MALAWI PRESS REVIEW April 2008Malawi
From Centre For Social Concern (see our house)

News clippings with analysis
From the Major newspapers
in Malawi


Compiled by the
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Area 25
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,

PREVIEW

Opposition Members of Parliament boycotted the opening of the 40th session of parliament. This is the first time opposition member of parliament to boycott even the opening. Although there are not present at the National Assembly it is business as usual as business is being conducted as usual.

President Bingu wa Mutharika announced that Malawi will not sign the Economic Partnership Agreement EPAs. According to experts Malawi will not benefit from the agreement and government sees no reason why Malawi should sign the EPAs in their current form.

Government in the month announced a ban on all maize exports. This ban came after reports of maize shortages were reported in the press. Surprisingly the same government says it will continue to supply Zimbabwe with this year's maize.

Civil society organisations in the month of April condemned SADC heads of state for failing to come up with a quick solution to Zimbabwe's problems. It is almost 6 weeks since the country went to polls but the official results have not yet been released.

Politicians in April were condemned for causing havoc at the funeral of Traditional Authority Masula at Nsinja in Lilongwe. The whole idea of giving last respects to the dead was not observed because politicians wanted to take charge.

People are still waiting patiently to know what exactly went wrong so that the 2007 Malawi Schools Certificate of Education examinations should be leaked.

Gender activists are busy preparing women aspirants who are willing to participate in the 2009 general elections. Instead of the 30% they this times would want to have 50% of female representation in the National Assembly next year.


POLITICS

Although we still have over a year to go before the general elections some aspiring Members of Parliament have already started aligning themselves with the parties they want to represent in Parliament. Press reports have shown that so far it is only the United Democratic Front (UDF) that has indicated that it will conduct primary elections for aspiring Members of Parliament. Again it is the UDF that had a convention in April where national chairman and former president Dr Bakili Muluzi was chosen to lead the party in the 2009 general elections. Some observers have advised other parties to follow the UDF's example. So far no other party has announced a date for its convention.

April press reports disclosed that there seems to be some disagreements among aspiring Members of Parliament in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Tension is very high between hopeful MPs in the Mzimba North constituency. Some feel the party is already giving an upper hand to one of the would-be MPs and it is sidelining the others. There is yet another wrangle in the district but this time it is in the West between Deputy Minister for Tourism Billy Kaunda and the regional governor for the DPP Harry Mkandawire. The two want the same constituency and this has raised divisions among supporters of both camps which is not a good sign.

After months of desperately waiting the government announced 28th April to be the date for the opening of Parliament. Observers are still not too sure how the deliberations are going to turn out. Recent events and utterances between different parties have raised suspicions among observers. In one of the pre-budget session meetings the Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe conducted, he clearly said that there is going to be no election if the budget is not passed. On several occasions the Opposition have said that the moment the House meets it is going to be Section 65 first and some other businesses later. Meanwhile the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Honourable John Tembo has announced that the Opposition will not be fooled again. Tembo said that after President Bingu wa Mutharika proroguing Parliament the Opposition had passed the budget last September hoping the Section 65 issue was going to be discussed.

In recent remark President Bingu wa Mutharika castigated Opposition parties. On several occasions Mutharika has blamed the opposition UDF and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Mutharika has rebuked other politicians whom he accused of trying to frustrate his government. To add to it all Mutharika feels the other Opposition leaders are bound to make his life miserable by refusing to pass the budget. With this in mind some commentators have voiced concerns over Mutharika's outbursts to the Opposition.

Observers have described former president Dr Bakili Muluzi's shopping spree as a sign of desperation to gain people's trust. Muluzi, who is well known for giving handouts, went to Metro shop in Blantyre where he told shoppers to put goods on his account. To his surprise the bill reached K21 million. Now the shop, which owned by Press Cooperation, has banned Muluzi from entering its premises. Reports indicate that Muluzi is still bitter with the fact that President Mutharika left the UDF and the former president is doing all he can to remove Mutharika from the presidency. Some observers have noted that Mutharika should have avoided attacking the Opposition especially when Parliament was about to meet.

The fight against corruption that the Mutharika administration initiated is slowly bearing fruits. After promising to fight corruption at all levels former Education Minister Samuel Mpasu was slapped with a six-year jail term. During the Muluzi era Mpasu was accused of illegal procurement of learning and teaching materials for the free primary education programme in 1994. Mpasu's sentencing came at a time when he was fighting for democracy in the UDF party. Mpasu, who was fired from the post of Publicity Secretary of the UDF for openly opposing Muluzi's comeback, was supporting Vice President Cassimu Chilumpha, the only contender at the UDF National Convention. Meanwhile reports have shown that the UDF has deliberately made some statements in the media to make Chilumpha's bid to challenge Muluzi difficult. Recently the party had announced that it was going to nominate National Executive Committee members before the convention. Former President Bakili Muluzi, in an effort to outdo vice President Cassimu Chilupmha at the convention, is alleged to have paid K9 million and consequently won the presidency. To the surprise of even those closest allies Muluzi left for the United Kingdom a couple of days after winning the presidency, leaving behind him a divided UDF.

ECONOMY

There is still controversy surrounding the tobacco sales in the markets of all three Regions. It all started with good and promising prices that saw some farmers' smiling all the way to their homes after selling their produce. Indeed the farmers deserved good money for their sweat. That was in Lilongwe on the first day. Some days later things turned from bad to worse and the sales were suspended. The same thing happened in Blantyre. Again in Mzuzu sales were suspended indefinitely after farmers protested over prices that were very low. Whatever the case authorities need to look into the situation and come up with immediate solutions to the problem.

After uncertainty over Malawi's position on Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs), civil society can now relax. This follows president Bingu wa Mutharika's announcement that Malawi will not sign the trade agreement. President Mutharika also indicated that Malawi will not benefit from such a trade deal and sees no reason for signing the EPAs. Late last year civil society pleaded with the government to make sure that Malawi does not fall into the EPA trap. Now that Malawians have the President's assurance on the issue the watchdogs can afford to sleep peacefully. In this regard the Centre For Social Concern also thanked government for saying it will not sign the EPAs. The Centre also points out that it is a good thing that the European Union has clarified the position of European Development Fund (EDF) where it is reported that even if countries do not sign the EPAs they will still receive EDF.

Barely a month after announcing price increases of bread, the price has gone up again this time by 30%. Bread is not the only commodity that has gone up. In recent months the press have carried articles that announced price increases of some of the basic family needs. Above all the cost of transport has increased drastically. This scenario has left some families with no hope of coping with life. The consumer rights body Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA) wants government to have a council that would monitor the unjust price increases. Sometimes people tend to wonder why a fuel price increase always means a goods price hikes? Shop owners always increase the price of their goods the minute fuel prices go up although the goods in stock at the time have not been affected by higher transport costs. In some countries of the world and in Africa in particular, there have been reports of riots and protests because of the price increases of basic food items.


FOOD SECURITY

Observers have noted with great shock that this year the Malawi government will export maize to Zimbabwe again to honour the contract that is in place. Surprisingly the same government is aware of the number of people that are still having problems to access maize. According to reports the Malawi government has to honour the contract it signed with Zimbabwe by supplying this year's maize. This revelation comes at a time when the government has faced tough opposition for entering into a deal with Zimbabwe at the expense of Malawians. Whatever happens as regards the food crisis the situation on the ground is not what it appears to be.

The month of April also saw government banning any exports of maize. Surprisingly, they banned any maize exports this year when reports indicate that the government is going to continue exporting. Does this mean the ban is for traders only and not the government? The ban has come after last year's experience when a number of farmers sold their produce to traders who in turn exported it leaving the farmers with nothing to buy later. Perhaps the ban could see to it that there is enough maize within the borders of Malawi.

Some nutritionists have observed that Malawi's current situation on maize has arisen because of poor planning. Like it is said "failure to plan is planning to fail"! A number of farmers got carried away by traders and sold their crop. Now the same farmers cannot buy the same maize they sold to the traders because it is too expensive. On the other hand the prices on the markets have gone up compared to last year when Malawi had plenty of maize.

From the word go the government's fertilizer subsidy programme for this year's season raised a great deal of suspicion. Instead of learning from the mistakes of the previous year it was the same old story. Although the programme is a good initiative the way it was administered leaves a lot to be desired. Coupled with theft of fertilizer and shortages of farm inputs, some farmers were left at the mercy of the rains. Farmers want the government to involve chiefs in the subsidy programme. They feel the chiefs are the right people to administer the coupons.

Just like many commodities the price of fertilizer went up in April. This time around the price increases have left people wondering what their future is in farming. Reports have shown that the prices range is from K6,000 to K8,000 per 50kg bag. In a Malawian setting where more than 60% of the population live below the poverty line, one can see a bleak future in the farming industry. Some observers have said that it is high time Malawi found alternatives to the use of fertilizers. Perhaps the use of manure should be encouraged as it can be sourced locally and should be given a chance to take over from fertilizers. Some experts say that in the long run the continued use of fertilizers could rob the soils of its natural nutrients.


CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS


The civil societies in various countries have accused SADC heads of state of taking it easy on the situation in Zimbabwe. Press reports have shown that although Zimbabweans went to the polls some weeks ago the presidential results have not yet been released. Despite all the statements made by Western countries the presidential results have not been released. It remains a mystery whether the results will every be known. Although this is the case some people in Zimbabwe still believe the Opposition won the elections and that the incumbent president is deliberately delaying the results. However, the recent SADC meeting failed to tell Mugabe, who was not present, to do what is right. Instead the people who voted are kept in suspense over the result.

A number of civil society organisations have admitted that they have not succeeded in initiating dialogue between political leaders in the country. The relationship between President Bingu wa Mutharika and the former president Dr Bakili Muluzi has not been rosy for sometime. For whatever reason the incumbent and the former president have thrown mud at each other at any given opportunity. Since the upholding of Section 65 the relationship of the two has gone from bad to worse with Mutharika accusing Muluzi of trying to frustrate his government. Mutharika has openly said Muluzi is using Members of Parliament from his United Democratic Front to only think of Section 65 and impeachment whenever they are in the National Assembly. Despite the cold relationship that exists among politicians the country's watchdogs have not done much to bring the two sides around the negotiation table. They have not met face to face to try and sort out their differences.

Non-governmental organisations in the month under review condemned President Bingu wa Mutharika for giving out the agenda of the Parliamentary sitting. According to reports Opposition MPs want to discuss Section 65 before anything else while the government wants all the outstanding bills, which are 14 in total, to be given priority. At a recent Business Committee of Parliament members failed to agree on what the agenda would be when the House reconvened. It remains uncertain what will transpire during the sitting.

Although there are reports of asking some sectors of society to pressurise the Opposition to pass the 2008/2009 budget when it is tabled, some NGOs feel Mutharika and the government should also look into the calls for tabling Section 65. According to Malawi Watch, the mere fact that Malawi is a democratic country means views of the Opposition and other people should also be addressed. It does not make sense to advocate for the smooth flow of Parliament, when concerns by the Opposition have to not been taken aboard.

SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE

Some Chewa chiefs are still bitter with what transpired during the funeral of the late Traditional Authority Masula. The media disclosed that all hell broke loose when the Member of Parliament for the area announced that Malawi Congress Party leader John Tembo would address the people in attendance. Initially Tembo was not on the programme. This ended in stone and chair throwing at one another even before the coffin was taken to the grave. This is a very strange occurrence that belittled the burial of a TA, which is one of the top most positions among traditional leaders. Surprisingly the parties that were present at the funeral are all pointing fingers at each other for causing the fracas. When somebody dies they deserve to receive the last respects from the people left but the opposite happened for the late Masula. Some observers feel that politicians should avoid politicising funeral gathering. At the same time wearing of the party colours at funerals of people who are not politicians should be avoided at all costs.

It seems prisoners in Malawi continue to have their rights violated even in death. Press reports have shown that dead prisoners are not given decent burials. There have been concerns expressed by a number of organisations over the way prisoners are buried. Reports have revealed that at times dead prisoners are not given their last respects by society because it is fellow prisoners who bury the dead in mass graves.

Newspaper readers woke up to some disturbing news in April when reports disclosed that some mothers could be so cruel and reach such an extent as to burn to death their own children. Reports that two sisters in Bangwe Township in Blantyre burnt their children to death in a house have sent shock waves through readers who cannot imagine such actions. Surprisingly the two are believed to be devout Christians. Meanwhile it is reported that the two women are to undergo psychological tests. As if this is not enough another woman in Mwanza district hung her son and grandson in a tree and lit a fire underneath the two. These occurrences have left people wondering why some people enjoy inflicting pain on others.

Issues of witchcraft continued to receive a fair share of press coverage in April. In Mzimba suspected witches had their houses burnt down and property looted after some children alleged that they were teaching them witchcraft. Although there are no laws on witchcraft a number of people have been put on trial to answer such charges. It should be noted that it is not only in Mzimba where cases of witchcraft are on the increase. The trend does not reflect the fact that Malawi is a God fearing nation. Because if it were the accused "teachers" would have had the welfare of the innocent children at heart.

EDUCATION

Some education observers have noted that much as people are pointing fingers at the students for poor results in examinations there is need to look at things from all angles. From primary schools some teachers fail to pronounce some words when teaching pupils. In this situation it is difficult to expect good results from these pupils. In other cases, due to lack of motivation in government schools, the teachers also teach part time in other schools. They put all their efforts into the other schools not into the government ones where they are originally employed. This is a disadvantage to pupils who cannot afford to pay for part time lessons. Now with this mess it seems the Ministry of Education has a lot on its plate as regards standards of education.

Education analysts have observed that one of the reasons for the falling standards of education could be the calibre of teachers that are in secondary schools. The trend in recent times has seen some diploma holders teaching in secondary schools even in senior classes. This has resulted in poor results for form four students year in and year out. President Bingu wa Mutharika announced that he would like to have teachers with degrees teach in secondary schools. Perhaps having teachers with higher qualifications would benefit the students more and instil a hard working spirit among them. On the other hand on its own having teachers with degrees is not good enough because there is need to revamp the whole system.

After months of desperation Chancellor College students finally were recalled to continue their studies. The students who organised two peaceful protests to ask President Bingu wa Mutharika to intervene on the issue are now back in college. Among other things the University Council of Malawi and the lectures reached an agreement and they resumed teaching. The lecturers asked the government to increase their salary by 200%, a request that the government did not agree to and instead their salaries were raised only by 20%. The issue also went to court with the University Council getting a restraining order to stop lecturers from staging strikes.

Although some months have gone by since the 2007 Malawi Schools Certificate education exam leakage scandal, nothing on the findings of what led to the occurrence has yet been released. By now people should have been told exactly what went wrong to cause the exam papers to be found on the black market. Surprisingly there was a commission of inquiry that was supposed to come up with findings on the exam leakage. Seeing that there is a delay in realising the findings on the fracas some NGOs want a quick report on what happened. It is only after the results of the findings are released that authorities can learn how not to repeat the same mistake.

HEALTH

The situation in Malawi hospitals continues to be going from bad to worse with patients sleeping on the floor. Reports have shown that hospitals are so congested that hardly a day passes without patients sleeping on the floor. Government hospitals are hit hard by the shortage of beds and they fail to accommodate the numerous patients that are admitted. Experts attribute the congestion to the Aids epidemic that has left people suffering from all sorts of related illnesses.

Although a large number of Malawians suffer from malaria health experts have revealed that many people still do not want to use mosquito nets. Press reports have disclosed that last year alone over 7,000 people died of malaria. Surprisingly, even when people are advised to use treated mosquito nets many prefer to sleep without them. A number of organisations have freely distributed nets to communities and the heath ministry also sells them to expectant mothers at a low cost. With all this it seems nets are always available in many homes, but people need to change their mindset if they are to protect their families from malaria.

Some years ago Malawi was rated to be a role model in the fight against tuberculosis. Although this is the case, press reports have shown that TB continues to be a problem in the country. To rub salt in the wound health experts have discovered another form of tuberculosis which is deadly. According to experts the disease is one of the major killers in the land. Being so one would expect people to be aware and know when to go to hospital. Some people still believe that married couples should not have their conjugal rights when one of them is ill with TB. The National Tuberculosis Control Programme has made it clear that there is no problem to do so when having treatment.

Health reports in April have shown that patients who are paying in wards at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre are not being attended to. This happens when these patients pay money to receive treatment. Reports show that doctors take time to meet these patients and sometimes they stay for days on end without seeing a doctor. Queen Elizabeth Hospital being a government hospital is expected to lead by example in attending to all patients regardless of their status.

In April the Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi revealed that as medical personnel nurses have not been spared from the deadly HIV and Aids. Reports have disclosed that the Health Ministry is losing three nurses a month. This is an alarming rate considering the fact that the sector is already being haunted by shortages of personnel. At the same time nurses are a rare species because it takes a lot of money to train them. Therefore it is a deplorable situation to be losing three in a month. If the trend continues nurses in Malawi will keep on being overworked and this might result in poor performance.


ENVIRONMENT

Some environmentalists have warned that the current climate change will put the future generation in danger if the trend continues. The ever-increasing changes in temperatures have also been blamed for the changes in climate. Among other things the rise in temperatures has left some areas exposed to floods that have made people homeless. Now experts say that if this continues the future generation stands to lose out. What if the future generations are faced with contaminated air to breathe simply because right now people are not conserving the natural resources!

Charcoal selling continues in Malawi despite efforts to stop the trade. Some observers have noted that stakeholders are not doing enough to make sure that using trees for firewood and charcoal is completely under control. The result of such a scenario has increased wanton cutting down of trees that has left some areas bare. In this line police and forest officials caught some truckloads of charcoal. To make matters worse the charcoal was from Phalombe which is one of the Districts where Mulanje mountain is a tourist attraction. Note that there are some endangered species of trees in the mountain.

After calls from stakeholders on the need to replant trees some residents in Blantyre are now complying. Experts have noted that the cold weather that Blantyre residents usually experience in the months of April, May and June comes partly because of the absence of trees in Soche Hill and Ndirande mountain. According to experts the Chiperone winds from Thyolo Mountain easily pass by Soche Hill because there are fewer trees. If there were trees the Chiperone winds would be contained, thereby reducing the cold weather for Blantyre residents. At the same time the natural waters from the hill are also safeguarded when trees cover it. Therefore, with help from the Lions Club of Chichiri the residents are trying to reforest the bare parts of the hill.

Environmentalists have warned that the continued rise in temperatures is not good for the future of the world. Research has shown that as people continue to cut down trees, they are actually removing what would have taken in the carbon dioxide that people breathe out. At the same time the carbondioxide that other activities release also has nowhere to go because of the absence of trees. Therefore the surrounding areas are full of contaminated air that is not good for humans. As a result some experts are advocating for more trees so that they take up the carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis.

GENDER

In the battle to fight for 50% of female representation in decision-making positions, some gender experts have said that merit should not be compromised. Much as we would want to have a number of women in decision making positions the issue of merit should be looked into. For sure certain positions require people with managerial skills and you cannot have somebody who does not qualify to fill such a position simply because she is a woman. One needs to have all it takes to be given a chance in this competitive world. Surprisingly some sectors want women to automatically get positions simply because the nation wants a 50% women representation.

With just a few months to go before the general elections some organisations are using all their muscles to prepare women for the elections. Indeed a number of women are aspiring to become Members of Parliament but they certainly need to prepare both psychologically and financially. This is the reason why Women in Politics Committee of the NGO Gender Network for the general elections is busy encouraging more women to participate in the elections. At the same time there is need to prepare the women with some skills like public speaking so that they should not have problems when campaigning.

Some observers have noted that women need to have good strong foundations in order to make good leaders. For instance if parents change their mindset on girls education, then that could be the beginning of the making of good female leaders. For sure good leaders certainly need good education and equal participation on all issues. If girls are given the same opportunities as boys then Malawi could be assured of more independent future generation of women leaders.


Bill Turnbull
Fr. Bill Turnbull

Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Area 25
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632
billturnbull@cfscmalawi.org