MALAWI PRESS REVIEW January 2010Malawi
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

President Bingu wa Mutharika's call for unity has been welcomed by people from various quarters of society. In his State of the Nation address during the opening of the 42nd session of the National Assembly, Mutharika dwelled much on unity among Malawians. Mutharika's plea for unity comes at a time when there is continued animosity among Members of Parliament from both sides of the August House.

Malawi's politicians cannot be said to be clean considering the insults that people hurl at each other every now and then. Whenever there is a sitting of parliament members from both sides take time to outdo each other on issues are not of any benefit to Malawians. It is with this in mind that Mutharika's plea for unity should be taken seriously.

It is again good to note that opposition parties in the National Assembly the Malawi Congress Party MCP and the United Democratic Front UDF added their weight to the President's plea because it is only when there is unity in Malawi that developmental work can reach greater heights.

The issue of unity should not only be dealt with in the National Assembly but even outside the House. Members of Parliament are role models to some youngsters and their conduct in Parliament should surely be exemplary in line with promoting unity among Malawians.

Memories are still fresh of the past Parliament where vengeance and insults were the order of the day. It was a regular occurrence to have legislators being sent out of the House because of misconduct. Perhaps the MPs promise to join government in promoting unity would save time and resources during parliamentary seatings.

POLITICS

Some political observers have expressed concerns over the lack of press coverage at Vice President Joyce Banda's official duties. The state owned television station is reported to have denied the Vice President coverage on most of her official assignments. Mrs. Banda did not take the blackout on her coverage well and she lashed out at the authorities of Television Malawi TVM. Political observers have since warned that such developments might only spell trouble for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party DPP. According to other analysts this scenario only confirms reports that all is not well between the Office of the President and that of his Vice.

The former president of the Republic of Malawi Dr Bakili Muluzi finally announced his retirement from politics. Muluzi who ruled Malawi for two five-year terms has been active in politics even after his term of office expired in 2004. The former president, who was also chairperson of the United Democratic Front UDF, will always be remembered for making lone decisions some of which ended up almost killing the UDF. Muluzi has since appointed former Finance Minister Friday Jumbe to be the interim leader of the party.

The appointment of Jumbe as interim leader of the UDF has not been fully accepted by some members within the party. While some are of the view that Jumbe is a strong politician and can ably lead the UDF, others feel the party should have held a convention. Muluzi took it upon himself to anoint Jumbe leader of the UDF a thing that might split the party. Meanwhile some disgruntled members have revived an old party United Democratic Party. According to some political experts the fact that there are no big shots on UDP's registration forms means there are some cowards within the UDF who are bitter with Jumbe's appointment and are now using the UDP to accomplish their motives.

President Bingu wa Mutharika officially opened the 42nd session of parliament in the month of January. Mutharika spoke of some of the achievements Malawi has gone through and the current food situation. This is perhaps one of the rare moments when Mutharika has acknowledged that despite the fact that there is plenty of food in Malawi some areas are facing hunger. Some opposition leaders in the National Assembly have questioned Mutharika's state of nation address, which they say has dwelt much on the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's successes.

Members of the African Union in January elected Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika as the organization's chairperson. Mutharika has taken over from Libya's Colonel Muamar Gadaffi. Although the Mutharika's chairmanship should have been good news to many Malawians, some organizations and individuals have cautioned government over reports that Malawians are expected to foot the bills of all the trips and functions that the president will be attending. The government still insists that Malawi is going to benefit from this set more.

ECONOMY

After weeks of waiting in desperation, the International Monetary Fund IMF gave the go ahead to donors to release funds to Malawi. The waiting must have worn-out some people's patience due to the fact that things have not been going on smoothly in as far as the country's economy is concerned. Economic experts have noted that the IMF delayed in giving out the funds because of Malawi's reports show that the nation had overspent in some of the areas.

As parliament was meeting in the month of January legislators wanted government to explain why there are still fuel shortage in Malawi. Reacting to president Bingu wa Mutharika's speech, some MPs felt it should only be fair for government to explain what exactly went wrong and how the situation is going to improve. Observers have also noted that in his speech, entitled "Dream Come true", Mutharika missed out some of the important issues like the Mozambique-Malawi Power Interconnection Bill. As of now, the bill is perceived by many to be the one probable solution to the power shortages and persistent blackouts currently hitting many Malawians. It is, therefore, for this reason that a number of MPs were bemused at the fact that the president paid no attention to the bill in his speech.

Economic experts as well as other stakeholders wanted to understand why President Bingu wa Mutharika failed to use his presidential jet when he went to the African Union meeting. The jet that has been at the centre of controversy because it was bought without parliament's approval and for sometime now, a good number of people feel that government has not been transparent enough to explain how they came to purchase the plane. Similarly it raises a lot of questions to have another plane hired when the country has just purchased a new one. The opinions of the taxpayers are equally pressing. They too feel that government is not doing them justice by hiding such vital information.

A lot has appeared in the press about the tobacco industry. Tobacco is Malawi's main foreign exchange earner. Over 60% of the country's foreign exchange comes from tobacco. Talk of employment there is again a good section of people that are in the industry. From tenants to the top most bosses at tobacco companies rely on the same crop for daily living. In recent times tobacco sales have not been that good leaving some farmers with a lot of losses. Against this background some farmers have abandoned the crop. It should also be noted that experts feel that it is high time Malawi regulated tobacco farming to avoid over production which leads to low pricing of the crop despite the good quality.

According to media reading, there is yet another looming fuel crisis. During the crisis late last year, the Economics Association of Malawi ECAMA noted that a lot of losses were made. ECAMA estimated that a whopping K111billion was lost in the weeks that there was no fuel in Malawi. Could the ominous fuel crisis mean another loss in business and investments?


FOOD SECURITY

Maize buyers in the month of January complained over the exorbitant prices that ADMARC is charging to its customers. Compared to vendors it is ever expensive to buy maize at the grain marketer than the private traders. The scenario has caused a lot of questions among consumers who are now feeling cheated by the national marketer. Surprisingly ADMARC is acting like a commercial entity instead of reaching out to the poorest people in Malawi. Reports have shown that ADMARC is selling the staple food at K60 per kilogram while vendors are offering K50 or less for the same quantity.

As if the dry spell alone is not enough another calamity has befallen the agricultural sector. Press reports have disclosed that armyworms have invaded some areas. Armyworms are well known for damaging an entire garden in the shortest period of time leaving the maize fields with stems only. This could also jeopardize the harvest in these affected areas.

The change in rain patterns have seen some areas in Malawi receiving good rains in good time while other rains have not had the same opportunity. The results are dry spells that have left districts like Mwanza, Neno and Chikwawa with wilting maize. In some cases farmers resorted to burning the gardens after some of the maize became dry because of the lack of rain. To these areas it is obvious that the people will starve if they do not get any relief items. Already press reports have disclosed that in Chikwawa people are living on wild tubers called Nyika. According to experts the condition of the maize in Mwanza and Chikwawa is so bad that the only solution is to replant. The above situation could mean reduced harvest for Malawi during this season.

On the other hand rice production in Karonga district has also been affected leaving this season's harvest reduced by 20% for the whole of Malawi. The earthquake that hit Karonga in December last year did not only affect people and property only but also rice fields. Karonga is famous for its high quality rice. As a number of Malawians are in the process of learning to diversify and changing their eating habits rice is one of the foods that supplements people's diets. Now the revelation that Malawi might lose 20% of the rice this season means the prices of the crop might go high after this year's harvest because the supply is going to be low.

In his State of the Nation address President Bingu wa Mutharika also dwelt much on the current crop situation in Malawi. Mutharika noted that there should be no cause for alarm among Malawians because there is relief maize that has been put aside amounting to 210,000 metric tones. It should be noted that all in all Mutharika promised that the situation at hand is going to be well taken care of. What remains is for authorities to make sure that the people that are in need receive the required help in good time.

CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS

There still concerns over some of the bills that parliament passed during the National Assembly sitting. Among other bills that were tabled in the National Assembly passed the Local Government Bill and the Police Bill much to the dismay of the civil society. The passing of the two bills raised a lot of debate among Malawians of different backgrounds. It is not surprising to see the civil society asking President Mutharika not to give his assent to the bill. The trend in Malawi shows that when a bill is passed and there is so much negative talk about it, the chance is that President Bingu wa Mutharika has assented the Local Government Bill and the Police Bill much to the annoyance of some civil society and religious groups. Some organizations feel the assenting the Police Bill gives Mutharika more powers. According to the Public Affairs Committee more powers to one person might turn him into a dictator. Mutharika whose first term could be best described as the best could be denting his good image by assenting to these bills.

Problems of land seem to be an ongoing issue in Malawi. A recent case of Jehovah Witness members who slashed crops in Chilomoni Township in Blantyre is a wake up call to authorities on the need to do their homework properly if such incidents are to be avoided. Observers noted that religious groups should try to resolve issues through dialogue. While land issues have caused a lot of problems among Malawians, the recent case in Chilomoni is a special because it involves a religious grouping.

The Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central African Presbyterian CCAP took to the streets of Mzuzu City to show their dissatisfaction over the ministry of education. The Reverends were not amused with the form one selection to government secondary schools. Reports show that the synod is still bitter with the Malawi National Examinations Board MANEB for sidelining the region in its selection of students to start form one in government secondary schools.

Some civil society organizations have joined individuals in asking government not to change the national flag. Government proposed a change of the national flag and asked people to give out their views on the issue. Civil society feels the current flag is too good to be changed. At the same time people feel government should not be in the habit of changing things because one can never be sure what next the government might want to change.

SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE

Ever since the news about a gay couple getting engaged happened it has enjoyed massive media coverage. The couple are facing charges of indecency and doing things contrary to the laws of Malawi. Both print and electronic media have followed the story with keen interest. This is the first time for a gay couple to openly declare their sexuality. In a Malawian culture it is a taboo to have people of same sex falling in love. Again it is illegal to practice homosexuality at any time. The traditional engagement between Tionge Chimbalanga, famously known as Aunt Tio, and Stevie Monjeza has opened a new chapter for Malawians.

Meanwhile Amnesty International and the Scottish Parliament have asked for the immediate release of the couple. The international human rights body feels the Malawi government is violating the couple's rights and therefore the two should be released without conditions. Recent reports in the media have shown that some local NGOs have received funding from international organizations to support homosexuality in Malawi. So far only the Centre For Human Rights and Rehabilitation CHRR has openly stood against government's stand on homosexuals.

The mere revelation of first homosexuality case in Malawi has given out more openness on these cases. It seems there is no point in ignoring the fact that this is happening in Malawi. Late last year, the Principal Secretary for HIV/AIDS and Nutrition Dr Mary Shaba made it clear that the fight against the deadly disease cannot be meaningful if we decide to ignore homosexuals when we do have them in Malawi. Recent reports have shown that even children living in the streets are exposed to homosexuality. This only means that homosexuality is greatly practiced in Malawi but it is not openly done.

Traditional leaders have expressed different views on the issue of street children that came out in the press in recent months. Following the revelation that children are sexually abused right there in the streets government announced it will remove the children off the roads of Malawi. Government proposed to take the children to reformatory schools like Mpemba. But while some traditional leaders are supporting the idea others feel taking the children to reformatory schools will only affect the children's development. Recent reports have shown that some of the street children are sent by their parents to beg. Some parents and guardians are very abusive to the extent that the children prefer the streets than homes.

A report on human trafficking that appeared in the press disclosed that Malawi has not done enough in handling human trafficking. According to the United States Department of State, Malawi is lacking seriousness on human trafficking issues. It is reported that although there are many cases of human trafficking in Malawi, many people are not aware of it. It should be noted that some organizations, like the Centre For Social Concern, are carrying out an awareness programme for both women and children who are targets of human traffickers.

EDUCATION

After months of debate and tension among Malawians on the quota system of selecting students into institutions of higher learning, the High Court gave government a go ahead. The issue has been in court and it attracted a lot of mixed reactions from different observers. Finally the dust is now settled and planners and other stakeholders can now focus on some other issues that would assist the ministry in improving education standards. Perhaps this could be the end of a long running battle between certain quarters of the society and government.

The Malawi National Examinations Board MANEB released the 2009 Junior Certificate JCE and later on the Malawi Schools Certificate of Education MSCE. The results are reported to be the best results for the examinations so far. According to the examining body the 2009 JCE results are the best result in 5 years. Examinations in Malawi have been haunted by poor results year in year out raising fears that perhaps the standards of education are indeed plummeting. In the past examinations have been surrounded by cases of cheating and leakages way before the examination day. Perhaps improvements in the results of both examinations could mean things are now getting better in improving the education standards.

Adult literacy is still an important issue in the education sector. It is not a secret that a good section of the society is illiterate. Reports have shown that in some cases both men and women are illiterate making it difficult to access some vital information

The Rastafarian section of the society complained to government over some of the issues that concern education. Reports have disclosed that the Rastafarianism followers are being denied entry in government schools. Evidence has shown that children of Rastas are not allowed to learn in government schools because of long hair. In government schools no one is allowed to keep long hair or braids. The problem now lies in the fact that Rastas do not shave their hair according to their beliefs. For this reason people belonging to this religion want government to change its stance on Rastafarian students. According to the Rastas they also have a right to education.

HEALTH

A recent revelation by the Principal Secretary for HIV and AIDS Dr Mary Shaba that some people are receiving expired Anti Retroviral Drugs ARVs shocked to many people. People go to hospitals to get the best medication. There is a feeling that the medication that one gets at a hospital is always good and safe. But latest reports on expired ARVs were received with disgust. According to experts the expired drugs could cause some complication to some people whose immunity is very low.

Still on the same issue of ARVs press reports disclosed that Malawi government might follow the World Health Organization's new policy to put HIV positive patients on ARVs whose CD4 count are below 350. Currently these are not put on the treatment list in Malawi. In its findings WHO feels that starting the treatment earlier is good because it reduces the risk of death. In the same line the announcement by the commissioner of economics in the African Union that Malawi could soon have its own ARVs plant is good news. This would ensure that there is no shortage of the drugs in Malawi.

Some people in the month of January took the Ministry of Health to task over the laziness of some health workers. Media reports have shown that there have been a lot of complaints from patients and guardians over some health workers. These lazy health workers are reported to be found almost everywhere in government hospitals. Patients are left unattended in some government hospitals because of the laziness of some personnel. Against this background people would want these lazy health workers to be suspended. This observation has been supported by civil society which feels it is high time government started punishing such workers who are denting the medical profession.

Months after health personnel recommended Arinate as an effective drug to cure Malaria, some experts feel the drug is not good enough. This announcement could cause confusion among some people because according to experts Arinate contains Fansidar. This is the drug that was phased out because it was becoming resistant to malaria. Now that the same experts are saying there is Fansidar in Arinate it is somehow confusing too. Reports have shown that in some cases Arinate might not cure all the Malaria in one's body. Currently statistics show that 40% of hospital deaths in children are caused by Malaria

ENVIRONMENT

President Bingu wa Mutharika did not mince words when he spoke about climate change in Malawi in his State of the Nation address when he was opening the 42nd of parliament recently. Mutharika noted that the effects of climate change are hitting Malawi hard just like some other nations in the world. In this regard Mutharika asked the nation to take the issue of climate change seriously. The changes in weather and rainfall patterns could jeopardise some development activities therefore all stakeholders should be on the alert.

In December last year President Bingu wa Mutharika launched a tree planting exercise. This is an old exercise that encourages people to plant more trees. Previously it used to be a national tree-planting week but it was later changed to national forestry season. This is because a week was not long enough for people to plant a lot of trees. Currently people are planting trees until the rainy season comes to an end.

Although there have many efforts to replant trees, including the introduction of free tree seedlings given out to people, evidence has shown that the number of people in the charcoal trade is increasing relentlessly. Because of the absence of another reliable source of energy people still rely on charcoal for cooking and as a business. Even in the cities most of the people use charcoal. Statistics by the National Statistics Office NSO in Zomba have disclosed that 88% of firewood is used for cooking. One could safely say that almost all the firewood is used for cooking. The same statistics show that 43% of the urban dwellers use charcoal as source of energy. This surely means that a lot of trees are being cut every day.

A shocking example of deforestation is Soche and Ndirande mountains. About twenty years ago the two mountains stood as monuments of beauty to Blantyre City when they were covered with thick forests. Today they stand naked, as all the trees are gone.

The people of Karonga will live to remember December 2009 as a month of calamity. An earthquake hit the district damaging property and rice gardens and killing three people. This is the first time an earthquake has hit the district killing people and damaging property in large numbers. December reports also had shown that a number of people were injured and were in the district's hospitals. Meanwhile a number of organizations and individuals are still assisting the victims with various relief items.

GENDER

As parliament was meeting in the month under review some gender experts and organizations advised government to also tackle women issues during the sitting of parliament. Evidence has shown that because there are a few women in the National Assembly, it is difficult to move women issues forward. It is very difficult in a male dominated house to find time to come up with policies that would benefit women more than men. As has been the case in the past not too many bills that had something to do with women have been passed in the National Assembly. For this reason the gender observers felt the January sitting should surely look into issues that affect women.

Although only a few parliamentarians made it to the National Assembly in the 2009 general elections some activists feel that Malawi has done better in the 50-50 campaign. According to some gender experts Malawi's performance could be said to have been good in the 50-50 campaign because currently there is no quota. Reports show that some countries have managed to reach the 30% of female representation in decision-making positions because their governments set aside some positions solely for women. But this is not the case with Malawi. There are more chances that Malawi can do better in making sure that the 50% target is reached.

With legislation against gender-based violence in place, it is very strange to learn that some people are still victims. As it has always been the case women and children are more vulnerable to gender based violence. This is evidenced by a report that some children fail to attend school because they are victims of gender-based violence. Media reports have shown that some children have problems to go to school because their parents or guardians force them to do domestic manual work. In some homes children are never allowed to read books after school. One can only hope that the Malawi government would some day soon pay attention to the cruel treatment that the children are facing. It is again good to remember that children are future leaders.

 

Bill Turnbull
Fr. Bill Turnbull

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