MALAWI PRESS REVIEW March 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,
Although both Dr Bakili Muluzi and Dr Cassim Chilumpha have cases against the state, the United Democratic Front will have to choose one of the two to represent the party in the 2009 general elections. This will be at the party's national convention, which is expected to happen on the 24 April 2008, if enough funds will be raised then.
Tobacco farmers were all smiles in the month of March because of the prices at which their commodity was being sold. Like any other tobacco season this year's has not been spared from disagreements on the prices. It is reported that the maximum price of 11 United States dollars fell to between 7 and 4 US dollars the authorities were forced to suspend the sales for a couple of days.
The food shortage situation in the country is presently going from bad to worse. Reports show that some parts of the country are failing to access the grain even at ADMARC depots. At present many people are living with no food when at this time last year there was plenty of maize.
Some civil society organisations have asked more political parties in the country to conduct conventions just like the UDF. This is the only way members of the parties can freely choose their leaders.
The rate of crime continues with some robbers killing people in the city of Lilongwe. At the same time a number of houses were broken into leaving house owners fearing to sleep their homes.
The 2007 Malawi Schools Certificate of Education examinations results were released in the month of March. Experts have labelled the result as the worst in 5 years. It remains an uphill task for the education sector to improve standards of education when students fail their exams terribly.
After failing to meet 30% of women representation in the National Assembly in the year 2004, women want to achieve a 50% of female parliamentarians in the 2009 elections. Such high ambitions can only be achieved if women get all the support they need.
The recent defections by some members of parliament from the opposition political parties seem not to threaten their position in the National Assembly. Press reports have shown that although a number of opposition MPs have dumped their parties to join the ruling Democratic Progressive Party DPP. The Opposition parties are saying the scenario does not move them. According to reports the opposition will still hold the day during debates because they have majority, but then they do not form the two-thirds majority which is required to pass some bills such as amending the Constitution and the confirmation of some public officers.
Press reports have disclosed that president Dr Bingu wa Mutharika will win the 2009 general elections. According to the press an international observer feels Mutharika is likely to make it again because he is the incumbent president and some people still have trust in him. Among other things Mutharika has managed to turn around the economy of Malawi. Mutharika has also won the hearts of Malawians because of his economic policies that is the main reason for gaining back donor confidence.
In March the opposition party United Democratic Front warned some Non Governmental Organisations for siding with the government. Recent reports disclosed comments that some religious organisations made about former president Dr Bakili Muluzi's comeback. The organisations made it clear that they wanted the UDF to choose their leaders democratically by giving a chance to anyone who would like to become the party's president to contest. However this has not pleased some UDF gurus who feel the organisations should not be accredited by the Malawi Electoral Commission to conduct civic and voter education before the general elections.
After postponing its national conference late last year the UDF has set 24 April as the new date for the convention. The UDF postponed the convention after it gave some excuses that the venue was already booked by the Livingwaters Church. But then some observers disputed such claims saying the party was running away from the problems it was facing at that time. Earlier on March press reports had indicated that the convention will, among other things, discuss giving powers to the national chairman to choose a presidential running mate. This is a thing that some of the people in the party are not pleased about because they feel people should be allowed to contest freely.
Finally Malawians and United Democratic Front supporters are now aware of former president Dr Bakili Muluzi's contender at the party's national conference. Although earlier reports had disclosed that Taskforce chairman Noordeen Uladi had collected nomination papers, people only got the news that they were meant for Dr Chilumpha. Note that Chilumpha has in the past shunned UDF party meetings including national executive committee meetings. On several occasions Chilumpha has supported moves that have been against the party's Chairman Muluzi. The future of Chilumpha's political career is not yet clear because he is currently facing treason charges.
Almost every month politics in Malawi has always dominated press coverage. It is going to follow the same pattern in the months to come. This will be the case because of the 2009 general elections. A lot of surprises can be expected as parties form alliances and individuals make some strange announcements during or even before campaign period starts. Lately the media announced that the Democratic Progressive Party DPP president Dr Bingu wa Mutharika is courting the speaker of the National Assembly Louis Chimango to be his running mate for the party. This is a surprise because Chimango belongs to the Malawi Congress Party MCP. Although Chimango has denied such reports, one can never be sure because often issues in Malawi start as a rumour. On the other hand former president Dr Bakili Muluzi, who is National Chairman for the UDF and also would like to contest again in the 2009 general elections, has shown interest to form an alliance with Maravi People's Party MPP. It should be noted that MPP's president Uladi Mussa was a staunch UDF supporter but left when the Democratic Progressive Party DPP was formed. Uladi formed the MPP when he lost favour at the DPP.
The start of the tobacco season marks the beginning of a change in the economic status of some people especially farmers. This year's tobacco sales started on a high note with a kilogram of the leaf being sold at 11 United States Dollar. The news about the prices of tobacco sent smiles all over the country among farmers because ever since the farmers started selling Malawi's gold leaf they have never experienced such exorbitant prices. But just as in any other tobacco selling season the situation changed with the buyers' lowering the buying price to a minimum. Farmers protested at the Lilongwe auction Floors and the sales were suspended for a few days. When they resumed, the prices wavered between 7 and 3 dollars per kilogramme. Farmers only hope and pray that the good trend will continue. Some observers have noted that the current state of affairs on the tobacco sales has come about mainly because of the competition among buyers. At the same time the reports show that there has been a reduction in the production of tobacco in some European countries.
Economic experts have warned that the current absence of parliament meeting is hurting the country and the economy. Among other things there are some bills that needed urgent attention but have not been tackled. It has been almost 6 months since parliament met. People want any issues that require parliament's attention to be discussed immediately. Of late there have been calls from various religious groups and some civil society organisations asking government to consider reconvening parliament.
Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe in the month of March conducted pre-budget session meetings in all the three regions in the country. Gondwe met various sectors of society to get their contribution on the 2008-2009 budget. Some organisations would like the tax threshold for low-income earners to be widened further. Currently it is only K7,000 which is tax-free. Note that a number of people in the civil service are low income earners and are hit hard by the heavy taxes they pay every month. Now the organisations want the to see the civil servants with happy faces at the end of the month after the budget is approved. To make matters worse the cost of living according to the Centre For Social Concern has gone up to K33,356 per month in some of the cities. If the workers receive less than this then God knows how they make ends meet throughout the month.
Some economic analysts have questioned the Malawi's current inflation rate, which is at 8%. The experts feel the figure is not a true reflection of what the situation is. For instance the unavailability of maize, which is one of the components in coming up with the inflation rate, could also have had an impact on the inflation figure.
Some observers have again and again advised government to declare Malawi a state of maize disaster. The calls are coming in after reports of scarcity of maize in some parts of the country. It is very hard to believe that this is the country that was boasting of being a maize donor to some countries in the SADC region that is now failing to feed its own people. Daily reports in the past month continued to expose the maize shortages, although some officials would want to paint a different picture altogether. It is a deplorable situation because mainly people who are living in ultra poverty are feeling the pangs of hunger. Against this background observers want government to swallow its pride and declare Malawi in a state of maize disaster.
It seems the production of maize this year is going to reduce in size compared to last year. According to experts we should expect a 3.4 % drop from last years' harvest. This has been the case because of the floods that some areas experienced. At the same time some areas have been hit hard by a dry spell. Worse still some places in Lilongwe experienced a hailstorm that damaged their crops thereby minimising the prospects of getting bumper yields in such areas. The hailstorm also damaged some cash crops like tobacco and beans.
Malawi had a bumper harvest for 2 years in a row and had 1.3 million metric tonnes of surplus maize. It is however very surprising how government mismanaged the surplus and sold some of it to Zimbabwe and donated some to Lesotho and Swaziland. Now a number of Malawians are finding it hard to have food on their tables. It looks like a tough task for the nation to feed its own people. Recently there have been conflicting comments on the maize situation in the country. The grain marketer ADMARC is alleged to be selling this year's maize straight from the garden. But ADMARC has denied such reports instead they are saying it is local traders. Whatever the case the situation remains the same as there is shortage of maize according to reports.
People in other parts of Chikwawa are now sleeping on empty stomachs after floods washed some of their crops away. It has always been a yearly occurrence there to experience floods. Although the people in the area are always aware of what happens in the areas every rainy season they choose to stay in these flood prone areas. Others had their farms washed away and now are living in hunger. Despite government's statements that there are no food shortages in Malawi people in Chikwawa are reported to be facing the problem.
Some districts like Lilongwe, Kasungu, Zomba and Mulanje have always produced sufficient maize to feed the people. This year it is a different story and a worrying one because those districts are reported not to have made it just like the previous years. As people wait for the crop estimates one thing is clear that this year's harvest is going to be a lot less from last year's.
CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS
A number of civil society organisations in the month of March added their weight in asking government to call for parliament to reconvene. It is now almost 6 months since members of parliament met but it seems there is no meeting planned for the near future. Against this background civil society and some religious groups have again and again asked government to call for parliament to reconvene. Recently Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe was quoted in the press as saying that if parliamentarians do not pass the 2008/2009 budget there will be no general elections. Gondwe recently said this when he conducted pre-budget session meetings in all the cities.
Members of civil society failed to monitor the Zimbabwe general elections despite their strong will to do so. On several occasions civil society in Malawi had commented on the treatment their colleagues were facing in that Zimbabwe. Frequently President Robert Mugabe has banned some civil society organisations whether foreign or local. Now civil society in Malawi has failed to monitor the elections in Zimbabwe citing lack of funds as the main reason. Meanwhile reports have shown that some commissioners at the Malawi Electoral Commission MEC are part of the observer team.
Although Malawians are currently hit hard by the ever-increasing cost of living, not much has been done to assure that the trend stops. Now passengers are digging deeper into their pockets to go to work. The price increases are not only in the transport sector but almost everything. Food costs have skyrocketed so much that life has become so hard on others because they are failing to live a dignified life. But the Consumer Association of Malawi CAMA has accused the people of bowing down to such increases. The association has compared some neighbouring countries where people refuse to buy a commodity when its price has been increased drastically.
March was the month when Christians all over the world commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. During this year's Easter a number of activities and prayers were conducted in various churches around the world. Likewise in Malawi among other activities members of the Roman Catholic Church in conjunction with the Anglican Church participated in a Way of the Cross. Good Friday this year fell on the same day as the Muslim Community were having a Ziyarah Parade. In Islam this is the day they commemorated Prophet Muhammad's birthday. So the month of March was indeed a month of religious festivals.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE
A recent report on the deaths of prisoners in Malawi is quiet disturbing because these places are supposed to reform people and not shorten their lives. Press reports have shown that Amnesty International discovered that over 280 prisoners died in Malawi in the year 2007. The report further disclosed that most of the deaths were caused by a poor diets and complications that resulted from an inadequate supply of food. Some prisoners are alleged to have been days without food. The figure of dead prisoners last year just shows that prison authorities have a lot of work to do in safeguarding the lives of the inmates. The whole purpose of reforming inmates cannot be fulfilled if some die of curable diseases or situations that could be easily avoided.
Although Malawi is known as the Warm Heart of Africa recent killings of some people in the city of Lilongwe do not show the country's warmth. There are still fresh memories in Chilinde Township, in the Capital City, about the killing of 2 men in cold blood. One of the victims had his head cut off. The murderers went a step further to steal property and money from the victims. As if this is not enough a woman and her 25-year-old daughter were found dead in Mtandire in the same month of March. Even though the motive for the murder of the 2 in Mtandire is not known one is advised to be cautious in the neighbourhood. The slogan Malawi: The Warm Heart of Africa should translate into people's actions.
Malawi, being an African country, a number of people still consult traditional healers, also known as witchdoctors, when they are sick. Others believe in consulting these healers whenever any misfortune happens to them. Some witchdoctors have made a fortune from telling people that they cure the deadly HIV/AIDS which, up to now, has no known cure. To the surprise of the masses such healers have gone a step further to advertise their work in the local newspapers that they also cure AIDS. To avoid misleading the person, a parliamentary bill needs to be tabled which will criminalise any witchdoctors who advertise for a cure for AIDS. At the same time religious groups that stop their faithful from taking Anti Retroviral drugs should be cautioned. On the other hand this scenario does not please traditional healers who feel they have not been consulted and have threatened to march to parliament during the next sitting.
The month of March also witnessed verbal wars between some traditional leaders and the Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati. For sometime the government has been accusing some chiefs of going to former president Dr Bakili Muluzi's BCA hill house to get some money. The chiefs have of course denied such allegations but some observers are wondering why government officials should spy on the traditional leaders lives and movements. After all it is not a crime in Malawi to associate with anybody. Despite all this government still insists that such chiefs are ungrateful because they associate with Muluzi.
After a long wait the Malawi National Examinations Board MANEB released the 2007 Malawi Schools Certificate of Education examinations results. To the shock of many out of the 86,652 candidates who sat for the MSCE examinations in 2007 only 29,403 managed to pass. According to experts Malawi has experienced the worst MSCE result in 5 years. It makes one wonder if much has been done to improve education standards. With such results the education ministry needs to do some soul searching to avoid a repeat of this.
Although the 2007 MSCE examinations results were poor countrywide reports show that prisoners managed to do exceptionally well. Inmates in all the prisons managed to have a 36 % pass rate, which is higher than the national pass rate at 33.9%. In spite of all the problems that the inmates are faced with their performance has always been on the better side. Press reports indicate that the prisoners experience problems ranging from shortage of learning materials and teaching staff but they still are able to make it. This is encouraging because the whole purpose of reforming prisoners meets its purpose.
2007 MSCE examinations results will go down in history as one of the worst in recent times. To begin with there were reports of heavy leakage even before the examinations were written and students had to re-sit some of the subjects. Now the results are out and have been described as the worst result in 5 years. A number of people have pointed fingers at others for the poor results, while some observers are blaming the Malawi National Examinations Board MANEB chairman Mathews Matemba. On the other hand he is blaming the media for blowing the issue out of proportion by printing the leaked exam papers, which at the time were being sold on the market. Some observers feel the students should also be blamed because they do not prepare well for the examinations.
On several occasions press reports about education have revealed the relationship between University of Malawi lectures and the government. Recently the lecturers have been pressurising government to at least raise their salaries due to the increase in the cost of living. Government responded by increasing the lecturers' meagre salaries by 20%. To add insult to the injury the deputy minister of education responsible for tertiary education, Honourable Richard Msowoya, said point blank that any lecturer who is not too happy with the increase should resign. Surprisingly the University of Malawi is always advertising in the daily newspapers for more lecturers.
Despite the efforts to make education accessible to all Malawians, the ministry responsible still has a lot issues that require its urgent attention. To begin with there is a section of people in society that always has problems in accessing education because of shortage of teaching personnel and materials. One such group is the children with hearing problems. Although parents would love to see such children educated there are some setbacks that hinder the process. With such a scenario it remains a mystery whether Malawi will achieve Education For All EFAs by the year 2015.
Prevention is better than cure goes the saying. The saying has been with us from time in memorial but it seems people carelessly do not want to prepare for the future, instead they wait for the worst to happen. Although health official always preach of the need to have toilets in all homes, reports have shown that not too many people have them. It is indicated that only 6 out of 10 people in Africa have a toilet. These figures are quiet shocking because one wonders where such people go in times of need. Experience has shown that some resort to bushes or gardens. Therefore it is difficult to control diseases when such waste is dumped anyhow.
Barely some months after the new Malaria drug being released, some members of the public have complained of numerous side effects that they are faced with. Every time some patients take the drug, which is known as LA, they complained of swollen body parts and itching. However authorities have disclosed that they have not received any complaints concerning the side effects. But the Malaria Control Programme has maintained that the drug is the best. It should be noted that previously Malaria patients were being given Fansider.
There have been mixed reaction from various organisations over the redeployment of Health Surveillance Assistants HSA in various parts of the country. While the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives in Malawi feels it is not good to have the HSAs do health work because they were not trained. Much as the health sector is in need of extra health personnel it is proper to have people who have knowledge of what their field is all about. But on the other hand government has maintained that the HSAs are going to be trained.
Press reports on health have shown that Mangoch district has high cases of Malaria. This could be because for some reason people not putting their mosquito nets to good use. Instead of sleeping under the nets the fishermen use the mosquito nets for fishing. Being a lakeshore district a number of families depend on fishing. Against this background people prioritise fishing to using the nets for protection against mosquitoes. Note that mosquito nets are sold at a very reduced price of K50 to pregnant mothers to prevent them from suffering from the number one killer disease Malaria.
Despite all the talk to stop deforestation in Malawi some of the thick forests in Malawi are now bare. Businessmen are still seen selling charcoal and firewood almost everyday. Perhaps this is because there are no alternatives to the use of trees for fuel. Surprisingly government has on several occasions made some efforts to find other means of fuel apart from the use of trees but have not received support from the consumers. It seems the country still has a long way to go in coming up with the other forms of energy. On the other hand businesspeople have no other income generating activities apart from selling charcoal therefore they cannot leave the trade.
Ndirande Mountain is one of the places that used to have plenty of trees and at that time it was worthy calling it a mountain. Recently the once beautiful mountain was reduced to some bare hill after people had cut down most of the trees. So many organizations have made efforts to replant the trees so that the mountain can once again become the way it used to be. Therefore the residents of the township together with members of the National Herbarium and Botanical Gardens in Malawi planted trees when the rest of Africa was commemorating an Environmental Day on 3 March. Note that Ndirande Mountain is not the only place that has been hit hard by deforestation but other mountains in the city too.
Forest officials in Mulanje have noted that they need to involve the locals in safeguarding the trees in the mountain. According to reports forest officials have signed an agreement with communities surrounding Mulanje Mountain so that the trees in the mountain are given maximum security. With this responsibility it is going to be a strange thing to see that the same people who are supposed to look after the mountain are cutting down the trees. Perhaps involving the inhabitants that live close to Mulanje Mountain is a good idea in order to make sure that trees in Malawi's highest mountain are safeguarded.
Environmental experts have warned that if Malawi's climate changes the country is likely to lose some of its wildlife. According to experts some of the animals in the national parks and forest reserves will not be able to live in the new climate. Some will not have access to the food they graze on because the changes will also affect the growth of some of the vegetation. What will happen if some of the wildlife is gone for good? Does this mean that future generations will never be able to have a glimpse at some of Malawi's most beautiful and attractive wildlife?
As most of the people's minds are busying themselves with next year's general elections some organisations would want political parties to consider women as running mates. In Malawian history no woman has ever been a presidential candidate. Efforts to have a female presidential candidate were quashed when Dr Vera Chirwa showed interest and did not get the support she expected. Now the proposal to have many women, as running mate is a good idea that needs to be supported. Malawi can only achieve 30% of women participation in decision-making positions if the idea of having women as running mate is put into practice.
After failing to reach the required 30% of women representation in parliament women have become so ambitious that they want to reach 50%. This would mean that half of the members of parliament would be women. Strangely people believe women should not occupy leadership positions. According to reports there are times when women have the will to make it in life but fellow women pull them down. Women are not encouraged and the fact that a number of women are not financially independent has always been one of the setbacks. Perhaps with a change in the mindset of fellow women the 50% could be achieved.
Months after the Domestic Violence bill was passed the Society of Women Advancement SAW has revealed that cases of gender-based violence are on the increase. According to SAW cases of gender-based violence are increasing every now and then and it has become so terrifying. Could it be so because people, especially the victims, are not aware of the existence of the law? Perhaps there needs to be some ways of sensitising the masses so that they know there is this law. Its availability does not mean that victims will be able to report their cases to authorities. Therefore gender activities should not rest but make sure that just as they campaigned for the bill to be passed they should also civic educate the masses about it.
For some reason marriages come to an end and some men have deserted their wives and family because they allege it is the women who chases them out of their matrimonial homes. For this reason the Deputy Minister of Women and Child Development Patricia Mwafulirwa advised women in Mangochi to groom themselves and look after their husbands lest they lose them to some other women.
Fr. Bill Turnbull
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632