MALAWI PRESS REVIEW March 2009
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,
Recent reports had shown leaders of the three major parties agreeing on one thing never to castigate each other. This was when a representative of the African Union the former president of Mozambique Joachim Chissano came on a fact-finding mission early in March. What seemed to be a bright future for political relations in Malawi did not last long because of the attacks that people have experienced in recent times.
The tobacco season started with president Bingu wa Mutharika dictating the price to the buyers. Although the price was set buyers continued to buy the gold leaf at any price they wished as situation that has left some people wondering if the tenants who are at the helm of tobacco production would get a little something after the sales.
In the coming season farmers will have a relief on the money they spend when buying fertilizers following president Mutharika's announcement that prices of subsidized fertilizers have been slashed further to K500 / 50kg bag from K800.
Civil society organizations in the month of March emphasized on the need to have a violence free campaign if Malawi is to experience free and fair elections. Past experience has shown that it is during campaign that a lot of character assassination and violence happens and this should be avoided at all costs.
On Social and cultural life there are great concerns over some of the cultural practices which people feel should be banned. It is believed such practices are harmful to people's lives and therefore should be scrapped.
Observers in the education sector have described as ridiculous a pledge by United Democratic Front (UDF) presidential candidate Dr Bakili Muluzi that he would increase University of Malawi intake and introduce free Secondary School education.
Experts on the environment have disclosed that the current power blackouts have increased the demand of charcoal and this has led to cutting down of many trees.
The battle to get 50% of the national assembly seats continues among the female aspirants. Though with some hiccups some women are hopeful of reaching their target.
The arrival in Malawi of some African Union leaders in March raised a lot of debate among observers. Some people felt the presence of former presidents of Mozambique Joachim Chissano and Kufuor of Ghana to check on things before the general elections was a good move while others felt it was not necessary for the leaders to come here on a peace keeping mission because there is no tension in Malawi. Among those that felt the meeting was not worth the trouble is Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader John Tembo. Honorable Tembo is reported to have trashed the peace talks saying there is no tension in Malawi. Meanwhile the British High Commissioner to Malawi Mr. Richard Wildash commended the talks.
In March the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announced that it would give time to late aspirants. MEC considered other aspirants who failed to hand in their nomination forms in February for a variety of reasons. Some people who complained of the exorbitant fees that aspirants have to pay will now have a second chance. But some political analysts feel repeating the exercise is a waste of time.
A report by some political analysts has revealed that all the political unrest that Malawi is facing came about because of the failed Third Term bid by the former president of the Malawi Dr Bakili Muluzi. Having failed to secure the bid for a Third Term Muluzi chose Bingu wa Mutharika who later dumped United Democratic Front (UDF) after becoming state. The report further says that some gurus in the UDF wanted the same position that Muluzi gave Mutharika on a silver platter and this scenario has left them very bitter. The report, which was done by the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), is titled 'When elephants fight the grass suffers'.
17th March 2009 is the day the Malawi Electoral Commission set to all political parties to officially start campaigning. Surprisingly the campaign period started when people had no idea which aspiring presidents had made it after MEC had scrutinized the nomination papers. Almost all the parties competing in the May general election have not published their manifestos. Earlier reports had shown that it is only the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that had launched its manifesto and it has not been made known to the public.
After a long wait the Malawi Electoral Commission rejected former president and chairman of the United Democratic Front (UDF) application to contest in the May general elections. While some people feel it was a known fact that Muluzi would not be allowed to contest because he had already served the nation for a maximum of two consecutive terms, others feel it is a calculated political move to frustrate Muluzi's come back bid. Muluzi himself has not taken the issue lightly and has promised to go to court to challenge MEC's decision. Meanwhile the electoral body has announced that it might give the UDF another chance to hand in a new nomination form for the party.
In the month of March parliament was dissolved according to the constitution. President Bingu wa Mutharka announced the dissolution amid reports of abuse of power hovering around the president. The five years of parliament could best be described as the worst in the history of independent Malawi. It should be noted that it is the same parliament that the opposition walked away from on several occasions after a number of disagreements.
During one of such turbulent sittings former Speaker of the National Assembly Rodwell Munyenyembe passed away after hell had broken loose during deliberation. To add it all parliamentarians kept using explosive language during the deliberations. As if this were not enough a number of important bills that were lined up for discussion were voted against by the opposition just to frustrate president Bingu wa Mutharika and his government.
The month of March saw the opening of the tobacco market at Auction Floors at Kanengo in Lilongwe. President Bingu wa Mutharika who is the Agriculture Minister pledged with the tobacco buyers to consider raising the price of the leaf, which is the major forex exchange earner. Mutharika is reported to have set the minimum for Burley tobacco at US$ 3.90 / kg and US$2.15 for Flue Cured Tobacco. But barely moments after opening the market reports show that it was closed over disagreements on the prices. Buyers on the other side wanted to buy the gold leaf at lower prices while farmers feel they should stick to what the president proposed.
Earlier reports on tobacco disclosed that a lot of people had planted the crop resulting in a big increase. A number of farmers substituted the land they were supposed to plant maize with tobacco. Many people were hoping that there would be good prices for tobacco, just like last year, or even better because of the impending general elections. Despite setting a price for the crop the sales have not been that good. To rub salt in the wound the Republic of China made a U-turn at the 11th hour having previously promised to buy the leaf. The pulling out of China has left some people wondering if at all the volume of tobacco would be bought.
Press reports in March showed that Malawi is currently experiencing shortages of forex. But there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as the tobacco-selling season starts there will be a change of things. Buyers of tobacco will be coming in with the foreign currency and this will ease the shortage situation. It should also be noted that as mining of Uranium starts in the near future the exports of such a mineral will also help reduce the shortage. As the tobacco season has started Malawians expect a change in the circulation of money.
As the world is facing a financial crisis Malawi's economic experts have noted that Malawians will also feel the pinch. One of the financial institutions Continental Discount House (CDH) noted that the effects of the financial melt down will affect Malawi especially to the poor. Farmers will also be affected mainly tobacco growers who rely on international buyers who have also not been spared from the financial meltdown. According to CDH the situation will worsen because the amount of tobacco grown this year is far higher than last year which is also a minus for most farmers.
In his campaign messages president Bingu wa Mutharika announced that the prices of subsidized fertilizer will be reduced to K500 next year if he comes back to power. Mutharika whose government introduced the fertilizer subsidy programme, has successfully run the subsidized fertilizer programme and the results are what people are seeing in their fields to date. Although with some hiccups here and there during the distribution of fertilizer coupons to the needy, some experts feel the exercise has been a success. It should be noted that the subsdised fertilizer programme is targeted at the needy.
Still on the same issue of fertilizer the Ministry of Agriculture in the month under review announced that fertilizer for winter cropping is ready. According to agricultural experts winter cropping will assist farmers in some areas where their crops were washed away during the rainy season. This is why the ministry is venturing into winter cropping fertilizer subsidy programme.
Although government had set the price of maize some months ago, observers have noted that some traders are selling the grain at any price they wish contrary to government's announcement. As it is always the case in the lean months of January, February and March, a number of households ran out of the grain thereby increasing the demand of maize locally. The situation forces traders to raise the price of grain unnecessarily. A monthly survey by the Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) revealed that some traders are selling the grain at K5,000 per 50kg bag, which is twice as much as the government's set price.
The year 2009 is going to be another year of good harvest if recent press reports are anything to go by. It is reported that maize yields are expected to go over 3.5 million metric tones. Food experts in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security have revealed that Malawi as a nation requires 2.4 million metric tones for the nation to be food secure. However it is worth noting that not all districts are expecting sufficient food supply like Karonga in the north, Salima, Dowa and Nkhotakota in the centre. As for Nsanje and Chikwawa districts in the south, annual floods tell the rest of the story.
News that the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has introduced drought resistant maize varieties is most welcome. Malawi will go miles ahead in food security because some of its areas are prone to drought. If this materializes it will ease the problems of hunger in these area.
CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS
The Catholic Bishops in the month under review circulated a booklet of homily notes to all its faithful which will act as a guide to all preachers for the Sundays of Lent. The booklet, which is titled Choose Life, seeks to help people to try as much as possible to avoid corruption and make good choices with help from God. At the same time it will enrich the faithful with the good news especially in this time of Lent. The booklet was prepared by the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).
The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) condemned any acts of violence in the churches. The warning came after press reports had shown that there was violence at a church in Blantyre where some people were injured. The violence came about following differences that arose in the Zambezi Evangelical Church in Manja, Blantyre. Members of the church disagreed on some issues to the extent that there were visible divisions. Against this background the PAC advised all churches to avoid violence.
In March the Muslim community celebrated the birthday of prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him. The celebrations took place in many parts of the country. People from different religions and denominations and also politicians attended the celebrations in solidarity.
Religious bodies have also added their weight in pleading for a free and fair election in the coming general election. A Catholic body called St Egidio in March prayed that there is continued peace in Malawi so that the general elections can be conducted in the most peaceful and fair manner. In the same line the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) also emphasized the need to have a violence free campaign. CHRR noted that during the campaign much is said which can incite people and lead to violence.
Following the persistent blackouts and water shortages that Malawi is currently facing the Confederation of Chambers of Commerce (MCCI), asked the responsible ministers to resign. The appeal to the minister came after residents in Blantyre had to face both the blackouts and a continued water shortage in recent times. Against this background MCCI wanted the Minister of Water and Irrigation, Mr Sidik Mia, and the Minister responsible for Energy and Mining, Ted Kalebe, to resign. The authorities at the Chamber felt the two ministers have failed their duties. Reports have shown that the two government officials have refused to do so. Meanwhile the minister of Energy has only asked people to be patient with the blackouts.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE
Traditional leaders in the month under review expressed concerns over the conduct of some political leaders. Press reports have shown that there are some politicians who are using children as Nyau dancers during political rallies. In Chikwawa traditional leaders feel children should no longer be used as Nyau dancers instead they should go to school. The traditional leaders' concerns have come at a time when people are expecting a lot of activities among politicians, as we get closer to the general elections.
Press reports in March have disclosed that in the near future Malawi might have a legislation that will ban some harmful cultural practices. Among other things these cultural practices that encourage gender based violence and those that aid the spread HIV/Aids. Some examples are practices such as Kulowa Kufa which is famous in the Lower Shire districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa and Kuhara which is practiced in the Northern part of Malawi. Although to date members of society are aware of the consequences of practicing such activities perhaps their banning will decrease the spread of AIDS.
On the same note women in Nkhotakota feel time is up for some of the cultural practices that affect them directly. The women feel some cultural practices that happen in their areas only promote the spread of HIV/Aids. Therefore they feel such practices should be got rid of. Evidence has shown that it is women who feel the pangs of HIV/Aids, as some have to take care of the sick and orphaned children. Against this background the women in Nkhotakota want to do away with such cultural practices.
Media reports in March disclosed that efforts to eliminate child labour in Malawi are being frustrated by some parents. It is reported that a number parents feel children should work and there is nothing wrong in making them do so. This is the mindset that is hindering some of the hard works in the elimination of child labour. Despite all the troubles that government go through in telling people to avoid employing children who are under 18 years, some still do so. A number of people enjoy employing these little ones because they are cheap labour. Bearing this in mind the Ministry of Labour warned people to avoid employing children because the employment act that exits.
Although every human being has a right to food, prisoners in Malawi sometimes sleep on empty stomachs. Reports have disclosed that some prisoners at Maula Prison in Lilongwe eat sugarcane as their meal. Surprisingly Malawi is reported to have a lot of food since 2004. It is a pity that in a land of plenty prisoners who live in congested cells are also denied their right to food.
Former president Dr Bakili Muluzi who is also Chairman of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the month of March announced that once he comes to power he will increase the intake of the University of Malawi. Muluzi who never went to college promised to change things for the better once he becomes president. It should be noted that Muluzi's administration was marred by delays in opening the colleges almost every year due to lack of funding. At the same time observers noted that such announcements have proved to be costly to the education sector. It is similar decisions that have cost the education sector a lot of resources in trying to solve the mess that was brought with free primary education. During Muluzi's campaign in 1994 he promised free primary school education.
It should be noted that it is the same Muluzi who has also told his followers that once he becomes president he will introduce free secondary school education. Some people have wondered how Malawi is going to make it with its economy. Secondary school education in Malawi costs more and according to reports it is not practical to have it for free.
Observers have noted that Malawi might not reach the 2015 Education For All (EFA) targets although there are good policies on ground. According to experts this is the case because of the poor conditions of primary schools. It is not strange to hear of pupils following classes under trees in the scorching sun. On rainy days lessons are interrupted. At the same time it has proved to be very difficult for pupils to concentrate when they are taught under trees as their concentration is divided.
Still on the same note some analysts have said that it is the same problem of poor structures that contributes to poor teaching. It is reported that teachers find it difficult to teach in some schools because the structures are poor. For this reason the ministry responsible organized a workshop aimed at improving teaching standards.
Observers have noted that some girls fail to make it big in education because of certain cultural practices. These practices deter a girl's education resulting in poor performance or withdrawal. Creative Center for Community Mobilization (CRECOM) is sensitizing the masses to shelve some of the practices that would in anyway deter a girl's education. Such is an attitude is commendable that needs to be supported so that other organizations should emulate it if we are to have a society with educated girls.
Reports on health have shown that although Malawi has never experienced any civil wars the maternal and neo-natal death rates in the country is higher that countries that have been to war. Being a peaceful country one would expect Malawi to have lower infant mortality rates. According to reports in survey that international organization conducted in Malawi there are 31 deaths per 1000 live births. The survey also compares Malawi to countries like Somalia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan where the situation is better. This revelation calls for concerted efforts if things are to change for the better.
Reports that the National TB Control Programme intends to reach to almost every one are encouraging especially if people want the disease to be eliminated. It was reported in March that people with TB symptoms would be tested even if they live in remote areas. The idea is to test all possible cases of TB and treat them. This is the first time Malawi has being involved in such an exercise. It should be noted that Malawi is said to be the role model for other countries in Africa in as far as TB prevention and treatment is concerned.
The revelation that Malawi is leading in Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMCT) is good news especially at the time when Malawi is fighting to achieve the MDGs. This scenario is a morale booster to Malawi as she is safeguarding the future of the nation. This is the case because if a number of children are not infected it means the nation is possibly going to have an almost AIDS free generation. This is good news for all the people in Malawi.
Press reports in the month under review have disclosed that the government, through the ministry of health, is expected to buy machines that can test women for breast cancer. At present there seems to be no mammograph equipment that is used for the tests. At present only those with enough resources go Mwaiwathu Hospital. Now the announcement that government intends to buy the equipment is good because it will give chance to those that cannot afford to have the test in private hospital to be tested in local hospitals.
Earlier in March reports revealed that Malawi is at greater risk to Avian Flu. After months of assurance that the disease will not affect Malawi, the stand has changed. This is the case because some organizations have noted that Malawi lacks the mechanism to halt the disease. This revelation should give Malawi enough homework on what measure it should take if anything happens.
It is for this reason that a number of households have resorted to using charcoal as a source of energy. Reports have disclosed that the demand for charcoal has gone up because of the persistent blackouts. Not only do people buy a lot of charcoal these days but candles as well, which are used for lighting. It should be noted that the more people use charcoal the more trees are cut down. It means a lot of carbon is also being emitted when burning the charcoal. At the same time a lot carbon is also emitted when using the charcoal in people's homes. Perhaps if we had no blackouts some of the trees could be saved.
Press reports on the environment also revealed that although the ivory trade is illegal some people still practice it. It is reported that ivory trade that puts the life of elephants at risk still exits among Malawians. A case is said of a man in Liwonde, Machinga who was arrested for trading in ivory. Such incidents will perhaps serve as a lesson to other who are in a similar trade.
Blantyre residents have in recent months experienced water problems. The press have always shown photos of residents the commercial city going to search for water which is a scarce natural resource. A sight of women carrying buckets full of water is not a strange thing in Blantyre. Against this background some people in Blantyre have resorted to digging boreholes. It should be noted that water is a natural resource that humans use on a daily basis. Other environmental analysts have blamed climate change that contributed to the water shortages in the city.
Press reports in the month of March have revealed that another woman is currently taking charge of police affairs as an acting Inspector General. Salome Tamulangani is reported to be taking over after the government fired Oliver Kumbambe who is currently in Germany. Salome becomes the second woman to head the Police after Mary Nangwale who was also Inspector General of Police. Nangwale, who was Malawi's first female Inspector General of Police, got the boot after Members of Parliament refused to confirm her appointment.
Newly appointed Vice President of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) Joyce Banda noted that a number of women and girls do not make it in life because of sexual violence. Mrs Banda, who is the DPP's presidential running mate, noted that much as the will to prosper in life could be there among girls and women, sexual violence hinders them. One example Banda gave was that of rape which in the end psychologically affects the victim. It is very difficult for a rape victim to concentrate in school if they are not given enough counseling. Perhaps if there were no cases of sexual violence there would be an improved number of women who are educated.
Press reports in March disclosed that there are some companies that are still treating men better at the expense of women. It was reported that a fertilizer company in Kanengo, Lilongwe, has the required gear for men while women are not provided with such clothes and yet both sexes do the same job. As a fertilizer company which uses organic manure, reports have shown that it gives out protective boots to men while women are left to work with bare feet. It all calls for the authorities to check on such issues perhaps this is the tip of the iceberg.
It seems the problems among gender activists are far from over. At first it was the misunderstanding with some of the leaders of gender organizations. It was reported that some of them were also aspiring members of parliament. This meant the aspiring gender leaders would also need the same funding they are supposed to be managing by giving it out to other aspirants. Now recently the female aspirants are at it again complaining that their gender organization leaders are delaying in giving out funding for campaigning.
With just some weeks to the general elections, the umbrella body of gender organization asked for peaceful elections. The plea comes at a time when parties and individuals are campaigning and wooing voters. The body also wants a violence free campaign period where women are not threatened. Reports have shown that some female aspirants have received threats, been harassed and have suffered verbal abuse. All this is done to demoralize the female aspirants. For this reason the NGO Gender Coordination Network (GCN) has appealed for peaceful election so that both men and women can have an equal platform as men.
Fr. Bill Turnbull
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632