MALAWI PRESS REVIEW August 2009
From Centre For Social Concern (see our house)
News clippings with analysis
From the Major newspapers
Compiled by the
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632
LIST OF NEWSPAPERS REVIEWED
Daily Times, Malawi News, The Weekly News, The Nation,
The Weekend Nation, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Chronicle,
Nation on Sunday,
The fall of ruling Democratic Progressive Party DPP candidates during by-election in Blantyre Ndirande and Zomba Malosa constituencies came as shock to many. Just when people expected the elections to be a formality for the DPP, independent candidates won with large margins.
DPP lost even in Zomba Malosa where the Vice President Joyce Banda comes from. They thought the party was popular in Malosa and therefore the seat would straight away go their way. They got it wrong, which shows one should not take the electorate for granted.
Some people are feeling the effects of the closure of foreign exchange bureaus. The poor access to foreign exchange has cost some people their employment and industries cannot import essential goods needed to keep up production.
After waiting for a long time for the opening of the national grain market ADMARC, it finally opened some of its markets. Farmers faced a lot of exploitation from unscrupulous private traders.
Opposition political parties expressed concerns over the silence of the civil society on important issues. They feel civil society is now conspicuously quiet even when there are issues that they should comment on. Yet it was the same organisations that were always on the opposition's neck in the last 5 years.
On social and cultural life the issue of witchcraft is still dominating the press. While some people feel it does not exist others are of the opposing view. It should be noted that the issue was also heavily debated during the national constitutional review conference last year. Most of the times it is difficult to prove witchcraft but a number of people even believers say it is widely practiced in Malawi.
Although government banned the Traditional Birth Attendants to minimise the maternal mortality rate in Malawi, some expectant mothers still go there for attention. Despite the knowledge that the TBAs are practising illegally some expectant mothers have no option but to go for the same TBAs because of the unavailability of maternity clinics closer to their homes.
Coming from a landslide victory in the May general elections, the Democratic Progressive Party DPP lost by-elections that were conducted in 2 constituencies in the month under review. Just when the party expected the bye-elections would be a push over, the party got shocked with the results. The 2 contested seats went to independents much to the ruling party's annoyance. The DPP expected to get both seats because of their recent performance in the May parliamentary elections when they won more than 70% of the seats in the National Assembly.
Political analysts have since warned the DPP to take extra care if they are to have yet another majority in Parliament in the year 2014. Others have noted that democracy in Malawi is now mature, as people are not voting for parties but individuals. At the same time the bye-election results should give the DPP and other parties some food for thought on how exactly to conduct their primary elections. Reports have shown that the DPP did not learn from the mistakes they made in the general elections when they imposed candidates on the electorate in some areas. The primaries were marred by a lot of irregularities, which resulted in some big gurus losing during the elections. The August bye-elections should be a wake up to the members of parliament if they are to make it back to the National Assembly in the next elections
In the month of August president Bingu wa Mutharika warned cabinet ministers and principle secretaries to avoid to corruption at all costs. Mutharika who has always spoken against corruption told the ministers that he would not spare them but fire them if they are not performing. Some observers have noted that if Mutharika would match his words with action, then the fight for a corrupt free nation would be bearing fruits. On several occasions the opposition political parties have cried foul that the fight for corruption only targets them. It is like a fight to deal with the opposition while those in authority like cabinet ministers are left untouched.
Rumours have been circulating in both print and electronic media on the plans to introduce a third term for the incumbent president Dr Bingu wa Mutharika. Government refuted these rumours in strongest terms. It was reported in August that there is an underground committee that is planning to use government's majority in parliament to change the laws to introduce the third term. The State House through its spokesperson Chikumbutso Mtumodzi refuted these allegations in strongest terms. Mtumodzi further pointed out that Mutharika is a man of integrity and would go to Ndata Farm when his second term of office expires in 2014. Malawians are yet to see if the second democratically elected president will not try to cling to power in 2014.
Political analysts have advised the Democratic Progressive Party DPP to tread carefully in its succession plans. Experience has shown that succession is the time that parties lose popularity because some individuals take the issue of succession as a personal business. An example is that of former president Bakili Muluzi who made a lone decision to appoint Bingu wa Mutharika as his successor in the United Democratic Front UDF. Today the UDF is an opposition party with a only handful Members of Parliament because of his lack of consultation. Now analysts have cautioned Mutharika and the ruling DPP to take it maturely if the party is to survive in the next elections.
President Bingu wa Mutharika who is well known for being unpredictable fired his political advisor Hetherwick Ntaba. Mutharika did not renew Ntaba's contract. Ntaba is famous for refuting almost everything that comes his way. Ntaba lost to Malawi Congress Party's (MCP) Willard Gwengwe in the parliamentary election May this year. Dr Mutharika did not renew Malani Ntonga's contract. Ntonga was a state house advisor on religious affairs. In the same month Mutharika also fired his brother Peter Mutharika as his advisor on legal affairs. Mutharika replaced his brother with lawyer Allan Ntata who was famous because of the campaign programmes on both Television Malawi and Malawi Broadcasting Corporation MBC.
James Nyondo the new comer on the political scene surprised the nation when he announced that he was going to form a political party. Nyondo who participated in the May General elections as an independent presidential candidate, vowed to never join or form any political party. He came 6th out of the 7 presidential aspirants that participated in the elections. According to Nyondo the last elections were a learning process. Nyondo disclosed that he found out that there is no way to succeed in an election without a party. Against this background Nyondo wants to form a political party in readiness of the 2014 general elections.
The United Democratic Front UDF in August automatically gave the powers of looking after the party to its Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala. This is to fill the gap that has been left by the absence of the National chairman of the party Dr Bakili Muluzi. The UDF National Chairman who is currently receiving medical attention in the United Kingdom is expected to come back home in December.
The Reserve Bank of Malawi in the month of August closed some forex bureaus in the city of Lilongwe. The Central Bank closed the bureaus because they did not follow RBM's requirements. One of the requirements was for the bureaus to apply for a licence from the Central Bank, which some did and others did not. But the closure of the bureaus has raised a lot of suspicions because the bureau owners feel the bank wants to keep them out of business. The forex bureaus have been closed against a background of forex shortages in Malawi.
Meanwhile reports have shown that cross border traders are having problems to access forex because of the closure of the bureaus. The shortage has been aggravated because the Central Bank has also put tough measures on the black market. While it has always been illegal to change money on a black market, evidence has shown that many people prefer the same illegal black market. Some observers have noted that the closure of the forex bureaus together with the lack of availability of forex in the banks has created unemployment.
Business reports in the month of August have disclosed that the imports cover in the month of July dropped to 1.92 months from 2.1 months in June. However experts say that this leads to the persistent shortage of forex on the market. This situation is not good for a country that depends on imported raw materials and machines from other countries for the production of goods. It should be noted that although the imports cover dropped in the month of July it was an improvement from the month of March, which had 1.4 months imports cover. Economists recommend that a country should have more than 3 months of imports cover to be on a safe side. What is more surprising that this happens while the tobacco sales are in full swing and the IMF released about $ 50 million. Against this background one would expect the reserve bank to readjust the exchange rate upwards rather than downwards, as is the case.
The Society of Accountants in Malawi SOCAM in the month of August noted that the world current financial crisis and recession have hit Malawi companies badly. Among other things organisations are facing cuts in funding from their donors. According to president of SOCAM Daniel Dunga the crisis is also affecting the tourism industry. SOCAM thinks tourists are hit hard by the recession and as result have minimised travel. The situation is also the same with some international organisations. These are reported to have opted for videoconferences to cut on travel expenses.
Press reports have revealed that President Bingu wa Mutharika is keen on fulfilling his promise to tobacco farmers. Early this year Mutharika told tobacco farmers that he would make sure that he protects the poor farmers. This is why last year Mutharika set a minimum price for tobacco buyers. Again in August Mutharika is on a drive to make neighbouring countries join his campaign of stopping price fixing at tobacco markets.
Is it true that there is hunger in some areas? These claims have been made against a background of government reports showing that there is plenty of food in Malawi. Such contradicting reports have left people wondering what exactly is the truth of the matter. Recently reports claimed that people in Thyolo district could face hunger in this time of plenty. This calls for stakeholders' action to make sure that the people in Thyolo have access to food.
Following cries from farmers who were wondering when the ADMARC depots were going to open, the grain marketer is finally open. One reason mentioned is the lack of space in the depots and warehouses leading to buying only maize and no other farm produce. This means farmers have no where to sell their other crops like Groundnuts, Beans, Soya, Cotton and many more farm produce. Farmers have to resort to selling the crops to private traders who most of the times exploit the poor farmers. So even if late it is good news that ADMARC opened some of its markets and is buying maize.
Earlier reports in the year indicated that almost in every agricultural sector whether poultry, animal husbandry and aquaculture there has been tremendous growth. But latest reports have shown the opposite on goat farming. The Ministry of Agriculture reported that it is worried about the goat population, goat being a more affordable source of meat for many in Malawi. It offers a cheaper alternative to beef.
President Bingu wa Mutharika in the month of August opened the National Agricultural Fair in Blantyre. Mutharika whose government strives at making Malawi a hunger free nation opened the fair where different farmers showcased their crops and other agricultural products. He is also reported to have encouraged farmers to use modern farming technologies like irrigation. With irrigation farmers can be assured of bumper yields. Food security is a requirement for people to be able to participate fully in developmental activities.
Some observers have received the news that Malawians should buy Malawian products with scepticism. They feel that if Malawians are to be swayed to buying the locally made products, companies should produce goods of high quality; goods that can compete with foreign goods on the market in terms of quality and price. Even some imported food crops are cheaper than locally produced food. Our liberalised marketing system has opened the door for these imports. If the Economic partnership Agreements will be signed, more of this is to come. Even the 'Best Buy Malawian' campaign while a good initiative that should supported, will not be enough. There is also much Malawian producers should do to win back buyers confidence.
CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS
Opposition parties in the month of August cried foul over the civil society's silence on the current political situation and parliament's conduct. The Malawi Congress Party MCP's spokesperson Nancy Tembo noted that during the sitting of parliament there were a lot of issues the civil society as a watch dog should have condemned or at least commented on. MCP felt the silence most when there was no comment on the absence of the leader of the opposition. The MCP feels the government side of the National Assembly, which now has an absolute majority, has caused the divisions in the once mighty MCP over who is to become leader of the opposition.
Despite the silence on the issue of the leader of opposition, civil society organisations noted that the government side of the National Assembly is abusing the fact that they are in majority. A case in point according to civil society in the month of August is the way that MPs rushed through the budget process so that they pass it without looking at it critically. At the same time some of the issues that the civil society organisations advised government to include in the budget were not featured in the budget.
The Malawi Economic Justice Network MEJN this month touched government's raw nerves when they asked for an immediate probe on reports that ESCOM blew over K80 million for a party and gifts last Christmas. The body also spent K12 million to buy a car for their board Chairman. ESCOM has in recent times come under attack for the persisting power black outs. In the cities it is a daily occurrence. Against this background MEJN wondered why all this money was wasted when the company is failing to meet people's expectations something that did not please some government officials. Meanwhile the Anti Corruption Bureau ACB is reported to be investigating the issue.
The Consumers Association of Malawi CAMA in August commended a report that described ESCOM's slogan Power all day, everyday as an insult to consumers. A research by the Public Sector Reforms Management Unit disclosed that it is irrelevant for ESCOM to have this slogan when consumers are in the dark half of the day. The reports also noted that the slogan is misleading because light is hardly available during the rainy season. CAMA was the first organisation to take ESCOM to task over the slogan.
The Malawi Electoral Support Network MESN in August pressed government to show commitment to the 2010 local government elections. According to Chairperson of MESN the fact that there is an allocation for the local government polls is not good enough because time is running out. So far there have not been any meetings by cabinet to discuss the local polls. However minister for Local Government Dr Goodall Gondwe has assured MESN all is well. MESN just like other civil society organisations is worried because this is the right time for the Electoral Commission to accredit organisations to do civic education.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE
A hot debate dominated discussions and press coverage in the month under review over the age at which girls should get married. Parliament in the last sitting passed an amendment bill allowing people to get married without parental consent at the age of 16. The legislators debated it and many were opposed but when it came to the vote all but one voted in favour. Some see this as a sign of more to come. It is nigh impossible to vote against the party line.
The Eye of the Child has spoken against the parliamentarians. A reproductive health organisation called Family Planning Association of Malawi FPAM added its weight against the proposed legislation. According to FPAM at 16 some girls are still very young that their bodies are not strong enough for child bearing. This is also one of the reasons there are high maternal mortality rates. It should be noted that although the bill was passed President Bingu wa Mutharika has not yet assented. Some members of the society have accused the parliamentarians for rushing in passing this bill without thorough consultations. It seems even the concerned people like girls were not consulted.
Bizarre things will never stop happening in this world. Recent reports that a couple had their wedding at a graveyard have left people with more questions than answers. In a Malawian culture, it is unheard of for people to play at the graveyard let alone have any celebration hosted there because it is treated with respect. A couple making their wedding vows at such a place is something that has never happened before and has left people wondering what exactly came into the couples very creative minds.
The outspoken minister of Gender and Child Welfare and development Patricia Kaliati minced no words in the month of August when she announced a ban on one of the cultural practices in Karonga, called Kupimbira. This a practice that is common in the district where parents sell off their daughter to some wealthy men in the village as payment for debt they owe the rich men. Reports have shown that a number of girls have fallen in this trap. For this reason the minister has banned the practice in the district.
News that some Sena girls are refusing to accept some of the old traditions that put their lives at risk came at a time when government is also trying to stop some of these traditions. Already government has banned Kupimbira in Karonga. Kupita Bzyade in the Lower Shire is a sexual cleansing practice that is performed when there is birth in a family and Kupita kufa when death occurs. These practices are among several others in Nsanje that the Malawi Human Rights Commission MHRC has described as a threat to human rights.
A report the Plan International about the health risk of children working on tobacco estates in Malawi has raised a lot of debate among stakeholders. The figures are alarming because it means the future of the 78,000 children mentioned in the report is gloomy. At the same time this figure might be like the tip of an iceberg. Although some organisations feel it is not possible to ban children from working in tobacco estates because of the levels of poverty, the issue needs concerted efforts from all stakeholders.
Although some features on the Malawi Schools Certificate of Education MSCE certificate were changed to enhance security, media reports have shown that there is an increase of people who are using fake certificates. It is shown that some people are using certificates that do not belong to them to enhance their employment possibilities. Similarly some people have gone a step further to lower grades on their certificates. The increase in such incidents means something is wrong somewhere. Malawi National Examinations Body MANEB the organisation that awards people the certificates needs to do more in making sure that the malpractice is curbed.
The press in the month of August released some information on the status of government funding to MANEB, the organisation that administers examinations in Malawi. Government lowered MANEB's funding in the 2009/2010 budget by almost half. According to the organisation, it is not going to be an easy task to administer examinations this year. Observers have expressed concerns over this development and fear that the shortage of funds will cause problems. One of them is security. Will MANEB be able to pay security personnel and all the other administration costs with minimal resources? MANEB has enlisted the help of civil society to convince government to release more funding.
As government is trying to change the teacher pupil ratio in Malawi, it is good to note that some organisations also promote the same programme. Media reports in the month under review disclose that an organisation called Development Aid from People to People, DAPP wants the ratio to be at 1:40 by 2014. This is good news because some media reports earlier this year indicated that Malawi has one of the highest teacher pupil ratios. DAPP will by the year 2014 have built 6 teachers training colleges and so help Malawi to improve the dwindling standards of education.
Education experts have commended the complimentary basic education where children who did not attend school are given a second chance. The programme caters for those that are too old to start primary school in the very first class. The same for children who are not yet adults but want to get educated. Children in Chikwawa are beneficiaries from this programme that observers feel is the right direction in making sure every Malawian is educated. Adolescent Girls Literacy of Chikwawa is the organisation that is running the programme in the district.
Disagreements rose between some teachers and the Teachers Union of Malawi TUM in the month under review. The teachers spoke against the deduction of membership fees from their salaries to TUM because they are not members. The teachers want this to stop or they will drag the union to court. The deducted amount was at K30.00 a month and has now been revised to K100.00 per month.
Press reports in the month under review have shown that banning of Traditional Birth Attendants TBAs by the Ministry of Health has left people with very little options. Expectant mothers in some areas are finding it difficult to find access to health services because of the long distances that they travel to reach the nearest hospital. Against this background some women in Lirangwe in Blantyre have resorted to going to the same banned TBAs because there is no maternity clinic in the area. Government banned the TBAs to minimise maternal deaths.
Ministry of Health in the month of August disclosed that although there are a lot of people who are blind, most cases could be avoided. It is easy to control blindness. According to health experts more than 80% of the cases of blindness can be controlled. Most of the blindness comes about because people are reluctant to go and seek treatment when they get sick. For this reason government is sensitising communities in Chiradzulu to seek medical attention when they fall sick.
Health experts in the month of August commented on the bill that parliamentarians passed recently. The law has recommended 16 as a marriageable age. They noted that at 16 girls are still very young and most of the times have problems with child bearing. This is one of the reasons Malawi has one of the highest maternal mortality rates. In a list of 177 countries Malawi is among the bottom 7. Officials have noted that the law will expose young girls to early marriages and early motherhood.
It is a pity to note that government sidelines Epilepsy in its policies. Although this is happening Malawi cannot run away from this disease because it is there. Evidence has shown that there are a number people who suffer epilepsy. Although the number might be on a lower side compared to diseases like AIDS and Malaria, the disease still needs government's attention, and as such should be included in government policies.
The issue of health workers also found its way in the press in the month of August. With hospital rooms and corridors full of sick people, medical personnel's efforts seem to be ignored when it comes to paying their salaries. After the hard work and dedication during the month, medical personnel find it difficult to get their salaries. The salaries are delayed especially in CHAM hospitals. To add salt to the injury hospital staff work with dilapidated equipment or no equipment at all. But they are expected to deliver. The Malawi Health Equity Network MEHN also notes that there are few incentives to make health workers happy. The findings by MHEN should give government and other stakeholders enough work to come up with better rewards to health workers who play a major role in saving lives.
Dams in Blantyre are infested by water hyacinth (Namasupuni). It is a well-known weed that covers the water surface thereby making it difficult for light to reach the base of the water body. At the same time it hinders oxygen from reaching to all other living things below the Namasupuni. In the past the Blantyre City Assembly would engage people to remove the Namasupuni once they appear. Perhaps if the same exercise was followed it could not be an issue.
Environmental reports in August lessened the fears of the nation that the cold weather that has lasted longer than other years, is not so abnormal as it may seem. Generally Malawians are used to cold weather in June and July. For cold weather to last up the very end of August is unusual. The Meteorological Department of Malawi MET assured the nation that the cold weather that some areas are experiencing is normal. In some years the cold weather spills over into September. It should also be noted that some areas experienced rain showers in August a thing that is very rare.
Malawi just like any other country is feeling the problems that have come with climate change. Among other things the country is facing water, food and energy shortages that can be attributed to climate change.
The Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental Affairs, noted that the climate hazards that Malawi faced in recent times have resulted in affecting food security. The ministry notes that government came up with ways of counteracting the effects of climate change especially in the rural area. It proposes that the masses in rural areas should be sensitised on how to cope with bad effects of climate change.
Environmentalists have disclosed that the expansion of the cities has also contributed to shortages of water. City dwellers are building houses very close to the rivers thereby changing the course of the river. Because of the increasing population it is difficult to find a dumping place for rubbish and people resort to doing this in the rivers. This development means some rivers have dried up and access to water from such rivers is almost zero. Reports have further disclosed that Blantyre, Mzuzu and other districts have problems of shortage of water.
Press reports have shown that there is a lot of abuse in the Viphya at Chikangawa Forest. Both locals and foreigners have lately abused the Viphya Plantation, which is the biggest man-made forest in this part of Africa. It is alleged that timber is cut without being replanted. Both Malawians and foreigners are faking documents for this purpose. Much of the timber is destined for export. The Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce MCCI wants the issue to be investigated.
The issue marriageable age being at 16 attracted the wrath of some gender activists. The feeling is that if a girl child gets married at 16 years her future is doomed, because at 16 most girls are still in school. This development hinders some of the programmes like women empowerment. To be empowered one needs to be able to finish school as a minimum requirement. Besides the issue of schooling and education, health is also a factor that militates against early marriage.
Although issues about gender balance are spoken about in the media, the preachers are not practicing what they preach to others. Evidence has shown that there are fewer women than men in media houses. Malawi is not the only country in the SADC region. This is happening in spite of the fact that it is the same SADC media which reported extensively on the region' gender protocol that was signed in 1997. The media should lead by example.
Female legislators met with journalists in the country. This was a rare occasion where the female members of parliaments and the media people interacted in finding means of ending the poor coverage female MPs. Evidence has shown issues of women in decision-making positions are rarely covered in the press. The Centre For Human Rights and Rehabilitation CHRR funded the meeting. The organisation wants to see women and journalists understand each other.
The Press reports that despite the improvement in the number of women in the National Assembly, female Members of Parliament MPs are still not being fully recognised. This is evident by the small number of women who are chairing committees in the August House. It is sad to note that the same parliament that preaches about women empowerment chose only 1 female MP as a chairperson of one of the committees out of a total of 16. This shows that our attitudes towards women have not yet changed. There is still a lot that needs to be done to make sure the dream of empowering women becomes true.
As the fight against gender based violence continues, the church has taken a step in making sure that the practice is wiped out completely. This time around the church will be using the bible in sensitising the masses about violence. Among believers any form of violence is a sin. Therefore if a husband wants to beat up their wives and scold their spouses, they should think twice before they do so. Because churches have a ready audience, the clergy will be reminding the congregation of the evil of being violent. Perhaps with this approach cases of gender-based violence may go down.
Fr. Bill Turnbull
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632