Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Malawians Should Celebrate Prophet Shepherd Bushiri

For once, Malawians need not look further to appreciate the fact that, like dust, anyone can rise with the winds of fortune and make it big in world where everything, including success, depends on one's own initiative.
Today, Malawians can just look at Prophet Shepherd Bushiri to know and realise that everything is possible.
Of course, Malawians -- most Malawians, that is-- have grown up believing that success comes on the premise of patients. Towing this line of thinking, most Malawians adopt a wait-and-see mode. Even when the world throws all the hard lessons on them, they wait, patiently, in the hope that, with patience, everything will fall into place.
Most often, their patience endures to a fault.
But that line of thinking is about to be taken out abandoned in Malawi-- for examples are plenty of people who have thrown the patience sleeping to the dogs and taken the path towards their destiny in their own hands.
Today, Malawians no longer have to look at others who are doing so well in other countries. They only need to take a quick look around the room to see that there is someone who is making the headlines for all the good reasons: Prophet Shepherd Bushiri.
To begin with, Bushiri's is a rags to riches story. No, not rags to riches story. It's a story from humility to greatness.
Bushiri, in his youth and school days, started off as a members of SCOM and participated in all the activities SCOM members participate in.
But he seems not to have believed that there is life after this life. It seems like he believed that people could make the best out of this life. He seems to have known that, by tooling the scriptures and living God's word [in other words, by seeking God's kingdom], everything would be added unto you-- and me!
And, so, he embarked on a journey to reach out to many souls. He did not have a prayer house of his own when he embarked on this spiritual journey. He did not even have a bicycle. All he had was faith; the faith that everything is possible with faith in God.
And, then, there was that break-through. By serving others, he ended up serving only himself because he is the one who reaped the blessings of preaching to people and reaching out of those craving for spiritual emancipation.
From fellowship, Bushiri saw his mission grow into a church.
Actually, Bushiri has become one of the richest prophets in the world because of something that happened when he went to share the word with a certain rich man who happened to have a mine.
The man, according to Bushiri, was prayed for and received his miracle. In the end, touched by the fact that what he thought was an irreversible condition had been reversed through prayer, the rich man sold Bushiri a mine at a very cheap price.
The miracle was much more than the mine.
"When I bought the mine, I sold it at twice the buying price and invested the money in other ventures," Bushiri confesses.
So, while he continued with his preaching, he also realised the importance of investing. In other words, he had become a preacher and businessman.
He has interests in mines, banking, education and, need I say, sports. He has a sporting academy in South Africa, he recently short the Flames-- the Malawi National Football Team-- in the arm by donating a whopping K44 million to the Flames. The funds were meant to help the Flames prepare for the away and return matches against Guinea last week and on Tuesday this week.
Now, the mistake people make is that of judging Bushiri as a prophet when they are referring to business issues and attacking Bushiri as a businessman when they are referring to business issues. It is like someone is jealous and does not want to see a fellow Malawian prospering.
But, then, Bushiri has shown to be a man who does not forget his roots.
Countless times, he has reached out to the most vulnerable and donated relief items.
Just this year, he distributed track-loads of maize flower to villagers struck by hunger in Ntcheu.
Last year, at the height of the Lower Shire floods that affected parts of Chikhwawa, Nsanje, and well as other districts [outside the Lower Shire] such as Mulanje, Bushiri was all over-- distributing clothes, food and what have you.
I happened to be one of the people on one of such trips to the Southern Region district of Chikhwawa, and I must say that I was impressed with the way Bushiri handled himself.
When we met at Chichiri Shopping Mall around 9 am, Bushiri greeted each one of us, and made us feel welcome. He was wearing a golf shirt while the people escorting him under the banner of Pentecostal pastors were wearing suits as heavy as an armor. It was clear that Bushiri was different.
In the Lower Shire, Bushiri personally distributed the relief items-- handing them over to the affected people. Definitely, he wanted them to reach the intended recipients.
It was a hot day, but Bushiri chose to be there and see to it that the materials that were being distributed reached out to the right people.
On our way back to Blantyre [needless to say in the evening], our vehicle broke down somewhere before Thabwa in Chikhwawa. Bushiri and other people were behind us. They found us eight minutes later and Bushiri personally stopped, disembarked from his vehicle and checked our vehicle. He wanted to know what the problem was.
When he was sure that the problem could not be fixed, he made sure to arrange for another means of transport because, apparently, he knew how important it was that we reach home.
In all this, he did not appear to be a pompous man. And he was still in his golf shirt.
So, really, I do not understand why people hate on him.
He is a man-- just like us-- trying to make the best out of his, and other people's lives.
The best we can do is appreciate that he is doing very well and that, if we work as hard as him, and be as diligent as him, we may get our rewards. Maybe a greater rewards than what he has received.
So, hate it or love it, Bushiri will not get poor, or stop preaching, because someone hates on him. Haters will, more likely, just feel more pain as Bushiri touches more people in his life.
As they say, there are more blessings in giving than receiving.
And Malawians can benefit more by blessing Bushiri than hating on him. In blessing others, we gain more [not forgetting peace of mind].

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Up in Flames: Flames' hopes!

Home ground advantage is a very tricky thing and it is the rare host who handles it well.
Today, the Malawi National Football Team, a.k.a. Flames, showed us that, even after close to 52 years of Malawi's independence, they are yet to learn the trick of handling foreign teams at the Kamuzu Stadium.
So, it was the same, old story: The Flames threw home ground advantage to the wind, gifted Guinea two preventable goals had the goalkeeper been at his best, and squandered their best opportunity to set feet on Gabon in 2017.
Well, I can understand why Malawi threw home ground advantage to the wind today. It is the coach!
Look here, the temperatures hovered above 25 degrees celsius at the Kamuzu Stadium and, yet, head coach Earnest Mtawali could manage to spot a heavy suit that forgettable afternoon. Probably, he did not want to 'feel' the wind that took Malawi's chances away!
To say the truth, the Malawi National Football Team did not tick this particular afternoon. Come to think of it, during the entire first half, The Flames attempted only one-- eer, shot? Pass?-- header in front of goal and, as luck would have it, the header was converted into a goal by one Chiukepo Msowoya.
The fans were up in the air as if they had wings!
And, then, The Flames blew the opportunities to go into recess with a goal advantage by allowing Guinea to score just when the fans were preparing to go for break.
That proved to be The Flames' undoing.
Maybe a word for the fans. Malawians do not know how to support their team, and only rise up when someone scores. Malawians cannot sing for their national team unless their is a goal or penalty. And the fans are, therefore, partly to blame for The Flames' dismal performances on home turf.
In the end, today-- and its forgetable business at the Kamuzu Stadium-- is gone. Tomorrow, the head coach should not wear an armor instead of a suit.
But, at least, you gave Malawians something to laugh about on a, rather, unproductive day for The Flames.
Malawi's chance of being party to the party in Gabon is gone. But nobody can stop the Malawian fan from going to Gabon to experience the wonderful feeling of being part of the game.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Of The Malawi Economy's 'Resurrection' and Easter

A falling Malawi Kwacha increases Malawi's sense of isolation.
This sense of isolation increases when the Malawi Kwacha staggers when pitted against other, relatively strong, economies right here in Africa. For instance, the South African Rand, which at one point traded shoulder-to-shoulder with the Malawi Kwacha in the good, old days, is miles away from the Malawi Kwacha. One really needs bags of banknotes just get the Kwacha equivalent of 50, 000 Rand.
We cannot talk of the United States Dollar, for a long time the measure of the Malawi Kwacha's strength, or weakness. I do not know why the Sterling Pound does not count much in a country which used to be under British rule. In January this year, one United States dollar sold at 700-plus kwacha.
Thing is, the Malawi Kwacha annually staggers in the run up to the Easter Holidays [which this year spanned from March 25 to March 28]. It is normal for the Kwacha to behave this way. After all, by this time, the foreign currencies in our reserves are depleted-- this being long after the tobacco sales.
Again, the situation is understandable because, by this time, subsistence and smallholders farmers keeping on hoping for a good harvest [maize, rice, sorghum] because the real crop is still in the field. There is hope, yes-- because the maize, sorghum, rice crop for that particular year can be seen. But everything ends there; at the hope stage. Until the crops are harvested, we cannot say the crops are as good as harvested!
But, then, every year, the expected, but odd, development takes place. As Malawians-- who pride themselves in being a God-fearing people-- look forward to the Easter Holidays, they discover that the Kwacha has recovered somewhat, and that the economic situation is not as bad as it were a couple of months before.Come to think of it, the Malawi Kwacha is selling at 675 to one United States Dollar today, as opposed to the 700-plus figure one required to put their hand on a United States Dollar.
This is victory of some sort, and the experts say the kwacha behaves this way because the tobacco sales' season is on the cards. The trend has always been that the United States Dollars start trickling in ahead of the tobacco sales, thereby boosting the, otherwise, wobbling Malawi economy.
Ironically, according to economic commentator Henry Kachaje, the "Malawi Kwacha has been sick for decades".
So, it is not like the Malawi economy recovers in the run up to the Easter Holidays. It has never fully recovered "for decades" [to put Kachaje's observation in context].
But, at least, it gains something of its lost muscle, though the gains are just a fraction of what we may call success.
Back to the odd development that takes place annually. Why does the Malawi Kwacha's relative gain coincide with the Easter Holidays? Is it because Malawians are a God-fearing people?
Well, the truth is that the Malawi Kwacha recovers part of its lost clout due to a so-called evil: tobacco!
Tobacco kills. Tobacco makes people cough.
But the Malawi Kwacha does not die. The Malawi Kwacha does not cough.
NOW BUYING MORE: Malawi's banknotes -- Banknote pictures sourced from
It [instead] gets a lost part of itself [a part of a lost part of itself] back. And that time happens to coincide with the Easter Holidays [holidays celebrated because there was a resurrection-- Great Resurrection-- once]. And that time coincides with the onset of the tobacco sales season.
It is an odd fact that will keep on repeating itself. A fact that helps ease Malawi's [should we say the Malawi Kwacha's?] sense of isolation.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

One Pre-Democracy Incident That Symbolised Malawi's Communal Spirit

The ceiling of togetherness seems to have dropped so low that it is hard to think of life beyond oneself. I mean, so many people are living for themselves these days.
Come to think of it. Malawians have, all along, lived a communal life, before the spirit of individualism swept the communal spirit that characterised life among generations gone-by away, and replaced it with ‘everyone-by-themselves attitude.
In those days [I mean, pre-democracy days], no one would go hungry when the neighbour had a handful of flour.
In those days, a woman who, somehow, ‘allowed’ their children to go missing were being whipped so hard that they went crouched like a rabbit. I witnessed one such incident as a kid in Salima District in 1992. A woman [I do not recall her name] lost her child and the child was found loitering around at Kamuzu Road.
The Malawi Congress Party chairperson for the area, Kunkeyani Kaliveni Betha, took the child to his house, summoned elders from Chiphala Village, who sent for the mother. The mother was ordered to remove her top clothes, whereupon the elders descended on her— whipping her with small tree branches they could get hold of.
The helpless lady cried and cried, but the men could not take pity on her. Other women, angry with their friend for being so careless that she could lose sight of her own kid, watched close by, clearly in support of the men.
After ten minutes, the woman’s back was a sorry sight. Print marks were all over, and blood, too. She had paid for the sins of her child [Is this not the reason we celebrate Mothers Day?]!
Well, the woman went back home with her kid.
And I knew she would beat that kid to pulp back home. Call it a woman’s revenge!
In this case, the community played the role of custodian. Here was time when each one [as someone put it about Malawi] knew everyone else.
Fast-forward to this hour and things have changed.
Of course, change is good though, sometimes, it may be so rapid that others cannot keep pace with life.
A good case in point is one Egyptian novelist who stopped writing because his subject— the Egyptian man and woman— was changing fast!
In Malawi today, we can say the Egyptian case is playing itself out.
When thieves invade a house, neighbours hide their own skins as terror plays itself out.
In low density areas such as Namiwawa in Blantyre, children live behind brick fenses that offer no view of the outside world. They no longer play hide and seek games. They no longer celebrate when the moon casts her light on mother Malawi.
In the process, the communal spirit we cherished is gone— buried under the rubble of democracy!
Today, it is hard to look at the Malawian, or at the selfishness each one wears as a robe, without
a creeping wonder: Where is the communal spirit gone?
The gulf between the races stays unabridged. The gulf between voters and their representatives stays unabridged.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Development at a Snail's Pace

Sub-Traditional Authority Govati of Mwanza does not remember the last time he saw a wild elephant in the district. Yet, every time he steps out of his house, another type of elephant awaits him: The white elephant!

“We have a lot of white elephants in Mwanza. From Thambani, which falls in my area, and other faraway places, we simply have so many of these. Politics seems to have perpetuated the trend,” Govati says.


Of course, he is referring to uncompleted projects, and not necessarily elephants with ‘white’ skin. After all, according to, elephants only have “gray” and “wrinkled” skin. The website adds that elephants are known as pachyderms, along with hippos and rhinos, a name derived from the Latin words for “thick” and “skin” (‘derm’) to literally mean “thick-skin”.

To strengthen his case, Govati cites uncompleted houses marked for teachers and healthcare service delivery workers.

“We have a situation at Thambani (Trading Centre) where two houses meant for health workers have remained uncompleted for years. Again, at Kalanga Primary School, a teacher’s house built through the efforts of the Area Development Committee (ADC) has not reached window level some three, four years after the project begun,” Govati says.

Govati says other abandoned projects include a gravity water project that has remained a pipedream even after the commencement of ground work.

Unfortunately, Govati’s subjects are not the only ones affected as Inkosi Kanduku can testify of having his fair share of white elephants.
INKOSI KANDUKU: The education sector is the hardest hit

Kanduku says one of the hardest hit sectors is education, where learners have to cover a distance of between five and 10 kilometres to get to the nearest learning facility because the schools in their area do not meet minimum standards.

“For example, we have the case of Futsa Community Day Secondary School. Construction of a school block, courtesy of the European Union, started in 2009 but, up to now, nobody knows when the school will open its doors to our children because there is no tangible progress. In fact, some people are using the school block as a hall,” Kanduku says.

But the Ngoni chief puts his foot down on suggestions that education officials should open the school to learners, saying it is better for community members to hold their breaths until the facility meets minimum standards other than expose their children to a deplorable learning environment.

However, the decision to keep the block closed to learners has come at a cost as learners from neighbouring areas such as Tulonkhondo have to cover a distance of more than eight kilometres to access education facilities at Thawale Community Day Secondary School in the district.

Stitch in time

Fortunately for Mwanza residents, Dan Church Aid, with support from Tilitonse Fund, has come to their rescue, thanks to the ‘Collaborative Action in Strengthening Local Governance Project’ being implemented by the Association of Progressive Women (APW).

Concerned with increased cases of abandoned projects, APW invited community members to consultative forums and mobilisation meetings in a quest to shape community perspectives and understanding around key development issues between the month of February and March this year. These efforts culminated in a number of community dialogues taking place with various community leaders in following up the unfinished or stalled projects.

“Among other things, we discovered that there is lack of coordination at various levels of government, which suffocates patriotism and community ownership to project implementation. There is also little coordination between the Central Government and District Councils in drawing up development plans and annual budgets,” Grace Moyo, the project officer, says, adding:

“There are also inadequate resources for councils to help build capacity of the Village Development Committees (VDC) and ADCs, training of traditional leaders on their new roles in democratic governance, coupled with deficiency in policy analysis, advocacy and low education levels. Deficiencies in coordination between these levels of governance are clearly demonstrated in the manner in which communities handled all these stalled and unfinished projects.”

Moyo observes that citizen influence has been generally low with their inputs having only peripheral effects in effecting positive change.

Her sentiments are echoed by programme manager, Noel Msiska, who cites a case in Kanduku’s area.

Msiska says community members, through the VDC, proposed the construction of a bridge over a drift at Mkwilira River in a bid to address mobility problems faced by the pupils and residents around Dzomodya, Mbirizi, Mtaya, Butao and Kumpakiza villages during the rainy season.

He said the proposal was accepted by the Mwanza District Council and construction materials started arriving at the project site after community members had contributed sand and stones. The Council, he said, recruited its own contractor without thorough consultations with the ADC and VDC and the project took off.

“However, the ADC members, who were providing oversight monitoring, observed that, out of 50 bags of cement meant for the project, only 15 were used in electing the foundation of the bridge. As a result, construction works stalled and the communities still suspect that the rest of the construction materials, particularly cement, were taken up by the contractor who just left the project at foundation stage and they can hardly locate him. They wonder that the council is not holding him accountable for the unfinished project,” says Msiska.

Apart from these projects, the other notable projects that have been unnecessarily delayed or stalled altogether include the Muwanga Okhota Schools Development initiative where community members proposed the construction of a modern school block; Chidokowe Primary School, a Standard 1 to 6 learning facility that has only one block; Golden Village clean water project; Chifunga Police Unit; Ziyaya Chidole School Project, and; Kunenekude Police Unit construction, among others.

Msiska contends that challenges faced by Mwanza residents are not unique to the district, raising concerns that failure to complete projects seems to be a nationwide malaise.

He suggests that the Malawi government should engage an expert team to conduct an assessment study on all uncompleted projects in Malawi and make recommendations on how government can recover costs from such projects. He adds that legislation and the funding mechanism systems of the Constituency Development Fund and the Local Development Fund should also be reviewed.

“There is also need to implement measures such as increasing access to information at district level, simplifying reports to give all residents the opportunity to offer scrutiny, promoting open bidding for contracts, using agreed monitoring tools and promoting equal presentation of local leaders at district level to bring about transparency and accountability at all levels of governance,” says Msiska.

He adds that there is need to build the capacity of village monitoring committees in project monitoring, budget tracking and governance for them to be able to demand satisfaction of development projects within their localities, as well as reviewing the Local Government Act and Decentralization Policy.

Recurrent business

Mwanza District Commissioner, Gift Lapozo, says, under normal circumstances, councils act as engines of development by creating policies, mobilizing technical and financial resources in their bid to ensure that resources are well-utilised in advancing the development agenda.
MSISKA: Challenges are not unique

Lapozo also says, under normal circumstances, public projects are not supposed to hit a snag on the basis that Members of Parliament (MP), or councilors, who initiated them have been voted out of office.

“Government is a growing concern: It doesn’t change; if anything, it’s the faces that change. So, if the government is a growing concern, why do development projects initiated by MPs stall once they are voted out of office and yet we say development derives from the people? It’s like kugwiritsa anthu ntchito yopanda malipiro (letting people toil in vain),” laments Lapozo.

Lapozo expresses concern that some stalled projects started as way back as 2010.

“These development projects just need funding. Piecemeal development approaches are catalysts for poverty, illiteracy. Let’s find out and discuss the way forward so that the newly-elected ward councilors can work smoothly. It’s time to share, to rectify problems and complete all stalled projects,” Lapozo says.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Moving in Circles

September 24, 2011 is such a long time.
But, in the anonymity of government officials minds, the year 2011— which gets buried under the pile of history every passing year— holds no special memories. It is just one of those ordinary years.
This seems to be the line of thinking when it comes to the issue of— yes, your guess is as good as mine— the slain University of Malawi student, Robert Chasowa.
On September 24, 2011, Chasowa’s body [whose only ‘sin’ [to the public officials, of course] was to combine activism with academic endeavours, lay motionless on the, hitherto, inconsequential pavement at The Malawi Polytechnic— a constituent college of the University of Malawi.
He had, apparently, been forced to embrace death’s cold arms by people who do not deserve to have peace of mind.
The government, apparently ‘concerned’, instituted a Commission of Enquiry that would bring hidden truths to the fore. Well, the Commission of Enquiry did its job compiled and presented a report of its findings.
On another day, I would have talked about the painstaking delays that have marred the death of that young man Chasowa. But I choose to concentrate on what I saw that September 24, 2011 bright day.
I happened to be one of the Continuing Education Centre [an arm of The University of Malawi] week-end classes’ students at The Malawi Polytechnic [well, I do not like the term ‘The Malawi Polytechnic’; I think The Polytechnic is what the one who said The Malawi Polytechnic meant to say] then.
And I happened to be on campus on the said September 24. As it were, our class [make-shift class that is; for The Polytechnic is notorious for lacking learning space] happened to be the first floor above the spot where Chasowa’s body lay.
Well, we did not learn that day. Sorrow washed through the campus like a rain cloud. Tempers flared. Fuelling this sadness was the blood of Chasowa, which took some time to dry because— maybe— it wanted to foreshadow the fact that Chasowa’s issue would never die a natural death.
People – meaning, those responsible— may have wished Chasowa away. But the tide of public opinion has always been against burying so blatant an injustice under the rubble of bygones.
I visited the scene of the gruesome act of shame today afternoon. The concrete stone students erected inches away from the scene of that horrible act is gone. The blood, repeatedly washed away by rains, is gone.
But the memories simply cannot be washed away.
And, maybe, justice will not be wished, and washed, away.

Who Will Control The Police?

In one moment, the place was buzzing with activity. In the next, it lay in a mist silence, forced into this corner of silence by heavily-armed police officers who had invaded the place from Lilongwe Police Station.
Some people hid in the washrooms while others were being forced to palm-oil some of the police officers who were demanding K2, 000. In one corner, a police officer was beating a woman whose sin was, apparently, to be found in a place duly licenced to operate in that hour. By the way, the time was 01: 18 am. It was Thursday, March 3 this year.
I wanted to join the others and run away, too, but I quickly realised that although I entertained thoughts of running away, I could only go as far as [or run away into] my own mind. I also realised that I could not desert my two Zambian friends who had invited me to this place because they wanted to sample life in Lilongwe.
The scenes I am describing played themselves out at Culture Club [Chigwirizano] in Lilongwe on March 3. It is this month but it looks like yester-year. I had gone to Lilongwe to fulfil some assignments on February 29 and was supposed to travel back to Blantyre on March 3, in time for what remained of my assignments there.
My plan was to travel to Blantyre during the night of March 2 [Wednesday] but my plans were foiled when we arrived in Lilongwe very late. One of our crew suggested that we visit the City Centre and it was there that I bumped into some two Zambian journalist-friends I first bumped into in 2008 at a World Bank-funded Business Reporting Workshop held in Blantyre.
As it were, the two Zambian journalists were in the country to cover food security issues. I told my two friends that I was travelling back to Blantyre the next day, in time to finish the assignments I was remaining with.
Well, from the look of things, the two friends invited me to join them at Culture Club, where they “will shower you with soft drinks all night”. Reluctantly, knowing it had been a long time since 2008, I accepted.
We arrived at Culture Club around 10 pm and the two friends really showered me with soft drinks till my stomach ached.
Then, around 01: 18 am [March 3], all hell broke loose as uniformed police officers stormed the scene and started arresting people and beating unfortunate ones. They said the people on the premises had been arrested for rogue and vagabond. In fact, they even arrested some workers at Culture Club on the same charge: Rogue and vagabond.
I counted the police officers and I came to a figure of 16. Their leader came towards where we were, handcuffs in hand, and commanded us to stand up. They said we were under arrest for being found at Culture Club during that ‘ungodly’ hour.
Two more police officers joined him, and asked for K2, 000 if we were to be left untouched. I could see some imbibers ‘paying’ K2, 000 to buy their freedom while the unfortunate ones were bundled to waiting police vehicles parked just outside the club.
Together, the three police officers demanded that I and my Zambian friends pay K2, 000 per head “for us not to arrest you; otherwise, we will take you to Lilongwe Police Station”.
I knew deep down my heart that I would not pay that amount. This is because, in my understanding, Culture Club is supposed to operate from 8 o’clock in the evening to the early hours. During the day, the place is closed for business because, in my understanding, the Lilongwe City Council issued a license to the owners to operate from 8: 00 pm to the early hours of the morning. In fact, they can operate up to 6: 00 am if they choose to.
And, in line with my line of thinking, one of the managers challenged the police officers, telling them what they were doing was contravening the very rules they are supposed to enforce. He even rushed to one room, got a Lilongwe City Council certificate and another certificate permitting them to sell the kind of stuff they sell, but the police officers had none of it.
In fact, in defiance, they arrested one more worker from Culture Club, saying they were mandated by law to arrest those found loitering aimlessly.
I joined the manager in arguing against the action of the police who, in my view, were doing what they were doing out of ignorance and, for lack of a better word, due to unprofessionalism.
For a moment, stood up and followed the police officer who was leading his colleagues to tell him that what they were doing was unprofessional and uncalled them. I told him there was no way they could arrest people on premises that were duly licenced to operate from 8: 00 pm to the early hours of the next day.
Instead of listening to the voice of reason, he ordered his friends: “Arrest this one, too. Rogue and vagabond”. I could not imagine myself in a police cell for being found at the right place at the right time and, so, I rushed to the washrooms and locked myself there until an hour later.
I do not know where my Zambian friends went. Worse still, I did not have their phone numbers. Maybe they were picked. But I am sure they ‘bought’ their’ way out.
This experience has taught me one thing. We still have bad apples in the police. Otherwise, how on earth could they violate the right of business persons duly licensed to operate a night club, and get away with it?
It is a shame that the police officers behaved as if Malawi were a police state and this should not be allowed to happen in a free country like ours. I am sure the club lost out [in terms of money] that night and, yet, the police officers who did this were, probably, not even reprimanded by their bosses.
I think the police believe that they own this country, and that is why they sometimes behave contrary to citizens’ expectations. But, in an ideal world, such excesses need to be checked!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Sad Thing About Mzuzu Violence

The violence that marred a political meeting in Mzuzu recently is a reminder,yet again, that some politicians confuse democracy for freedom to do whatever they want. And this, again, serves as a reminder that Malawi has a long way to go.
Well,on Monday I went to Mzuzu City and, checking the business outlets, I could not find any machetes. I was told 219 machetes had been bought during the previous three days before the violence.
As it turns out, machetes,which are innocent tools used for bad purposes, have become the hottest selling property in Mzuzu.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The More Things Change...

It has not been a good for the governing Democratic Progressive Party administration.

In the end, the government side, which was supposed to behave as a warrior worth its salt by standing on the side of people, ended up creating the picture that it is a side that busies itself in shooting down worthwhile initiatives for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

Come to think of it. In fourteen days, the government side has put itself in an uncomfortable position by rejecting amendments to the Corrupt Practices Act; the President, who plays the cards in the ruling party, has refused to respond to questions from Members of Parliament in Parliament.

The only good news is that both ruling party and opposition Members of Parliament seem to agree with suggestions that the office of the Auditor General should be more independent than is the case now. But, again, the ruling party side sees uncomfortable with suggestions that the Auditor General should be appointed through the Public Appointments Committee.

However, since the issue of President Peter Mutharika refusing to appear before Parliament has been dealt with in previous posts, let us concentrate on the issue of the Corrupt Practices Act.

The Corrupt Practices Act has been at the centre of debate in Malawi for some time. There are two schools of though: one [school of thought] advances the argument that the Corrupt Practices Act is a blue-print watered down by Executive excesses, and; the other school of thought argues that the Corrupt Practices Act is okay in its current form.

Now, those who tow the first line argue that the Executive arm of the government is still very much in control of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, and calls the shorts when it comes to the Anti-Corruption Bureau's decision-making processes. They say the head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau is appointed by the President, which, in essence, makes them the President's Boy or Girl!

However, those who advance the second line of thinking argue that things are okay as they are, and they cite cases where serving government officials have faced the long hand of the law. A good case in point is that of former Cabinet minister, Yusuf Mwawa.

It seems like Lilongwe South West Member of Parliament, Peter Chakhwantha, is on the side of those who believe that the Anti-Corruption Bureau should not be tinted by the President's shenanigans. The legislator, therefore, wanted Parliament to amend Section 5 and Section 7 of the Corrupt Practices Act.

The sections in question gives the President the mandate to appoint the Director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau. Chakhwantha, like most of the opposition Members of Parliament, wants the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament to usurp that role. But that is not all theere is to the changes; Chakhwantha also wants transparency in coming up with names of those qualified to head the Anti-Corruption Bureau by advertising the post.

It did not come as a surprise to learn that, the amendments were shot down in the committee stage of the bill.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Chakwera, Others, Expected Too Much from President Peter Mutharika

Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Lazarus Chakwera, must have expected the moon on earth when he asked the President, Peter Mutharika, to set his feet in Parliament and respond to questions four opposition Members of Parliament directed at him.

After all, no democratic president in recent memory [some people confuse former president, Bakili Muluzi's brief presence in Parliament as a rare moment when a sitting Head of State stepped into Parliament to respond to legislators' questions. How wrong!] has honoured people's expectations and appeared before Parliament.

So, it came as a surprise to learn that Chakwera, Mzimba South West legislator and former Vice-President Khumbo Kachali, Rumphi East legislator Kamlepo Kalua and Nkhotakota South East legislator Makowa Mwale had sent questions to the President.

According to Standing Order 70, legislators are required to send their questions to the President through the Office of the Speaker of the National Assembly [of course, Malawi does not have a National Assembly, in the absence of a Senate-- and this is according to human rights activist Marcel Chisi]. The legislators duly followed the procedures and expected nothing short of the President's presence in Parliament.

But, as has sadly been the case in Malawi, the legislators' wish did not materialise. The President-- to comfortable to be taken out of his comfort zone by mere legislators] decided to delegate.

And, as expected, Chakwera is not pleased and has, again, as expected, simply withdrawn his question. Chakwera says he will ask the questions again once the President indicates that he is ready to appear in Parliament. What wishful thinking!

Chakwera, on one hand, knows pretty well that the president will never avail himself.

The President is a clever man-- if dodging legitimate questions has anything to do with democracy-- and will make it impossible for legislators to corner him and drag him to Parliament. The President may not be ready to face Kalua in Parliament. He may drag his feet when the prospect of meeting Chakwera in a public forum like Parliament is about to be realised.

The President knows that falling for legislators' trick to avail himself in Parliament would be putting himself in Chakwera's hands. And Chakwera may become the master of the game, throwing the President this and that way at his [Chakwera's] will before citizens of this country. The MPs represent the people, after all. Chakwera's hands are like a rock.

Of course, by denying the people of this country [through the MPs] a chance to get answers from the President himself, President Mutharika has played into Chakwera's hands. He has cast himself as a coward, and people may take long to forget this-- especially when hunger is stinging in the stomach and the economy operates on its own terms, other than according to Reserve Bank of Malawi monetary policies.

But that the better option for the President. It is easy, and painless, for the President to snub Chakwera just like that. Over time, as former president Muluzi rightly observed, "Malawians forget very quickly". Appearing in Parliament is like being caught by the raging waves of Lake Malawi.

Otherwise, the President would have fallen into Chakwera's trap by accepting to appear before predictable opposition legislators. Actually, the opposition legislators are predictable; they are out to get at the President. Embarrass him if they can.

And President Mutharika seems not ready for that spectacle. So, maybe it is a fair game for now.

What is needed, though, is for Malawians to fight a way out of presidential rebuffs like these. They do democracy no good.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why The Malawi Government is Behaving Like a Diminutive Creature

By its very nature, the government— any government— is supposed to be a giant looming over tiny citizens. For all intents and purposes, the government— any government— is supposed to run the shots.
Not the Malawi Government!
From the word go— the moment President Peter Mutharika discarded the cloak of ‘ordinary citizen’ to adopt the all-powerful name of President , he has been behaving like a man struggling to shrug off the shadow of nobody knows who! But, definitely, the shadow that looms over the supposedly all-knowing President is not that of former, temporary, president Joyce Banda. For Banda, may she eat enough today wherever she may be, fears her own shadow!
But there is a shadow President Peter [the name Peter is being repeated to avoid us confusing the President with that other president who smiles at us from beyond our reach] Mutharika fears— a shadow that, probably, forces him to turn his Cabinet ministers into reactionary forces up to, no apologies for this description, some no-good.
Look, since President Peter Mutharika took over the joystick of power after the May 22, 2016 elections [it is difficult to know whether we can ably call those elections the ‘May 22 Tripartite Elections’, for they took almost forever [before the tearful Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson, Justice Maxon Mbendera made the announcement the opposition loves to hate, after Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda forced the hand of the Malawi Electoral Commission on the issue], his administration has quickly adopted this idea of responding to every media reports that casts the government in negative light.
If the government is not responding to former president Joyce Banda’s outbursts, some Cabinet Assessment, or civil society organisations’ threats to hold demonstrations against government’s failure to arrest an economy on a free-fall, then it is responding to media comments about the media’s perception of President Peter Mutharika’s unwillingness to appear before ‘harmless’ members of Parliament and respond to ‘harmless’ questions.
Today [March 15], the government— through the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs— has seen it fit to be at it again.
When fear is in high supply due to reports of hunger all over the place [truthfully, though, hunger is not all over the place. I was in the Central Region districts of Mchinji and Kasungu two weeks ago, and I saw the promises that the land in these two districts has made to the farmers: They will have a good harvest], and when the country is running low on hope, the government still finds the time to indulge in the pleasure of writing hastily-written, redundant press releases.
If the purpose of the press statements is not to persuade citizens to change their rational way of thinking and embrace blind patriotism, then, surely, it [the purpose of the press statements] is to assure itself [the government machinery] that it is still in control, and that there are still people out there who can listen to it!
Otherwise, the press statements have become so routine that they serve no purpose.
But, at the same time, they serve a purpose. More than anything else, the purpose is to ‘assure’ Malawians that, contrary to the picture they have— the picture of a government so in touch with current affairs that no one can beat it hands down; the picture that the government is an all-knowing ‘human-being’ who looms over all national affairs, fears and hopes inclusive— the truth is that their government has become a ‘being’ so diminutive that it has been dwarfed by the complexity of the problems the nation is facing.
Need we talk about hunger, economic meltdown [though the kwacha has, of late, been picking up its own pieces, to the chagrin of tobacco farmers who see their investment being eroded by every muscle the kwacha gains], hunger— which has fuelled cholera cases [indeed, for the first time in as many years, we see the health system failing to control the outbreak]— a health system run down by drug shortages that it exists only in name, government’s reluctance to embrace Access to Information [as seen by its watering down of the ATI Draft Bill, among others? No. This is work for another day.
But, when the government grows so afraid of the voice of its own citizens and media that it reduces its core function to issuing press statements, citizens have reasons to worry. Worry, yes, because it means the government is afraid of setting the wheel of democracy run free. And such behaviour is precisely undemocratic.
Those who may wish to go through the government’s latest piece of madness, here is the press statement released today.



The Daily Times and the Nation Newspapers today, the 15th March 2016, carried articles entitled: “Mutharika dodges MPs’ questions” ...; and, “Mutharika refuses to answer MPs’ questions....”. The stories in both newspapers are quoting the announcement which the Speaker of the National Assembly, Rt. Hon. Richard Msowoya made in the National Assembly to the effect that the President had delegated to the respective line Ministers the questions which had been asked by some Members of Parliament pursuant to Section 89(4) of the Constitution. The Nation Newspaper, has gone to the extent of imputing that by such delegation, the President has flouted the Constitution which he swore to uphold.

Section 89 of the Constitution deals with powers, duties and functions of the President. Sub-sections (3) and (4) of that Section provide for questions to the President. Section 89(6) of the same Constitution expressly states that “the powers and functions of the President shall be exercised by him or her personally or by a member of the Cabinet or by a Government official to whom the President has delegated such power in writing.”

While the Constitution is clear that there are certain specific powers and functions which can only be exercised by the President alone, it does not restrict the President from delegating some of those functions if he chooses to do so. In the case of the questions which were asked by the Members of Parliament, it is clear that the responses to them can best be provided by the line Ministers. The President was, therefore, perfectly entitled to delegate to the said Ministers, and in doing so, he was acting within law. Indeed, it is inconceivable to expect that the President would be able to deal with each and every issue or question personally. Hence, delegation is a necessary part of his Constitutional functions because it affords him the opportunity to deal with other equally important matters of State.

With respect to the Parliamentary questions, the Business Committee fully appreciated that the President could delegate his functions. Standing Orders 70 and 201 of the National Assembly regulate the manner in which questions to the President are handled. Except for questions under Section 89(3) (c) of the Constitution, Standing Order 201 leaves open the possibility for the President to delegate.

Government is, therefore, appealing to all those who comment on matters of public interest to do so in a manner that is fair and accurate. Quoting one provision of the Constitution in isolation from the other similar provisions has the potential to mislead the masses. Fairness demands that those who have the podium to comment on public issues must do so in a manner which is balanced. To interpret the Speaker’s announcement that the President had delegated the Ministers to answer his questions as a refusal by the President is grossly misleading.

Made this 15th Day of March at Capital Hill, Lilongwe.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Can't Vice President Saulos Chilima Represent The President in Parliament?

Malawian leaders are an interesting lot, but seem clueless when faced with Members of Parliament intend on holding the leaders accountable for whatever decision they make.
And it is apparent that at no time do the leaders’ fears come to the fore than when they are summoned by Members of Parliament.
In post-1994 Malawi, it has become impossible for leaders to be held accountable through that forum of the people [through their Members of Parliament, of course]: Parliament.
Former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, never availed himself to legislators to respond to their questions. Joyce Banda was no different and no one expects President Peter Mutharika to be any different.
But our leaders’ position on the issue of appearing before legislators armed with the sole purpose of responding to questions is no unfortunate it is undemocratic. Come to think of it, our legislators are direct representatives of the people, voted into power to represent nothing but the wishes of the people of this country.
In the latest episode to the issue of legislators asking for an honest, harmless face-off with their president, four members of Parliament— Malawi Congress Party president and opposition leader, reverend Lazarus Chakwera, Mzimba South West legislator and former Vice-President Khumbo Kachali, Rumphi West representative Kamlepo Kalua and Nkhotakota South East legislator, Everson Makowa, send questions to the President under Standing Order 70.
When legislators have burning questions and feel that the only human being capable of providing answers is the President, they write the President through the Speaker of the National Assembly. The four legislators took this path but, as has sadly been the case with our so—called democratic leaders, the four legislators will be disappointed to learn that a Cabinet minister will stand-in for the President.
This is sad, considering that the issues the legislators raised are pertinent to Malawi. We talk of hunger and an economic down-spiral that has no brakes.
Maybe this should be, yet again, an eye-opener and should help us reconsider the role of the Vice-President in our national affairs. Maybe the Vice-President, if the laws said so, could have represented the President well. Otherwise, delegating a Cabinet Minister smacks of insecurity and blatant disdain for accountability.
Of course, I know that Vice-Presidents, even in the United States, are figureheads. They are there and, at the same time, they are not there. Indeed, one humorist in the United States joked that “The role of the Vice-President is to represent him or herself at the president’s funeral”. I have forgotten who, but I liked that expression.
But this is not the way things should pan out, in the United States, or in this country.
The Vice-President can become more useful than now by being given some responsibilities. For example, the laws – or, is it protocol? — should make it possible for the Vice-President to stand in and represent the President when the question of the President appearing in Parliament [and the President seems unwilling to do so] crops up.
As things stand now— and, maybe, I may be schooled on this one— the National Assembly is composed of The President and The Parliament. I do not think the term president [despite appearing alongside the Vice President, who serves as running mate, on the ballot box] includes the Vice-President.
If it does, why not send Vice-President Saulos Chilima? That’s where the issue of insecurity crops up.

Someone, somewhere— as has happened so many times before— is afraid!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The tobacco paradox: Dead forests, living economy

Touted as Malawi’s green gold and top foreign exchange earner, tobacco could as well be described as a death-inducing life-line because it leaves behind a ‘forest’ of dead trees before it injects life into the country’s economy.

Every year, before opening of the Auction Floors, the country pays a heavy price in form of dead trees so that tobacco can exert that small, temporary push on the national economy.
But, realising that “nothing good can come out of destructive practices”, Evason Goliati Ganizani, from Dikhirani Village, Traditional Authority Nyoka, in Mchinji has proven to be a man living ahead of his time.

“I have realised that the practice of cutting down trees in order to construct tobacco barns has led to the depletion of the country’s forests and, although I realise that tobacco supports the livelihoods of millions of Malawians, I believe that nothing good can come out of destructive practices. I have, therefore, embraced the idea of using a ‘live barn’,” says Ganizani.

A live barn is a tobacco shed constructed using trees that have not been felled. The trees are systematically planted in stations with the aim of using them every year as a replacement for dead wood while the supporting trees continue to grow.

“I planted the blue gum trees I am using as my live barn in 2012 and I am happy that I have started using them. I am sure that, through my live barn, I will contribute towards efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change while ensuring that I continue earning a living through tobacco cultivation. I am sure that, had Malawi embraced this idea in 1964 [after attaining independence from Britain], we would not be talking of forest depletion,” says Ganizani.

Ganizani, who is a member of Tayambanawo Club— a grouping of like-minded smallholder tobacco farmers that started in 2015— says, before adopting the ‘live barn’ concept, he used to cut down at least 60 trees to support tobacco leaves plucked from his one hectare piece of land.

Before embracing the idea of a live barn, Ganizani used to spend between K40, 000 and K80, 000 to purchase wood for barn use. He, however, observes that other farmers without the financial resources used to sneak into Mchinji Forest Reserve to steal trees.

While other unscrupulous tobacco farmers may continue making the occasional trip into Mchinji Forest Reserve, Ganizani says he no longer digs deeper into his pockets to purchase trees for use in his ‘dead’ barns.

Since 2012, he has been planting 30 trees on his woodlot and expresses hope that, in the next two to three years, every Tayambanawo Club member will have a live barn to cater for forest needs.

Elizabeth Masepa, 60, from Mkusa Village, Traditional Authority Mavwere in Mchinji, observes that the use of live barns can help farmers save costs.

“It is not easy to source the wood we use in barn-construction because one either has to buy the trees at an exorbitant price, or cut down trees, thereby depleting natural resources and exacerbating challenges associated with climate change. I have developed a live barn because I want to get rid of these challenges,” says Masepa.

The live barn initiative is a brain-child of Alliance One Tobacco Company and the company’s Area Field Supervisor for Mchinji District, Patrick Antonio, expresses optimism that it has become possible to delink tobacco cultivation from the practice of cutting down trees.

“Live barns can go a long way in saving the country’s trees from the axe. In fact, we make sure that farmers who are part of our Integrated Farming System— commonly known as ‘Contract Farming’— embrace the idea of having a live barn. The availability of a live barn is a pre-requisite [for us to start working with an interested tobacco farmer] and serves as collateral for those who get loans from us,” says Antonio.

Antonio adds: “We encourage farmers to plant acacia trees for the live barn because trees such as blue gum absorb too much water. We then give the farmers basal dressing fertilizer, and they apply 30 grammes per tree-planting station. This ensures that the trees grow fast. We believe that environmental conservation should be at the centre of tobacco farming in the country.”

Time bomb

Malawi’s natural resources are running out, and fast.

University of Malawi (Unima) professor of history, Wapulumuka Oliver Mulwafu, observes, in a research paper titled ‘Is The Battle on Conservation of Natural Resources in Malawi Winnable? Perspectives from Historical Knowledge’, that “Malawi is experiencing an environmental crisis”, as manifested in the deterioration of natural resources.

Mulwafu observes that the country lost 494, 000 hectares of forest cover between 1990 and 2005, a development he says necessitates a change of approach.

But that approach does not entail the deployment of Malawi Defence Force personnel to forest reserves such as Dzalanyama in Lilongwe— as has been the case recently— he warns.

“Is the use of the military an answer? We need militaristic approaches [yes, but], not necessarily [use of] the military,” says Mulwafu.

He implores policy-makers to embrace approaches that embrace the role of citizens and science in natural resources’ management.

“If the other issues are undressed, degradation of natural resources will continue,” says Mulwafu, citing weak policy and legal framework, poverty levels, and Malawi’s cradle of democracy as some of the challenges fuelling the problem.

“The cradle of democracy we have is, probably, creating problems. But democracy is not incompatible with environmental conservation,” claims Mulwafu, urging players in natural resources’ conservation to stop pointing fingers at each other and focus on exploring lasting solutions..

The adoption of the live barn concept in tobacco farming could as well be one of the lasting solutions.

Scattering ‘live barn’ seeds

It is not just Mchinji District tobacco farmers who have embraced the concept of nurturing trees that serve as a live barn, though.

In Kasungu District, the concept seems to have caught the attention of farmers like bush fire.

One of the farmers, Solomon Mwale, says he has, so far, used 758 seedlings to develop his live barn woodlot.

“The acacia trees I have been planting are growing so fast that I am sure I may be able to use them in two years’ time and say good bye to the practice of using dead barns. I have three layers of trees, depending on differences in planting years and I am happy that, shortly, I will be able to save the country’s forests. Live barns can, surely, go a long way in saving what remains of the country’s forest cover,” says Mwale.

Agriculture, Irritation and Water Development Minister, Allan Chiyembekeza, says the government welcomes the use of environmental-friendly agricultural activities, hence encourages players in the industry to adopt good farming practices.

“We all know that climate change is posing a number of challenges to agriculture. We can help deal with some of the factors that have contributed to climatic changes by developing initiatives that will ensure that we do not destroy the very environment that sustains our agriculture. The live barn concept is, surely, a welcome development,” says Chiyembekeza.

As one tree probably kisses the ground somewhere in Mchinji or Kasungu, blue gum trees in Ganizani’s live barn may be shaking against the wind, oblivious of the fact that they would have been ‘dead’ by now.

Vernacular Language Playwrights Shun International Competitions

They take the audience along almost the same path, weaving the same twists and turns into their scripts. But, despite Chichewa and English playwrights adopting the same techniques, Chichewa and foreign language playwrights seem to have taken different routes on their way to earn international acclaim.

The predictable outcome has, unfortunately, been too much paperwork for Chichewa playwrights and producers but little progress to show for it, on one hand, and too much paperwork for English playwrights and relative progress to show for it.

Cases of English playwrights and film producers winning international awards abound. For example, in 2013, Blantyre-based Chimwemwe Mkwezalamba won Best Emerging Director award for her film, ‘The Designer’, at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival held in California, USA.

The feat came after another Malawian, Mwizalero Nyirenda, had won the Sembene Ousmane Award in Zanzibar (Tanzania) after his film, ‘Umunthu’, won the hearts of judges.

Nominations, too, have not been in short supply for Malawian films, including Shemu Joyah’s ‘Seasons of a Life’ and the ‘Last Fishing Boat’— which were nominated several times.

Just recently, Actress Joyce Mhango Chavula won the Best Movie— Southern African category— in the fourth edition of the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards at an event held in Lagos, Nigeria.

Chavula, who won the award for her exploits in the movie tilted ‘Lilongwe’, beat two South African movies which were also nominated in the category. These are ‘Ayanda’ by Sarah Bletcher and ‘Tell Me Sweet Something’ by Akin Omotosho.

Ironically, while English film makers have been making in-roads internationally, the Chichewa film and theatre scene has been silent and still. It is as if Chichewa playwrights and filmmakers are almost innocent of any sense of haste to make it big internationally.

Programmed hesitancy?

Veteran actor, Eric Mabedi, says most Chichewa plays and films are not submitted to international award organisers because playwrights and producers do not think beyond the stage performance.

“In the first place, I have never thought of that [submitting our works to international award organisers]. Secondly, my understanding is that drama is the message and our focus is the Malawian audience. I don’t think our messages may appeal to international audiences and judges,” says Mabedi.

He adds that, to buttress his point that “drama is the message”, he has observed foreign nationals struggling to get the message during Chichewa stage-performances.

“It is not just about costume, choreography – it’s about the message you are passing, or trying to pass, across. I have seen Europeans and Americans patronising our stage performances but, for them to understand the message, they always have someone close by who whispers something to them. This means the message is very important and the other things merely serve to support that message.

“The same thing applies to costume. The producer, in our case Charles Mphoka, ensures that the message tallies with the costume. There has to be no disparity between the message and the costume because it is the message that is very important. So, I think it may not be easy for us to win international awards while using our language,” says Mabedi.

But Solomonic Peacocks director, McArthur Matukuta, observes that language may not always be a barrier.

He, however, observes that some local plays are tailored to specific occasions and may, therefore, be unattractive when presented for consideration in international awards.

“In our case [Solomonic Peacocks], we normally do Chichewa productions for civic education purposes and after achieving our purpose [of civic educating the audience], we cannot submit the same productions for consideration in international awards,” says Matukuta.

He is quick to point out that, while he does not understand why Chichewa playwrights do not submit their works for consideration in international awards, other foreign playwrights who produce plays and films in minority languages have excelled in international competitions.

He cited the case of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known on stage as Molière— one of the French playwrights and actors considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature. He said, apart from producing works such as The Misanthrope, The School for Wives, Tartuffe, The Miser, The Imaginary Invalid, and The Bourgeois Gentleman, most of his works were scripted in French.

Matukuta also singles out German author, playwright and essayist, Rainald Maria Goetz, who produced a numbers of plays in his native German, and the plays went on to scoop international awards.

In the meantime, as English playwrights make hay while the sun shines, their Chichewa counterparts could be waiting for a turn that may never come.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Serving the Health Needs of Mozambican Refugees

CHADZA: Twenty six women have delivered so far

The grass-thatched houses and tents are mounded together in a scrambled fashion: There cannot be a fixed plan because the number of the people they house— people fleeing the conflict in Mozambique— is changing fast.

“On Thursday [February 25], there were about 7, 000 refugees. Today [February 26] the figure has reached 8, 000. The number is increasing every day but the resources, including medical drugs, have not been increased. We sometimes scramble for the same medical resources with the people who are flocking out of Mozambique,” says Leonard Sambani, a trader at Mtsamika Trading Centre in Mwanza District.

The Trading Centre is situated a kilometre away from Kapisi 2 Village temporary refugee camp— a village standing on high ground in Traditional Authority Nthache, Mwanza. Maybe Kapisi 2 Village was established slightly above the surrounding villages for a purpose. Maybe it was meant to become a centre of attention.

Today, Kapisi 2 is more than a village. Of course, to Village Headman Kapisi’s subjects, it is a village— an ordinary village. Not to Mozambican refugees who are flocking there to secure their dear life. Kapisi 2 is, to them, the centre of hope. It is life itself.

“I am glad I am here at last. I have covered a distance of 40 kilometres on foot to get here,” says Marietta Amigo, who arrived at Kapisi 2 Refugee camp 10 minutes before our arrival on February 26.

Health issue

“The first thing I needed when I got here was malaria drugs. I am feeling like I have malaria. However, I have been told to wait. I understand they are conducting tests before administering drugs. It’s something impossible to get where I come from,” she adds.

So, the influx of Mozambicans into Malawi is both a human rights and health issue.

“You may wish to know that, even in the absence of refugees, the health budget for Mwanza also caters for Mozambican citizens. We have an agreement with our Mozambican friends although, while Mozambicans receive free treatment in Malawi, Malawians are forced to pay when they visit health centres in Mozambique,” says Mwanza District Health Officer, Raphael Lawrence Piringu.

Piringu observes that, even though the district’s health budget has been increased from K7 million last year to K15 million this year, the district is striving to put the resources available for health expenditure to good use.

Children of conflict

It is noisy at Kapisi Camp – so noisy that, sometimes, it is difficult to pick a conversation.

But, in the background of the grown-ups’ noise, there is a subtle noise — baby cries.

Officials from Mwanza District Hospital say another area that needs to be looked into is the provision of essential health services to babies born in the camp.

“So far, we have delivered 26 babies. This means 26 Mozambican women have delivered in Malawi and we are obliged to provide healthcare services,” says Mwanza District Health Office spokesperson, Dikirani Chadza.

Chadza says the district is working with partners to reach out to those who may need health services.

“In fact, we have opened a health facility that is offering services five days a week, except on Saturdays and Sundays. We have plans to extend the days [to Saturdays and Sundays]. Medicines sans Frontiers are helping out with fuel and vehicles while the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) is drilling boreholes. So far, four boreholes have been drilled,” said Chadza.

Chadza adds that international charity, Oxfam, has been fumigating houses in a bid to rid the surroundings of mosquitoes. By Saturday last week, 150 houses had been fumigated.

Unicef Child Protection Officer and Team Leader for the United Nations response team at Kapisi Camp, Martin Nkuna, says the provision of health services goes a long way in safeguarding the rights of refugees.

“In our case, we came here as soon as we heard of the situation and our role is to ensure that the rights of women and children are not violated. Among other things, we are ensuring that their nutrition needs are taken care of, and that they have potable water, live under hygienic conditions, among others,” says Nkuna.

He observes that the situation was pathetic when his team arrived in the camp.

Reverse fortune

On October 28 last year, when we first visited Kapisi Camp, there was no indication that the numbers of Mozambican refugees would keep on rising.

That day, the number of people that had fled conflict in Tete Province, Mozambique, was pegged at 88.

In fact, the day we visited the site, Patrick Thukuta, an advisor at Kapisi 2 refugee camp, told us that less than 10 people were arriving at the camp every day.

“We have received 88 people who have fled the conflict in Tete Province, and the figure translates into 18 families. But people continue to come in.,” said Thukuta at the time.

People started arriving in the country on October 15 last year.

And, since then, the figure keeps on rising.

“We expect that, by July this year, Kapisi Camp will have over 20, 000 people because we expect the situation to worsen and more people to trek into Malawi,” said one official at Mwanza


Poetry, despite being guided by some universally agreed principles, remains a personal endeavour, in which the poet— even when performing before a large audience — is lost in his or her own world.

One would, therefore, expect that, while lost in their own world in the course of reciting before a crowd, poets would be so flexible that they would be individualistic in their approach to stage performance.

But this seems to not be the case with the majority of vernacular language poets and, in some cases, local poets who recite in second languages such as English and French. It is as if, despite experiencing the mushrooming of poets and the multiplicity of poetic voices, the concept of multiplicity is quickly diluted through the monotonous nature of their approach.

It is, again, as if the majority of the local poets have come across poet Bouterweck advice that:

Bend the tender stem of a reed;

Bend it too much and it breaks.

He who attempts too much attempts nothing.

So, maybe, the local poets are simply trying to stick to the script written by veteran poets such as Wokomaatani Malunga, Hoffman Aipira, Jack Mapanje, among others, by gluing their eyes to the piece of paper on which the poem is written, instead of maintaining eye contact with audience members during a stage performance.

It does not matter whether they are reciting on stage or on air [radio or television], it is often clear that their eyes are glued to some piece of paper. In fact, it does not matter that it is Malunga reciting ‘Ndidzakutengera kunyanja Ligineti’, Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa doing ‘Bwenzi pa pepala’, Mlakatuli Membe reciting ‘Ugonja’, Hudson Chamasowa doing ‘Ku Kwaya’, Mollen Nazombe reciting ‘Ukakhala ulibe ndalama’, or Silvester Kalizang’oma performing ‘Unkalindanji moyo’.

It does not make a big difference either— in terms of style of delivery— if it is Abiti Mutinti doing ‘Milandu pa keliyala’, Kenneth Kondiwa doing ‘Adaponda ndi mapazi Satana’, Deus Sandram reciting ‘Galimoto za kwa Manje 2’, Gerald Mangame doing ‘Zida’, Joseph Madzedze performing ‘Ulosi wa Yoswa’, Hudson Chamasowa reciting ‘Mukapanda Kuitsitsa mbendera’ or ‘Ndende ya Mizimu’, Grecium Kamphulusa doing ‘Chipatso Changa’, Issa Zuze doing ‘Kwadza ma filimu a Chichewa’, Salimu Wyson doing ‘Zapadziko’, Evelyn Pangani-Maotcha reciting ‘Nyonga za bongo’, Yohane Pangani doing ‘Mudabadwa Malawiyu atatha’, or Aipira reciting ‘Dad’, among other poets. All of them prefer maintaining ‘eye’ contact with a piece of paper, or poetry book, to maintaining eye contact with members of the audience.

The exception could be English spoken-word poet Q Malewezi and, sometimes, Madalitso Nyambo. Malewezi has just finished working on a spoken-word poetry compilation which serves as yet another example that it is possible to stick to the stanzas when one understands their lines so well that they register them in their mind.

No wonder, then, that, often, while in the course of a poetry performance, Malewezi will be seen to emphasise the punch of a line with the movement of his hands. He sometimes sways his head as if it were a dry leaf tossed left and right, up and down, in the air by heavy winds.

As for Nyambo, he is sometimes capable of showing members of the audience that some pieces are effectively delivered when delivered directly from the mind, other than a breathless piece of paper stuck between the fingers. He does this well when performing ‘Ndapha buluzi’ to a live audience or in recording sessions, but turns back to his ‘beloved’ piece of paper when the poem is long.

The question is: Why do almost all vernacular language poets seem to be written-word poets, as opposed to spoken word poets?

Aipira says poets who fix their eyes to a piece of paper throughout a performance have good reasons for doing so.

“Mostly, it is because the poet wants to deliver a professional, fault-free performance. The poet does not want to make obvious mistakes because that may put their reputation on the line and portray them as myopic or amateurish. So, a poem decides to stick to the piece of paper to avoid compromising the quality of the poems,” says Aipira.

Put to him that it does not make sense for a poet who has been reciting the same poem for, say, 20 years to keep on reciting it from a piece of paper, Aipira has a quick fire response:

“You see, a poet is not created to recite the same poem forever. A poet worth his or her salt composes a number of poems, some for special occasions, and some tackling general issues. It, therefore, becomes difficult for a busy poet to know all the lines and stanzas in his or her poetry pieces. Therefore, a poet would, rather, recite from a piece of paper [in order for them] to be sure than compromise their performance simply because they want to maintain eye contact with members of the audience,” says Aipira.

Another poet, Madzedze, observes that written-word poets stick to a piece of paper to maintain the touch of their poems.

“It does not matter whether one is reciting from a piece of paper or not, so long as the poem captures the imagination of the audience. I do not think members of the audience have problems with that. I hope they understand that, sometimes, poems are too long that, in order to be exact, one has to recite from a piece of paper,” says Madzedze.

Perhaps, with the introduction of poetry DVDs/videos, the visuals will shield the poet who recites from a piece of paper from eye contact and, therefore, public scrutiny. Kalizang’oma has set a precedent after launching his ‘Unkalindanji moyo’ poetry DVD, which shielded the fact that he was probably reading from a piece of paper when reciting the poems in the DVD.

But Kalizang’oma observes that producing a poetry DVD is no mean thing as, “It takes time and a lot of resources”.

Indeed, it took more than four years for ‘Unkalindanji moyo’ poetry DVD to see the light of day.

But this does not stop poets like Madzedze from planning to launch their own poetry DVDs.

“I have embarked on such a project [poetry DVD production], in fact, and people should expect something good,” says Madzedze.

It remains to be seen, though, if the era of poetry DVDs will help shield poets from criticism that they seem to care more about the papers on which the poems are written than the audience— especially now that poetry DVDs have started appealing to the eye!