Child Rape and Defilement: The fate of the Malawian girl child

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There have been times when I’ve read an article in the paper and I rush to post the story on facebook. Another child defiled. Sentiments are the same. What causes the outrage is mostly the sentencing of the offender. Most cases than not they only get something under 10 years and it makes you wonder what the Magistrate was thinking.
Growing up, we’d hear stories about how a certain friend was being sexually assaulted or molested by the stepfather and I’d secretly thank God that after the passing of my father, my mother had never remarried. There was three of us—all girls.
I’m now a grown woman and I still cringe at the thought of a one year old being raped by a grown man. Some of the excuses are appalling! “My wife refused to sleep with me” was one of the reasons the man raped his daughter. Such are the cases that happen day to day.
Why the focus on child rape and defilement some of you may ask.
When we were asked to help with coordinating the One Billion Rising for Justice Event for the Malawi Chapter scheduled for the 14th of February 2014, we asked what exactly we were supposed to highlight as part of commemorating V-Day. The Southern Africa Coordinator Barbara Mhangami suggested that we focus on what people need to be aware of. The theme for this year lies in Justice and not to undermine the other gender based violence afflicted on our women, we felt the girl child needed more protection and since they can’t speak out on their own, then we the people must fight for their justice.
It was due to this that I felt I needed to educate myself on the task I was about to take on to see how we could come up with solutions on the issue of child rape/defilement. This would only happen by visiting some of the institutions already in place.
In a country where we prioritize safe-motherhood by making sure that the children born are negative from HIV/Aids, is it not a shame then that we still end up losing some girl(s) children to the same disease because of some unfortunate act forced upon them? The offenders usually get very light sentences as opposed to the maximum sentence of death or life imprisonment. These light sentences indirectly encourage the would-be offenders to premeditate their crimes without fear. What becomes of them when in most cases the offender never get the maximum sentence of death or life imprisonment for their offences of rape and defilement? Are the children not important too?
Below is a summary of the information I managed to get from those who have pledged their support to help the girl child. For now, we have an unofficial partnership which will provide a framework so we can start work on the ground.
One Stop Centre–Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital
The One Stop Centre is a centre built by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with funds from DFID. Staff from the ministries of Gender and Social Welfare, Health, Police and Counselors from Fountains of Life provide a holistic service to adult and child survivors of sexual violence. The centre was formally opened by HE Joyce Banda in February 2013.

Basic statistics from the One Stop Centre at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital are as follows:
1) According to Dr Neil Kennedy as many as 1 in 4 girls in Malawi suffer from sexual violence before the age of 16.
2) They attend to at least two cases of rape or child defilement a day.
Since QECH started offering drugs to prevent HIV infections after rape the number of clients/victims has gone up.

Whether it is due to the medicine they give out or the fact Malawians are now a more open people who feel free to speak out. Either way, the good thing is that they are coming forward seeking help.

The centre is open from Monday-Friday. If you happen to go there on the weekend, medical staff from the pediatric and obstetric departments will gladly assist you and refer the file to the One Stop on the next working day.

At the moment, the One Stops in Blantyre and Zomba are the only ones with their own separate facilities while in other district hospitals they share facilities with other patients. Roll-out of One Stop services to every central and district hospital has been included in the Ministry of Health plans for development of non-communicable diseases provision.

Counseling is provided by the Fountain of Life a volunteer base organization. Their services are free of charge for all victims of sexual abuse. Three quarters of the time the offenders are people who have gained trust of the child over a period of time. They also note that the grooming process encourages secrecy thus making it hard for the child to speak out about the acts.

The other partners the centre has are the Community Child Protection Workers from the District Social Welfare Office and Community Policing from the Victims Support Unit. They work hand in hand with the nurses and doctors who handle the medical/clinical issues (collection of evidence like pictures, specimens.) Once a file has been opened and handed over to the police prosecutors, the offender will more than likely get arrested and then legal proceedings will commence.

Community Policing–Victims Support Unit, Blantyre
Like the judiciary, the police is divided into four regions namely: central, south, east and north. My next stop was at the local area Victims Support Units. One of the policemen said something interesting which got me thinking about the similarities between the raped/defiled kid and a missing child. Chances of survival for both from HIV/Aids and being found respectively depends on whether they get help within the 48 hour of the act ( I have yet to verify this with medical personnel or Google). Since almost all of the rape and defilement acts are done by someone the victim knows well, they go unreported until such a time when it may be too late to save them. Very rarely is the offender a stranger which makes it hard for the children to speak out.
Thanks to the emergence of institutions like the One Stop Centre, the victims support unit also works hand in hand with the communities through the Victims Support Unit-Sub Committees. Under this program you will find the community counselors who are trained at their respective area police stations. They also engage faith based communities to help them protect the child within their communities and villages. This is done through sensitization of Human Rights to the groups and basically letting them know that the police are their friend and not the enemy.
In 1994 the Malawi Police changed its operating procedures with the change of democratic systems of government. What that entailed was that Human Rights had to be incorporated into the system hence the introduction of Community Policing into the Police System.
While this was good in that they are friendly and have concentrated on sensitizing fellow police and the population, what they lack are child friendly facilities. Normally policemen in uniforms are a scary sight to the children. Their sight makes them think they are in the wrong so may not open up to the investigators because in their child-like thinking, they are wrong. What we needed are facilities with toys, different games and civilian policemen to put them more at ease.
The missing piece in the puzzle was why most offenders literally get away with murder considering the sentences rendered upon them and the response I got was one I didn’t expect. The police maintained that they collect all the evidence which is handed to the judiciary for court proceedings and yet the offenders still get lenient sentences. The blame game had begun.
Judiciary-Blantyre High Court
Before drawing any conclusions and finger pointing at where the system was failing the women and children, I decided to hear the judiciary’s side of the story. I was very frank with them about the police blaming them for not handling the cases to their expectations of giving out high number of years when sentencing the offenders.
“There are sentencing procedures that we as a court have to follow. We take into account the mitigating and aggravating factors” was a response I got from the Chief Resident Magistrate.
I asked if raping a 1 year old was not aggravating enough and whatever happened to the law that says that rape offenders should get a death sentence but we see a lot of them walking away after a few years. It’s more of a ‘good law’ in terms of punishment but it is then met with a ‘bad law’ when it comes to the sentencing of the offenders due to the limitation of powers of the magistrates.
Some factors come into play.
1) For instance, it was alleged that most prosecutors for the Victims Support Unit are people who have not studied law not that it makes any difference but it does help in how they handle/collect evidence and information. If they read law, they would know exactly what to expect in the court room. Most end up in that position due to the experience of dealing with such cases but the question remains; do they necessarily know what language to use in court? Do they educate themselves on the new techniques or read literature out there that could be beneficial in helping their client’s case?
2) Though for one to be a prosecutor you don’t have to study law there has to be that passion for ones job. Most cases are thrown out due to a prosecutor coming forward saying that the offender had dropped the charges. In an ideal world, they would press on till they got the offender behind bars.
The points below were by far the best ones and it took me a while to get it after I read some passages given to me by the Chief Resident Magistrate:
3) One has to understand/appreciate the law to know that while rape and defilement cases call for sentences of death and life imprisonment respectively; the factors in section 1) are scrutinized closely examining all the evidence given then starting of the sentencing which calls for the MAXIMUM of a DEATH PENALTY! The same is true with the defilement cases.

Age, whether the offender pleads guilty, if the victim felt any pain, psychological effects, physical damage/injury (in some cases the victims end up with fistulas),time already spent in custody, violence during the act, the fact that it has been an ongoing affair are some of the mitigating and aggravating factors.
4) Knowing that most prosecutors are not law literate; do they understand the consequences of the act? Unless they do, they won’ take into consideration the fact that the raped victim could end up living with HIV/Aids which is a death sentence in itself. Do they do any background checks? (Knowing that not many have records on hand it would help if they could maybe go to the communities or check with other police stations if the offender has been arrested before on a similar charge. Yes this is costly and would require some resources to be provided to them which neither the judiciary nor the police have enough of).
For one to really understand the above, one needs to know how the justice system works according to the roles/jurisdiction of the different grades of magistrates.

Magistrate grades defined
So, in most cases, you will find for example that in the southern region, where there are 54 magistrates, there are only 4 Senior Resident Magistrates. 3 of them are in Blantyre while Thyolo is the only rural district with the 4th senior magistrate. Chiradzulu and Neno are the only districts without a 1st grade magistrate. Only the senior and the 1st magistrates can hear rape or defilement cases. The 1st grade magistrates are divided as follows: Blantyre 8, while Mulanje, Mwanza, Chiradzulu and Nsanje each has 1.
The difference between the grades is what matters the most in that according to the Laws of Malawi as defined by Section 58 of The Courts Act (Volume 1 of Laws of Malawi) as read with Section 14 of The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code (Volume II of Laws of Malawi); they each have an outline as to their limitations/jurisdiction on which cases to hear and the limitation of sentencing. The most important factor in defining the grade duties lies in their duties.
Section 58 reads as follows:
In exercise of their criminal jurisdiction of courts of magistrate shall be as provided for in this Act, in The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code and in any other written law.
Section 14 outlines the Sentences which the subordinate courts may pass:
1) A Resident Magistrates court may pass any sentence, other than a sentence of death or a sentence of imprisonment for a term exceeding twenty-one years, authorized by the Penal Code or any other written law.
2) A court of a magistrate of the first grade magistrate may pass any sentence, other than a sentence of death or a sentence for imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years, authorized by the Penal Code or any other written law.
3) A court of a magistrate of second grade may pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years and a fine not exceeding K200, 000 or both.
4) A court of a magistrate of—
a) The third grade may pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding K150,000 or both;
I won’t go into the duties of a fourth grade magistrate’s because, like the traditional courts, they are currently being phased out in favor of the higher grades. Suffice to say that in as much as a penalty for rape is death, no magistrate of whatever grade may pass a sentence of death.
Some of the challenges the judiciary faces are:
1) The pay is little compared to private practice which makes most lawyers not even consider working for the government. Location is another big issue. Most would rather work in the towns than rural areas for obvious reasons.
2) Although being of national service could be enough as an incentive, there are some who feel that the judiciary human resource can do more to entice/retain graduates to take on some of the jobs even if it means being in the rural areas/districts. Houses or cars could be an incentive enough for some as they gain experience and probably move on after. The main thing is that there will be a professional magistrate on hand easing up some of the back logs in every district.
3) Under staffing can be an issue and this goes hand in hand with underfunding. This underfunding/financial issue makes it hard for (e.g.) the Chief Resident Magistrate to go to every magistrate court within their jurisdiction to review cases or check on how they are handling cases etc. This is important because they all answer to him/her. The hindrance could be due to lack of resources like cars, personnel, functioning equipments and simple things like paper.
The way forward or what we’d like to see happen to support our victims
After having read some of the law passages (in particular the ones relation to the jurisdiction of the various grades of magistrates) and listening to the Chief Resident Magistrate state his case, it is right to assume that they are doing their job accordingly considering some of the challenges they face as an institution. What was evident was that with some of the courts not have a Senior or First grade magistrate, the work load is then passed/referred to those who can assist in hearing the cases which in essence may cause a delay in the court proceedings.
At first, I was under the assumption that the lower grade magistrates hear and pass sentences on cases of rape and defilement which would then take us back to the good law versus bad law. It is my understanding that though this used to be the case; it has since changed according to the law review of 2010.
While this may be the case, to speed up some of the cases and taking this as a quick solution, lobbying the parliamentarians to review the duties of the lower magistrate courts to give them more powers would be one option to go. This could very well become a campaign issue because to borrow the quote by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, “Women hold up half the sky”. In Malawi, the protection of the girl child should be prioritized as the women constitute for more than half of the population. When we take into account the fact that one in three women or girls will undergo some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, it is right to assume that most of the abuse cases go unreported.
There’s also that issue of them being lay magistrates, people who didn’t read the law but rather took a crush course to help in the courts based on their experience and little knowledge learned.
As I was about to leave the Chief Resident Magistrates chambers, he stood up and answered the question that had been bugging me all along, what would be the best quick fixer to the issue at hand.
1) Establishment of a Children’s Magistrate court would be of great help to the judiciary.
2) Setting up more One Stop Centre’s across the country possibly in every district because lack of resources at the rural hospitals may make it hard or impossible for the personnel to collect enough evidence or specimens.
3) Funding. In order for them to do their job effectively, they needed the funding to enable them to get their hands on the necessary resources. As they are right now, they don’t get the funding to meet their needs.
4) Engage the men to join us save the girl child. There is a great need to sensitize our men on the dangers and impact sexual abuse or any form of gender based violence can have on the victims. It breeds a world full of women who have trust issues, low self-esteem, very angry, depressed and many more mixed emotions. Who wants to live in a world like that? If we are to co-exist then there is need to get along. The earlier we teach our boys that women too matter the better off we will be as a society and a country.
5) Passion is one trait lacking in most prosecutors. If they had the passion to follow through their cases and disregard factors like corruption (an assumption of mine) especially when you read about a business man or well known figure walking away because his excuse was that she (the victim) didn’t feel any pain. Money has been known to pass hands and wrong is wrong and people need to serve their full sentences regardless of their social standing.
6) This is where we all come in as a people, as a country. At some point we have to ask ourselves why we are here on this earth. Everyone one of us was given some talent or trade that can be used for the betterment of our communities whether it’s marketing skills or medical knowledge of managing of finances. Now is the time to use them; give back to the nation. Where ever you are start making a positive difference is someone’s life. Charity begins at home. How can the outside world help us when we can’t do anything on our own?
I urge the people of Malawi to rise up for Justice for our girl child. Enough of the Violence!!


One year later…

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I’ve never enjoyed moving and last year December was no exception. The decision to move back home after 20 plus years was a hard one but I was ready. My life as I knew it in the USA was over. I needed to start a new chapter of my life and home is where I needed to be.

I have an old T-shirt from the 90′s which reads “there’s no hurry in Africa”. Everything seems to move at a very slow pace here. I’ve learned not to slow down for those who don’t value their time.

When I’m asked what it is I do I fail to answer. The truth of the matter is, though I’m now a cake baker there’s plenty other activities that keep me busy.

Initially I had set up an NGO which never worked out. I came home to the realization that I didn’t feature anywhere. My role it seemed was to give ideas while others took the center stage. That was when I decided to shut up which frustrated some in the organization. I later found out that that’s the nature of most Malawians; you do most of the work and they take the credit.

After meetings with some in the organization , I was told that I needed to watch how I talked to African men. They (African men) were to be addressed with “respect “. I politely told them that if I had to watch how I talked to any of them then we’d get nothing done and that attitude was ok in their homes and not at work! I needed to know the how’s, when’s, what’s and the ifs of how the institution was run. I was accused of not trusting them of which I was guiltily of. We were there for the people in need and not the administration!

Being submissive in the work place or otherwise was not for me so I decided to walk away from it. I have never regretted that decision!

While I understand that having an organization is important for fundraising and accountability purposes, I however have done just fine working alone. 100% of money donated by well wishers has made it to the hands of the needy. When I receive the funds through either western union/moneygram or my bank account I make sure the donated money is deposited in the donors name into either the university tuition and fees or charity organizations accounts. Records of receipts are kept with me while pics of the receipts are scanned and sent to the donors electronically.

Months down the road flying solo, gloves were donated to Queens with a promise of more on the way.

One other project I’m also trying to do is to raise funds for kids living with HIV/Aids in the Blantyre area who I spend time with. There are over 300 and in need of money for activities, education and more. It’s a great challenge and I have hope that some well wishers will come forward to help.

Lastly, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past year:

1) If you happen to have good people in your life hold don’t ever take them for granted. You never know when you’ll need a push, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear or those who will encourage and love you no matter what you’re going through in life.

There’s an old Malawian saying that goes “apawo ndi mizu yakachere amakumana pansi”. The English saying that’s close to the one I’ve just quoted is “blood is thicker than water”.

I’ve made it this past year because of the few I can say are my true friends. Sadly, my most of my family members didn’t make it on that list!

2)Time management is very important or you get nothing done. Divide your time equally or accordingly prioritizing the important jobs first!!

Time is money. I don’t waste time where I know I won’t get the results I’m looking for. Some people just make noise but won’t deliver. Target those who will help out.

3) Forgiveness. Alot has been said about and done to me. If I dwell on it I’ll get nothing done. Forgive and move on! Life won’t wait for you..

4) Trust is hard to come by! Be wise in how we choose our friends! We have too many fake people around. Those who make most noise about whom you should and shouldn’t trust are the ones who’ll likely be the first to disappoint you.

6) Learn to adapt. Pay attention to those around you. Watch and learn before you react. I’ve spent one whole year doing just that and I’m still learning. Malawi is a totally different world from where I came from and hard as it may be, it’s a livable environment. One thing I’m trying my hardest is not to feed the monster called corruption!

7) Improvise. It’s not all here but there’s different ways of doing things; make use of them. My laptop quit on me so I wrote this piece on my iPhone. For my cakes, there’s not many places to get supplies so you learn to substitute and use what’s available. It doesn’t give you many choices but you get by.

8) It’s a tough world out here! Malawi is one of the most expensive countries to live in. Not many have disposable incomes. If you’re in business or would like to invest, it’d be wise to do a thorough research before pouring money into any project. One good thing is that opportunities are many.

8) Be true to yourself. Keeping up with the Joneses attitude is what kills most businesses and people here. Do it your way. You don’t know what your neighbor had to go through to have that Benz. Cashgate is a true testimony/reminder of that, so, live within your means!

9) Wherever possible offer your help. It doesn’t have to be financial and I’m a good example of that. I connect people where I can. It’s doesn’t take much to put a smile on anyone’s face.

10) Learn which battles to fight! The image of a clean house is better than one with clutter. Don’t load yourself with extra baggage of stress, anger and many more. Be happy, give and most of all, LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST!

Lastly, be true to yourself. I know me, I’m comfortable with me, I understand me better than others. Follow your dreams, your convictions and do so with integrity.

It may not be all rosy and beautiful for some but I’m living my life my way and I’m happy…for the most part looking forward to the next 20 plus years.

Happy new year…


A letter to my family in diaspora…

Dear achimwene,

Ulendo uja ndinayenda bwino. All was well until I hit Chileka International Airport. God only knows why it’s an international airport chifukwa maonekedwe ake mungamve chisoni. You’d think atsamunda sanachokebe ku Malawi; ngati tafika kale kumudzi. Imagine my disappointment when the young man sitting next to me on the flight from Lilongwe informed me that the reconstruction had been there for almost two years. Ena akuti the delay is due to ndale. Those stories we used to hear about the rusty toilets and poor service ndizoona. Chi building chosasangalatsa olo pang’ono.

The upstairs balcony where we used look forward to spending weekends watching planes take off and land as a past time, while partaking in those nice melt in your mouth like mama used to make them sausage rolls when we were kids is no more. A huge tent some yards from the main building is now the departure and arrival “lounge”. The departure terminal nde musanene! Mumachita kusiyirana pakhomo olo poti mungakhale.

Kaya ma tourist and investors amati chani? For you to believe me, ndikutumizirani chithunzi. You’d think that our government would build better infrastructures to attract them koma ayi ndithu. I guess the good news is that a new terminal is said to be in the pipelines.

As soon as I recovered from that trauma we set off for the city. The excitement was unbearable!

Titafika pa HHI ine dabwi! Kuyang’ana udzu ngati ku game park inayake. Ma streets nde musakambe. My eyes teared up remembering the days of Ngwazi when we’d line up and clap hands as he’d pass by singing “yede yede pano palimwayi”. Memories came flooding of Prince Charles muja anabwera ndi a queen smiled and waved at me as their car drove by pa convoy although nonse munanditsutsa.

Ukukumbukiranso kuti I got my blessing from the same lineup by Pope John Paul II when he came to Malawi? How those celebrities never paid attention to you is beyond me. Mwinatu ndi ma looks anuwo eti?

Either way, the standards of Ngwazi sadly followed him to the grave. Zinyalala mtauni ngati tili kuntaya. You wonder if our leaders pass through the same town as road travel is the common mode of transportation here.

Mavuto alipo. Minibuses are it for public transport moti ndaijailila bad. Anyamata oyitanila aja amachita kundidziwa. Sadly, they are a nuisance on the roads of Malawi moti ife ma born free kuona choncho basi chikumbumtima cha a leads kungobwelanso. United Transport of Malawi (UTM) was da bomb!  Remember ma Double Decker atabwera tikumajambulitsa m’wamba muja? Pano sungayelekeze kujambulitsa pa minibus. Ma minibus enawo ngati ugwamo; so raggedy and nasty looking. Kutchena nde ndinasiya chifukwa mipando ina imakung’ambira zovala.

It doesn’t take you long to realize that at every corner of the streets there’s a policeman there just hanging out being another nuisance like the minibuses. Yawo ati kumaimitsa magalimoto checking msonkho ndi zina zotero. This is partly why ma minibus a dangerous adakali pamseu. Amawasiya dala nkumapangirapo ndalama disregarding that in the process they endanger the passengers.

Between the police and the minibuses, one never knows who the King of the road is acting like they own the country with one not following the rules and regulations per the road traffic act while the other is busy fining people the maximum when in reality they are supposed to fine you an amount up to….koma iwo amangoyambira maximum basi. As you know kuno ndi pompo pompo kulipira ma fine. Za mawa samamva nde enafe ndikushota kwathu timaswerapo pa road side ndithu.

Ndisanaiwale, barely a week after I came back home I went to see the University of Science and Technology in Thyolo. Ndimafuna ndikaone ndekha. Chaona maso chimakhulupilika! Koma achimwene inu! Remember the pictures we saw on facebook of the brick and blue colored university blocks? Dikirani ndikutumiziraninso zithunzi zake. Komatu panafa vision! And to think, that it was built close to Bingu’s village like ndalama zinali zawo. Something magnificent like that should have been in the heart of the city, Lilongwe to be precise, where all would have been able to see it and marvel at its beauty. I’ve heard rumors that za China sizilimba especially ma buildings so I pray and hope that won’t be the case. Those buildings are too beautiful. Makes me want to go back to school koma ayi sukulu yakwacha. Nthawi ino ndiyomataka-taka.

Speaking of kutaka-taka. Amayi ndinawapeza bwino ngakhale ndimangowaona munseumu ndi pa TV channel yathu yachikale ija ngati kuti zabwera pompano. All these years and they still haven’t perfected television skills eti ngati tilikumudzi. Ena aka was reading the news monong’ona. Ndikamalankhula like it’s a joke koma zoona ndithu. I feel they either need to go for training or achite out source pajatu kunjako zonse ndi outsource basi zatheka.

Iiii komanso ine! Back to amayi. I must say I quiet agree with her when she says “azimai kumataka-taka” because the way life is in Malawi today, one cannot survive on salary yokha. Nanji enafe opanda banja nde pepani kuvutika kwake. Paketi ya shuga ilino pa K372. Imagine that! More than $1 for a small packet of sugar. Cheese nde tinasiya kale kudya moti ndikupempheniko kuti chonde mukamabwera tchuti ya Christmas please bring me some mu suitcase ndidzatsukeko mkamwa.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that times are hard nde masteni akamapempha ndalama mudzingotumiza chifukwa zinthu zadula zedi and to think that people are saying bolani pano. Atitu inafikapo nthawi yoti olo kanthu m’ma shelf mu ma stores kuli mbeee! So in a way, with the coming of amayi monga mwa slogan ya Atcheya, “zinthu zasintha”!

While that is good news, the downside about being a woman in Malawi is some people underrate us and our capabilities to rule/govern. It is still a challenge in our society for a woman even though m’makomo mwinamu you see amuna aulesi akulemekezedwa when the woman is the bread winner. Tradition and culture can be a bitch!

Ulendo wakumudzi ndinayenda bwino ndipo onse amapereka moni wamafuta a nkhosa. Katundu ujanso ndinakapereka koma amalume kuti, shati munatuma ija tai yake ilibe?

Nkhani ili mkamwa, mwamvako zomwe zanachitika kuno? Ndale za beba nyatwa moti I called amalume kuwafunsa ngati atabwelerenso ku Malawi Congress Party (MCP). What was a dream has now become a reality. Ngatitu show achimwene. Would you believe me if I told you a JZU achita retire and that MCP now has a new president? Dr. Lazarus Chakwera is the talk of town moti ati zipani zina zikunjenjemera. Ena ayamba kale kumati ndale zogawa ma t-shirt ayi kuiwala kuti dzulo dzuloli amagawa awo kumisonkhano.

Vuto la ndale zakuno timangolondola zomwe anena ena lekana sitikutukuka. There’s lack of independent thinking in Malawi and we wonder why we don’t progress as a nation. Tulo teniteni. Whatever the case, I’m excited with this new development as it gives people a number of candidates to pick from and it’s also good for democracy.

Firstly, it shows that unlike other parties MCP has demonstrated true democratic conduct in their elections.

Secondly, it’s a wake-up call for other political parties in that there’s some competition going. All parties will be evaluated based on their agenda through their manifestos.  

Lastly, this election happens to be a special one since those born after multiparty will be eligible to vote. They’re college graduates with no jobs so they have plenty of time on their hands to dissect the manifestos hence can’t be easily fooled.

Umphawi kuno nde osasimbika. Like I was telling achimwene ang’ono dzulo pa Skype kuti the people are so used to being poor it can’t get worse than this. However, they are frustrated, angry at all the lies and undelivered promises by our politicians. They also happen to be hungry so won’t refuse the freebies. The politicians will need to work hard to get their votes. Ine phee pansi pamtengo kungoyang’ana zonse zikuchitika.

Yinanso ya latest ndi ya esikomu. Long after you wrote about them in your book, the monkeys are still at it ku Nkulaku. Magetsi sikuti azima liti. Pano nde they work in conjunction with Blantyre Water Board nde pepani! Ma double feature almost daily. If nothing happens kuchita kudabwa. Madzi a brown nde tazolowera moti inu kundiona mutha kundidutsa panseu ndili biii! Nde some weeks ago ma twins analengeza pa radio ati madzi ndi magetsi avutirapo due to the SADC meeting which was going on in Lilongwe. I kept asking myself how that would affect the city of Blantyre. I have yet to come up with an answer. Ndikawagwira anyaniwo I’ll let you know chifukwa I’m getting tired of their jokes!

Anyway, ndatopano kulemba panyali ndikagone mwina mawalino basi kulawira kukatunga madzi kuchitsime nanga titani. Moni kwa onse. Tell them I miss them so much and can’t wait to see them akabwera holiday.

Tsalani bwino ndi ambuye.

Your ever loving sister,

MJN

P/s Musadabwe kukusiyani ndi mau opatulika. Kunotu anthu ndoopemphera kwabasi moti nanenso ndayambapo pang’ono pang’ono. Ndimakondako kuchalichi kuti ndizikaona azimai akukanika kuyendera ma high heels.


Why pay for work that’s already salaried?

It didn’t take me long to notice many policemen around town. Funny enough, they were all traffic police.

I have nothing against them doing their job. What is troubling is that many of them are a nuisance to those on the roads of Malawi.

Tough and uncompromising as some of these law enforcers can be, you wonder how some minibuses, which in all fairness should be boarded off as wrecks, continue to ply the roads. Until you discover that they are the police officer’s number one money making machines.

This is Malawi where anything is pretty much possible especially when it involves corruption.

Some may think I’m being too harsh on the police but after having my own encounters with them, I’m sorry to say that something needs to be done about the road traffic rules and regulations.

First of all, most of them need to go back for training on how to properly handle situations on the road.

I’ll give an example. I was pulled over for driving a car without reflectors. I had no idea what they were so obviously I asked and she pointed to a car parked some distance from where I was.

I asked another question, “What are they for?” She then explained but went on to say that it was an offense because I was supposed to have them on the car from the border.

I told her I had no idea I was supposed to have them on the car and the response was “Ignorance is not an excuse!”

It was at this point that I started boiling. To cut a long story short, all plans for whatever I was meant to do that afternoon came to a complete halt.

Three hours later I was still parked at the road side after having told her that she could write a receipt and we’d see each other in court.

After she took off I asked one of the other cops where I could get the reflectors and for how much. Imagine my surprise that they only cost at the most about MK500.00 only and yet I was expected to pay a fine of MK4, 000.00. If she thought I would pay that amount she was crazy.

Minibuses always fall prey to traffic police sanctions but still continue to ply the roads.

Minibuses always fall prey to traffic police sanctions but still continue to ply the roads.

Limbe police station.

I needed a police report. In order for them to issue one they had to see the car. While outside in the car park this lady boldly told me that for her to speed up the paperwork they [the police] ask that I help them out with money for airtime so they can call Interpol to clear the car.

I informed her that the car would not have left the USA if it was stolen or still on loan.

Yes they have to do their job, but isn’t the MK5, 000.00 enough to cover the cost of them doing their job? Why should I pay extra for something that should be included in the administrative costs?

Can someone explain to me why the phone at one of the main police stations in the country are not functional or why they don’t have internet in this day and age of advanced technology for them to use and work faster in submitting forms, etc…?

Just like the traffic police, they find ways of making the extra money and yet they don’t even call the Interpol as was the case for me. A simple MK1, 500.00 for their lunch did the trick. Within minutes I was out of the office and on my way to the road traffic.

If I hadn’t gone that route, it would have meant a long wait of possibly up to a year which then meant no car on the road as that would be an offense every time they would pull me over.

Malawi Revenue Authority and Road Traffic

It’s funny how the two are government offices but when you arrive outside the offices you are greeted by people who work in sync with the government employees in the actual offices.

How the government has turned their eyes away on such practices is beyond me but it is common knowledge that the employees at these offices have their own employees who get customers and siphon all the funds that should be going to the government in form of taxes. What do I mean by this?

The people outside the offices work tax free and yet make lots of money which they split with their employers/partners. Would it be a bad idea to employ these people in government as a way of job creation? Is the government so rich they don’t need the money? And why are these people bold enough to be outside government offices like what they are doing? Is it not a crime? Should we condone this behaviour?

As for the traffic police, when I mentioned how they are a nuisance on the roads and complained as to why they don’t have a system which to use to identify who has been already stopped by one of them in a day I was told that things would not change anytime soon, that I needed to get used to them as this was Malawi and not the USA.

Sad that even the police know that the system is so messed up that they take advantage of the situation and rip people off.

Another thing I got beef with is the numerous tickets they keep handing out on the roads. Does the government have a way of checking just how much revenue is collected and actually delivered to their coffers?

I see no duplicate receipts so how can they tell if they received the money and just how much each ticket was and for what offense?

This may seem like a simple case of getting money but it can also serve them to have statistics on common offenses and what they can do in terms of training and educating the people so as to improve the standards of drivers on the roads of Malawi.

Media

In a day when getting news is vital to dispense the necessary information to the people we are yet again stumbling on a road block. I’m not too sure if it is inefficiency or lack of money but either way, as is in the case of the police department and other institutions, funds for things like logistics, communication (internet or phone) should be in their budget.

It is sad when you are given a reporter they call you asking about logistics. Not only that, for your article to appear in their paper i.e. after you have paid for transport they want a little something to oil their palms to get the article in the paper. Shouldn’t they be the ones chasing after the news because that is why their papers are functional? Is it not their job?

Their job depends on us giving them news so really it should be the other way round, not us chasing after them but them chasing after the news.

Why is it that most people in our country want to get paid to do their jobs and yet they are already on salary? You see a lot of this in so many institutions, and it’s not funny. Failure to give them a little something will slow down any business which in turn hurts you more than it does them.

Have we got to the point where we can’t work anymore? Are we overvaluing ourselves? Could it be because we have a culture or people who think doing certain jobs are beneath them or they don’t have the time to be bothered to check on their subordinates to ensure that they are actually doing their job as required?

Sadly, to quote the bold policeman, nothing will change anytime soon. Once again, people are resigning to life the way it is.

As for me, when not on the minibus, I argue until they get tired of me and let me go.

Ignorance may not be an excuse but it is their duty to educate the drivers on the road before they issue their tickets without warning.

It’s insane that the way the economy is one should be constantly be punished for owning a car. It’s not all people with cars who have money to be handing out to the policemen. I’m a good example of that.

As for the ones in other institutions, this type of inefficiency though condoned by some should not be accepted at all. In this day and age we should be able to do away with such mediocrity.

There is a high rate of unemployment and if they don’t or can’t do their jobs effectively then maybe it’s time we went back to the drawing board; train those who want jobs.

We need to have a country where people get satisfied with their salaries and not demand extra pay to do work they are already salaried for.


The vetting process…

There’s a spot as you are driving to Chintheche somewhere in between Chia lagoon and Bua River where you are likely to get some very good fresh fish. Driving home this time around after a good 15 years, I was reminded of the times when we would stop over at Chia and get some fresh fish for supper. Life was not as complicated as today. No worries of whether the fish would go bad and no cooler box was needed as my uncle would strap the fish on the side mirrors. 

Bua River, as I used to know it, is no more. There is a new bridge now and the scenery is out of this world. On the shores of the river you see this green vegetation with trees all over. The rugged rocks and the water flowing towards the lake are a sight one has to drink in: so refreshing. The geographical makeup of the river setting like a picture out of some nature magazine was of no coincidence. It was then that I had my light bulb moment. 

“That’s why they have a lot of Salmon fish around this area. Because of the river!” I exclaimed. 
“Yes,” said my uncle smiling broadly. “I’m surprised you know that now.”

I’ve watched enough nature shows to know all that and more. If this was in North America, one would more likely have found some bears around the river. This is Malawi. In Malawi, what you see on TV, the way the bears catch the fish with their hands would be done instead by some fishermen or villagers.

As we near the place where we were to buy the fish, my uncle told me to slow down and park on the road side. We got out of the car and took a few steps to the shade by the trees. Now I knew why he likes to buy his fish here. Unlike all the other places by the road side markets, the fish at this place was ice-packed to keep it fresh. 

It was here that I was schooled on how to buy fresh fish. Though I didn’t pay much attention, I observed how my two fathers (my uncles, my dad’s younger brothers) picked out which fish was better than the others. After the selection of the fish, came the negotiation of prices. Once done, we loaded the fish in the cooler box which already had some ice we had bought in Dwangwa in readiness for the fish and headed for Blantyre. 

I was not very familiar with the other fish called Ntchira but it was fish nonetheless and that fact made me happy as the fish would satisfy my diet. At the fish market, I noticed some very appetizing smoked fish. I noticed, however, that only one man bothered to ask my uncle if he would buy any of his fish and he politely declined. It wasn’t until we were in the car driving off that I asked why he had not bought any of the smoked fish. 

His response told me that he was a true Tonga man, someone who knew his fish very well. He informed me that in most cases, by the time the fish mongers decide to smoke their fish, it is not because they wanted to but it is due to the low demand of the fresh supply so they have to improvise and smoke it so they don’t lose out on the fish sales. This made some sense because while at the roadside market, one thing I picked up was that these mongers are not fishermen themselves. They buy the fish from the fishermen at the lake and sell on the roadside. One way or the other, they too have to survive hence the smoking of the fish.

Some lessons I learned on the drive home got me thinking of how we perceive the political climate of Malawi. Rugged like the rocks in the river and yet a beautiful scenery with a whole lot of promise in the sense of the variety of politicians and people alike make it most interesting. At times, the fish, though glittery like gold, leaves a lot to be desired. Some could be rotting or not so fresh leaving a not so good taste in our mouths. Some of you may agree with me that we are represented by such people in our constituencies.

Take the Ntchira and Salmon fish as examples. It is one of the most beautiful fish families. I’ve yet to see one but I’m told some have a yellow belly and when cooked boiled on a slow fire they get a nice silver tone. It’s not the kind of fish to give to someone who is an amateur as it has way too many tiny bones in it and can be annoying to eat as one has to spend more time picking them out than enjoying the fish. When slow cooked though, all the bones are soft and can be chewed along with the fish.

Most politicians are like this fish, like thorns in ones side. We spend more time trying to hold them accountable than they do in making us happy with the job they are meant to do for us. Their work is like that fish that ends up not being appetizing at all yet was full of promises when one simply judged from its looks.
I’m not too sure about how or where the Ntchira lays its eggs but I know that the Salmon normally goes upstream to lay its eggs and when the fish is grown, it goes downstream where it is either caught in the river or the lake by the fishermen. 

I’d like to think that because it goes through the rugged rocks, dodges some predators on the way downstream and that it takes more work, by the time it reaches the open waters of the lake, it is more like a seasoned politician. One has to taste the high waters to know exactly how to swim, what the tide can do to you, and also learn some survival skills. 

As I drove on, I kept thinking to myself of the politicians we have in our country today and tried to equate each one of the ones I somewhat know of, and the fish that would best suit their personality and work performance. 

The market and conditions have to be favorable as well. It is just prudent for one to be picky when choosing a candidate lest you end up with a rotten or rotting fish. The market has to be one to provide only the best – whether the fish is fresh or smoked. No one wants to end up with the short end of a stick or losing out on any bargain. 

Sometimes, for us to get the best of both worlds, we may have to learn to smoke the fish ourselves to avoid ending up with bad fish. Hold our elected accountable is one way of making damn sure that they don’t end up being rotten. Too many corrupt politicians out there not representing as they ought to and yet they look so good on the outside like the smoked fish on that roadside. 

Sadly, I was not able to find a lot of Salmons. Could that be why they are mostly found around the rugged rocks? Do we have to go through the hard times first to get to the land of gold? I wondered. 

There’s alot of corruption and thievery going on in the country, a system that needs a total overhaul. 
I guess I don’t have to say much about what I think. My only prayer is that people will be able to distinguish the difference between the Ntchira and the Salmon and which one of the two would best suit their appetite.

I for one prefer the seasoned Salmon over the Ntchira but, I don’t like the farm breed. I like my Salmon wild, tasty and full of promise of a good meal with all the fat trimmings.image


Of missed opportunities…

 

This is Africa. Of the things that have almost become normal is to see politicians settling scores. These retributive tendencies include seeing those in opposition ending up in police cells and, at worst, in prison. 

Malawi is not spared this malady. This is the reason why, while the late president Bingu wa Mutharika’s brother Peter spent a third night in a cell at Lumbadzi police as I write, theories about political retribution are unraveling 

Given Malawi’s political pedigree, such theories can not just be dismissed. They always need to be proven to be without merit. 

In Malawi, like most parts of Africa, sending a politician to prison has always been seen to be retributive even when there is merit because, for one thing, the conditions in what are supposed to be reformatory centres that are jails are discipicable. 

Therefore the view is that a politician can only be taken there to be punished by his political adversaries for political reasons, regardless. Even the politicians themselves are the first to deplore the conditions in prison, but only when their turn comes to be thrown there. 

The refusal of Peter Mutharika and crew to be sent to Maula Prison illustrates very well my preceding point. They refused to enter that jail fearing the inhumane conditions inside there. Not that the conditions at their cell at Lumbadzi police are any acceptable. No, but compared with Maula, the Lumbadzi cage is some lodge. 

What is interesting is that almost all politicians that complain about the heinous conditions in prisons when they are incarcerated there are those that were in government or in position to influence effecting of reforms that are badly needed there. 

When John Tembo, the current leader of opposition, was arrested and kept at Chichiri prison back in 1995 for his alleged role in the Mwanza murders, he deplored the lack of a bed and pillows in his jail cell. 

And yet his jailing came just a few months after an administration in which he had been Minister of State and a powerful politician had just lost power it held for 31 years. 

How could someone who had been in power for 31 years complain about conditions in prisons just months after losing that power? 

Two years later, in 1997, I visited a friend incarcerated at Maula Prison. What I saw is unmentionable. It is disheartening that almost 16 years later today, things have not changed. In fact, they could even have deteriorated. And yet since that time Malawi has had two Presidents: Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika who did nothing to make the necessary changes.  

People get surprised why almost every politician falls sick from some ailment when they hear they will be sent to jail. The conditions are chilling. This is the reason they would rather spend their time in hospital, and most of them are seen back to their normal self when they are freed on bail. 

And yet these are the people, and their governments including their parliament are the ones , that keep spurning the opportunity to make the difference in prisons, so that in the event that they, the politicians, are sent there one day they will find better conditions by the measure of a reformatory centre.

Bakili Muluzi was in power for 10 years. This means he had 10 budgets appropriating public finances to various activities. Is it not ironic that seven years later after he left office in 2004, his son Atupele, when remanded at Maula last year, found the conditions as bad as they were before his father came into office? 

Bingu wa Mutharika too, before his disruptive death last year, had been in power for eight years. Almost everyone who refused to be taken to Maula yesterday were part of his administration and holding influential positions. It is a sickening irony that after losing power just a year ago, they are complaining and getting frightened by the conditions in prisons and police cells. What did they do with their time in power? Who did they think would improve the conditions there, if not them while in power or positions of influence? 

With these deliberate missed opportunities to effect the needed changes in prisons, sometimes am inclined to feel that it is necessary that these politicians should be locked up once in while so that probably it will get into their thick heads that reforms in our holding centres are long overdue and they can’t continue to fluff the opportunities that privilege presents to them.  

Lots of reforms need doing. It doesn’t stand to reason, as it is now, that a suspect on remand should be held together with those serving their sentences.

Our system is so horrendous and chaotic Iwould not be surprised to learn that someone on death row is housed in the same room with someone suspected to have stolen a chicken. 

To me this practice is unconstitutional as it undermines the very principle of “innocent until proven guilty” because remandees start getting the full weight of punishment before they are found guilty by a court of law.

Documented literature on life in our prisons makes it impossible for them to pass the standards as per the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or The United Nations’ Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners just to mention a few. 

It is a matter of common sense that when you are packing people in a windowless room, like saldines, you are creating a recipe for a health disaster that includes spread of HIV and Aids through rape or sodomy.  

And yet this continues to happen in our jails without anybody in authority feeling remorse and be nudged into action. 

Replacing some prisons is long over due. For example, why is the Zomba Central Prison still holding inmates when the Inspectorate of Prisons, headed then by Appeal judge Duncan Tambala, recommended for its demolition as away back as 2005?  

This level of successive negligence has now put this new administration under avoidable strain of striking a very delicate balance between investing limited resources in productive areas that will eventually rescucitate the economy and making sure its record of good governance and human rights is not tainted by the hang over of past carelessness.  

I can only hope that when the dust finally settles, this administration will see the need to act on the issue of the prisons. 

As we wait for that, maybe it time those in authority considered locking its doors to recycled brains.  

My feeling is that some of them have been over-recycled to the point that they have lost their value, while others have overstayed their shelf life, and thus can’t see things differently to influence meaningful interventions to correct their mistakes of the past.

 This will ensure that another opportunity is not missed.


Image cleaning, a must for Malawi.

IMG_3985

My mood was sober as I sat on the plane. I was looking forward to seeing my family.
Occasionally I would interrupt that frame of mind by looking through the window, and down below.

Among the many things that I could not help seeing, the beauty of Malawi from above is sweet to the eye. Actually my eyes almost salivated at that beautiful natural landscaping below.
The rolling hills, connected by well cut out gorges, all covered in a suit of green vegetation – the sight was endearing to behold.

This feeling just gave zest to the excitement that possessed me as I landed at Chileka International Airport, at least not until the bird taxied to a halt.
Unsuspectingly, a young man sitting next to me exclaimed saying “They are still working on the building?!”

It was at this point that I paid attention to the structure. Let me confess, I could not believe my eyes. The sight was simply unbelievable.
To think of foreigners landing at this airport made me sad. As I stepped out of the plane gasped and reached for my camera. I had to take a few shots of this. We can’t be serious. We surely can’t!

Chileka Airport as I knew it as a child was no more. The building was in shambles. You would think that by now the building would be bigger and more modern. I soon learned from the young man that the rehabilitation works had been going on for over a year now.
Imagine my disappointment at the thought of our airline not having planes at a time when air travel is the order of the day. This is simply not acceptable!

I was almost feeling disgusted. Many questions started filling my mind.
What happened to the saying that “first impressions matter?” What impression does Malawi create when its airport, the front office at the point of entry into the country, is left to stand in almost ruinous state?

I remained puzzled.

If I was an investor or a tourist coming to Malawi for the first time and didn’t know the charm of the people I would assuredly be put off with the way our airport looks.
It is an eye sore and a mischaracterization of the people of Malawi.
Just how do we convince tourists that we are a place to be if the first thing they see is an airport hurtling into the abyss of neglect?
God forbid!

At a time when we are rebuilding from the chaotic leadership of the past we really need to focus on cleaning up our image. Presentability of our infrastructure must be one of the items on the menu.

And there are many more things that must make the list as the president herself acknowledged in an interview with Hon. Sidik Mia ministry of Roads and Transport just this past week when they were interviewed by Frank Kapesa on MBCTV the national TV station. Our roads, our electricity, our water, our communication, our markets all are interconnected. Our customer service should be included in there somewhere. It’s like time moves at its own pace in Malawi. The list goes on and on.

His faults aside, First President Ngwazi Dr Kamuzu Banda must be rolling in his grave, disturbed at the transformation of the country into ugliness attending to it.
The state of things is a far cry from what Dr Banda, the disciplinarian would tolerate.

Driving along the Kamuzu highway by the museum at Chichiri, one is greeted by the bushy grass growing along the roadside. I remember the nicely trimmed grass, clean streets, roads without pothole and the nicely painted buildings. That was the time when all the nasty looking buildings had a mark of a red X on them, meaning they had to be demolished.

Today, instead of demolishing them, authorities are helplessly encouraging the old x-rated buildings and the new magnificent ones to co-exist in good neighborliness.

We really need to try to clean up Malawi if we are serious about attracting investors or the tourists.

I have yet to find a human being who is not proud of clean beautiful surroundings.


Gay rights in Malawi…

Imagine the year is 1851 and Abraham Lincoln is calling for a referendum on slavery. Or it is 1940 and Adolf Hitler is calling for one on  the Jews in Nazi Germany. What do you think the outcome would be? Your guess is as good as mine. Using the foregoing as the principle for working, the election on November 4th in 2008 of the first African-America, Barack Obama, as President of the United States of America would be an illusory.

That, my friends, is how some human rights activists want us to operate. At a time when we are supposed to be progressive and generous in application of thought, they want us to remain loyal and faithful to our age-old prejudices. We have mastered the art of pretending so much that, combined with our prejudices, we apply the precepts of the Holy Scriptures selectively to suit our own preconceived purposes.

The discussion of gay rights/human rights is something that needs to take place now. No one is asking people to change the sexual orientation. It is all a matter of respecting each other’s sexual persuasion so we can all co-exist in harmony. Which is the reason debate, facilitated by the suspension of the law by the attorney general, should be embraced as a catalyst for achieving that coexistence that we badly need.

If we let civil society representatives coming up with petitions to preclude this debate where is democracy? Why are the liberties of others to be heard being stifled? Does the gay community not have a right of rebuttal? I thought democracy is about defending the right of those we don’t share a view to express themselves?

The story as it has always been heard is only from one side. Is it not fair that the other side too should be heard? My submission is that this is an opportunity for those that have not spoken out because of the stigma that comes with being gay in Malawi to make their representations.

There have been some articles which show that being a homosexual is a natural occurrence and not by choice. I’m not a scientist/biologist so really even though I may use that for arguments sake, it’s not for me to decide for people what they can or cannot believe. My only concern is that the same people who are supposed to defend human rights are fidgeting where it comes to gay rights.

What is the need for a referendum? What is it supposed to achieve? Are we not the same people that condemn the government for misusing money, and do we have to do it on something whose outcome is a foregone?  

The argument that homosexuality is a western concept is another ridiculous one.  Yes it is true that acceptance of gay rights is now a condition for donor funding but come on people. The fact that we actually have a name for this act [mathanyula] is an indication that they [gay people] exist in our communities. 

In a recent debate which was aired on radio zodiak, a chief came on and explained that they have caught men having sex with men. This was not in town but in the villages. Such men have their wives despite having hots for fellow men. The chief was trying to appeal to the country the need to change the law of the land so that the gay people should be able to exercise their right. By this he meant not just who they want to sleep with, but also the right to healthcare access which would then better school them on the dos and don’ts of safe sex just like is the case with heterosexuals. At present, we have the case where these men who are married are infecting their spouses and the end result is that whole communities are being wiped out.

Now truth be told, it is not only these bisexual encounters that are wiping out our people. As a country we like to take pride in that we are all holier than thou when that is not so. A few days ago there was a national alliance for the prostitutes where they chose their country representatives. While there is a need for such a committee, the question that comes to mind is who are they servicing? For them to come up with such an initiative means it’s a booming market. One survey also said that most of the men who frequent such places where they find these prostitutes will pay more for anal sex. What does that tell us? I’ll leave that to your imagination.

The other argument which the government has failed to execute properly is the debate. What would have been so hard for the government to say that there was a need to suspend the law? It is no secret that as a country dependant on foreign aid our hands are tied as we need the aid more so now than before but surely they could have come up with a better way of telling the people than just dropping it on them like they did. Malawians are very sensitive about the issue and so should be handled with care. What we should not do is take it for granted that whatever the government decides people will go along with it.

Long gone are the days when people could just sit idle waiting on their government. Slowly but surely we are doing away with passive citizenry and as such those who are representatives of the people need to be careful enough to know that they not only represent the majority but the minorities as well. You can’t be a human rights defender and yet pick and chose who you want to defend. Either you are or you are not.

No one needs a fancy education to understand that a referendum in which the oppressor should decide on whether or not they want to continue their oppression is redundant.


Education: The most powerful weapon we can use to change the world..

In the early 1940’s Malawi, Japan, and Dubai had one thing in common. They were growing at almost the same. The difference in the turnaround of destinies lies in their choices. Today, however, while those countries have become wealthy and earned the status of “donors” to Malawi, Malawi has remained comfortable in its shameful status of a beggar.

While Malawi put education at the centre of priorities by word of mouth, those countries put it for real.

They made sure that, if they were to expend their monies and resources, they had to invest into dusting and shaping their human capital.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” While our friends have developed great thinkers we seem to be the breeding ground for hand clappers and praise singers. The plundering of resources by the previous leaders has left our president no choice but to put begging for donor aid from self-sustaining countries in terms of ideas and resources at the top of her agenda when she got into office.

Our friends have attained emancipation while some 48 years after independence we cannot do anything on our own including coming up with development ideas thus relying on institutions like the International Monetary Fund. No country can develop without investing in its human capital and that is why Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”.

With education, a country earns the empowerment in knowledge, skills and confidence in its complex which its needs to have efficacy in the global competition.

Malawi is a sad and shameful story. We have neglected the essentials and are only productive on issues that should ordinarily be on the periphery of priorities. The growth illiteracy rate and population have been in competition in proportions that can only be described as crazy and irresponsible. How can a population of 15 million people have most of its people not know how to read and write?  A small percentage, probably less than 5 percent are skilled and able to analyse things.

To put things in perspective, Malawi’s promise lies in the empowerment, in terms of skills and knowledge, of those that fall within the percentage of less than 5 percent. The overwhelming majority of the people are at the mercy of manipulation of thought and economics by the politicians who decide their fate thanks to their ignorance and illiteracy.

A survey that revealed that about 10% of Malawians even read the constitution at one point or another passes for no better confirmation of the crisis in which the country surprisingly sees itself actualising some tall development dreams of our leaders.

What started out as a simple question to a veteran teacher in respect of what the government has to do to reverse the damage caused by negligence to the education system, left me with more questions than answers.

If shortage of teachers, their motivation and lack of facilities continue to be allowed to hurtle into the abyss, just what reason can be the reason for anybody sensible to have hope?

Issues to be addressed

While speeches have been made and dreams have been outlined, there is the lack of commitment to invest in the people so that they can be agents of their own change, actualisation of their dreams and fulfilment of their own promises. 

Our priorities as a country are just not right. How we have used, and continue to use, money in Malawi remains the devil that plays the midwife of our stagnation. The priorities of our spending and investment are just not as right as in correct.

How does paying an average teacher about MK40, 000 a month reflect commitment, when a Minister or MP gets about MK25, 000 in subsistence allowances, besides ware and tear plus fuel allowances, for attending a function or sitting in the National Assembly?

It’s no wonder they love attending functions where their presence is not even needed.

Unless our educators are happy, education won’t work. Who wants a job with no incentives? Once upon a time, teaching was attractive because teachers were treated with respect. Those days are a fainting part of history.

What Malawi’s first President, Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda worked hard to build, others came in and destroyed. Most of the teachers houses have been badly neglected and/or in need of renovations.

Most teachers, despite being working in horrendous environments already, have to find their own lodging/houses.

Their meagre salaries cover their rent, utility bills and feed their families and in some cases taking care of extended families.  In a country hard hit by economic woes how is one supposed to survive on a mere MK40, 000?

When they leave their homes, they are welcomed by deteriorating infrastructures called classrooms where they are supposed to teach our future leaders.

How is one expected to teach in a room with no blackboard, where the ratio is 1 teacher to 300-500 pupils?

 If a teacher in the USA can complain about teaching classrooms of about 200 students what more one in Africa where they mostly teach with no resources at all?

Unmotivated in this manner, how does one expect teachers to even spend quality time working on lesson plans and grade papers?

Are we seriously investing in our children’s future when paying of teachers, their already uncomfortable salaries, remains an afterthought from one administration to another? Just how complex is this problem that it can’t find its answer in all these governments that we have had in this country?

Unfortunately for us the self-help spirit widely promoted by Kamuzu is long-buried. It should come as no surprise then that communities do not think they also have to contribute towards ensuring that teachers teach and live in habitable conditions. How do the parents feel when they send a clean neatly dressed child to school and they come back dirty because they had to sit on the floor as the desks.

Provision of furniture in schools has now become the luxury which can ill be afforded. Sitting on the floor, while learning, has been normalised to the extent that it is happening even at University.

Where do the funds allocated for such amenities go, if such allocations are made at all? Should we just blame it all on corruption?

How about the communities, themselves rising to the occasion by identifying ways for generating income to take care of the gaps that exist in their community schools? There are so many fundraising ideas that the communities can start if they were serious about turning around the fortunes of their schools.

Private schools have mushroomed to try to bridge the gap. Unfortunately most of them are left at profit interests, undermining, thereby, the quality of education children receive.

An investment in teachers training colleges would be a big plus as we need well-trained teachers if our children are to get the quality education they need to develop the country.

 If anything, one lesson we can draw from the current presidential race in USA is the emphasis Obama has put on education which of course includes the hiring new teachers who in turn help to grow the economy. It is only through education that any country can expect to refine its citizens enough to compete at the global level.

His opponent Romney on the other hand is of the mindset of African leaders who don’t want to invest in education. 

Simple vocational schools would be a plus in the rebuilding of the nation and yet our leaders don’t see that at all.  

We can spend all day talking about the issues above, but change will come if we decontaminate the pond where these problems breed.

Corruption is a cancer that has found a comfortable host in most African Union governments. I gave an example of the MPs’ and ministers allowances. If it were up to me, these would be cut out immediately, and a lid would have been put on any salary increases.

Unnecessary spending has to be discouraged and the money could then be used towards reinventing the education system and channelled to poverty alleviation activities.

Unfortunately apart from corruption, we have another big elephant in the room which could pose to be a bigger problem: that of unprincipled politicians who don’t operate on any set of beliefs. Everyone is more concerned with “kukokera kwakwo” [everyman for himself].

How can we entrust change in the hands of such people who keep jumping from one party to the other driven by bread and butter issues and not the welfare of the people?

What we need are politicians willing and ready to engage in politics aimed at transformation, doing what is right (not what is popular), and effecting sustainable change in people’s lives. Unfortunately the agenda of all our ruling parties is to win elections and thus trouble looms on the horizon.


Politics of poverty…

As the race for who will win in Mzimba parliamentary elections rages on, one does not need to wonder how money, power and to what extent ignorance will influence the outcome. The whole Mponela bed saga is a very good example of this and it will come as no surprise if we hear of more people manipulating the system in giving out gifts to the people of Mzimba in exchange of votes. Unfortunately that is business as usual in Africa. Power politics is at play at the cost of ignorance and illiteracy.

In a way, what happened in Mponela was a good thing in that it opened up many an eye in how the system works. Some of us would never have known that this was normal practice by the Ministry of Health. In a way, we have to thank them for this particular goof up. Under normal circumstances people would question this and the motives of the government or the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) alike but as is the case most will not touch on the issue. The name bashing and a battle between personalities will however be fair game.

This then brings us to an issue my uncle brought up two years ago when I asked him about Malawian politics. His response was, “Wanyithu ku [our friends] Zambia vote on principles. Who will be the better candidate? What do they bring to the table? How will their goals/agenda help us as a community or country in the long run? Ise kuno tikuvotera uyo wikutipa bagi lavingoma, njinga na matisheti [we however vote for who brings us a bag of maize, a bicycle, T-shirts and the like] Are we serious? How then can we expect any change?”

When are Malawians going to learn that it’s not about the guy who owns that huge grocery store, or the one who comes driving up in a Mercedes Benz, or the one who gives out freebies? 48 years after independence and we still rely on the guy who gives us a T-shirt. Is this for real? To a point I blame the politicians who are comfortable with the status quo; leave the poor man uneducated, let him live on the miserable handouts (as if they buy them with their own money) because that will ensure their votes come election time.

I don’t know about you but it is time we moved away from such politics and started identifying people who will help the nation to rise up from the ashes it is in now. This is 2012 and the idea that people only think of today and not tomorrow is a scary thing. We need to pick people who have our long terms goals in mind so really, we should be more in favor of someone who will teach us how to better ourselves versus letting us be dormant.

It is no secret that stagnant waters breed a lot of mosquitoes resulting in a lot of Malaria illnesses and of course the noise that comes with them when they come to feed. No one needs the noise or the illness. Time for spraying out the swamps is now. There’s no reason why we should be having such outbreaks of noisy politicians when people have been exposed to other cultures/ideologies or medicines that can help prevent such ailments. Instead, we need to educate the people on what is best for them and the country. The best way of doing this is simple civics education.

The next thing to do is to make sure no one is left behind as far as empowerment is concerned. Statistics have shown that education of a girl child will decrease their likelihood that they will end up poor and give in to abuse of any kind. I’d like to believe that the same is true for everyone regardless of their sex.

How can such empowerment be actualized some may ask. If these representatives want to come bearing gifts let them be in the form of a vocational school or scholarships of some sort. That is of more use to the people and will benefit them in the long run. A bag of maize can be devoured in a day by the village and then what? Where will the next meal come from after the campaigns are done and the winner moves on to the house of parliament where some don’t even bother to check on their constituencies?

Though arming the MYP was wrong, it was saddening when Muluzi’s government scrapped out the program. Institutions like MYP had great vocational training centers that need to be reintroduced considering the current unemployment rates and breakdown in security. Many people are desperate and will thus turn to thievery and laziness. One way of avoiding all that is to keep them busy.

It is a no brainer that not all people will make it to university so why not give them some sort of skill training so they too are part of the rebuilding of the nation whilst taking care of their own.

Any leader who can empower his or her own people is worthy of my vote. Personally I have more respect for the people who teach me how to be better whether it be by giving me or perfecting my ideas or helping me out when I’m on a quest to do something for me or others.

You know that saying “build a man a fire and he is warm for a day but set him on fire, and he is warm for the rest of his life?” We have some in our communities who are on fire plus setting others on fire and yet we opt for the one full of empty promises bearing useless gifts. Yes a T-shirt may look good now that you are naked but who will clothe you tomorrow? Will you wait till the next election for that handout or will you go for the guy who has nothing but will be the one to develop your area? Unless they come with fire to set the village ablaze with development ideas please stop the conversation and start looking for a better candidate. Check their track record. w hat have they done for their communities so far? This litmus test is especially good for those running for re-election. As for the beginners, what tools of the trade do they bring with them to show that they will really serve the people?

Time for change is now as we can’t wait for tomorrow to sort itself out. For one, tomorrow is never promised unto anyone. Secondly, it may be a little too late. No, we can’t go back to the same rulers of yesterday and the complaining though warranted should somehow stop. Those mosquitoes making the noise should stop and ask themselves what they are doing to make a difference besides annoying others. Maybe just maybe, it is time they considered being another insect like the bee. Both stay busy but one the bee gets praised for the honey and the mosquitoes…well we all know what happens to them when they get around people.


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