MALAWI PRESS REVIEW December 2008
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,
In this years offering for the Press Review for December 2008 the reader will find both some analytical contributions as well summaries of what the press has been saying on the various topics and issues reported.
While Malawi in some ways has made progress e.g. in the economy, this has not been the case in the way politicians and politics have performed. The economic progress that has been achieved should be placed against the background that Malawi is still and probably will be for considerable time to come a least developed country. Therefore much progress needs to be made to bring about some tangible changes in the lives of the poorest. For readers who want to see what is happening on the ground the analysis of the Basic Needs Basket will be of interest. It shows that much still needs be done to make the economic progress deliver for the poorest sections of the population. In other words it is not trickling down sufficiently.
Living according to one's means is something that seems very difficult for Malawi. Presidential motorcades, ministerial vehicles, travel to meetings, salaries of members of parliament etc. one could get the impression that Malawi is among the ten richest countries in the world! If we could halve these expenses much money would be freed for real lasting development and a real change in the lives of the poor.
For those of us who are old enough, we remember with some excitement the words of a charismatic president J.F. Kennedy: 'do not ask what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.' In the USA the president-elect Barack Obama seems to have the same kind of charisma when he calls for real change. That is what we need in Malawi. The more so when realizing that the global financial meltdown will have repercussion for Malawi, which we can't even fathom.
Reading about the state of the nation as reported below may be sobering. We do hope however that instead of discouraging us, it will challenge us to ask: what can we do to make a difference, what can we do to change Malawi and make it good home with enough for each for all of its people.
Wishing you all a Happy and Blessed Election Year
The State of Politics in Malawi, in 2008: an analysis
Mandate Or Not!
Malawi seems to be on a long and at times painful journey towards democracy. Seeing the way the minority Government of Mutharika has to dance, cajole and fight to get the Budget passed shows the seriousness of the matter. The root cause is still the third term bids of Bakili Muluzi, the predecessor of Mutharika, and the refusal by society at large to allow him to have either. So he plotted the next best thing: to have a puppet state president so that he could continue to rule from behind the scenes. He had thought to have found the puppet in Mutharika but the reality proved him wrong. Mutharika has shown that he is far from being a puppet, going to the extent of ditch the party that put him in power and to start a new party: the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Ditching the United Democratic Front (UDF) meant that Mutharika also ditched the electorate's mandate. Ever since he has been seeking support, he has been establishing, looking for a mandate. One obvious way would have been to have new elections, but the Constitution does not allow for this. But since many of Malawi's Members of Parliament are not very principled, and in contravention of the now (in)famous Section 65 of the Constitution about 60 out of 193 joined the DPP and many in so doing have 'crossed the floor'. Only six were elected in by-elections on the DPP ticket. Five of those are alive. This has meant that his support in parliament while having already the problem of being a minority, is very tenuous. The threat of being impeached was and is not imaginary. Attempts have been made and this has been detrimental to the proper functioning of the parliament.
To complicate things further there is a lot of anger among Opposition members especially its leadership. The former president Muluzi has repeatedly said that he will take over State House, that he is not afraid of his opponent but that his opponent fears him. Having been cheated out of 'rule by proxy', rule from behind the scenes, he is a very angry person. Mr. Tembo has repeatedly said he was cheated out of the presidency. Both want to see things reversed. In the meantime the ruling party is trying to get by through playing the injured one. The Budget is essential they say, you cannot eat the Section 65. Again and again, they seem to get away with it. The fact that the economy has been performing well and that there have been bumper harvests two years in a row has helped.
Mutharika has used all kind of means: he even went as far as playing the general public, wooing chiefs, churches and civil society to stand up against their elected representatives, pushing them to demand that their MPs pass the budget; he equated the non passing of the Budget to treason and finally threatened with the army. The last measure was to stop paying parliamentarians their salary. All this has led one party to say they want to burry the gauntlet till May next year and the General Elections.
The compromise worked out by religious leaders seemed to have created a win-win situation, giving both protagonists what they wanted, but again it is the Government, which does not seem to trust even agreements brokered by religious leaders and a Memorandum of Understanding ( MOU) signed before some of the highest officers in the land.
Having convinced the Opposition in 2007 to pass the Budget, the President made a little used word well known by "proroguing" Parliament. Many of us had to look it up in our encyclopaedia and interpret it by reading up on history! A similar scenario is being played out again in 2008. Therefore the opposition did not want to give an inch. The downside of this is that Parliament cannot function normally and bills that would help some of the poorest people in Malawi do not even get to their first reading in parliament.
So while democracy is not working as it should, the economy is relatively sound. Is this belying the often-mentioned opinion that democracy is the better system to deliver to the people at large the best possible conditions? The Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) through its Basic Needs Basket has found that a strong economy, economic growth does not necessarily translate in better conditions for the poor. Is it not the role of a well functioning democracy that the conditions of the poorest are improved on? Has at the best of times Malawi's democracy delivered to the poor? In other words is Malawi's democracy a real democracy, promoting social justice or has it simply been another way for a small minority to enrich themselves at the cost of the silent majority?
In this climate of hostility between ruling party and Opposition, the constitutional review does not seem to make great progress either. It is another victim of poor political governance.
Human Rights and Human Dignity
Looking over 2008 it seems that we are forgetting that human rights are one and indivisible. This means that one cannot just look after socio-economic rights while suspending the civil and political rights in the same way that the opposite is true. In terms of the Malawi scene, one cannot deal only the Budget, or Section 65 on its own, but one has to do justice to both. In the end what is at stake is the dignity of all Malawians: our human dignity as expressed in the many declarations and covenants concerning the rights of all human beings.
2008 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. The human dignity enshrined in them should be the motivation for our behaviour both economic and political on a purely human level. In addition, Malawi calling itself a God Fearing nation, should in this fear of God find another strong reason to do all it can to help human beings to live lives of human dignity, that is to really be in the image of God (Genesis ch 1).
Commentators have frequently referred to dictatorial tendencies in our top leaders. Calling them "Mose wa lero" (the Moses of today) smacks of "mpulumutsi" (saviour), a word used to for H. Kamuzu Banda. In addition to this, the Ngoni in Mzimba have started calling the president "Ngwazi" (hero), another word used for Kamuzu. Would it be then that these commentators are good observers?
Intra-party democracy is the victim of the 'big man syndrome'. In conventions all positions are up for competition except the top job. Whenever one is made to believe that Primaries are free and fair either the use of money or of a public vote instead of a secret ballot show the contrary. Even the position of running mate causes some problems to most parties. Hence the talk of fishing outside one's own waters for a running mate. So far all this has been speculation and rumour. The Primaries to choose party candidates to run for Member of Parliament, which are being held at the time of writing, seem to pit some of the heavy weights against each other. But only one candidate can run for each party in each constituency. There are accusations and counter accusations. If only I can make it one can almost hear them think.
In spite of some of the disputes and unrest caused by Primaries they are necessary, as the 2004 elections have shown that not to consult the people can cost dearly. The UDF lost many seats to other parties and especially independents. Does all this show that the position of MP is too lucrative, with big salaries and big allowances, enticing people from across the spectrum who want take a piece of the cake including even those who apparently have little support to compete. In this quest for a seat in the August House, women are short-circuited and complain that they are not given a real chance.
As the bishops say in their letter published at Pentecost 2008:
2.1.1 Intra-party democracy
Within our political parties, the Party constitution and the leaders have to provide ways and means to make it possible for all members to participate fully and give aspirants the opportunity to freely contest for key positions. What is required are some of the following:
(i) A Party manifesto which spells out the vision and mission of the Party, its strategies and objectives for creating a better Malawi;
(ii) A Party constitution which will stipulate the terms for intra Party democracy;
(iii) Intra Party elections (primaries) which determine who will stand for the Party in the elections in a ward, a constituency or the country;
(iv) Conventions or some kind of General Meeting should take place, where aspirants will be allowed to compete for various positions within the Party including the presidential candidacy and the chairpersonship and also where constitutional issues will be looked into.
Some of the consequences of not paying attention to these elements, as we have already seen, are the following: dictatorial tendencies in party leaders and those who surround them, disgruntled party members, factionalism in parties, and break up of parties. Our conviction is that it is within the political party that democracy starts; it is also here that it starts to fail! The symptoms of this failure are when parties give in to the big-man syndrome, when young new blood is not allowed to enter into political leadership and when enough space is not given to women to compete for positions.
We urge all members of all political parties to do their duty and take their responsibility already within their Party. In this regard, we urge especially our lay faithful who are directly involved in politics and indeed all people of good will to allow Truth and Justice to guide them.
The late publication of party manifestos may be a symptom of a lack of democratic culture. A sign of what the Speaker of Parliament suggested: Malawi politics are unpredictable; political parties can reconfigure depending on prevailing winds. Politics are linked too much to personalities and regions, or sometimes religion, and not enough to a vision, which can entice people to develop themselves, solid policies and good implementation strategies.
TVM and MBC Budget
TV Malawi (TVM) and the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) have continued to struggle with a budget of one kwacha each for the second year in a row. The non-political, non-partisan programmes have suffered as much as the political, partisan ones. A case of the means exceeding the cause or inappropriate means used to correct a wrong. If the medicine also kills the healthy part of the body, another medicine should be looked for.
During 2008 the issue of corruption raised its head only on special occasions like world day to combat corruption or the publication of the annual report by Transparency International, or the sentence handed out to Mr. Sam Mpasu.
A very real issue is the doubt about Muluzi's candidature. Standing as he wants to do in such circumstances holds the party and the whole nation at ransom. If the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) rules that he cannot stand it will cause unrest in the country. It will leave the UDF in a quandary and practically sideline them. It will do little good for the cause of democracy, which he purports to have upheld all along.
On the international front, Malawi seems to be realigning itself, away from traditional partners like Taiwan to Mainland China. Approaches have also been made to Iran, apparently with some success. For Malawi it is probably a case of where it can find better conditions, help with few strings attached. Many observers however have noted that haste is seldom good when making momentous decisions.
Finally, using on the spur of the moment language may backfire: when the Opposition stayed away from the opening session of Parliament it used words coming from the President's own mouth. He is alleged to have said: 'they call me a cat, let them wait and they will see that I am a leopard'. When quizzed why they stayed away from Parliament the opposition answered: we were afraid of the leopard. We fear the leopard!
The State of the economy in 2008: an analysis
With a population of 13.6 million, Malawi remains one of the most densely populated and least developed countries. Although its economy grew at about 8% in 2008, the high population growth rate of 2.39 is forcing the GDP per capita to be as low as US$800. The country is predominantly agricultural, with 85% of its population being rural. The majority of people, about 53%, live in poverty, surviving on less than US$2.90 per day. Income is unequally distributed among Malawians, with 10% of the lowest household income earners consuming only 2.9% of the total national production, while the highest 10% income-earning households share 31.8% of national resources.
Maternal mortality rates in Malawi are one of the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 1 in every 100 pregnant mothers likely to die in birth-related complications. This is particularly worse among poor women in the rural areas because of their little access to quality maternal care. Life-expectancy at birth, which is a measure of overall quality of life in a country, is still very low at 43.45 years. It has, however, improved by 1.09% from 42.98 years in 2007. In 2003 it was estimated at as low as 37.98 years.
Recent years, including 2008, have seen poverty shifting from rural to urban areas due to increasing urbanization rate. More people are migrating to urban areas in search of better opportunities and as a consequence, urban poverty is becoming just as intense, dehumanising and life threatening because the unemployment rate is worse in the urban. Currently, there are no clear policies addressing urban poverty as both national and international development priorities are biased towards rural poverty. In 2008, there were 1,468,000 urban Malawians living under slum conditions, representing 66.4% of the urban population. High rate of slum growth, which is at 4%, is synonymous with urban growth rate of 5.2%.
The Basic Needs Basket (BNB) of the Centre for Social Concern captures the cost of basic needs per month against urban poor people's incomes. In most cases, the Basic Needs Basket is greater than incomes of such poor people. It remains a challenge to policy makers in the coming years as to how such households bridge this gap, and at what cost. If not bridged, what are the consequences for household nutrition, shelter, education, health, etc., and how does this affect the city and national economies? Lack of adequate health care is a major cause of both rural and urban poverty.
High incidence of poverty has placed health facilities under pressure. The health care delivery system is mainly challenged by acute shortage of health workers. Nationwide there are, on average, 2 doctors and 56 nurses per 100,000 patients. The situation is worse in rural areas. The scope of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Malawi also presents many challenges to the health care delivery system, to cope with the enormous needs of the people. Adult HIV prevalence is still high at 14.2%, with over 940,000 Malawians living with HIV/AIDS. The high levels of HIV infection have resulted in an unprecedented increase in the number of tuberculosis cases, which rose to 27,000 cases annually in recent years.
Fight Against Malaria
While Malaria continued to be a major public health and economic problem in 2008, and a disease that mostly affects the poorest and keeps them poor, a lot has been done to combat the disease. In 2008, the Ministry of Health estimated that there are approximately 4,000,000 cases of malaria every year, the majority of who are women and children. This is a great improvement from previous years, when the annual number of reported cases of malaria was 8,000,000. Malaria, however, still remains the number one cause of admissions among children.
Malawi has made considerable progress in scaling-up key malaria prevention and treatment activities. The USA President's Malaria Intervention (PMI) in 2008 targeted four main areas that have proved to be very effective in the fight against malaria, especially among under-five children, pregnant mothers and HIV positive Malawians. These include artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT); intermittent preventive treatment (IPTp) for malaria in pregnancy; insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) and indoor spraying admissions among under-five children. Malawi is also one of the first countries in Africa to implement intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy. In another development, in 2008, the Ministry of Health transitioned from sp to artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT) as the official first line treatment policy.
Infant mortality rate is one of the indicators of good progress in children's health. In Malawi, the infant mortality rate (2008 estimates) stands at 90.55 deaths per 1,000 live births. This is a great development and shows that Malawi is succeeding in reducing the deaths of infants. The rate has been reduced by 2.41% from 92.1 in 2007. This is largely due to easy accessibility of under-5 clinics (supplied by Government, CHAM and the private sector); availability of good child-care information that includes exclusive breast-feeding to all mothers; availability of food supplements to undernourished children and the prevention of transmission from mother to child program, among others.
Agriculture and Food Security
Agriculture continues to be the largest sector of the economy in terms of its contribution to GDP, which is estimated at 37.8%. This sector generates 90% of Malawi's export earnings, with tobacco accounting for over 50%. The majority of the rural poor are employed in the agricultural sector as smallholder farmers. Despite rising food and energy costs, and the negative impact of climate change affecting the global economy, Malawi has been able to achieve food security. This is because in 2008, like in the previous two years, agriculture remained one of the priority areas. In the 2008/09 Budget, it was allocated 16%, which was the highest among all the sectors. At national level, Malawi remains generally food secure because of the fertilizer and seed subsidy programme as well as the small-scale irrigation programmes.
There are, however, some households that are currently food insecure or at risk of food insecurity as they are running out of consumption of own harvest, and must start relying on the markets at a time of high maize prices. This is particularly the case among the chronically food insecure and; also among some parts of the Southern Region as a result of crop failure and unfavourable weather conditions.
Unlike in past years, maize price trends in 2008 did not reflect seasonal patterns, as the prices did not fall when expected soon after harvest (in May and June). The Government had to intervene by fixing a maximum selling maize price of MK52 per kilogram. Although not fully adhered to, and not effectively monitored, a positive development was achieved as the price of maize dropped/stabilized in September, one month later. Prices of maize should be expected to rise again as we approach the hunger period of December - February. The impact, however, should be milder than in the past when we had a national maize deficit. The Government's ban of large-scale exportation of maize in 2008 also resulted into about 67% reduction in the volume of informal cross-border trade in maize.
Malawi has made success stories of making food security a reality by having a surplus three years in a row. Consequently, the country has received several awards internationally, including the Agricola Medal, for excellent work towards achieving food security.
Currently Malawi is irrigating 72,000 of 400,000 hectares of irrigable land, and intends to create a "green belt" along Lake Malawi. This will entail the creation of irrigation scheme along the lake.
Malawi's natural resources include land, water, forests, fisheries, wildlife, some mineral deposits such as limestone, uranium, coal and bauxite. Environmental issues that featured highly in 2008 include deforestation, land degradation, water pollution from sewage and industrial wastes. Deforestation, however, has remained a serious problem in Malawi. Between 2000 and 2005, Malawi lost nearly 35% of its total forest cover due to fuel wood collection, charcoal burning and farming (both subsistence and commercial). Deforestation has also resulted in soil erosion and siltation of parts of Lake Malawi, which is "home" to great fish species. Malawi's environmental issues in 2008 are closely linked to poverty:
Because of lack of alternative livelihood opportunities, the poor depend on natural resources such as depletion of fish stocks, charcoal burning and poaching.
The poor, accounting for 89.9% of the Malawi population, mostly use fuel wood for cooking.
High population growth rate of 2.39% puts pressure on land and other natural resources.
The emergence of slum areas due to rising rural-urban migration in search for better opportunities; and due to high house rental and utility charges in formal urban settlements.
Poor farming practices are worsening soil erosion, reducing agricultural productivity and incomes.
Deforestation is causing siltation in Shire River and hydroelectric generation is consequently below potential. ESCOM is spending heavily on dredging.
Food Security as reported in the press in 2008
In recognition of President Bingu wa Mutharika's achievements in making Malawi a food secured nation, the Food and Agricultural Natural Resources Policy and Analysis Network (FANRPAN) awarded him in September with an Annual Food Security Leadership Award. In November the world food body Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) awarded him an Agricola. If Malawi is being recognized by such big organizations it should be a morale booster to all stakeholders to yearn for more by working hard. On the other hand some analysts have questioned where the outsiders get the information that Malawi is a hunger free nation when some people are actually starving. The situation on the ground is normally not always exactly what the outside world thinks. It was reported that some people have died after eating tubers; others have survived many days on mangoes. Also some have resorted to eating maize seeds which are treated with chemicals. It reduces the amount of maize they are able to plant for the next harvest.
Maize Surplus or Shortage?
In the first quarter of the year there was talk about the selling of maize to Zimbabwe and maize donations to Swaziland and Lesotho. Malawi would have sold the maize for K7 billion. This amount was revealed after concerns that Zimbabwe might not be able to pay Malawi. According to Government reports there was plenty of maize in Malawi and that is why it came up with the decision to export some of it. Unfortunately very soon some Malawians found it difficult to buy the staple food on the markets. So in February the Government forbade traders to export maize. Still the Government had to honour the contract it signed with Zimbabwe.
Even in Parliament the Government and Opposition blamed each other for the maize shortage which in some respects was worse than in 2007 and some even declared Malawi a state of maize disaster. There was a 3.4% drop from last years' harvest. In 2008 Malawi had only 0.5 million metric tons of surplus instead of the 3.2 million in 2007.
Some parts of the country experienced dry spells, floods and the crops were washed away (Chikwawa), hailstorm (Lilongwe). Because of these natural factors and human factors like wrong estimate of the food production, poor planning, lack of inputs (fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, steel silos, irrigation, social cash transfer), ADMARC depots did not have enough maize to sell to everybody despite Government saying that after two years of bumper yields the reserve of maize could last another three years.
There is food self-sufficiency at national level and the hope that national production will increase in future but there is an urgent need to move the food to where it is needed at an affordable price for the poorer population of our country.
In some district ADMARCs each person is only allowed to buy bags of only 30 kg or even 5 kg instead of the traditional 50 kg. It is feared that some unscrupulous traders could easily abuse the purchase of 50 kg bags. Buyers feel cheated queuing a long time to access little quantity of grain.
ADMARC was accused of having sold this year's maize straight from the garden. But ADMARC replied only local traders do so. In August President Bingu wa Mutharika announced that it was only ADMARC that was allowed to sell and buy maize. This directive did not go down well with a number of food experts who felt that ADMARC does not have the capacity to do this job.
With the financial problems that ADMARC is facing it closed some of its markets, especially in the rural areas, where there are no tarmac roads. At the same time it has been the practice for people to sell their maize to private traders because they are sure to be paid on the spot, whereas ADMARC at certain times buys maize but fails to pay the sellers. Traders felt they were not consulted. In September Government lifted the ban when there was no maize in some ADMARC depots forcing the authorities to temporarily close the markets.
The controversy surrounding the distribution of coupons seems to be far from over. Despite all the advice various sectors of society gave the authorities, the fertilizer subsidy programme is still meeting a lot of problems like shortage of coupons and fertilizers beside corruption.
At the beginning of 2008 the IMF granted 77 million Kwacha to help Malawi to cope with high prices of fuel and fertilizer, and to avoid famine for the most vulnerable. The 2007-2008 distribution of fertilizer coupons ended in the month of February. The coupons were intended for the very poor members of society so that they could buy subsidised fertilizer.
The problems of coupon distribution are varied. A Government personality was accused of giving fertilizers coupons only to political allies. The Government responded that the programme is supposed to benefit all those that are poor without looking into their political and religious affiliations. Some Ministry of Agriculture officials, villagers and traditional leaders registered ghost villages. Some recipients of the subsidy coupons have complained that there is sand in the fertilizer. An ADMARC officer has been caught exporting fertilizer to Mozambique at ten times the subsidized price. Even some religious pastors who had been entrusted the distribution of coupons were accused of cheating.
Lately the chiefs have been excluded from the subsidies program because of too many corruption charges. Some gave the bags to their relatives. As retaliation they tried to make the population refuse the coupons but after negotiation they were accepted after discussing in length at village level about who should receive the coupons. It was agreed that in polygamous marriages, only the wives should receive the coupons to avoid the husband giving to the wives or the girl friends he prefers.
The recipients very often sell the bags because they are too weak to cultivate and / or to get a greater amount of money than they received; but eventually only those less poor who re-bought the coupons can cultivate and harvest for food and cash. The very poor are back to work in the fields of other people leaving their fields unattended and staying vulnerable to hunger and misery. The dependency on fertilizers is unsustainable. Better training and support of poor farmers in how to use manure, diversify, irrigate and access markets are vital would improve the situation.
Malawi's fertilizer subsidy programme has impressed some international bodies. The World Food Programme (WFP) observed that Malawi's format is working and it needs to be emulated by other countries. Experts have revealed that Malawi needs support from the donors on the continued progress of the programme. In the long run, just like many commodities, the price of fertilizer went up so much that it is high time Malawi find alternatives. The use of manure should be encouraged as it can be sourced locally. Some experts say that the continual use of fertilizers can rob the soils of their natural nutrients.
With training and organisation Malawi has enough soils, sun and water to feed its population and export a food surplus. More farmers should make hay to be able to feed cattle and produce more meat and milk. A report has shown that Malawians eat less meat and that an average family consumes a kilogramme of meat once a week. Observers have attributed the situation to the current shortage in the supply of cattle which has forced up the price of meat. For some days in October the Government banned the selling of meat in all the shops, especially beef that came from the lower Shire Districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa following reports of foot and mouth disease causing a loss of business to some people.
Because of energy crisis global food prices have increased before stabilizing with the financial crisis. They are both opportunities and challenges that need to be carefully addressed. During the year the price of maize went up almost every month causing food shortages for the most vulnerable and fat profit for traders. More people buy flour instead of grain which is relatively more expensive. During the harvest period a number of farmers got carried away by traders and sold their crop. Later at the lean season the same farmers will be unable to buy the same maize they sold to the traders because it will be so expensive.
Following the Centre For Social Concern's CfSC recommendation for the Government to fix the price of the maize the Government announced in August that the price of maize would be fixed at K 2,500 per 50 kg bag. CfSC recommended that the Government set the price because of findings in their Basic Needs Basket research. This is a monthly survey on cost of living which had shown escalating prices of the grain at different markets.
The fixed price now makes it easier for consumers to question traders who sell the grain at higher prices than the Government set price. It helps avoid unnecessary hoarding, speculation and shortages. With the shortage of the staple grain private traders were dreaming up any price they wished. This has been a disadvantage to the buyers who are finding it very hard to find maize.
Although some people have welcomed the move to have a price band observers have noted that the whole issue should have been carried out after thorough consultation. At the same time some analysts feel the price is too high for the ordinary Malawian. It is going to be difficult for some low-income earners to find K 2,500 every month just for maize when other basic needs in the home have not been acquired. Unfortunately beside that the maize found on the market is double price from the recommended one.
So far there a system has not been implemented to force traders to respect the official price. The first quarter of 2009 will be very lean with food prices still increasing. The Parliamentary Committee of Agriculture quoted a report by Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) that showed over 1.5 million people will possibly face food shortage.
Civil Society And Religious Organisations - as reported in the press in 2008
Civil Society and Religious Organizations have been quite a vibrant force on various issues of national importance throughout the year 2008. As watchdogs they have brought to light and linked Government programmes to the grassroots. Following their areas of expertise, these organizations have offered and played a critical role in monitoring Government activities nationwide. However, for lack of coordination and having a priority between them, some of these organizations have either been accused of bias towards the Government's agenda or indeed that of the Opposition. This situation has created problems that have caused tension between them.
Third Term Campaign
In what seems to be a continuous Third Term campaign by Bakili Muluzi, the former Head of State. Civil Society and Religious Groups have observed with great concern that his attempt to bounce back to power would be a breach of the Constitution since he already served two consecutive terms of office. This assessment is based on common knowledge and understanding because his illegibility has not been finally interpreted by the courts. The public has also indicated that his growing appetite for authority might not set the development agenda but rather a mechanism to remove the sitting President from office. They see the bid as a selfish and individualist motive that would not benefit anyone except those perpetrating it. However, the various efforts meant to advise the former head of state not to contest in the forthcoming General Elections have created a growing rift between Civil Society Organizations and religious communities. Obviously some organizations have treated the issue with great caution where they do not want to openly indicate their position on the matter at hand. This situation is dictated by the needs and interests of particular organizations both for and against his attempt to contest in the elections. The media reports carried out a number of issues naming those that were in support and others that were against the former president's come back. This development has caused serious concern in Civil Society and Religious Organizations. The Malawi Electoral Commission is currently monitoring the situation while waiting for the courts to give their final verdict.
During the year the nation witnessed the widening rift between the former Head of State and the incumbent President, a situation that compelled certain Faith Organizations to mediate between the two groups. It was disheartening to note that their efforts to mediate between came to a fruitless ending as evidenced by continuous sharing of bitter feelings even through letters that often found way to the media. Apart from the two parties not being willing to reconcile for various historical reasons, the collapse of the mediation process was a clear indication that this high profile assignment needed more ground work to achieve the much needed results. Obviously conflict resolution experts bemoaned the reporting of some mediation procedures in the newspapers which was a real breach of confidentiality that frustrated the process. It was supposed to be a negotiation process that called for compromise from both sides in order to come to a meaningful conclusion. The Public Affairs Committee attempted to bring the two parties together but needed more support from all of us. It is foreseen that this wrangle will continue and impact on the elections to be held in May 2009.
Economic Partnership Agreements
The Civil Society and Religious Groups, known as Non-State-Actors have continued to take active participation in the ongoing consultations between the African, Carribean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the European Union on the new proposed trade agreements called the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). They have campaigned against the Government signing it because of the foreseen consequences that might affect especially poor Malawians. However, this has not gone down well with the private sector that sees this proposal as an opportunity for growth. Having worked with faith communities since inception in 2002, the Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) has managed to mobilize and sensitize faith communities on various economic issues including EPAs in their current form.
Budget vs Section 65
The priority between Section 65 and the passing of the national Budget shaped Malawi's political landscape where Government has been advocating for the Budget and the Opposition for the tabling the infamous section. The priority between the two issues of national importance somewhat divided Civil Society Organizations. This standoff forced the Malawi faith leaders into a mediation process which came up with a resolution which did not change anything in the eyes of Government changing its stance on prioritizing the Budget. The mediation proposal suggested that the Budget and Section 65 should run concurrently in parliament.
The Civil Society and Religious Groups have observed and cautioned the Government on high level corruption cases that have not received meaningful attention, "corrupt fee Malawi begins with me" instead of zero tolerance on corruption at any level. They see this vice as the enemy of any meaningful development. They further state that the problem with Malawi's corruption is that it is institutionalized and it is obviously difficult to get rid of it. The findings by Transparency International (TI) substantiated this reality and rated Malawi as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. However, corruption has not seen any boundaries, Civil Society and Religious Organization are equally affected to the extent that some of these groups have been unable to account for resources from donor.
The tension between the Livingstonia and Nhoma Synods is a cause for concern in the modern times where church institutions are expected to give witness to tolerance and peaceful co-existence. The growing mistrust between the two institutions on boundary issues has created tension even on the ethno-political divide. Different groups have tended to associated themselves with either of the two synods ethnically or politically.
Civil Society and Religious groups have expressed to re-introduction of recall provision in parliament as a means to measure the Member of Parliament's performance. A study by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) on 'parliamentary liaison' revealed that certain MPs once elected into office, do not bother stay in their respective constituencies to listen to people's concerns. The influx of MPs to urban centres has become the norm where they have reportedly built their houses. This is contrary to their mandate of sharing life with the people who elect them into office. Members are expected to form a common agenda with their constituents.
Civil Society and Religious Groups have expressed concern over poor political governance citing the absence of local elections as one of the indicators of this reality. The failure by the Government to hold the local polls limits the participation of all in governance processes. They further state that these elections are essentially meant for decentralization. They see these elections as part of political governance where local communities would take part in various administration processes. The Civil Society's campaign for these much needed elections saw even donors pumping in money for the same though it still did not work out. The lack of these elections has been one of the biggest political concerns since 2004.
During the just ended year, the Civil Society and Religious Groups highlighted poor political governance at political party level where the current set up of major political parties does not yet have running mates. There are other issues related to poor political governance but the organizations would like to emphasize that they have not observed any signs of handing over power to the younger generation. Again in the current set up no political affiliate would speak or express themselves independently for fear of obvious reprisals. It is yet to be seen how things unfold on the political scene.
Genetically Modified Organisms
Civil Society and Religious Groups have opposed the Government's plans to allow Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the country. Their concern was based on the fact that GMO seeds are difficult to keep and they are rarely or never recycled. This is too demanding for the ordinary farmer who cannot afford to buy seed every growing season. Further more, the continuous multiplication of seeds by different seed companies for profit making has sadly forced the local variety of maize seed out of market. The local seed is relatively pest resistant as compared to the new seed varieties.
Formed on the basis of promoting gender equality, some NGOs and Civil Society Organizations have applauded the Government's efforts in uplifting the plight of women at various levels of society. This development has augured well with SADC's main agenda of reaching out to at least 30% women in key positions. To appreciate these efforts, the Malawi Government has received a special recognition, called "MDG3 Champion Torch Award" that underscores the importance of this achievement. The presentation of this award took place in Oslo in Norway at the African Green Revolution Conference. Many analysts have seen this as continuous process because more and more women are being promoted to key positions.
The People's Manifesto
During the year, Civil Society and Religious Organizations prepared and launched the People's Manifesto for the General Elections. They called it the People's Manifesto because the people from across the country themselves gave all the input. Several consultative meetings were held at regional level and some selected districts in the country. The final document highlighted the people's social concerns that need redress and how they expect the Government to operate. The whole rationale for the study was to make these concerns elections issues. Whoever goes into Government after the May 2009 elections should bear in mind the people's expectations. .
It was heartening to note that most of Malawi's Civil Society and Religious Organizations sent their statement to the troubled Zimbabwe and expressed their dissatisfaction with SADC, a regional block whose mandate is to ensure peace and stability, and the lack of peace in Zimbabwe also posed a major challenge to surrounding countries in trade and other issues.
Social and cultural Life as reported in the press in 2008
During the year 2008 media reports highlighted xenophobic incidents in South Africa; child labour and child trafficking; Mwanza District as a hot spot for gruesome news; the launching of Muhlako wa Alomwe; that congested prisons are a cause for concern; the Malawi Police conduct being deplorable; the stigma suffered by HIV/Aids patients and for people living with disabilities. Despite the negative events, Malawi was tenth out of fifty-two countries in child friendliness and 118th in the world on corruption index. Crime too decreased by 12%.
The dawn of the year 2008 saw the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution ready to try more murder cases because it had received sufficient funding from the European Community and Britain's DFID. It is not only murder suspects that need speedy trials; it is all prisoners some of who have been held on remand for over ten years without being brought to court. Attacks from deadly diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/Aids and scabies are common in Malawi prisons. However, there are serious steps being taken by the government to open some facilities like education and building better prisons or rehabilitating the old ones.
Huge poverty levels in some districts of Malawi have led to the practice of child labour by fellow countrymen as well as by foreigners. On tobacco farms and tea estates children are engaged in manual work often beyond their strength. Some foreigners take advantage of the situation and force the children to clean sewage systems without masks or gloves. The culprits include Members of Parliament who evade passing laws that would protect children's rights in particular and the labourers' rights in general.
Child trafficking is another evil that has widely been exposed by media reports of the year 2008. This malpractice is not new but was a well-guarded secret by those who engage in it. Over the recent past advocacy about child trafficking has opened the eyes of many people and has in some instances prevented children from being taken away. But the fact that the traffickers use money as a trap to dupe parents into surrendering their children means that the fight is far from over.
Malawians going to South Africa to work in the mines is an old story. Before both countries became independent, there were a huge number of Malawians (Nyasas then) and Mozambicans who were recruited to work in South Africa. After independence, the Republic of South Africa engaged more and more of its citizens and tried to reduce its dependence on foreign labour. This was to be a gradual process but did not go well with the ethnic black population. Hence the eruption of the xenophobia which until now refuses to die down. It is unfortunate that many Malawians in South Africa are unwilling to return home despite being in that volatile situation. They foresee unemployment and poverty awaiting them at home.
Mwanza District may be a famous citrus fruit growing area, but gruesome murders and terrifying incident being reported every year leave Malawians wondering why. 2008 had its share, a shocking sudden death of three people who dropped down dead after being forced to drink a herbal mixture as a test to prove whether they were practising witchcraft or not. In another story during 2007, a childless married couple enticed a pregnant mentally ill woman into a forest and brutally extracted an infant from her womb using a sharp knife and left her dead. In 1983 four cabinet ministers were murdered, while way back in 1967 eight people died after being forced to drink a herbal concoction by a traditional healer, popularly known as Bwanali, while during the same year a former Cabinet Minister, Yatuta Chisiza, led an armed group in an attempt to seize power but was later shot and his gang disbanded.
During 2008 President Bingu wa Mutharika launched Muhlako wa Alomwe, a tribal grouping of people mainly from Mulanje, Phalombe and Thyolo districts. Bingu said he did so in order to encourage the Lomwe cultural way of life and asked other Malawian tribes to do the same. The Chewa of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia celebrate the Kulamba Ceremony every year during which they pay homage to Paramount Chief Kalonga Undi of Zambia. But media reports say that other tribes feel sidelined and called the Muhlako wa Alomwe a regrettable step towards tribalism.
The marriage break-up of the celebrated pop star Madonna and Guy Ritchie attracted media coverage in Malawi in the year 2008. Madonna adopted David Banda, a Malawian child, a couple of years ago when his mother died soon after giving birth. The adoption went through a fierce battle in the courts and ended in favour of Madonna. Malawi laws on adoption have been criticised as not being rigid enough and seem to favour foreigners. It is alleged some officers at the District Social Welfare throughout the country receive bribes from foreigners in order to process their adoption applications quickly.
The Malawi Police conduct during the year 2008 leaves a lot to be desired. The British DFID has poured millions of Kwacha into its reformation but the result is deformation. Instead of protecting lives and property, the police have been destroying it. At one time in Mchesi, Lilongwe, the police shot dead a driver because he had refused their demand that he should give them money in order to release his vehicle which was loaded with charcoal. Recently a Zodiak broadcasting reporter was severely beaten by Chilomoni Police Officers in Blantyre for asking them a question. At football matches and political demonstrations the police applied brutal force in order to disperse angry fans and peaceful demonstrators. In the north one police officer earned a jail sentence because he was involved in stealing teachers' salaries. Guns and ammunition have been stolen from police stations at an unprecedented rate. The way forward looks grim with general elections just around the corner. Before being called Malawi Police Service it was Malawi Police Force, but has our Police changed to deserve the new name?
Malawi has no definite laws on witchcraft as revealed by media reports of the year 2008. Many people have lost their property and have even been severely beaten up after being accused of practising witchcraft. In one incident at Kanengo, Lilongwe, Abiti John and her husband Chigoneka escaped death by a whisker when angry neighbours accused them of taking part in the death of a prominent female politician. Their house was instantly pulled down and the police rescued Chigoneka. Abiti John evaded the attackers by camouflaging herself. Elsewhere in the country many women have been accused of teaching children how to kill either their parents or others that they target. These are often the elderly. On their part the police have frequently said there are no definite laws governing witchcraft in this country and they usually release those accused and arrest and charge those who take part in destroying the witches' property and roughing up the suspects.
Media reports in the year under review expressed concern about the role of the chiefs who are supposed to be non-partisan but it has been noted that politicians from all parties tend to rely on the chiefs for support. The ruling party of President Bingu wa Mutharika has been promoting chiefs who have shown sympathy to his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the last regime of Bakili Muluzi did the same. The chiefs are asked by the ruling party to castigate the opposition parties and encourage their subjects to support the incumbent president. The chiefs took an active part in denouncing the opposition parties for advocating Section 65 in Parliament. Clearly there isn't much they can do apart from supporting the ruling party, for disobeying the orders is like biting the hand that feeds you. However, chiefs are supposed to be neutral and ready to oppose even the ruling party when things go wrong.
A cloud of anxiety hangs over the National Aids Commission funding system. During 2008 the Malawi government has been closing down HIV/Aids organisations that have been mushrooming lately in order to access easy funding. After an intensive monitoring campaign, the government found out there were several Community Based Organisations that were set up illegally in order to have funding which eventually was used for personal projects.
Since Malawi attained its independence from Britain in 1964, it has been dubbed the Warm Heart of Africa because of the way Malawians receives visitors. Another accolade has been awarded to Malawi following a research carried out by the African Child Policy Forum in 2008. Malawi ranks tenth out of fifty-two African countries in a child-friendly index and first in its budgetary commitment to children. The report is significant because, according to former secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, it is an African report on African children by an African organisation. We say bravo Malawi!
Education as reported in the press in 2008
Falling educational standards remain a problem in Malawi. The evidence for this is that the results of the national examinations have continued to deteriorate for the past number of years. Another sign of this is that around 5 million Malawians are thought to be illiterate. 2009 needs to see a dramatic improvement in this figure if Malawi is going to have any hope of achieving the Education for All initiative which the Government is committed to reaching by 2015.
Poor results in Primary Schools have led people to ask questions about the quality of teaching. It was noted that many teach part time in other schools than the one they are employed at in order to make more money. This can affect their job performance due to the fact that they are not giving their first job their full attention.
It has also been felt by some education observers that the standard of teachers in secondary schools is also not as high as it should be and that this is leading to falling standards. Many teachers, even in senior classes, do not hold degrees and instead only have diplomas. It was announced that Government hopes to have more degree level teachers in schools to help raise standards.
The lack of infrastructure in Malawi's school network has been sighted as a major factor causing the lowering of academic performance. The shortage of basic facilities is also detrimental to children and teachers and does not make for a good learning environment. There is a serious shortage of learning and teaching materials that is leading to certain groups of children not receiving the help they need. This is especially true of children with disabilities.
Prisoners sitting exams, meanwhile, have performed extremely well and most have passed with flying colours despite the obvious disadvantages that they face. This shows that education is the best route to rehabilitation and the Government should engage more in programmes that help prisoners reform their lives through education.
Conditions in Schools
Congestion in classrooms continues to be a serious problem. Since the introduction of free education, schools still do not have the resources to deal with the increased demand. A shortage of teachers is a huge obstacle and many leave to join the private sector. The Government has announced that 43,000 teachers are needed by 2015. This is in order for Malawi to reach the Education for All initiative which is part of the Millennium Development Goals.
It has been reported that many students are finding their way in to secondary schools at the expense of those who are more deserving. As a result the Ministry of Education has dismissed illegal students from schools in the hope that this will not only allow deserving students a place, but will also help to ease the over congestion that exists in many schools in Malawi.
There are further plans to reduce class sizes in Malawi. While the present shortage of teachers will make this target hard to achieve, it is essential to try and cut class sizes as at the present time they are too large and students do not receive the individual tuition that they need.
The working conditions of teachers has also been criticised as not allowing teachers the basic needs that are required for effective teaching. Many have little or no learning materials and others teach in remote areas and often have to teach under trees where the school buildings are inadequate, often due to vandalism or neglect which is becoming a worryingly common occurrence. Teachers also feel that they are underpaid for the important work that they do. In response to this the Government has announced the introduction of a hardship allowance in the 2008/2009 Budget which is designed to keep teachers in the public sector. It is also hoped that the setting up of the Teachers Services Commission will allow teachers to be promoted and have their grades upgraded, which should go at least some way to making their conditions better.
It was announced that incidents of cheating in exams this year had decreased. There was extra security surrounding the examinations due to the fact that last year's papers were leaked and were being sold on the street. It is common for people with fake qualifications to find jobs in Malawi with 15% of certificates found to be fake. It was reported that two TV personalities were arrested for possessing bogus qualifications.
It was also announced that the 2009 examinations papers would be printed in South Africa despite the 2007 leaked exam crisis came from exams printed in South Africa. The exams for 2008 were printed in the UK with no reports of leaks so many questioned the wisdom of printing next year's papers in South Africa. The Ministry of Education revealed the results of their investigation in to the exams leakage scandal of 2007, accusing the company UNIPRINT of being at fault. The company, however, totally denied this and instead insisted that it was the examinations board MANEB that was to blame. In the midst of all this it was reported that UNIPRINT has still not been paid due to the leakage of exam papers. Hopefully this means that both the company and the Government have learned their lesson and will ensure that the same thing does not happen again.
The strike of lecturers at Chancellor College which ended in April was an issue of great controversy. The lecturers had asked the Government for a 200% pay rise but President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is also Minister for Education, rejected the claim and insisted that either the lecturers went back to work or resigned. The crisis was resolved when the lecturers agreed to a 20% pay rise and a court order was issued preventing University lecturers from striking in the future.
The University of Malawi announced that it would be introducing a quota system in the selection of students. This quota system proved to be a cause of much debate. Some said it was discriminatory because a number of students who deserve their places would not receive them. Others argue that the quota system gives people from each district a fair chance. Ultimately this year's students were selected without the use of the quota system.
It was felt by many student who have achieve masters degrees from the Polytechnic that these degrees were not recognised by their employers because the lecturers have still not released the results and in some cases have not even marked the papers. As a result people are being denied promotions and pay rises that they would receive upon getting their masters. This is incredibly unfair on students who have worked hard to achieve their degrees. They must receive their results soon in order to prevent more disappointment.
The reports of female students being sexually harassed by their male teachers are still rife throughout the country. Girls are often victims of gender based violence at school and are not allowed to achieve what they are capable of. Malawi will only achieve social and educational harmony if the Government ensures that these incidents are not allowed to happen in Malawi.
Despite the problems facing the education sector in Malawi, there is still huge potential in the country for academic achievement. If the Government can find ways of properly nurturing this potential then the next generation of Malawian students can hopefully have a bright future in 2009.
Health as reported in the press in 2008
During the year 2008 reports on health highlighted Government efforts to encourage civil servants living with HIV/Aids to come into the open and declare their status. On its side the Government has been rewarding such civil servants with an extra K5,000 a month to enable them buy drugs and food supplements. This is one way of luring unwilling sufferers to come forward and provide information to those who are coordinating the issue in the Government.
The truth is HIV/Aids is now accepted countrywide but the stigma still prevails. The use of condoms too is either little known or frowned upon particularly in the rural areas. There are also those people who have the nerve to declare that HIV/Aids is a disease like any other and that they need not take necessary measures to prevent its spread. This is an unfortunate attitude and should be discouraged.
It has been reported in the media that the Malawi Government is exploring ways to manufacture anti-retroviral drugs (ARVS) in the country. According to Secretary for Nutrition, HIV and AIDS Mary Shawa, the plan, if effected, would greatly reduce the costs of the drugs and would create employment for Malawians. Currently Malawi has over 250,000 people eligible for ARVS, but until recently only 100,000 had already started accessing the treatment.
In 2008 the media revealed that an unscrupulous Tanzanian dealer was conducting illegal HIV/Aids clinical trials at St. Luke's hospital in Zomba district. Thadeo Mac'osano was not a qualified oncologist-cancer specialist and he did not have a written consent from the authorities. As a result six patients died and one is left wondering as to how a foreigner was allowed to conduct such trials. He had started his illegal trials undetected in 2006. Even though the police brought him to book, six people had already lost their lives.
During the year 2008 circumcision was splashed in many newspapers as a possible prevention from contracting HIV/Aids. A paper presented at the HIV Implementers Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, by Switzerland-based medical doctor Kim Dickson says that male circumcision reduces HIV transmission by 60%. Despite such encouraging findings, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is sceptical about these findings. Museveni says the best way to prevent contracting HIV/Aids is total abstinence.
On a lighter note congratulations should go to staff of the maternity wing at Likuni Mission Hospital in Lilongwe where they did not experience any death in 197 days. The good news came about because of a quality control team the hospital put in place to make certain there were no deaths for expectant women in 197 days. We hope that by the fact that Likuni did it, other hospitals will be inspired and emulate this success story and perhaps do even better.
Malaria remains Malawi's top killer disease. This fact has prompted NGO's and CBO's to strengthen their partnerships with the Government in order to find a more efficient response to this killer disease. On its part the Government is leading the campaign through change of drug policy and intensification of distribution of insecticide-treated nets, and replacement of current anti-malaria drugs with a new one called Lumefantrine-Artemether (LA).
However, the introduction of LA has come under much criticism. Karonga North West MP Bazuka Mhango revealed that he received reports that the new drug had adverse side effects which patients were not aware of and that most of them were failing to adhere to dosage requirements.
In addition to the introduction of LA, Malawi is among eight countries in Africa which are about to test a new malaria vaccine on children. This will be funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the other countries will include Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania.
During the year 2008 media reports said that maternal mortality remains disturbingly high for a country like Malawi which is already burdened by widespread poverty, illiteracy and lack of good nutrition. According to the survey conducted by the Government together with the Multiple Indicator Cluster (MICS) 2006, Malawi experiences 807 maternal deaths in 100,000 live births. Among Malawi's three regions the Southern registered the highest rate of maternal mortality of 1,029 compared to the Central at 678 and the Northern was at 543.
Despite the high maternal mortality figures, UNICEF representative Aida Girma says the 2006 survey showed that remarkable progress has been made in child health and access to safe water supply and that Malawi is on course to achieving some of the Millenium Development Goals.
Several years ago theft of drugs and medical equipment from the Medical Stores at the Queen Elizabeth Central and some hospitals was a daily occurrence. After the capture of Blantyre-based businessman Bashir Hassan Goba and his nephew Anthony Weche in 2006, the malpractice has somehow decreased. The big danger that lingers on is the life span of the stolen drugs which are being sold in many vendors' shops and on the cities' streets.
Looking back at the media reports on Tuberculosis for the year 2008, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says the fight against the disease has fallen under its expectations. Malawi is under-detecting Tuberculosis cases at about 47% for all forms of TB and at 42% for smear positive ones.
According to Secretary for Health, Chris Kang'ombe, WHO expects Malawi to achieve a 70% detection by 2015. Tuberculosis is still one of the infectious diseases with the highest mortality globally. In Malawi TB notified cases have increased from 5,000 in the 1980s to 26,000. Millenium Development Goals want Malawi to reduce the notified cases to 6,000 by 2015.
Medical Brain Drain
Which country on earth would want to train medical professionals for another to employ them? Such is the situation of Malawi which loses 8,000 to 1,2000 practitioners yearly who leave the country to seek better salaries and good working conditions. Media reports state Malawi is expected to suffer from shortage of medical professionals because no immediate steps are being taken to halt the exodus.
As the result of the brain drainage, one doctor and one nurse in Malawi looks after 64,000 and 35,000 patients respectively. According to chairperson of the Nurses Association of Malawi, Dorothy Ngoma, Malawi needs three times more nurses. At present there are only 3,500 nurses.
During the year 2008, media reports have revealed congestion in referral hospitals especially in children's wards. It is said three or four children share a bed at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre and at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe. Children suffering from different diseases are put in one bed regardless of the dangers that come with contagious ailments. The Ministry of Health has constructed health centres in several places throughout the country, but it seems people under-utilise them.
Cholera in Malawi is another major killer disease which comes during the rainy season. This year Traditional Authority Maliri's area in Lilongwe has been hard hit. Four persons have lost their lives and several others are admitted at Likuni Mission Hospital. Cholera is a water-borne disease which translates that patients contract it by drinking untreated water, a common practice in the rural areas.
Malawi needs hospitals and clinics badly, but this does not warrant illegal structures. The Medical Council of Malawi has closed down about 200 clinics operating unlawfully since 2004. According to the council's assistant registrar Kondwani Mkandawire, the private sector provides 40% of all medical services in the country but he says the closures will not affect the public health delivery because they were illegal structures.
Millennium Development Goals
Every cloud has a silver lining, so the saying goes. Malawi is indeed struggling to make ends meet in many fields, but latest media reports indicate the country has turned into a role model on the international scene. Reports say Malawi is on course to achieve Millennium Development Goal target for reducing child deaths. The requirement is for a country to reduce under-five child mortality rate by two thirds by 2015.
This was disclosed by the Deputy Minister of Health Juliana Guga who revealed that post-neonatal mortality had dropped from 49 to 39 per 1,000, and that infant mortality dropped from 76 to 72 per 1,000. Guga paid tribute to a UK-based organisation, Women and Child First which works in the country in the areas of reducing women and child mortality rate.
Environment as reported in 2008
Climate Change and the Environment
Many of the concerns about the environment in 2008 were the same as in 2007. A notable exception was the uranium oxide-mining project of Paladin (Africa) Ltd. at Kayerekera, Karonga District. What had been the environmental story of 2007 petered out in November with, apparently, all concerns about the possible damage the mining could do to our environment resolved. The social, ecological and economic changes that this project is causing in the Karonga area are incredible, yet it rarely appears in the news.
It became more apparent in 2008 that climate change is taking place on two levels: the global and our local area of Malawi. We cannot do much about the former but we can do something about what happens within our country, but we do very little at the moment and we do not give the environment the attention it deserves. This is probably because we do not notice the small changes that occur and because it is such a huge question that has no easy answers. Without the belief that something should and can be done to improve our environment; a strong political motivation; a nationwide education programme; an input of finances and alternative power resources; things will gradually continue to deteriorate. There is a great need to increase awareness on environmental issues and how we contribute to and can combat them.
Annual Heavy Rains and Floods
Once again 2008 saw the changeable rain patters that are no longer dependable. In some areas there was drought in others floods but in both scenarios the crop yield was affected. The heavy rains that the Meteorological Office predicted for 2007-08 came early in 2008. They caused severe damage to property and crops in Chikwawa and Nsanje Districts. In Chikwawa four people were killed and 520 houses destroyed. Mbauluka Constituency, Mangochi North, had flash floods from rain that fell in Mozambique. 126 homes affected and 14 hectares of crops were washed away. Some structures washed away at Tsoka Flea Market, Lilongwe, when the Lilongwe River flooded its banks in January. Floods also hit Nyachikadza, Karonga. The heavy rains returned in November and some roofs were blown off in Blantyre, Neno and Lilongwe.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) such climate changes can stop Malawi reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). This is because of the loss of resources mainly due to the floods. The Department of Meteorology said that the country will have good rains for the 2008-09 season that bode well for a good harvest but also for the recurrent floods.
Weather Pattern Changes
Another example of local climate change is seen in Blantyre and the cold weather that residents usually experience in April to June. This is partly due to the deforestation of Soche Hill and Ndirande Mountain. The Chiperone winds from Thyolo Mountain by-pass Soche Hill because there are fewer trees. If there were trees as before the winds would be contained, thereby raising the temperatures in Blantyre.
Usually the weather is warm in August but in 2008 the trend changed. Some areas had showers and cold weather. The Meteorological Services Department announced that Malawi should expect this erratic weather. It is a new phenomenon that has come about because of environmental degradation.
Population and Land
Environmental activists claim that increased population and poverty are major reason for environmental degradation. The same amount of land is being used by a greater number of people. As a result of this population pressure all of our natural resources - soil, water, trees, animals - are being depleted at a faster rate than before. An example of this can be seen in the Blantyre area where people are gradually moving to hilly areas to live and farm, such as on Soche Mountain. This is a scenario that is repeated all over the country and causes the loss of much of our indigenous forest.
Flora and Fauna
Malawi's Climate Change is also affecting our wildlife. Experts say that some of the animals in our national parks and forest reserves will not be able to live in the new climate because they will not have access to the food they graze on due the changes that affect the growth of vegetation. Much of our flora and fauna are probably lost forever but that does not mean that everything has gone and that we cannot save what we have left. This is the same every year and 2008 was no exception. With people encroaching on forested areas to find land to cultivate there develops a clash between them and wildlife. This was seen earlier in the year at Nkhata Bay, between people and monkeys, and Mangochi with elephants. Destruction of the forest is caused when new fields are created and also when extra areas are cleared to stop wildlife damaging crops.
Urban waste is a growing problem despite the work carried out by our city assemblies. The growing urban population puts great pressure on the present sanitary facilities which struggle to cope with the population increase. Added to this is the way that people litter places without any thought. Environmental Watch have attempted to tackle this problem by setting up refuse banks in Zomba. Once the waste is collected it is sorted into biodegradable and non-biodegradable, such as plastics, glass and metal. The former is then converted into compost manure.
In April an environmental dilemma became apparent. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended indoor spraying with Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane (DDT) in the fight against mosquitoes and prevention of Malaria. Confusion on the issue began in September 2006 when WHO claimed "DDT has a clean bill of health". The concern is that if DDT is used in a limited way it's use may be extended once again to commercial use, as was the situation before it was banned. Here we have a dilemma in the choice between two evils: to allow the damage caused by DDT or to help save some of the million lives that are lost to malaria each year.
Tackling Climate Change and Environmental Degradation
The need for us to do something about the effects of climate change in Malawi was tackled on three different levels during the year. The story of our environment and climate change is always rather gloomy but hopefully the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) will help to brighten things and change the situation. MERA is a body corporate that has been established through various Acts and it will regulate industrial activities. It became effective on 1st January 2008 and is finding its feet. Hopefully in the future it will become one of the watchdogs that we need in Malawi.
On 2-3 July the Natural Resources and Environmental Centre of Chancellor College (University of Malawi), the Institute of Resource Assessment (IRA) of the University of Dar es Salaam, and the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich UK organised a workshop in Lilongwe to find solutions to the problem of climate change. They will now carry out research in Malawi to help to come up with some answers. Already they agreed that there was need to plant drought resistant crops and to break the reliance that people have on maize. There is also a great need for animal and crop diversification but not a blind adherence to it. The use of organic manure; the adaptation of agricultural methods; and the education of farmers about climate change and variability are all ways to fight the problem.
The Centre for Social Concern (CfSC), a faith-based organisation in Kanengo, Lilongwe, took a different approach when it hosted a workshop in November for faith communities on climate change entitled "Faith Communities Facing the Challenge of Restoring the Balance". The workshop aimed at sensitising the faith communities about the environment and climate change by looking at it from different faith views. It is hoped that from this small beginning and the common ground that was found, especially in the Bible and Koran, the faith communities will move on together to look further at the problem of climate change.
Deforestation is not only affecting Malawi but also many other African countries that surround us. As a result many trees and forested areas are on the verge of extinction; water sources, including rivers and lakes, are being depleted; and fish stocks reduced. This is what is happening within Malawi and the knock on effects of deforestation are not only seen in the loss of our natural resources but in the cultural and economic effects that it has.
There is no doubt that charcoal production and burning is one of the major reasons for deforestation in Malawi. This was a problem that was raised several times during 2008. Until an alternative source of power is found producers and consumers alike will continue to denude the country of our indigenous trees. On many occasions during the year it was said that stakeholders are not doing enough to make sure that using trees for firewood and charcoal is completely under control, though police and forest officials have caught truckloads of charcoal. A major problem is that the laws there are to protect trees are not fully implemented. Reports show charcoal is a lucrative trade from which people earn a good income but where no taxes are paid.
Various concerned organisations have suggested that the Government should vigorously campaign for the use of briquettes as an alternative to charcoal, and promote the use of the eco-friendly stoves that are available. Although charcoal selling is illegal one environmental organization has sad it would be better if the trade were regulated so that the Government could control it and possibly make money from the sales. According to researchers the Government's tax revenue from the sale of charcoal and could be more than K1 billion a year.
Many of the mountainous areas of the country are under threat of deforestation but one of the most vulnerable is Mulanje Mountain. As in 2007 the unique Mulanje Cedar (Widdringtonia whytei) is in grave danger of becoming extinct because of illegal harvesting. It was the same in 2008 when 1,233 trees were felled in the harvesting season. The Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) said that out of 1,233 harvested or surveyed only 231 were officially licensed, 1,002 worth K8 million were unaccounted for, some were tender trees, but the majority were producing seeds that could have been propagated. In an effort to safeguard Mulanje's trees forest officials have signed agreements with communities surrounding the mountain. Hopefully this will help preserve our national tree.
A simple thing such as burning rubbish in an urban or rural situation can greatly add to environmental degradation. Boys setting a fire when hunting for mice can have devastating consequences. The fire itself causes damage to the atmosphere through the smoke; it robs the soil of its nutrients and exposes it to the sun and rain; if the fire spreads it can destroy trees and bush that help sustain our lives. September and October saw a worrying development in the form of forest fires. These took place on Zomba Mountain and Chikangawa. The cause of the fires has not been found but there is the suspicion that they were started by disgruntled employees who were angry with their employers. If this is true it is an awful way to pursue a dispute with such long-term effects on our environment and forestry heritage.
One of the annual success stories in Malawi is the National Tree Planting Season which involves people from many walks of life. In 2007-2008 the theme was "Conserve Forest Control Climate Change" and it was expected that 5.6 million tree seedlings would be planted between 15 December 2007 and 15 April 2008.
As well as individuals many NGOs, clubs and companies were involved. Examples are when Chancellor College launched the Chirangu Reforestation Project in January. The residents of Ndirande, together with members of the National Herbarium and Botanical Gardens in Malawi planted trees commemorating World Environment Day in June which had the theme of 'Let's kick the bad habits! Save our forests'. Air Malawi planted trees in the Mudi Dam catchment area which is the source of water for residents in the city of Blantyre. In February the Malawi Local Enterprise Zone (MALEZA) planted trees in Malingunde on the Lilongwe River, where there is Kamuzu Dams 1 and 2 that supply water for the entire Lilongwe City. Both projects are an effort to improve the quality of drinking water for the cities and to preserve the catchment areas.
Gender Issues in 2008
Issues of gender in Malawi cannot be complete without mentioning women empowerment. The two terms go together in as far as gender equality is concerned in Malawi. The press in 2008 played a major role in informing people about the position of Malawi in as far as empowerment is concerned. A number of efforts have been reported of what government has done to make sure that the female members of the society are empowered.
Much as women would want to be empowered some observers feel that women should also play their part. For instance they should not expect other stakeholders to do the entire job when the women themselves are only waiting for easy returns. According to experts, some of who are female, if the whole concept of gender equality is to bear any fruits women empowerment should start with women themselves. In this regard women should be educated enough so that they can get jobs and positions on merit. Women should not expect to get promotion and decision-making positions on a silver platter but work very hard for such positions.
Similarly in political circles women should not expect to be empowered when they have not played their part in the empowerment process. The press in 2008 showed that women empowerment has always faced hurdles because women themselves are divided. When one group is advocating for women recognition at party level, another group is busy pulling the former down. Women form more than half of the country's population and in normal circumstances one would expect Malawi to have many women in decision-making positions. But this is not the case partly because women fail to empower each other. Some women actually swear that fellow women can never rule them and this is one of the reasons why they fail to support female candidates. It only shows that as a nation Malawi has an uphill task in making sure that more women get top positions at party level.
One would expect the women to use their large numbers to support each other but this is not the case. Observers have noted that if women used their numbers in supporting fellow women just the way they do with men, the face of women empowerment would change for the better. The more women stand for each other the more they can take positions at party and national level.
On the other hand a number of women who have made it to high positions have faced problems from both female and male counterparts. One such example is the Clerk of Parliament Matilda Katopola. The first-ever female Clerk of Parliament has faced tough times from both female and male Members of Parliament for doing her job professionally. Surprisingly even some female legislators were also fighting for her removal. Katopola is a qualified woman who was appointed by the Head of State and the August House approved her nomination. But the same National Assembly has been victimizing her for working properly.
Another victim is former Inspector of police Mrs. Mary Nangwale. Members of Parliament alleged she was abusing the opposition legislators. Just like in the Katopola case some female Members of Parliament also took part in the process of making sure that Nangwale should not be confirmed. One would expect women to be there for each other but in these two cases it seems one can never bank on the support of fellow women.
In 2008 observers still feel Malawi has not done much in as far as women empowerment is concerned. Although more than four years have passed since President Bingu wa Mutharika's inauguration speech memories are still fresh of what he promised the nation. Mutharika made it clear that among other things his government would make sure more women are empowered. But observers feel that five years after these statements were made not much has been done to fulfill these promises. This is evident by the fact that there are still few women in decision-making positions.
Malawi still has only four female judges out of the twenty-seven High Court judges. At the same time out of the thirty-seven Principle Secretaries in the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) only five are women. This does not reflect what President Mutharika promised. Similarly in the entire cabinet, which has more than forty members, only six are women. Now this does not show that much work has been done.
Observers in 2008 noted that the present setting of the National Assembly has its problems on women's issues. Already with women being in a minority there is always hostility towards them. On several occasions women legislators have been victims of verbal abuse in the National Assembly from their male counterparts. Because of the intimidation that women MPs face sometimes it has affected their performance. Some might even fail to contribute to debates for fear of being booed. Perhaps a larger number of women in the House would see a change in the way things are done in male MPs' attitude towards them. At the same time policies on women would also be priorities because the female MPs would feel they are directly responsible to such policies.
While some locals are pointing fingers at the Mutharika administration for not doing much in as far as women empowerment is concerned, some international organizations think exactly the opposite. While attending an international meeting in Oslo, Norway, Mutharika received an award for his efforts in empowering women. The MDG3 Champion Torch award was given to President Bingu wa Mutharika when he was attending a Green Revolution Conference in Norway. It should be noted that Mutharika also received numerous awards for achieving food security.
As we approach the 2009 general elections gender activists have left no stone unturned in making sure that more women make it to Parliament. Strangely enough all the elections talk is focused on achieve 50% of female representation in the National Assembly, when Malawi failed to achieve a mere 30 % in the last elections. In the 2004 general elections out of 193 seats in the National Assembly only twenty-seven were won by women representing a meager 14%. By that time the target was to reach the 1997 SADC protocol where member states agreed to make 30% of female representation in decision-making positions.
This time around gender activists and other stakeholders are advocating for 50%. One wonders how this campaign is going to be successful, especially with the 2004 results. Press reports show that a lot of resources have been pumped into what they have termed the 50-50 campaign. It might be a far-fetched dream because of the previous elections. Although a number of women are aspiring to become MPs not even a single party will field a woman as its presidential candidate. Malawi is yet to have a female presidential candidate.
On the same note the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHHR) added their weight in the fight for an increased number of women in the National Assembly. CHRR want the 50-50 campaigns to be achieved and therefore have proposed that there be a quota for female MPs. In this way CHRR hopes that some seats will be automatically reserved for women just like the way some countries in the SADC region are doing. If the proposal by CHRR is implemented then it is going to be easier for Malawi to achieve 50% of female representation in the National Assembly.
Parties in Malawi are slowly buying the idea of their presidential candidates having a female running mate. In 2008 the Republican Party (RP) president Stanley Masauli chose a female running mate. The Maravi Progressive Party MPP's Uladi Mussa also offered to have former University of Malawi lecturer Margaret Mbilizi as the party's running mate. Unfortunately Mbilizi turned down the offer because she is currently busy with her career in the United States of America. Just recently the press disclosed that the president of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) John Tembo is allegedly courting First Deputy Speaker Esther Mcheka Chilenje to be his running mate.
According to the results of the primary elections conducted in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and United Democratic Front (UDF) a number of female aspirants failed to make it. In the UDF only three women managed to win the primaries and the situation is similar in the DPP. Some of the women are crying foul and accusing party officials of anomalies in the way they conducted the primary elections.
From time immemorial people perceive domestic violence as the abuse that men do to women and children. Maybe this is because of the number of cases that appear in the media that portray women and children as being on the receiving end of the abuse. The year 2008, just like other years, saw the number of cases of domestic violence increase in some areas.
As if that was not enough the press reported a cases in Blantyre Namiyango where a man had his private parts cut. His wife is alleged to have severed the private parts following some marital problems the family was facing. This only shows that victims of domestic violence can either be women or men. With this evidence some organizations asked activists to raise awareness and protect men who are being abused by their wives. However this can only be possible if these cases are reported.
In 2008 traditional leaders condemned some of cultural practices and blamed them for the increase in domestic violence. In Chiradzulu District traditional leaders accused men of having a sex monopoly. Traditional society feels it is only men who can have love affairs and not women, that only men who can initiate affairs. This tendency has left women on the receiving end of negative things that come from such scenarios. With extra marital affairs some men stop taking care of their families. This is the reason why the traditional leaders in Chiradzulu have also attributed the monopoly that men have in relationships to the spread of HIV/Aids.
Analysis Of CFSC Basic Needs Basket For 2008
Inflation can be caused by an increase in the amount of circulating currency beyond the needs of trade, which creates an oversupply of currency and, in accordance with the law of supply and demand, the value of money decreases. Analysis of the Centre for Social Concern Basic Needs Basket for 2008 shows that poor Malawians have struggled more this year than in the past two years in accessing basic needs items because of high inflation rate in the urban. While all this is happening, the levels of income of most poor households have remained stagnant. This is a clear indication of unjust distribution of income between the rich and the poor in Malawi. The year-on-year urban inflation for Lilongwe City stood at an alarming average rate of 37.7%, compared to an average year-on-year urban inflation of 15.2% experienced in 2007. The two figures reflect an average rate at which prices of selected basic commodities have been increasing over the year. The figure was at its highest in November, when the year-on-year inflation was at 54% and lowest in April at 18%. The month-to-month inflation figures follow the same trend: much higher in 2008 than in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, the average month-to-month urban inflation, as indicated in Table 1 below, was at 4.03% while in 2007 it was at 2.82% (see Table 2) and in 2006 it was at 0.2%.
Average Inflation Levels for 2008/Average Inflation Levels for 2007
1.After inflating (bringing the figures to present value) the Basic Needs Basket values of 2007 using overall CPI
2. Based on overall CPI of 2008. Real values for November & December are only estimates
Urban Food Inflation
Food inflation (based on the CFSC food basket for Lilongwe) has also been much higher in 2008 than in 2007. While the general price increase (inflation) of essential food items in 2007 was at a low average rate of 2.52%, in 2008 the average food inflation figure is at as high as 50.97%. For details of the urban food inflation rate (Lilongwe), please see Table 3 and Figure 1 below. Although it is readily available, food was more affordable in 2007 than in 2008.
Table 3: Food Inflation for 2008 in Lilongwe
Calculated against inflated food basket figures of 2007, using the 2008 food CPI. Real Values for November & December (2007) are based on estimates.
Figure1: Year-on-Year Urban Food Inflation
In 2007 the urban food inflation was at its lowest in February and March (about -20%) and highest in April and December (about 20%). In 2008, the lowest was in April (at 21.45%) and highest was in November, at 74.06%. The world food crisis has had its impact on poor Malawians in 2008. With the current high prices of fertilizer, we should expect the worse in 2009.
Maize Price Trend
In 2008, maize was the one basic commodity whose price trends attracted a lot of interest by nature of its major importance in Malawi. On average, consumers paid less for maize in 2007 than in 2006 and worse in 2008. Please see Figure 2 below for maize price trend in the past three years.
Figure 2: Maize Price Trend for Lilongwe 2006 to 2008
From May to August 2008, the price of maize went uncontrollably high in all the cities until the government, with much advocacy coming from the CFSC, introduced a fixed producer and consumer maize prices and gave more power to ADMARC as sole buyer and sole seller of maize. Although the rule was not effectively enforced, the price of maize declined in the following month of September and started to rise again in October and November. Surprisingly in December, the price of maize has declined or remained stable in all the cities, except for Blantyre, where it has gone up by 12.4% from MK3, 417 in November to MK3, 842 in December. In Zomba the price remained at MK2, 940 just as it was in November. In Lilongwe, and Mzuzu the price of maize declined by 2.9% and 1.6%, respectively. In December, the price of maize was the lowest in Zomba and largest in Blantyre. See Figure 3 below.
Figure 3: Price of Maize By
Cost of Living By City
At the beginning of the year in January, Blantyre had the lowest cost of living, while Mzuzu had the highest at MK36, 022. In February, Zomba became the city with the lowest cost of living, while Mzuzu remained the most expensive city until April, when its cost of living was more or less close to that of Lilongwe and Blantyre. Zomba has remained the city with the lowest cost of living. In October and November, Lilongwe had the highest rate, with Blantyre being second. The trend has changed in December, when urban life has proved to be more expensive in Blantyre than in the rest of the cities of Malawi. For more details of the variations in cost of living in 2008, please see Table 4 below:
Table 4: Urban Cost of Living By City (2008)
Lilongwe Distribution of Basic Needs Basket By Cost: December 2008
For Lilongwe city in December 2008, the total basket (average cost of living for an average family of six) was MK49, 225. Of this total, 60.3% (MK29, 690) is required to meet minimum food needs of the family. To live in a standard house of two bedrooms, with metered electricity and running water in the house (without any disconnections and evictions), an average sized family living in Lilongwe needs at least MK12, 720 every month. This constitutes 26% of the total minimum required budget of the household. The table and figure below give you details of the distribution in the month of December 2008:
Table 4: Distribution of Basic Needs Basket (Lilongwe, December 2008)
Maize (and milling), at MK7, 470 alone constitute 15% of the minimum basic requirements. This type of distribution/share applies in more or less the same way in all the other cities.
Figure 5: Distribution of Basic Needs Basket (Lilongwe, December 2008)
Individual Minimum Requirements for Basic Survival
The CFSC Basic Needs Basket is normally given in a package for an average family of six. There are some people who live alone, others who live in two's and still others who have larger families of more than six. To give an indication of how much the different families required in December 2008 for basic survival, we have calculated the minimum requirements of one person. Please see Table 5 below:
Table 5: Individual Minimum Requirements for Basic Survival
On average, (in theory) a person living in the urban cities of Malawi needs to have at least MK 91, 988.50 (or US$657.06). You need more than MK8, 000 if you live in Blantyre or Lilongwe. It is not very practical because it is difficult, for example, to have decent housing with electricity and running water at MK2, 120 (MK12, 720 divide by 6). These figures, to remind you, do not include minimum requirements for travel (transport cost), health services, education, clothing and shoes, snacks and soft drinks and entertainment, which are all part of a dignified life.
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The rains are good this year. Maize and other crops seem to do well in many parts of the country. Food should be in plentiful supply. Citizens can use their right to elect whom they want and give those a chance whom they think can deliver. Malawi is a peaceful country. We even call it God fearing. That is why we want to end this annual review with a word of prayer.
That God may continue to Bless Malawi.
That Allah may continue to keep us in peace.
That Chauta will guard over us all.
That Yawhe may give us the wisdom to develop Malawi.
That Mulungu helps us to use all our potential.
That Chisumphi keep us in all our journeys.
That we all as stewards and guardians of creation, will treat our common mother the earth in such a way that she will be able to sustain future generations as well as ours.
Fr. Bill Turnbull
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632
Website : http://www.cfscmalawi.org