MALAWI PRESS REVIEW February 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,
The presentation of nomination papers by political parties aspiring presidents and their running mates dominated politics in the month of February. Some of the names that appeared as running mates for the three major parties came as surprises. After months of speculation the party leaders have finally made their choices known.
The ministry of trade in the month announced that the deadline for signing the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) has been extended. The extension has been applauded by the civil society organizations that feel Malawi should not sign the agreement.
With just some months to harvest food security reports show that there is scarcity of maize in some areas. The funny thing is these are conflicting reports with what government officials keep saying over the same issue.
There will always be controversy surrounding podium elevations. Traditional Authority Chikopwi of Zomba is not the first elevation that was made at a political rally as some other TAs were promoted to Paramount Chief by political leaders. People are still wondering if at all there is consultation before such announcements are made.
Malawi Schools Certificate of Education (MSCE) results for the year 2008 are a disaster. The 40% pass rate is not an improvement for results in recent times, though some previous results were perhaps worse than last years.
Reports of vital drugs being sold on the local markets are quiet disturbing. It has always been common knowledge that people should get a prescription from the hospitals where there are trained personnel. It is not a guarantee if the vendors selling the drug know exactly what they are dealing with.
The nomination of Joyce Banda as the running mate for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika came as sweet music to the gender activists. At the time they are fighting to achieve 50% of female representation the inclusion of Joyce Banda is a good move.
Life is always full of surprises and so observers saw that up to 15 people collected nomination papers from the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). For the first time ever Malawi has a female presidential candidate who also presented her nomination papers. Loveness Gondwe is not new in the political arena; she was the only Alliance For Democracy Member of Parliament in the national assembly. Gondwe later dumped the party to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). Political analysts have noted that the K500,000.00 nomination fee was one of the limiting factors for some aspirants.
Just like the media had predicted parties unveiled their running mates the day presidential hopefuls presented their nomination papers. The only surprise was that of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This is because it was rumoured that the party had settled for Henry Chimunthu Banda and the announcement that Joyce Banda as the running mate for Bingu wa Mutharika came as a surprise. Some political observers have commended Bingu for choosing Mai Joyce Banda because she is a strong woman who has always performed to the best of her capabilities. If the ruling DPP wins the May general elections Joyce Banda is going to become the first female vice president.
Although president Dr Bingu wa Mutharika has gained praises for appointing a woman as his running mate, some people still have reservations on the issue. Some observers feel Mutharika should have chosen someone from another region, and not Banda who comes from Zomba which is in the same region of Mutharika's Thyolo home. At the same time some want Goodall Gondwe who is the finance minister to fill the position. Gondwe is a long time friend to Mutharika who comes from the north and was one of the people who were earlier rumoured to become Mutharika's running mate.
It seems that all is not well with the ruling DPP. After so many misunderstandings over the primary elections the party went ahead and fired some of the people who had grievances. Among those fired are 6 deputy ministers who lost in the primary elections, some under controversial circumstances. Some of them opted to stand as independent candidates during the parliamentary race. As a result some political analysts have warned the DPP to take extra care lest it splits the vote during the elections. The deputy ministers are not the only people who have been disappointed with the primaries. There are some other aspirants who have done the same by opting to stand as independents.
John Tembo, the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly who is also presidential candidate for the Malawi Congress Party, came under attack in February following a statement he made in one of his public rallies. Tembo is reported to have promised to deal with anyone when he comes to power. It is believed Tembo is geared up to take revenge on all the bad things that anyone did to him when he was not in power. This has not gone down well with some observers who feel as leaders politicians should avoid vengeance at all times.
The press in February was filled with political stories. The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announced that the campaign period for the 2009 general elections would start on 17th March. This is the time parties sell their candidates manifestos to the people. History has shown that this when politicians make promises which they often end up failing to fulfill. It is also a period which is associated with violence among supporters. Bearing this in mind the electoral body MEC handed over a code of conduct to all political parties.
The month of February saw the arrival of former African leaders on a fact-finding mission before the general elections. Former president of Mozambique Joachim Chisano and Ghana's John Kufour visited Malawi. It was never really disclosed what exactly the two leaders found out when they visited some of the presidential aspirants. Meanwhile press reports have disclosed that the three political heavy weights Bingu wa Mutharika, Bakili Muluzi and John Tembo have finally agreed to meet face to face to iron out their differences.
Bakili Muluzi, the former leader of the nation who is also National Chairman and presidential candidate of the United Democratic Front (UDF), in the month under review was arrested for questioning. Muluzi is reported to have pocketed K6 billion that was meant for the Malawi nation was taken by the Anti-Corruption Bureau for questioning. This however did not please his followers who feel the arrested is a political move. It's timing is bad especially when people are still not too sure if Muluzi is going to be allowed to run as a candidate in the Presidential elections.
ECONOMYIn February the government reduced fuel prices. They were finally reduced weeks after some neighboring countries had done so. The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) slashed the price of fuel by 15%. This is probably the best thing that has happened to car owners in recent years. With the prices of fuel reduced one would expect some of the prices of goods and services to be cut as well. Against this background the Ministry of Trade and Private Sector Development, Mr. Henry Mussa, has advised other traders to follow suit.
A monthly survey on the basic needs done by the Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) has revealed that the cost of living in some of the cities has jumped up to K50,000.00. Although some shops in South Africa are reducing the prices of goods and commodities, the case is not the same with Malawi where the prices keep increasing hence contributing to the rising costs of living. Due to this some organizations are asking traders to consider reducing prices of goods.
The Ministry of Trade and Private Sector Development announced that the European Union has moved the deadline for signing the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) from 31st December 2008 to July 2009. Changing the deadline is a welcome development to civil society. Although this is the case there are still divisions between civil society and the private sector on the EPAs. According to trade experts Malawi still needs to make consultations and negotiations. President Bingu wa Mutharika announced late last year that Malawi would not sign the agreement. This position is also shared with many in civil society who feel that Malawi should not sign the EPA's in their current form. It should be noted that Malawi has not yet signed the interim agreement on EPA's.
Press reports have shown that there has been an increase in the amount of forged money circulating in Malawi. This is a sad development because not too many people would recognize a fake note if they saw one. This at the same time threatens some small businesses because for every fake K500 note they lose goods and perhaps money that they give out as change. The availability of fake notes is also bad for the economy.
Although the crop estimates have not been released yet press reports are painting a rosy picture in terms of food security. With the good rains that many areas received there are reports that hunger threats are growing thin each passing day. At least this is what the government says about the hunger situation. On the other hand some chiefs seem to differ with these reports because they say some people are currently eating maize husks instead of the usual maize, which is the staple food. Also in recent months the press was full of hunger stories in some areas in the country.
Some reports on food security have disclosed that although there is plenty of maize in the fields, this year's harvest is going to be slightly smaller than that of previous years. This will be the case because of the fact that a number of farmers have opted to grow tobacco instead of maize. Therefore some of the land that was previously used for maize has been used for tobacco. Some people were attracted by the high prices that the gold leaf was fetching on the market. As a result they thought of trying their luck at growing it this year. Even though this is the case the deputy minister of Agriculture and Food Security Frank Mwenefumbo, keeps assuring the nation that there is going to be plenty of food in the country.
President Bingu wa Mutharika announced that Malawians should expect the price of fertilizer to be reduced during this coming growing season. Government is commended for cutting the price of subsidized fertilizer, so that the needy can access the farm input. The Mutharika administration is well known for introducing the coupon system whereby a number of under privileged people receive coupons and have easy access to the fertilizer.
Press reports also disclosed that some authorities at ADMARC depots are cheating on their customers. Evidence has shown that sales people at some depots are stealing from buyers who visit to buy maize by not giving the buyers the real amount of grain they ask for. An example of such markets is the Chinseu ADMARC depot of Ndirande. When the maize was reweighed it is reported people found out that they had been cheated. Some analysts have therefore rebuked the practice in strongest terms. The Chinseu scenario could be just the tip of an iceberg.
CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS
In February Civil Society has expressed its disappointment over the firing of Inspector General (IG) of Police Oliver Kumbambe. Press reports in this month disclosed that the decision to fire the IG was not the right thing to do. Among other reasons Mr. Kumbambe is reported to have crossed paths with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over the use of police band at political rallies. Kumbambe was reported to have asked DPP officials to stop using the Police Band during their political rallies instead the officers should be used during state functions only. Recent reports have disclosed that Kumbambe has been given a diplomatic mission in Germany.
Still on a similar note the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) also criticize government for the use of state resources during its political rallies. On almost each of its party functions, the ruling DPP has been using government vehicles to ferry people to and from their rallies. Surprisingly this is what president Bingu wa Mutharika had been telling people that his government would make sure that it separates political from state activities. Evidence has greatly shown that even at state functions party slogans are chanted and a number of resources are also used. This is what has made CHRR to ask the authorities at the DPP.
The Malawi Law Commission announced that all the presidential aspirants are not eligible to stand if they continue being Members of Parliament. This includes the likes of John Tembo of the MCP and his running mate Brown James Mpinganjira, DPP running mate Joyce Banda and Loveness Gondwe of National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), and United Democratic Front (UDF) running mate Clement Stambuli. Some experts have chosen to differ with the Law Commission because they say the aspirants will be free to do so because by then there will be no parliament.
The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announced that it might release the results of the presidential aspirants mid March. Previously MEC had assured the nation that it would only take a week to scrutinize the forms. As people waited patiently in February some people have questioned the delay, which they feel is unnecessary. Among the presidential aspirants is Dr Bakili Muluzi who is Malawi's former president who ruled Malawi for 2 consecutive 5-year terms. Any delay in announcing the nomination results might put the United Democratic Front into more troubles.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE
Centre For Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) expressed concerns over the influx of refugees in the country. The worse part of it is that these refugees do not stay in the camps but are in town, some even renting houses. Others have blamed the influx of refugees some of who have taken over businesses from other local entrepreneurs. Among others Malawi is hosting refugees from Rwanda and Burundi and other neighboring countries. Some observers have claimed that the increasing cases of robberies are a result of the influx of refugees.
Minibus Operators Association Of Malawi (MOAM) in the month under review revised the bus fares of some routes in the country. The association cut the fares following the decrease in the cost of fuel at the pumps. The Malawi government reduced the price of fuel by 15% after the prices had fallen on the international market. With this change there have been requests from different stakeholders to MOAM to reduce minibus fares. The organization has taken action by reducing the fares on city routes. Evidence has shown that although the fares have been officially reduced some minibuses are still charging the old fares. Meanwhile the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) has appealed to traders to also reduce the prices of goods.
In February Malawi commemorated the Anti-Corruption Day. Reports have disclosed that although the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is fighting corruption it is still rampant. President Bingu wa Mutharika who is a great supporter of the anti-corruption fight was present at the celebrations that took place in Blantyre. Since president Mutharika came to power he has made a lot of promises to fight corruption but reports have proved the opposite. The battle to have a corrupt free country only needs concerted efforts by everyone for it to materialize.
Some Yao chiefs are reported to have questioned Paramount Chief Chikowi's elevation because they feel that he is not a true Yao. According to press reports some Yao chiefs feel Chikowi is a Mang'anja and as such he should not be a Paramount chief for the Yao's. President Bingu wa Mutharika elevated Chikowi to Paramount chief during a political rally recently. Some analysts have questioned podium elevations and are wondering if there are any consultations before such appointments are made. This is evident by the queries that come after podium appointment and elevations. Another case is that of Paramount Nkhumba of the Lomwe tribe whose elevation caused a lot of debates over his eligibility.
In February the Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB) released the 2008 Malawi Schools Certificate of Education (MSCE) results. According to the results 40% of those who sat for the examination managed to pass. Although 40% seems to be a small percentage, this is rather an improvement from recent years results. In 2007 the percentage was as low as 37%. Reports have shown that out of the 92,871 that sat for the 2008 examinations only 37,906 passed.
Chancellor College students in the month under review threatened to go on strike if their demands to have the stationery allowance doubled were not met. With the continuing price increase of goods the students at Chancellor College feel the K10,000.00 that they receive as stationery allowance every semester is rather low. Therefore the students proposed the money be doubled for easy access of stationary. Authorities at the college decided to raise the amount to K15,000.00 only. This decision has eased the tension a bit as it has made the students change their earlier stand to stage a sit in.
President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is also minister of education, fired one of his deputies in the ministry while another resigned. Richard Msowoya who was deputy minister of Education, Science and Technology responsible for Higher Learning Education resigned after rumours had circulated that he was going to be a running mate in the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). On the other hand deputy minister for Education Science Technology responsible for Primary and Secondary former got the boot for choosing to stand as an independent candidate in Mulanje Limbuli constituency challenging the DPP candidate.
Link of Education, an organization that monitors education, has advised government to replace the ministers with haste. As the ministry that shapes Malawi's future in education, Link for Education wants some new people to head the ministry. With president Mutharika as the minister of education there is indeed a lot that needs to be done because Mutharika as president of the Malawi nation has other duties that need his attention. The absence of ministers will probably delay some of the decisions in the ministry.
Former president Dr Bakili Muluzi puzzled the nation when he announced that once he came back to power he would introduce free secondary school education. Muluzi who also introduced free primary education promised to change the education standards for the better. However, education experts have warned that Muluzi should not compare other countries whose economy is miles away from that of Malawi. Evidence has shown that the free primary education that Muluzi's administration introduced has been blamed for contributing to the lowering standards of education.
The consequences of Cholera are not only giving headaches to the relatives of the infected but to the ministry of health as well. Press reports have shown that with cases of Cholera increasing in some districts causing the ministry of health to do a lot more in looking after those who are ill. Recent reports have shown that the number of infected people is increasing even in Lilongwe, but in Phalombe there has not been any reported cases. However, the ministry of health announced in February that it is losing a lot of its finances in curbing the disease. Although the ministry tries its best to prevent Cholera the irony of it is that it still resurfaces every year. It all calls for concerted efforts if the disease is to be eliminated completely. Recent reports have disclosed that the disease has so far killed 70 people in the country.
With just a few of weeks to the general elections the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood launched an initiative lobbying aspiring Members of Parliament to look into some of the health issues. Among other things the Alliance wants MPs to take up issues of maternal health in their messages during campaign. As the time to start campaigning is near the Alliance feels the aspiring MPs should relay the messages to people that gather during their rallies. It should be noted that Malawi is one of the countries with the highest mortality rate.
The media in the month under review have disclosed that the ministry of health is now on the alert over reports of an inflow of fake drugs in some countries. Reports have shown some of the fake drugs in circulation are the Malaria drug LA. As a result the ministry of health has plans to avoid this things from happening in Malawi. The ministry announced that it would intensify checking on the borders to avoid such counterfeit drugs from finding their way into Malawian hospitals. It should be noted that Malaria is one of the major killer diseases in Malawi.
Still on the same issue of drugs the ministry responsible learnt with shock about reports of sales of some of the medicine on the local markets. Vendors in some markets have access to the Anti Retroviral drugs. Worse still it is common knowledge that some vendors in Malawi are not trained medical personnel therefore to trust such people with one's health is at owners risk. It is also reported to be on the market is LA.
Although a lot of awareness has been raised on HIV and Aids recent reports have disclosed that there is still discrimination and stigma in some quarters. It remains a mystery why people are being discriminated against when messages against this practice are loud and clear.
Some observers have noted that although a number of people regard a dog as "man's best friend" in reality trees are the ones that should be regarded as man's best friend. Reports have shown that it is trees that help man in almost everything in a daily life. Among other things trees are there to be used for medicine and fuel. If one plants trees in their compound they are assured of shelter on sunny days. The same trees also provide oxygen that people breathe. Observers have noted that the same attention that man gives to dogs, is the same that should be given to trees. Evidence has shown that not too many people take good care of trees.
Press reports have disclosed that the effects of climate change are also affecting natural resources in some parts of the country. It is reported that the Chia Lagoon in Nkhotakota is also being affected by climate change. For a long time the lagoon has helped people in Nkhotakota as a source of fish. Recent reports have shown that the temperatures at times go beyond the normal daily temperatures. This has also affected life in the Chia waters making it difficult for fish to breath. Some environmentalists are looking into ways of making the Chia to return to its former state.
In February issues of degradation also got some media coverage. With the tree planting season currently going on, some observers feel there is a lot that Malawi can do as a nation to avoid environmental degradation. The cutting down of trees has left some areas so bare that when the rains come the land is swept away. All the good topsoil is gone. Therefore, environmentalists have left no stone unturned in making sure that the environment is safeguarded
Gender activists in the country are having the last laugh following the recent developments in the political circles. Indeed the activists have all the reasons to smile because some women have emerged as presidential candidates and running mates. It is sweet music to people's ears because for the first time in the history of Malawi, we have a female presidential candidate. This only shows that things are going in the right direction as Malawi is struggling to achieve the 50-50 campaign.
Still on the same note some civil society organizations have noted that despite all the efforts in the 50-50 campaign there is still a shortfall. The Catholic for Commission and Justice (CCJP) announced that there are only over 200 women aspiring Members of Parliament out of more than 1000 candidates. This only shows that the battle is far from over. With this meager figure it is going to be an uphill battle for the campaign to bear fruits during this general election. It should be noted that during the last general election Malawi also failed to reach the required 30 % of female participation in parliament. Against this background some people have wondered if it is going to be possible this year now that the figure is set at 50%
The nomination of Joyce Banda as the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's running mate has been welcomed by a number organizations and individuals. The press has shown that President Mutharika indeed has the motive of promoting women in Malawi. Although not many women have been given decision-making position during Mutharika's four years in power, there is hope that there might be some changes for the better. This is the first time a ruling party has chosen a woman as its presidential running mate. If the DPP win the May 19 general elections, Malawi is going to be the second country in Southern Africa to have a female vice president. The first one was South Africa's former Vice president Phumizile Mlambo Ncguka .
Some observers in the month under review applauded the media for giving women good coverage. As we go to the general election with one agenda to have more female representation in the national assembly, the press can play a major role in selling the aspirants to the masses. At the same time the media can help decision makers to change some of the policies therefore the press's contribution is not taken for granted. This is the reason the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) in Blantyre commended journalists in the country for the good job.
Fr. Bill Turnbull
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632