MALAWI PRESS REVIEW January 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

Perhaps the issue of troubles in the United Democratic Front is what made a lot of headlines in the press in the month of January. President of the party Dr Bakili Muluzi single-handedly fired Samuel Mpasu one of the oldest and giants of the party.

After over 40 years in a diplomatic relationship Malawi dumped Taiwan in a very controversial manner. All the preparatory talks were done in a secretive way and it has raised a lot of questions why the Malawi government behaved in this way.

Although so many organisations have praised the Bingu wa Mutharika administration on its economic performance the situation on the ground is not like what they say. The government claims that the economic performance of Malawi is improving but the majority of people are still living in dire poverty.

Some ADMARC depots still do not have enough maize to sell to everybody. This is surprising because government continue to say there is plenty of maize. Where is the maize when buyers cannot manage to purchase a 50Kg bag?

Civil society organisations warned Politicians to tread carefully as we approach the campaign period for the Presidential elections. Malawians would not want to have the Kenya situation where many people have lost their lives because of a disputed election result

The situation in Malawi prisons is still deplorable to the point that it is very doubtful if the whole purpose of reforming inmates will be achieved. Despite all this prisoners have managed to do exceptionally well in their Junior Certificate JCE and Primary School Leaving Certificate PSLCE examination.

The tree-planting season saw a number of trees grown in the country. Now what remains is taking care of the trees. Without taking care of the newly planted trees the whole exercise is going to be meaningless.

Some traditions are still being blamed for the increase of gender-based violence. Wives are at times not aware that they are being abused because they feel that they are owned by the husband because of the dowry situation.

POLITICS

In January the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Malawi has opted for diplomatic relations with Mainland China over Taiwan. Surprisingly since rumours about the issue started the government of Malawi has been playing down any comments on the relations with Taiwan. Some observers have noted that Malawi has dumped Taiwan at an awkward moment because some months ago president Mutharika was pleading for the inclusion of Taiwan in the United Nations. At the same time government has been taken to task over the way it has handled the whole issue. Some feel government should have made wider consultation before coming up with such a decision, which affects every Malawian.

Politics is one sector of the society which is always full of surprises. At the beginning of 2008 the problems within the United Democratic Front UDF began to surface publicly. The firing of the party's spokesperson Sam Mpasu perhaps is what has left many people wondering where exactly the party is heading. Mpasu and other political heavyweights shelved their ambitions of contesting in the party's elections for the presidential candidature after Bakili Muluzi had shown interest too. It remains uncertain whether the once mighty UDF is to make it happen in the year 2009. Meanwhile the national UDF chairman Dr Bakili Muluzi has blamed government for the problems that the party is currently facing.

Could this be beginning of the end for the once mighty United Democratic Front? For sure it is unheard of to find people in the UDF criticising Muluzi, who is the sole financier of the party, but recent developments have shown that people are now tired of being cheated. At the same time Malawians have heard contradicting statements coming from the party leaders. A recent statement has indicated that Muluzi will contest the presidential candidature in the UDF alongside other aspirants. Knowing the status of Muluzi in the UDF it is not clear if at all people will come forward to declare their intention to compete against the party's godfather. Is one safe to say this is democracy at work?

After a long wait on the Malawi Electoral Commission MEC case, the High Court has ruled in favour of government. Opposition parties had complained that president Bingu wa Mutharika did not consult them when he was appointing the commissioners. This situation delayed the swearing in of the commissioners. At the same time it poses a threat to the 2009 general elections because some of its operations need the approval of the appointed commissioners. As with any case that involves the opposition and government, the former has promised to appeal on the case because they are not happy with the judgement. Because of the current state of affairs it is unclear whether the 2009 general elections will be carried out in good faith.

Malawi's major opposition party the Malawi Congress Party MCP stunned the nation when it announced that the position of president in the party is open for everybody to contest. This is contrary to what some political parties are currently practising. Reports have shown that it is mainly the founders or existing presidents of parties that make all the decisions as regards the choices of a presidential candidate. While it is true that democracy is a new phenomenon, one can safely say that at party level leaders are not democratically chosen. Experience has shown that parties impose leaders on the grass roots. Now to hear that anyone can challenge the incumbent president of the MCP is good news. This is what other parties should emulate. The party also announced that it wants to have a running mate from the southern region to gain more influence, while the central region remains the hub of power for the MCP.

Despite the High Court's ruling, which upheld Section 65, the month of January saw a number of defections among members of parliament. One would have expected to see MPs remain in their parties for fear of Section 65 but the opposite has proved to be true. Two Malawi Congress Party MCP MPs dumped the party to join the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. At the same time People's Transformation Party Petra's only representative in the house, Gertrude Mkandawire, and UDF's Felton Mulli and Jaffali Mussa have also left for the DPP. It seems everybody wants to be associated with the ruling DPP. Is this a sign of democracy at work or its DPP's way of wooing support in the August House? At present the DPP only has 6 elected MPs.

Mystery still surrounds the holiday of Minister of Presidential Affairs Davis Katsonga. Some news websites have alleged that Katsonga left Malawi in haste after he had squandered millions of Kwacha which the Chinese gave him for president Mutharika. Mr Katsonga went to China in December where he met with officials and was given the money. He is currently in the United Kingdom with his family because he is on the run. Katsonga himself has denied the story. Similarly the Chinese Embassy has also refuted the claims saying they are not in a habit of buying relations.


ECONOMY

Various organisations in the month of January 2008 praised President Bingu Wa Mutharika's administration for the good economic performance in the year 2007. Among other things the Mutharika administration has managed to woo back who had previously left Malawi because of the former administration. Now Malawi can safely boast of donor confidence because of the current friendship that exists between the countries and the donor community. On the other hand, Mutharika was deemed to have failed on good governance. Although this is the case Malawi has of late been experiencing massive works of development and economic growth.

Following last year's good tobacco sales many farmers this season have resorted to growing plenty of tobacco. This has resulted in large quantities of tobacco that the country is expected to produce. At the same time reports show that there are going to be a number of companies to buy the tobacco. Therefore Malawians are expecting to have another year of good prices of tobacco. Perhaps the good prices of tobacco would also mean the tenants have something to smile for.

Although there has been a lot of talk about the impressive growth of economy in Malawi the situation on the ground tells a different story. Press reports have shown that more than 60 % of the country's population still lives below the poverty line. A large number of people still live in extreme poverty with very little hope for their future. Among other things some employees, either in the private sector or in government, have to pay huge sums of money in tax. Against this background Society of Accountants in Malawi (SOCAM) asked government to consider widening the gap of Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax from K7,000.00 to K20,000.00. At least K20,000.00 tax-free would mean a little something in people's pockets. The council also want government to minimise the capital tax. According to SOCAM the current capital tax threatens some would-be local investors. Perhaps a change in the current tax set up would change things for the better.

After some weeks of fuel shortages the Petroleum Pricing Committee announced yet another fuel increase. According to press reports the commission had earlier on asked government to raise the prices of fuel but government ignored the plea. Now the prices have been increased and in a Malawian setting it means an increase in other goods and services. Although this is always the case employers normally do not consider raising salaries to their employees. This is what has forced the Malawi Congress of Trade unions MCTU to ask the employers to wear a human face and raise people's salaries. It is only with good salaries that people can live a dignified life.


FOOD SECURITY

Despite many statements that government has issued on the current food situation, a number of households still have problems to find food. In a country where maize is the staple food some families are reported to be sleeping on empty stomachs. This is contrary to the picture what some people have in mind that Malawi has plenty of maize which would last another three years. After 2 years of bumper yields there are still some areas that have no food at all. This is evidenced by the fact that some places experienced floods and the crops were washed away. But government has disputed such claims.

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 has met a lot more problems now than before. Reports show that the distribution of the coupons met a lot of problems ranging from shortage of coupons and of fertilizers as well. In some areas people were not too happy with the small number who received the coupons. This meant very few people benefited from the programme. At the same time in the northern region ADMARC depots have run out of the subsidised fertilizers. This is happening at the time the farmers need their fertilizer most. All these hiccups have spoilt what could have been a good programme.

Following the exports of maize to Zimbabwe, the Malawi Nation is reported to have made K7 billion. This amount has come about amid concerns that Zimbabwe might not be able to pay for the maize it bought from Malawi last year. Zimbabwe's economy is currently in shambles and a number of people doubted if it was going to pay Malawi. Therefore government announced, in the month of January 2008, that Malawi has managed to realise K7 billion. According to reports there is plenty of maize in Malawi and that is why government came up with the decision to sell some of it to Zimbabwe.

Recent reports have disclosed that although some of Malawi's bumper harvest was sold to Zimbabwe, some Malawians are still finding it difficult to buy the staple food on the markets. It is reported that the sole grain marketer is now rationing maize. They are only selling 30kg of maize to each buyer because they say they want to protect it against misuse. Among other things personnel at ADMARC feel that by selling 50kgs to each person some unscrupulous traders might abuse this setting. Whatever the case is some buyers feel they are being cheated because they spend a lot of time queuing to access the grain but end up getting less than they expected. People feel this is the time that indeed Malawi has plenty of food. Government is still maintaining that there is plenty of food in the country although people have problems buying the grain.


CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS

Civil society organisations in the country warned Malawian politicians to tread carefully as we approach the general elections. The warning has come about following a spark of violence in Nairobi, Kenya, that erupted from disputed general election results. The opposition in Kenya disputed results citing heavy vote rigging by the incumbent president Mwai Kibaki. Meanwhile more than 600 people have lost their lives and shops were burnt followed by heavy looting of property. Against this background the civil society has warned that Malawi should at all cost avoid such an occurrence. As a poor country whose economy is far from that of Kenya, Malawians should not let the peace that exists to slip away because of politics. Others have noted that as we get closer to the general elections politicians should avoid causing divisions among the people as this could result in violence.

Although Malawi has not yet signed the Economic Partnership Agreement EPAs with the European Union, some sectors of society still think Malawi should take a good look at the issue. There has been an outcry from the civil society who feel Malawi should not attempt to sign the EPAs. Some countries have been involved in the campaign against the signing of the EPAs. From the look of things small-scale businesses might lose out if the EPAs are signed because of the influx of foreign goods. It is common knowledge that most buyers would go for the cheaper imported goods. Therefore Malawi Economic Justice Network MEJN is advising the government of Malawi not to sign the EPAs if it really wants to promote indigenous small-scale businesses. On the other hand some countries in Africa have made it clear that they will not bow down to the EPAs and the EU has responded by withdrawing funds to such nations.

As the debate on the death penalty continues one Catholic Community called St Egidio has added in its weight in the discussion. The community feels it is high time government made its stand clear on the death penalty. Although former President Dr Bakili Muluzi and President Dr Bingu wa Mutharika have never signed any death warrant St Egidio community feels government should make a stand so that whichever president comes to power, he/she should know what the country's position is. The community again feels hardcore criminals should be left in prisons for life and should not be executed. Reports have shown that even the United Nations General Assembly is not in favour of the death penalty. Currently there are reports that the constitutional review recommended the incorporation of the death penalty in the constitution.

SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE

At least Malawi can afford a smile following the announcement that the crime rate has gone down. There have been times when living in one's house could give shivers among some people. But the good news is that the crime rate has fallen according to the Inspector General of the Malawi Police, Oliver Kumbambe. Reports show that the crime rate has dropped by 12%. Now it remains a mystery if at all the rate will continue decrease. A number of people lost their property and money after robbers had broken into houses or offices.

The Malawi nation woke up with very disturbing news of the death of 3 brothers in Chilomoni Township in Blantyre recently. Reports have shown that the siblings died of food poisoning and to date it is not known who exactly put the poison in the children's food. It is sad to learn that one of the children had just passed his primary school examination and had been selected to a secondary school. Whatever happened a loss of 3 children at one time is very disturbing not only to the family but to the nation as a whole.

Recent media reports have revealed that Malawi is one of the countries that is leading in the production of Indian hemp. It is reported that the number of people who are caught with the drug extensively produce hemp, which is an illegal plant in many countries. Other reports also show that like any other illegal trade hemp fetches a lot of money on the market. One Member of Parliament stunned fellow members of the national assembly when he proposed that Indian hemp, also known as Marijuana, be legalised because it could boost Malawi's economy. The move met stiff resistance from both the National Assembly and the public. Now the revelation that Malawi is producing a lot of the forbidden plant should give all the stakeholders enough time to see what is the way forward.

Parliamentarians who visited some prisons in the country voiced out their concerns over the situation in the jails. Almost every time stories of the deplorable conditions in prisons are seen in the press but the situation has not been improving so far. Prisons main aim is to reform inmates. Now with the numerous problems that the prisoners face this aim is an uphill task. Surprisingly in these harsh and hostile conditions some prisoners are managing to do their studies and excel. An example is that of Manfred David Hara who has won a scholarship to study law in the United Kingdom. Reports have shown that more and more inmates utilise the time they spend in prison to attend school.

Finally there is some funding for murder trials in the country. Evidence has shown that some suspects are languishing in jail and have not been tried because of lack of funds. This scenario has left some suspects to stay in jail for a long time when they have not been proved guilty. Now that funding is here the authorities expect to deal with six trials a day. Currently there have been hot debates on the issue of the death penalty. People want murder suspects who have been proved guilty to be executed. At the same time others feel they should instead be imprisoned for life. Whatever the authorities decided the fact these people will now be prosecuted is a welcome move instead of rotting in jail without a charge.


EDUCATION

Although the conditions in prisons is not conducive to education inmates have managed to pass their national examinations. Press reports have shown that prisoners in the country passed their 2007 Junior Certificate JCE and Primary School Leaving Certificate PSLCE examinations with flying colours. This clearly shows that when one is determined to make it in life anything is possible. According to prison authorities, the prisoners performed far much better than free candidates. Such results are quiet encouraging and should motivate other prisoners who are illiterate.

The story of 40-year-old Tuweni Magwira made some headlines in the month of January when it was found out that she had been selected to go to Blantyre Secondary School BSS. Among other things the issue sparked a lot of controversy because Magwira, who wanted to realise her dream of becoming a nurse, was withdrawn from BSS because of her age and was allocated another school closer to her home at Mwanza. However this did not go down well with some observers who felt that Magwira should be given a chance to fulfil her dreams. After all it is the same government that wants to achieve some of its goals in education by having as many people who are educated. Magwira is a role model to women who have the will to go back to school but have doubts because they are married and have children. If Magwira has made it happen any other women could also do the same.

The announcement by the University of Malawi that it will now be using a quota system during selection of students to pursue their careers at its constituent colleges has caused a lot of debates among Malawians. Some are of the view that the system is discriminatory. At the same time authorities would be denying deserving students their chance to go to university. Merit is not going to be followed through the quota selection. However some people feel the quota system is good because it gives equal opportunities to all.

Education experts in the month observed that problems at higher learning institutions are rarely addressed. According to some researchers infrastructure at some colleges is very poor and this does not create a good learning environment. Others lack teaching and learning materials, and furniture. It is not only colleges, which are facing these problems, primary and secondary schools do so as well. A recent survey indicated that there is shortage of staff in many schools in rural areas to the extent that only four teachers man a whole primary school. Lack of materials and infrastructure is also another difficulty that authorities have to look into urgently. During the rainy season some schools suspend lesson in some classes because of the shortage of classrooms.

HEALTH

During January the media reported the awful state of Malawi's prisoners who are underfed and are packed into small cells which were built to accommodate fewer inmates than at present. It is said the cells and the water are dirty, the toilets smell and all this is happening because the authorities treat the prisons as a dumping site for the unwanted persons in our society.

Latest reports indicate that a new type of Tuberculosis will soon invade Malawi, which is drug resistant and almost incurable. This disease is foreign to Malawi and is being brought into the country by people coming from Mozambique and the Republic of South Africa. According to authorities there are already 24 confirmed cases of this incurable tuberculosis. Ordinary Tuberculosis is already difficult to cure if the patients do not follow instructions and complete their treatment. It is therefore worrying that a more serious type of tuberculosis should be allowed to take root in the country.

The much talked about HIV and Aids epidemic has been identified as the leading cause of death among people aged between 20 and 49, and that Malawi's life expectancy has dropped from 55 to 37. According to press reports there are a number of factors which drive the epidemic in Malawi such as many sex partners, inconsistent condom use, perceptions on infection and cultural practices. Despite the epidemic being identified a long time ago, there are still too many people who do not want to go for testing. Others simply sit and wait to die because they are not brave enough to face reality.

Work on the much-touted Al-Gaddaf hospital in Blantyre seems to have stalled. According to media reports the Malawi government had wanted a 300-bed hospital similar to the Chiradzulu District one, but the Libyans insisted they could only afford a 100-bed hospital. Observers feel Libya was closer to former President Bakili Muluzi than to the incumbent, Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, hence the reason for Libya's dragging its feet to complete the hospital.

Malawi has lost teachers of invaluable talents due to HIV/AIDS and because they had nowhere to go for assistance. But now the teachers living with the epidemic can get support from the Teachers Living Positively programme, which the Ministry of Education is implementing. Gift of the Givers provides nutritive foodstuffs to members of the programme and thereby the teachers improve their health and can live longer.

In a related development Civil Servants with HIV/AIDS will get a K5,000 monthly extra package to enable them access drugs and food supplements. All what is required is for one to come forward and reveal one's status to those who are coordinating the issue and that's about it.

More reports on cervical cancer are cause for Malawian women to worry as has been reported in the local press of this month. This is not only a serious disease but the bigger worry is that it is on the increase by at least 33 percent. Another epidemic I suppose!


ENVIRONMENT

Press reports have shown that since the 2007/2008 Tree Planting Season started Malawians have planted a lot of trees. A number of areas are still being planted by various organisations. One such organisation is Air Malawi, which has planted a number of trees in Mudi Dam catchment area in the city of Blantyre. Mudi Dam is the source of water for residents in Blantyre City. President Bingu wa Mutharika inaugurated the exercise in Machinga district on 15 December last year. Many people have also done the same in various parts of the country and what remains is to take care of the trees.

In the same vein observers have noted that communities should play an active role in looking after the forests and the newly planted trees. The efforts of planting trees for 4 months would be meaningless if they are not taken care of. In this regard the community in Mchinji has been urged to look after all the trees and natural resources.

Malawi is currently receiving heavy rainfalls which have in some areas caused a lot of damages. Late last year authorities at the meteorological offices had forewarned that Malawi was going to receive a lot rains. Now this warning to some areas that are prone to regular floods is enough to make people move to higher ground. Recent reports have disclosed that most areas in the Lower Shire valley are experiencing floods and have had their crops washed away. Now it is surprising to note that some of the victims, especially in the districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje, were told about the floods but chose to remain in the flood prone areas. The result is massive damage to crops, property and lives. In Mozambique some areas are also experiencing a lot of floods due to the heavy rains.

Experts have on the other hand seen the positive side of the current heavy rains. Despite the fears that the rains might damage some cash and food crops experts feel they are good for other crops. The experts have given examples of rice, tea, coffee and potatoes as some of the crops that will benefit from the heavy rains. But crop like maize and tobacco will suffer terribly because of this situation.


GENDER

Some gender activists have noted that most of the time laws in a number of countries are gender blind. It is reported that there have been cases where both men and women commit the same crime but the man is severely punished and the woman at times is left to go freely. Much as people are advocating for gender equality, men should also be incorporated. On several occasions men have suffered all sorts of violence at the hands of women but such issues have been left unattended and unreported. According to activists men and women should be treated equally.

Observers have noted that although women have done almost everything trying to promote gender equality it seems they still have a long way to go to realise their ambitions. Indeed gender activists have done all they should have done in asking government to consider women in most positions, but the effort has not borne fruits. Evidence has shown that women are currently failing to reach the SADC requirement of 30 % women in decision-making positions. People feel if women are failing to reach the 30% what more with the 50% they are asking for? Other activists have noted that there should be willingness by all women so that the efforts by the few individuals could prove to be fruitful.

Analysts have observed that the time has gone for people to associate certain jobs with gender. Society has divided jobs that can easily be done by both sexes and have labelled them as male or female jobs. But some men and women have chosen to differ with this stand as they have broken the barriers. An example is given of a Mr Asma Mponda in Lilongwe who is a hairdresser. This job is a female dominated job but according to reports Mponda is doing his work very well and has proved men can also do the job. Similarly what a man can do women should also be willing to do it just as well.

Some traditional leaders have come to realise that some cultural practices are also to blame for the acceleration of gender-based violence. Married women in some tribes have no option but to bow down to whatever their husbands say. To make matters worse such wives are at times physically and verbally abused but live with it because they know they legally belong to the husband. Some tribes allow men to pay a dowry when they want to marry. According to Traditional Authority Mwenihenga in Rumphi, in this case some husbands abuse their wives because they know they paid a price lobola for their wives. This is why such traditional leaders want women to know the forms of gender-based violence so that they can report.


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