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

News clippings with analysis
From the Major newspapers
in Malawi


Compiled by the
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Area 25
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632

LIST OF NEWSPAPERS REVIEWED

Daily Times, Malawi News, The Weekly News, The Nation,
The Weekend Nation, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Chronicle,
Nation on Sunday,

PREVIEW

All is not well in the once mighty United Democratic Front. Trouble began when former president, who is also national chairman of the party, announced that he was going to stand again. Muluzi's dream is to remove Bingu wa Mutharika the incumbent president from power. The former president is considering all sorts of ways just to get rid of Mutharika.

The delay in calling for parliament reconvened could derail some developments. The fact that there are some bills like the interconnection bill that have not been tabled means some development has been stalled.

Malawians are now struggling to buy maize in the grain markets despite the fact that government is still insisting that there is a lot of maize in the country. The situation on the ground seems to be different from what is on record.

President Bingu wa Mutharika has an uphill task in fighting corruption. Mutharika admitted that there is corruption in all the arms of government. Perhaps this admission means the fight to end corruption is far from over.

The debate on the reintroduction of quota system of selection of students continued in the month of February. President Bingu wa Mutharika has so far not commented on the issue.

Congestion in government hospitals continued to be a big problem for the health ministry. At the same time shortage of staff is also another difficulty that the ministry has to deal with.

While some people are not happy with the way female members of parliament are doing their jobs there are others who feel the MPs are trying. Other women think the MPs are not representing their fellow women.

POLITICS

The leader of the opposition political parties in the country Honourable John Tembo reacted to the defections of some members of parliament by accusing government of buying the legislators. As it has always been the case every time some members decide to use their right of association by joining another party, observers say the defectors have had their palms greased. So honourable Tembo's statement is not something new in Malawian politics. Recently some members of parliament have ditched the parties that brought them to parliament to join the ruling Democratic Progressive Party DPP. As we approach the 2009 general elections one thing is clear that Malawians should expect more defecations.

The woes in the opposition party United Democratic Front UDF continued to make headlines. The leadership problems in the party have been going on for the past months and it seems they may not be resolved. Recent reports have disclosed that former president Bakili Muluzi might not stand in the 2009 general election instead he has opted for Mr James Brown Mpinganjira. It is the same Mpinganjira who left the UDF to form the National Democratic Alliance NDA because he did not agree with Muluzi's plans to rule Malawi for three consecutive 5-year terms.

Divisions in the United Democratic Front are now conspicuous with the formation of yet another group the Yellow Movement. This group was formed after another one called the UDF Taskforce. Unlike the Taskforce the Yellow Movement's idea is to oppose any moves the Taskforce makes. For one reason the Taskforce has managed to pressurise the party's National Executive Committee NEC to give room to some members to contest for the hot seat in the party. They have managed this because the door is now open for any person to contest. Contrary to the Taskforce's aims the Yellow Movement is crushing whatever the Taskforce would want. The presence of two groups opposing each other in one party certainly speaks volumes of what the situation is in the party.

United Democratic Front UDF surprised the nation when it announced that the door for those that were aspiring to become presidential candidates for the party had been closed. This announcement came barely a day after Sam Mpasu, who is an executive member of the party, had said he would contest. Issues of leadership have for some time been a thorn in the flesh in the UDF. It seems there are some people who cannot manage to have Muluzi outside the leadership circles of the party. This mentality has left the party with no solution in sight over the issue.

Former president Dr Bakili Muluzi left the country for the United Kingdom for yet another medical check up. Just like the last time Muluzi was not given any money by government as a former leader. Muluzi left when there were speculations that he had received some money from the Taiwanese government to help him win the 2009 general election. Other observers have noted that perhaps this could be the reason government got rid of Taiwan in a haste.

The president of the Malawi Congress Party MCP had a sudden change of heart when he announced that he was willing to form alliances only if the MCP is given the presidency. This is contrary to what he had said earlier on that he would go it alone and win the elections without any alliances. Whatever has made the big man change his tune is not yet known. However, this announcement comes after the UDF national chairman had said there is need for the opposition parties to unite if they are to defeat the incumbent president in 2009.

State president Bingu wa Mutharika in the month of February reshuffled his cabinet dropping two full ministers. Mutharika chopped Bob Khamisa, former defence minister, and Marjorie Ngaunje who was health minister. While the reasons for firing Khamisa are clear people are still not too clear why Ngaunje, who was believed to be performing well, was fired. As for Khamisa the writing was on the wall sooner or later he was going to get the boot because of his involvement in the fertilizer coupon scandal. Like any reshuffled there have been some new faces among them are Juliana Guga who is Thyolo North MP and Patricia Papano Kampunga Mwafulirwa. Meanwhile some observers have noted that the appointment of Charles Mchacha as deputy Finance Minister is a mistake

ECONOMY

Talk about Malawi's economic performance being on the right track and the low inflation has raised a debate among some economic experts in the month under review. It seems these experts feel the figures do not exactly reflect what the situation is on the ground. For instance the recent Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme UNDP indicates that Malawi is still under developed. It is surprising to hear that the economy of this country is on the right track when Malawi is still underdeveloped 44 years after independence.

In February the government announced new prices of tobacco. The crop, which generates more than 60 % of the country's foreign exchange, has of late been attracting good prices on the market. This is unlike in the past when the tobacco-selling season was a headache for farmers who were spending a fortune in producing the crop but fetching very little from the market. This scenario is now history following government's intervention the prices at least can cause farmers to smile. Reports have shown the gold leaf will be sold at K320 maximum and K120 minimum price. Will these prices mean some good life for the tenants who worked hard for the tobacco leaf?

Some economic experts have questioned Charles Mchacha's appointment as deputy minister of finance. President Bingu wa Mutharika appointed Mchacha, who passed his Malawi Schools Certificate of Education last year, as a vice in one of the most important ministries in the land. Experts doubt Mchacha's competence in economic issues. The Finance minister might indeed have a lot on his desk but to have Mchacha as his deputy is out of the question according to some analysts. Others have noted that Mutharika is not appointing people on merit. This is contrary to what he had promised to the nation. Mutharika also promised to have a leaned and performing cabinet but latest developments have seen every Jim and Jack being included.

Although government has revised upwards the minimum wage of all workers the minimum food requirements for families has also gone up. According to the Centre for Social Concern CFSC most families still require more than K20,000.00 for their basic needs of a whole month. This however does not match the amount of money that these people receive at the end of the month. The new amount, which according the CFSC, in reality is only enough for the buying and milling of 2 bags of maize.


FOOD SECURITY

The maize shortage situation seems to now be more conspicuous with reports that some people have died after eating tubers. Why would one go for tubers? It is because they do not have maize, which is the staple food in their homes. Although on several occasions the opposition members of society and independent bodies have questioned reports of Malawi having plenty of maize when its own people are dying of hunger the government still maintains it stand. Surprisingly Malawi has been labelled as a land of plenty to the extent that truckloads of maize have been sold to neighbouring Zimbabwe.

It is becoming more evident that there is a food shortage in Malawi. The fact that the price of maize is going up almost everyday is another reason for people to believe that we are going to face cases of increased food shortages. Against this background some people have resorted to buying flour. At the same time some traders are cashing in because of the maize shortages. Because people are now buying flour the traders have raised the prices of the commodity. Now it seems people have no alternatives but to still buy the flour at such exorbitant prices.

The distribution of fertilizer coupons ended in the month of February amid reports that the whole exercise was not successful. The coupons were intended for the very poor members of society so that they could buy subsidised fertilizer. It is not clear whether the majority managed to do so. Much as everyone is aware the fertilizer subsidy programme is a good initiative but many still question the way it was administered.

Press reports have disclose that although the maize situation in Malawi is becoming deplorable by the day some of the grain is still being sent to Zimbabwe. This comes against a background of a ban on the maize exports to Zimbabwe and reports of truckloads of maize being impounded at the border confirm this. Some observers are failing to understand why government is still insisting that the country has plenty of maize when locals are having problems to access it. It has been a tradition that some buy a 50Kg bag but that now it is history as in some districts people are only allowed 30kgs and 5 kgs in others. Despite all this the maize issue has turned so political that the government is blaming the opposition for the shortage and the opposition thinks it is government.

Latest reports have shown that although the government of Malawi had made a donation of maize to Swaziland, the country has not yet collected the supply. Against this background there are reports that Swaziland officials never knew it was a donation and only thought it was an offer to buy. Now it seems the Swazi officials would want to have transport to collect their donated maize. Late last year president Mutharika gave donations of maize to Swaziland and Lesotho. Note that currently some parts of Malawi people are having difficulties to access the grain even in ADMARC markets.

CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS


In February Malawi commemorated National Anti Corruption Day amid reports of heavy criticism of high-level graft and corruption in the country. Surprisingly president Bingu wa Mutharika who had earlier on assured the nation that he will have a zero tolerance approach in tackling corruption has not done much to match his words. Mutharika admitted that there is indeed corruption happening in all the arms of government. With a theme a 'corrupt free Malawi begins with me' Mutharika would like to have a country which is not corrupt. Late last year an international organisation called Transparency International rated Malawi as one of the most corrupt countries an accusation government denied.

The Centre For Human Rights and Rehabilitation CHRR in the month asked government to consider calling for the national assembly to meet. Over 5 months have passed since president Mutharika prorogued Parliament. Opposition members of parliament are still bitter because of the situation as they feel there are still some outstanding bills that should be discussed. For instance there is the interconnection bill that the members of parliament strongly feel should be tackled. At present the government is still maintaining its stand that it will not call for the meeting. On the other hand the opposition have defied government that it is not going into any other business apart from Section 65 when the house reconvenes. The CHHR has therefore advised the opposition not to prioritise section 65 because there are equally important issues that the House should debate on.

Members of the clergy in the month added their weight in rebuking Dr Muluzi for what they said are undemocratic ways of his coming up with leadership in the party. Muluzi publicly announced that he is ready to be the party's presidential candidate in the 2009 general elections. This has left those that were willing to contest for the hot post in the party to shy away mainly due to intimidation. Against this background the clergy feel people in the UDF should be left to make their own choice without intimidating those that are willing to oppose him. It is only with a number of contenders that the party can truthfully choose their 2009 candidate.

Malawians can afford a smiles on their faces following reports that have rated Malawi the tenth most peaceful country in Africa. An international body called Global Peace Index has placed Malawi in position 68 in the whole world. To be recognised as one of the most peaceful countries is something to be proud of. Some analysts have warned that the opposition and the government should try as much as possible to sort out their differences that have partly arisen because of the Section 65 tussle in order for Malawi to maintain its peaceful reputation.

SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE

Just when people thought that it is only in prisons where there is congestion, a revelation by a news reporter who spent a night on remand at a police cell has proved the opposite. Daily Times reporter Mike Chapalasa reported that the conditions in police cells are deplorable and at times the suspects are not allowed to go out of the cells at night to relieve themselves. This is evident by the fact that the night the reporter was in the cell the policeman refused to allow a suspect to visit the toilet and he ended up defecating in the cell in the presence of others. Against this background the Malawi Human Rights commission and other observers have condemned the Police's conduct on the matter.

Although some organisations like the United Nations Children Education Fund UNICEF are lobbying for an end in child labour it seems some people are still in the trade. Press reports have shown that 29% of children are still engaged in child labour. Among other things under aged children have been employed to work in tobacco estates and go on days without decent food and clothes. Surprisingly the time these children spend on tobacco estates is the time they should be at school. Therefore the issue of child labour has also contributed heavily to the increasing number of drop-outs in schools. With the big number of children not going to school it remains a mystery what kind of future these children will have.

Some analysts have noted that the increase in theft and many other criminal cases has come about because of food shortages. Press reports have disclosed a series of crimes that have been committed in the past months which is one way of coping with the accelerating standards of life. At the same time others have joined the bandwagon of people who dismember others. Of late a number of people have fallen victims of mob justice one of them being a child.

The Centre For Human Rights and Rehabilitation CHRR in the month lamented the increase in stigmatising people with HIV and AIDS. This concern comes amid reports of people living with HIV/AIDS who are suffering emotionally because of their status. Just to mention a few press reports have shown that these people are being stigmatised in workplaces, in school, in villages and in families as well. Against this background CHRR want the amendment of some sections of the constitution that mention stigma. According to CHRR there has been an increase in the number of people who have reported cases of stigmatization in recent times.


EDUCATION

As the debate about the quota system continues there have been mixed reactions to the announcement. The University of Malawi Council announced that it would be using a quota system of selection where authorities will only accommodate 10 people per district. This will mean only 10 of the top students will automatically be awarded places at University of Malawi colleges. While the debate continues, the Chancellor of the University of Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika has not commented on the issue yet. Reports have shown that the president has yet to decide on the quota system. Latest information indicates that the University of Malawi's Senate is not in favour of the quota system because they say it is discriminatory.

The nation of Malawi is still in shock following the death of a nine-year old student Ashley Kandaya at Kaphuka Private Schools. It is reported that Kandaya died in a fire that broke up in their hostels. The death of young Ashley caused a lot of debate among parents as some feel there are a lot that schools need to make sure that the safety of students is a priority. Some people have also questioned the Ministry of Education's role in making sure that both private and government schools are friendly to learning. On the other hand the boarding facilities in schools should also be supervised so that the safety of students is safeguarded at all times.

Ministry of Education is one sector that has a lot of homework as regards the status of schools in the country. For some time there have been concerns of the status of infrastructure in most schools. Among other things structures at some schools do not offer a conducive environment for education. Reports have disclosed that some schools have dilapidated structures with no furniture at all while in others there are no toilets and other facilities that can make the environment clean. In such schools life becomes so difficult for girls who most of the times need such facilities. It does not only need the ministry of education to bemoan poor sanitation but also to act. Now that the deputy minister Mrs Olive Masanza is aware of poor sanitation in schools what is next?

Promotion is one of the factors that has on several occasions motivated employees to work hard. But the revelation that some teachers have stayed on the same position for 10 years is pathetic. Therefore one should not be surprised to see teachers who do not do their work wholeheartedly. It is no wonder that the government schools are hit by the brain drain as many go to private schools where they are rewarded handsomely. Link for Education LEG is therefore advocating for the presence of commissioners who should look into the promotion of teachers. Reports have shown that in the absence of commissioners the issue of teachers' promotion might be an ongoing story.

HEALTH

A recent news report this month has revealed that Likuni Mission Hospital managed to reach a target of over six months without a death from expectant mothers. Actually 197 days passed without a single death from maternal diseases. This is a job well done and worth emulating by all other hospitals throughout Malawi. If Likuni has done it, surely other hospitals can achieve the same or even better! The Maternity Ward Sister-in-charge Chrissie Mkwezalamba and her supporting staff can walk with their heads high and set to break new records.

The beginning of the end of fearing to go for HIV Counseling and Testing has started to gain ground in some parts of the country. One such places is Banja La Mtsogolo at Naphiyo Primary School in Thyolo. People there are flocking to get tested to find out their status quo. According to media reports this is a result of a rigorous campaign by the health institution officials to sensitize the rural people and the outcome is tremendously positive. The people are receiving the message eagerly and one can only hope more and more people will realize the importance of HIV Counseling and Testing.

Shortage of nurses in Malawi is not getting any better at all. According to the chairperson of the Nurses Association of Malawi, Dorothy Ngoma Malawi needs at least 10,000 nurses to get to grips with the country's requirements. Malawi's population of 12 million people has only 3,500 registered nurses to look after its sick. A major reason for the shortage is that hundreds of qualified medical staff have deserted their country to seek greener pasture elsewhere. According to Ngoma Malawi needs to have three intakes annually instead of one in order to achieve the required number of nurses.

On another sad note, the nursing staff in Malawi runs a risk of contracting the deadly hepatitis B, which affects the liver, because they do not have the protective clothing. There have been cases of nurses catching Hepatitis B, tuberculosis and now HIV. According to Dorothy Ngoma, the safest remedy is for the nurses to be vaccinated in time to save their lives.

One newspaper this month has likened congested sick children in referral hospitals of Malawi to fish on a bench in a flea market. Often as many as three children suffering from a variety of diseases share a narrow bed coughing into one another's mouth and definitely spread instead of controlling their ailments. And as if this was not enough suffering, some patients sleep in the corridors for lack of space and beds in the wards. A stunning revelation at Kamuzu Central Hospital is that the children's ward was built to take 28 beds, but due to congestion it is now accommodating over 80 beds. A partial solution to this problem, as told by Martha Kwataine who is a national coordinator for Malawi Health Equity Network, would be to have increased funding and to enable rural health centers to have enough capacity to treat patients.


ENVIRONMENT

Environmental experts have warned that the use of firewood as a source of energy is continuously degrading the environment. In the long run the country might face climate changes that never occurred in the past. At the same time the changes in climate might follow some patterns that people are not used to. The experts feel though people would want to travel in aeroplanes but the planes cause a threat to the environment. Reports have shown that the aeroplanes release some gases that cause damage to the environment.

Press reports have shown that Malawi's climate is slowly changing following a number of changes in the environment. The floods that people in Nsanje and Chikwawa districts are currently facing are some of the signs of the changes. According to the United Nations Development Programme UNDP such climate changes may hinder Malawi from fulfilling its Millennium Development Goals. Reports have shown that when a country experiences floods it loses a lot of resources that could have been used to do some developmental works.

Two months after president Dr Bingu wa Mutharika inaugurated the National Tree Planting Season, the exercise is still going on and a number of organisations have planted trees in many places. Malawi Local Enterprise Zone MALEZA is one such organisation that has planted a number of trees in Malingunde in Lilongwe where there is a dam that keeps water for the entire Lilongwe City. According to the organisation the idea is to improve the quality of drinking water.

Some areas in the month experienced human-animal conflicts. People in NkhataBay are having problems with monkeys that destroy their crops. According to reports the monkeys are destroying people's crops in the gardens. At the same time they have no place to live in because the trees in the forests where the monkeys used to live in were cut down. The press also made it known that relocated people in Mangochi are also having sleepless nights because of the elephants that are causing a threat to their lives. Note that the relocated people came to Mangochi in search of good land where they could call home and plant their crops.

GENDER

President Mutharika's new cabinet did not make any changes that increased the number of female ministers. Despite having some women in other key ministries the number of women in the cabinet is still low. Promises to have more women in decision-making positions should also be match with action. Malawi is one of the countries that is struggling to reach the 30% SADC requirement. Surprisingly the Mutharika administration has on several occasions made it clear that one of its priorities is to empower women. How can women be empowered when they are not given a chance?

The battle for women to fill decision-making positions will bear no fruits if they do not show interest. The trend has always been for men who occupy all the high positions in almost all the sectors of society, politics being one of them. At political gatherings all the women can do is dance and entertain the men while the men make speeches. In this regard even at party level it is very rare to find women in decision-making positions. Against this background the Malawi Human Rights Commission MHRC has encouraged women to take up responsible positions.

In the month of February the press disclosed different views regarding the work of female members of parliament. Some sectors of society feel female legislators have not done much to represent women. This is evident by the many policies that are formulated but women's issues and their problems are left out. It seems the women MPs do not talk much about the problems that women face especially in the areas of health. Problems that directly affect women are rarely tackled in the National Assembly despite having a number of women in the house. On the other hand there is another group that feels the female legislators are doing a commendable job in representing women in the house.

Some commentators have also commented on the change of diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China. According to some gender analysts Beijing hosted a fourth world forum on gender and to date not much has been done. Now the analysts feel they are tongue tied to comment on Malawi's relationship with Beijing and what women are going to gain from such a scenario.


Bill Turnbull
Fr. Bill Turnbull

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