to the suffering of innocent patients. We are talking of patients referred to the facility from district hospitals, most of such patients are too poor to afford services in private health facilities.

As at now, some of the patients referred from feeder hospitals have complained of not being attended to, or medical personnel taking ages to attend to them. Hospital management has also referred other patients back to facilities they came from, meaning that something is wrong because the facilities that refereed the patients to KCH knew that there were things they could do.

It is only natural to feel for less privileged people who are being tossed to and fro like coins. This is inhumane.

That said, it is important that nurses concerned should, for a while, bear with the authorities and hold them accountable if they do not live by their word when Parliament meets for the budget session later in the year.

After all, it is less than three months before legislators who will be elected on May 21 take office and meet for the budget session of Parliament. We know, as at now, that it will take Malawi Electoral Commission eight days to announce results for the presidential election, 23 days for members of Parliament and 30 days for Local Government elections.

After that, the problem will be addressed.

As at now, the money being asked for, which is K10,000 on average per eight or 12 hours after normal working hours, was not budgeted for and, as such, funds cannot fall from the sky. Ministry of Health officials, through their spokesperson Joshua Malango, have accepted that something is wrong and have committed to making things right in the next financial year, which starts on July 1.

Sometimes, it is important to realise that passion, and not necessarily monetary gain, is the price we say for working so hard without being appreciated.

Let all those concerned put themselves in the position of the poor citizen on the ground, be a little patient, like patients themselves, and reap the deserved financial rewards in the new financial year.

There is no other Malawi than the one we know and, together, we must stand for each other, understand each other and develop together.

As for the government, it should learn that, sometimes, it pays, and saves us time, to do the needful at the right time. Its officials should not be forced to act all the time. The fact that top public officials seek medical attention in up-market health facilities, often outside the country, should make them blind to the reality back home.

Let must always put ourselves in the shoes of others.

Hands to the wheel as Malawi’s presidential aspirants set sail

WOMAN OF THE MOMENT: Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson, Justice Jane Ansah
There is time for the mighty, those we treat as potentates, to come back to their senses and, again, be the diminutive creatures they were at birth.

It is not a voluntary act, for the most part, but one forced by the artificial process we call national elections. Elections, no matter how abstract, exert some perceptibly heavy weight which, when it hits the senses of politicians, cows them into human beings we want them to be.

Well, it is that time again— the only time, once in five years— when politicians are dwarfed by the fear of losing national elections and are left with no choice but to worship the would-be voters they have been taking for granted all along.

After all, the voter— poor or rich— wields the vote, the equivalent of a heavy axe, that can cut through the limitless ambitions of many a politician, be it Local Government election aspirant, parliamentary candidate or presidential hopeful.

Already, even before the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) tolls the bell, marking the launch of the two-month official campaign period which will this year span from March 19 to May 19, politicians have put their hands to the wheel, crisscrossing the country with the zeal of a foreign tourist who has never been to Malawi.

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party leader, President Peter Mutharika, who has been flashing the card of a development-conscious leader, has been on national tour, leaving the confines of his comfort zone to face the citizenry on— like he did the other day— the street or at choreographed State engagements or political rallies.

Times have, indeed, changed.

Actually, in the anonymity of the crowds, as he tries to portray himself as a man-of-the-people, he has been promising heaven on earth— as when he said he was ready to transform Malawi into Europe in the next five years.

Well, as former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika said, a man – and woman?— is entitled to dreaming in colour, even when there is no ink with which to ‘paint’ the dreams into reality, hard reality, for that matter.

One of the stumbling blocks to his soft sail on May 21 is, of course, the killing of people with albinism— a distraction of magnanimous proportions because, as he says, his administration has done its best, in terms of infrastructure development, food security, economic stability, education and healthcare service delivery, power generation, among other areas, during the five years he has been Chief Executive Officer of this land of the lake.

Of course, he says he has put in place cogs aimed at ensuring safety of people with albinism, one of which being the procurement of alarm devices to be ‘planted’ on each person with albinism so that, when the heartless humans who are out to pluck their lives out of the earth pounce, police should be a button-press away.  

The President has also met with representatives of people with albinism, which means he is tackling, akin to making hay, one of the issues that could define his campaign as the sun shines—considering that the official campaign period starts on March 19.

His presidential running mate, Everton Chimulirenji, has also been to the ground, starting with a rally he held in Ntcheu District in February, followed by the Masintha one in Lilongwe and, last week, in Mzuzu.

He has taken advantage of the rallies to reaffirm his wish to be Mutharika’s good boy. He has also used some of the meetings, like the Mzuzu one, to portray himself as a man who rises from the ground to become important in national affairs, hence asking “poor” people to vote for their fellow “poor’ man.

Perhaps Vice-President Saulos Chilima has been the pioneer of strategic political campaigning, for, starting from the time he severed ties with the ruling party, he has been selling his UTM— whose torch he will carry at the May 21 presidential election— as one sells fresh fish from Lake Malawi. You sit on the fish for a second and it goes bad.

READY TO VOTE?: Party supporters
Chilima has crisscrossed the country, selling himself as a youthful character that delivers on his promises, often citing strides he made when he was in charge of public reforms in the current administration.

Chilima is also casting himself as the hapless chap who could not call the shots in his father’s house [Mutharika’s administration] for, as former president Bakili Muluzi once said, “wapakaliyala sayimba belu [there can only be one leader at a time]”.

His rallies are, therefore, propelled by his wish to call the shots [from the front], promising to do some of the things the current administration has not done— like abolishing Quota System, which, in proper speak, means equitable access to tertiary education [read, in public universities].

He has promised to transform agriculture by introducing one mega farm in each district, creating one million jobs during his first year in office, shedding off some of the president’s powers, especially when it comes to the appointment of heads of governance institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

His running mate, Michael Usi, has gone a step further, introducing Development Anthropology— which is another name for door-to-door campaign. Crouching to the ground like a commoner, Usi— and Chilima too— has been meeting ordinary members of society, spinning them into the UTM-gravity with the aim of squeezing that one vote out of them.

It remains to be seen how far he, and Chilima, will go.

Malawi Congress Party torch-bearer Lazarus Chakwera is in with his HI5 agenda, premised on servant leadership, prospering together, ending corruption, uniting Malawians and rule of law.

With that message, Chakwera, who was the Leader of Opposition in Parliament in the past four years or so, before being replaced by Lobin Lowe, has been to Central, Southern and Northern region districts as he seeks to consolidate his supporters’ base and build a leadership-mansion from the ashes of his 2014 loss at the polls.

So far, the party seems to be attracting both the old and young.

His running mate, former Cabinet minister Sidik Mia, has not stayed home. He has been mobilising his supporters in the Shire Valley districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa, while also reaching out to people in Mangochi and Machinga districts to make up for what MCP did not get, in terms of votes, in the 2014 Tripartite Elections.  

Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front, who seems to have been taken by surprise by last-minute events, culminating in his decision to run for president and pick running mate Frank Mwenifumbo, has, perhaps, been the most quiet as he is yet to make forays into districts other than those of the Eastern Region [this is a political region], such as Mangochi, Machinga and Zomba.

But Mwenifumbo has hit the ground running, in the past two weeks visiting districts such as Rumphi and Mzimba, where he is selling Atupele, who is a Cabinet minister [Ministry of Health and Population], as the next best thing to happen to Malawi.

His [Atupele’s] experience in the government is the wind that will take his UDF-boat to the State House, along with his vision for a food secure Malawi, economically empowered Malawians and black-out-free country, Mwenifumbo has been preaching.

When Mec declares the official campaign period on March 19, it is likely that Atupele will begin to ram into Mutharika.

As for former president Joyce Banda, she has been a paragon of contradictions, one day declaring that she is not contesting in the election and, just in the nick of time, saying the opposite.

What Banda has been consistent on is her message of consistent power supply, economic transformation through the introduction of loan facilities, restoring donor confidence in our systems, promoting security so that people, like those with albinism, may live freely thereafter, freeing the public airwaves, among other things.

Her running mate, Jerry Jana, has been in tow, although he is yet to pave his own path when campaigning so that, when Banda heads north, Jana should be in the opposite direction.

Even Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Development has been on the campaign trail, although he has largely focused on Mchinji District.

However, Umodzi Party’s John Chisi has chosen to play by the book [rules]; waiting for Mec to blow the whistle so that he does everything within the confines of the law.

What Malawians must be certain about is that campaign period is a time of division, sometimes of terror. What Mtendere Electoral Support Network and Malawi Electoral Support Network leaders are saying about focusing on issue-based campaign could just be a shout into the fast winds of politics; the message may be heard but it will not be in the air long enough for politicians to take it seriously.

So, as politicians set sail for campaign, civil society organisations should as well prepare to wash their faces with a fountain of tears-of-regret.

After all, when it is campaign time, politicians shed their skin of normalcy and engage an extra gear in spewing garbage in the form of lies; they step past their normal self to win some freedom from honesty as they refine and redefine reality for voters.

Just that voters know better and, while they may be pretending to have been tamed when attending political meetings, sometimes going to the extent of pretending to flower in the hands of politicians, they become their own persons in the voting booth, where their verdict is final and cannot be tempered with even by Mec.

What a precarious position for politicians.