Tag Archives: Malawi

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


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.

Healthcare in Malawi: How Cuban style could be a solution.

If it was a movie it would be a cross between Sicko the Michael Moore documentary and a tale of how Fabrice Muamba lived to tell his story. Somewhere in there I would add in the emperor’s new clothes to emphasize the role of advisors who spend time lying to the elected officials when they need the truth the most. For this drama thriller I take you to destination Malawi. While some may argue that Malawi and United Kingdom (UK) are not the same economy wise and can’t be compared, we still have some lessons to draw from what happened and what could be done to improve Malawi’s crippled healthcare system.

On April 5th in some hospital in UK a young footballer, Fabrice Muamba took his first steps since suffering a cardiac arrest on the football field. On the same day, president Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi took his last breath after suffering from the same condition.

Several attempts to try to resuscitate him were of no use. The one thing that was to save him was nowhere to be found.

Of course, announcement of the death was not until two days later after the family, the ruling party officials had said he was incapacitated and was receiving treatment in South Africa when the rest of the world knew the hard truth, that the president had died at the state house and all the lying was a delaying tactic while they came up with a plan to take over the government.  Like all other unnecessary government bureaucracies, the DPP regime shipped the cold body of the president to South Africa where he was to “officially die”.

This meant that the cabinet had to convene to decide who the successor would be. However, there was one problem. The one person who could call such a meeting was the vice president now the president Her Excellency Joyce Mtila Banda.

As reported in nyasatimes.com an online paper, according to the doctors who attended to him upon arrival at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) the president was already dead. Some have cited the lack of adrenaline drug which could have been used to help resuscitate him which was out of stock. Whatever the case may be, it is then brings us to an issue we all should worry about especially if you live in Malawi today. I’m not saying this to scare anyone but it is something we all should be asking ourselves, what if it was me.

While Malawi was mourning the death of the president, Muamba was recovering from his cardiac arrest attack. The case of Muamba is an exceptional one and we should accredit the fast and effective medical systems of the West compared to our meager hospitals. Part of the blame for poor services we find in such hospitals could be attributed to Africa’s brain drain. Most of the healthcare professionals would rather seek employment in the West than stay at home but then who can blame them when the working conditions are poor and so is the pay? The fact is, most African governments do not procure all the basic necessary medical equipment for the health care professionals to use on their duties.

After asking around, it was evident the president’s medical expenses were covered by state funds and so are the ministers. Members of parliament are covered under a medical plan run by the Medical Aid Society of Malawi (MASM) with the state providing for subsidies. In other words, state funds are used to cover their medical expenses of course in varying degrees. What was also interesting was that there is a “funny” committee at the Ministry of Health called the Referral Committee. Its primary duties are to refer patients abroad. With the high corruption levels in the country it is common sense as to who gets referred to go abroad when they need to seek further medical attention. The average person like you and I would be the last ones on that list which tends to favor the political circles and their next of kin of course at the cost of tax payers money.

Why bring this up, you may ask. Simple! If we, as a country are to seriously make any changes to the healthcare system in Malawi then these are some of the topics we have to touch on. We need the right staff, necessary supplies and facilities that can accommodate and fulfill the patient’s needs. The goodwill factor has to be there too but somehow it is something we Africans lack.

Let’s use Cuba as a model. Some of you may have guessed where this is going from the mention of the documentary Sicko above. Theirs is an ambitious healthcare system that came from a mandate for health and education that brought about the changes that most countries now see and admire. What changed?

At first, in the sixties, they pulled most of their resources to recruit more doctors, train more healthcare staff, set up more rural hospitals and established clinics. In the seventies came the phase where they set up more general hospitals and pharmaceutical production plants. By the eighties they began to merit the attention of the World Health Organization. Though Cuba went through an economic crisis in the nineties, it managed to survive due to prioritizing healthcare as a necessity in the country. Supplies were evenly distributed according to who needed them the most.  Educational status of the people who knew about hygiene, dedication of the healthcare professionals and other factors were instrumental in keeping the healthcare afloat.

Though Malawi’s economy may not be able to sustain such a huge program like the one above we can try to improve what we have already in place. First of all we do have Malawi College of Medicine and the Kamuzu College of Nursing. What is needed to entice them to stay on in Malawi would be good working environments plus pay. Currently most graduates add-on to the figures of the professionals that end up in UK or other countries offering good pay.

Secondly, there is great need to improve the facilities in terms of supplies and equipment. Imagine how frustrated you would be if you were the attending physician and a patient came in with a condition that you knew was easy to heal but don’t have the necessary tools to help them with. Doctors take oaths to save lives but when the job does not make that a reality they leave opting for greener pastures where their trade would be highly appreciated.

Thirdly, the money to fund such projects is a lot so to help out keeping the costs low or reasonable we need to invest in educating the poor as far as health and hygiene is concerned. Some of the problems we face today can be minimized if we have healthy people. In Kamuzu Banda’s time we used to have Sukulu za Kwacha geared at teaching the adults health, hygiene, reading and writing. One focus was on the proper nutrition because a healthy farmer or labourer is bound to be more productive to society than a weak malnourished one. Some education and innovation is better than nothing. This can help towards the country’s vision of a better healthcare system for all.

If and when the new government tackles healthcare, it will be a positive move especially in light of the previous presidents passing. If we had better facilities and supplies, the chances of the doctors saving his life would have been better. What most of these top officials don’t understand is that though they may have the necessary need to seek healthcare abroad, there is a great urgency to improve the hospitals at home. It is not fair them to be able to use tax payer’s money to go to fancy hospitals abroad for treatment leaving the dilapidated local hospitals for Malawi’s poor. It is time we started working on social equality and healthcare is one of the areas that needs to be looked at.

Like the legend Bob Marley once said, “Money can’t buy you life”, on the contrary it is true however, that it can get you the best care in the world.