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November 13 2013

Malawians Should Brace for More Cash-gate Scandal

Steve Sharra explains why Malawians should brace for more cash-gate scandal after revelations that some powerful Malawians abused the Integrated Financial Management System internal controls to loot billions of public funds:

Social inequality is creating deep rifts among Malawians, a ticking time bomb. The increasing incidents of mass violence and vandalism we are witnessing across the country daily are but a tiny ripple in the sea of resentment resulting from this inequality. That is made more complicated by how our political parties have no established means of raising funds for their very survival, rendering the entire political arena a charade and a get-rich-quick scheme. Unless we address the fundamental causes of the deep inequality ripping Malawian society apart, we should brace ourselves for more cashgates.

October 15 2013

How A Shooting Exposed The Plunder Of Malawi's Treasury

President Dr. Joyce Banda returns to Malawi after a trip to the United States. Image from the Facebook Page of Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda

President Dr. Joyce Banda returns to Malawi in October 2013 after a trip to the United States. Image from the Facebook Page of Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda.

On the night of Friday September 13, 2013,  Paul Mphwiyo, Budget Director in Malawi's Ministry of Finance, was shot. Armed men were lying in ambush just outside the gate to his home, and fired at the 37-year-old as he drove in. Mphwiyo's family rushed him to the Area 43 MASM Clinic. It was 11:30 p.m. I happened to be at the clinic at the same time with a family member who was hospitalised. I witnessed first-hand the harrowing 30-minute frenzy during which nurses and a doctor battled to save Mphwiyo's life.

Mphwiyo staggered into the clinic, choking, leaving a trail of blood behind him. The nurses put a call through to Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba, formerly personal physician to the late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the country's first president. Dr. Ntaba got there in less than ten minutes. He managed to assuage Mphwiyo's bleeding and stabilise his breathing. 30 minutes later, an ambulance transported Mphwiyo to the emergency department at Kamuzu Central Hospital. The following day he was flown for specialised treatment to South Africa, where he is reportedly in stable condition. 

Malawi's president, Dr. Joyce Banda, announced at a public function the following afternoon that she knew who had shot Mphwiyo, and why. Accounts of the incident, purportedly written by insiders at the Ministry of Finance, began appearing online, claiming that Mphwiyo had been shot as a result of a multi-million Malawian kwacha (MWK) deal gone bad. “Flash: A senior Malawi treasury official has been shot,” tweeted journalist Mabvuto Banda. “Family says he has been receiving death threats since he cancelled dubious payment.”

President Banda left soon after for the United States, for engagements in Texas and the UN General Assembly in New York, but in Malawi the focus remained on Capital Hill, the seat of government. People began making connections between the Mphwiyo attack and an incident involving Patrick Sithole, an accounts assistant in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. On September 11, 2013, two days before the attack, Sithole was reported by Malawi News Agency (MANA) and The Daily Times to have been found in possession of more than 120 million MWK (350,000 US dollars) cash and a brand new Toyota Fortuner.

The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) had carried the Sithole story on September 11′s 8pm news bulletin, but it didn't appear in subsequent rebroadcasts. The story also disappeared from the MANA website. For two days there was no follow-up, apart from expressions of shock on social media. Then came the shooting of Paul Mphwiyo, which, in the weeks that followed, unleashed a string of stories about Capital Hill civil servants found with massive quantities of cash in their cars and houses.

In the days following the Mphwiyo shooting, reports of further looting and arrests came fast and furious, among them the case of Frank Mwanza, an assistant accountant in the Office of the President and Cabinet who made payments of over 1 billion MWK (2.7 million US dollars) to a company that had no contract with the government, but is said to be connected to a prominent cabinet minister and loyalist of President Banda's People's Party. The same reports linked Mwanza and a principal secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet to an additional 120 million MWK (350,000 US dollars) found in the car trunk of the owner of the company in question.

Cartoonist's impression of the looting. Photo Credit: Nation Publications Limited

Since she took over as president following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012, Dr. Joyce Banda Banda has become an international star, attracting global leaders to Malawi including Hillary Clinton, Christine LaGardeHelen ClarkMary RobinsonPhumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. She has openly praised international donors, whom she credits with turning the country around.

On October 3, 2013, heads of several international donor agencies summoned Vice President Khumbo Kachale, Chief Secretary to the Government, Hawa Ndilowe, and Inspector General of Police, Lot Dzonzi, expressing “worry” over the reports of the plunder of public funds. “As the civil servants are busy looting government coffers in millions, their CEO is busy meeting different donors in the USA seeking more money to support her porous government system,” wrote Economist and business entrepreneur Henry Kachaje wrote on his Facebook page. ”Either the donors are stupid or they have [so] much money that they don't give a damn how [it] is wasted or found in car boots and houses of civil servants.”

Parliament ordered an audit of the Treasury, and activists and opposition politicians called on President Banda and the Minister of Finance to resign. The president, still in the United States at the time, posted on her Facebook page on October 4: ”…we have security personnel and the financial intelligence officers working round the clock to investigate any aspects of financial irregularities. I am personally ensuring that they have enough resources and staff to close all loopholes of corruption and money laundering.”

Chief Secretary Hawa Ndilowe echoed her boss's sentiments in a press conference held the following day. ”To all those public servants who are stealing, we are determined to ensure that you are arrested and punished,” said Ndilowe. ”A forensic audit is being arranged to analyse data from a few years back.”

Ndilowe has been quoted as saying that the plundering of government coffers dates back to 2005. A June 2013 Daily Times report corroborates this: in the eight years (2004-2012) he was in office, the personal wealth of Banda's predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, increased from a self-declared 150 million MWK (1.5 million US dollars in 2004 terms), to 61 billion (175 million US dollars). Blogger and media scholar Jimmy Kainja traces the roots of the crisis to even earlier—the administration (1994-2004) of former president Bakili Muluzi, who “poked fun at his…deputy for not ‘developing’ his home district.”

By October 5, 2013, news reports were estimating the total amount stolen to be about 1.2 billion MWK (5 million US dollars), though the actual figure was rumoured to be upward of 4 billion MWK. Headlines in that weekend's newspapers screamed: “Capital Hill Loot” (Malawi News), “Capital Hill Plunder” (Weekend Nation), “Looting Continues” (Sunday Times), “Capital Cash-Gate” (Nation on Sunday).

After returning from the United States on October 9, President Banda faced members of the press in the most eagerly anticipated press conference of her presidency. She made an about-face on her earlier assertion that she knew who shot Mphwiyo, and accused the media of targeting her because of her gender. The press demanded to know if she planned to fire line ministers and senior government officials in ministries and departments connected to the plundering, including the Office of the President and Cabinet.

On Thursday October 10, demonstrators in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital, delivered a petition to the president demanding her resignation and the dismissal of the Minister of Finance. By the end of that day State House had issued a press statement announcing the dissolution of the entire cabinet.

Whether that move is reason for optimism is left to be seen. “It took the near fatal shooting [of the] Budget Director in [the] Finance ministry for the scandal to come out,” wrote Jimmy Kainja. “The Capital Hill plunder is not just a case of rotten government acting with total impunity; it is also a symptom of a rotten nation.”

As I drove out of the Area 43 MASM clinic around 1 a.m. on September 14, I could not have imagined how serious the repercussions of the scene I'd just witnessed would be. President Joyce Banda is facing the toughest crisis of her 18-month-old presidency. Malawians have been wondering why the new optimism sweeping across Africa seems to have bypassed the country. Now they are questioning how the country's leadership can inspire hope when the government machinery itself appears devoid of that quality. The significance of the elections to be held in May 2014 just took on a new meaning.

Steve Sharra is a Malawian blogger and educationist. His blog, Afrika Aphukira, is an afro-optimistic expression of the theme of the African rebirth. Follow Steve on Twitter at @stevesharra.

July 23 2013

What does Tony_Blair want from Malawi ?

What does #Tony_Blair want from #Malawi ?

Until recently, Tony Blair had never visited Malawi. Last summer there was a lot of international press coverage on the discovery of oil under Lake Malawi. Since then he’s developed an interest in Malawi’s “governance” and has visited twice in nine months. He arrives in Malawi today, having successfully shoehorned a couple of staffers from [...]

#Business #OPINION #Africa_Governance_Initiative #Arrest_Tony_Blair #Choka #Desmond_Tutu #George_Monbiot #Joyce_Banda #Peace_envoy

April 23 2013

Malawi: Presidents, Pop Stars and the ‘White Savior’ Complex

It started out as a disagreement over definitions – can a classroom block be considered a school? – and soon escalated into a war of words between President Joyce Banda of Malawi and American pop star Madonna. According to a tweet from The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff, neither party emerged favorably from the short-lived but widely publicized feud.

Madonna with her Malawian adopted kids. Photo courtesy of Mabvuto Banda.

Madonna with her Malawian adopted kids. Photo courtesy of Mabvuto Banda.

Malawian journalist Suzgo Khunga (@suzgokhunga) dubbed it “the president and the pop star”, in a post to a closed online Malawian discussion forum for journalists. She tweeted:

@suzgokhunga: Now a whole president #JoyceBanda of #Malawi is fighting with a pop star #Madonna. Very embarrassing!

It is not the first time that Madonna has created a stir when visiting Malawi, the home country of her two adoptive children. At the time of the first adoption in 2006, the debate centered on why the government had circumvented its own laws to facilitate adoption by a foreign celebrity. This time the discord seems to be centered around a personal feud between the two women, with roots in a falling-out between Madonna and the president's sister Anjimile Oponyo, formerly the CEO of Madonna's charity, Raising Malawi, and now a Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education.

The latest phase of the furore dates back to January 2013 when Madonna's charity issued a statement exclaiming that it had built ten new schools in the country. Malawi's Minister of Education, Eunice Kazembe, issued a press statement, published in Malawi's daily papers, denying the claim. “Raising Malawi only built ten classroom blocks, and not schools. People should know the difference between the two,” she was quoted as saying in the online newspaper The Maravi Post.

When Madonna visited Malawi in April and repeated the statement that her charity had built ten schools, the government, once again, shot back. Not only was Madonna's hand-scrawled note to President Banda requesting a meeting leaked, she never got the meeting, and as she left the country, was stripped of her VIP status, according to a blog post by Rebecca Chimjeka:

Madonna and her entourage were shocked with how they were treated. Each and every person on her entourage went through security checkpoints; their passports were stamped as normal passengers. Physical body checks were conducted and all their luggage went through security screening. There was no heavy security as she was going to board her jet that left KIA around 5.

In an exclusive interview with Chimjeka, Trevor Neilson, Madonna's manager, also confirmed that President Banda's sister, Anjimile Oponyo, was indeed “making life difficult for Madonna”.

A scathing press statement from one of President Banda's press officers, Tusekele Mwanyongo, accused Madonna of wanting “Malawi to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude”. The statement was first posted on Malawian discussion forums, and soon appeared on the pages of online newspaper Nyasatimes.

The statement was unexpected given the president's dedication to restoring relationships between Malawi and the West, run to the ground during President Bingu wa Mutharika's reign. President Banda has prided herself on bringing back “azungu” (white people), whom she openly and repeatedly credits with having rescued the country from near-implosion. Given the accusatory tone of the press statement, it was, perhaps unsurprisingly, later revealed to have been unauthorized.

As expected, reactions in Malawi as well as outside world were divided. Malawian blogger and journalist Telephorus Chigwenembe posted on his blog:

To say the least, the statement resembled some communication from a private citizen to another. No sense of executive decorum.

Another blogger-journalist, Richard Chirombo, posted on his blog:

This is what the confused confusionists can do! It's the height of their madness. Power, may be, has, as it does more so often, inebriated them. They care about themselves. They don't care about the Malawi people. The children especially. That is why they have ganged up against Madonna.

In an entry from 14 April prominent columnist and BBC correspondent Raphael Tenthani offered advice to President Banda:

We should have never dragged the whole presidency in this issue. Whether we apologise or not we have come out of this with egg all over our face while Madonna is having the last laugh. We must learn to pick our fights carefully. Not every fight is worth fighting.

Comedian Daliso Chaponda, son of a former cabinet minister and close colleague of late President Bingu wa Mutharika, composed a poem:

Dear Joyce,
Was it your choice? To spurn me, to burn me, to turn me away From the VIP?
You defied me, denied me. I'm like a land ridden boat, Since you leaked my hand written note

On Facebook, Jack Banda drew parallels between President Banda and Madonna:

JB jets out with forex/taxes :Madonna jets in with forex.
Because of JB kids go to the streets: Because of Madonna kids have classrooms to learn from.
Because of JB hospitals don't have drugs and nurses and doctors strike: because of Madonna Queens has a paediatrician and a trainee paediatrician.

The story soon went global. Kenyan thinker and writer Binyavanga Wainaina composed a satirical yet poignant letter to Madonna, published on The Guardian's Comment is Free website. Wainaina called on Madonna to abandon the ungrateful Malawians and adopt Kenyan orphans instead. He went further:

But some of us Africans are deeply committed to the values Europe and the west brings to us: like democracy, human rights and lots and lots of cold hard cash for human rights workers and civil society and anything, really, that does things like Sustainability, Empowerment and most of all, Capacity Building – which, as you know is very, very important for Africa's future especially as it is tax free and comes with per diems and conference allowances. Imagine what your money would do in Kenya! We have cannier auditors than the Malawians.

Others focused on the wider implications of the feud. While acknowledging that President Banda's press office had “handled a messy situation with staggering ineptitude”, BBC's Africa correspondent Andrew Harding identified with the press statement's poignant argument and a shifting paradigm in development practice. He quoted an official speaking off the record:

That old image of a white person holding a starving black child is just embarrassing these days. The emphasis is on partnership, on building resilience in communities, and on business models.

International development consultant Amy Auguston saw an important lesson for donors in the Joyce Banda-Madonna saga:

I bristled with recognition when I read the government statement, and I imagine that many other development workers did too. In my career, I believe that I have done my best to be humble and respectful towards the host countries where I worked. Still, much like Madonna, the “honorable intentions” of those who work in development are not enough, and we must continually examine our motives and behavior. And, perhaps more importantly, we must listen to the sometimes harshly critical voices of the population that we are trying to serve.

March 15 2013

Global Voices Podcast Special: Habemus Podcast!

Global Voices Podcast HomepageSubscribe in iTunes

Hello, World – welcome to a special edition of the Global Voices Podcast.

On Tuesday, March 12, 2013 the college of cardinals assembled at the Vatican to elect the new head of the Roman Catholic church, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on February 28. On Wednesday evening the Cardinal Protodeacon emerged onto the central balcony as St. Peter's Basilica and uttered the words “Habemus Papam!” (“We Have a Pope!”), and presented Pope Francis.

With two African cardinals considered at one point to be potential successors to Pope Benedict XVI, we spoke with Steve Sharra and Abdoulaye Bah from our Africa team about the possibility of an African pope, the continent's expectations of the next pope, and why cardinals at this week's papal conclave might have played games like volleyball.

Did you like the public domain Gregorian chants featured in the podcast? Get yours from Partners in Rhyme.

Thanks to Laura Morris for her support in producing this show!

March 06 2013

Malawi's President Banda Versus ‘Selfish’ Members of Parliament

Malawi's President Joyce Banda caused chaos in parliament by insisting that members of parliament not get their outstanding fuel allowance, saying her government has no money to pay.

MPs are demanding up to K10 million (about $27,778) in fuel allowances, backdated to 2009, and Banda's refusal has not gone down well with the legislature, with many MPs insisting that they will get their dues. They are also demanding an allocation of 500 litres of fuel per month to each MP.

President Joyce Banda standing on a podium

Malawi's President Joyce Banda. Image from: Friends of Joyce Banda Facebook Page, used with permission

A heated debate has sprung up among Malawians, centering on whether MPs deserve the fuel allowance at a time when the country's economy is doing badly. Civil society organizations and individuals are calling on the government to ignore their demands. Blogger Pearson Nkhoma agrees with the position taken by the president and a number of Malawians in a post titled ‘Karma Driving Politics in Malawi‘, writes:

Time is nigh to take off the salaries, and the other benefits. We can not afford to be paying our employees more than what we the employers get. We just can not afford such unnatural course of social injustice…the Malawians who employ those employees need to get what the employers get not the other way round; And the employers don't do anything save for introducing unpopular policies like changing the flag bill, injunction bill, the third term bill etc.

While Pearson Nkhoma has called for a referendum on the MPs’ demands, journalist Mabvuto Banda calls them selfish:

@bvutoB: In my understanding, the MPs have achieved nothing to deserve bonuses, in arrears or not.  As lawmakers, the MPs have just been good at being retrogressive and moving the country in circles. I ask: what can we rationally point as their achievements since 2009?

Another blogger Henry Chizimba feels that the parliamentarians should give the president some breathing space. Though no fan of the president, he says MPs seem intent on pulling her government down. In a post referring to this development as ‘Street Democracy at its best‘, he concludes:

If the honorable MPs are serious about serving the people in their constituencies, then let them let the government go this time. Let them give the Banda administration some breathing space hoping that they can pull some economic miracles and be able to pay the recently raised salaries, and more importantly, recover the economy.
At this juncture, the article rests its case but is quick to point out that the honorable MPs’ MK10million demands is both ludicrous and selfish, and at worst, unMalawian. Most sadly, the demand smacks of street democracy at its best.

Kondwani Munthali's post from 2011, following a national budget presentation, provides an invaluable primer to this latest row over pay and entitlements. The post highlights the salary differences between civil servants and MPs. While there may have been changes in salaries in the last 18 months, the changes have not been significant. Munthali argues:

In essence, the gap between the MP in terms of allowances and entry grade in public service annually is around K3.2 million whilst the ordinary Civil Servant will have to pay for increased minibus fares (spare parts going up), rentals (withholding tax) domestic (meat, offals, water, salt) and with the likely hood of companies downsizing as new taxes adding to low production due to poor electricity and water supply, lack of fuel and shortages of foreign exchange will slow down the economy….

But as poor as they are, the majority whom (an estimated 5 million of the population) live on K300 per day have to continue contributing to the “new found economic freedom” while The President, Ministers and Members of Parliament drive in brand new 4X4 worth K20 million on the market, earn tax breaks for personal vehicles, earn K4 million in allowances annually and more importantly continue to preach prudence to the poor people.

Malawi's economy is in recovery mode. The government seems to be doing its best to attend to a myriad of development issues, but severe grain shortages in the past months have started to take their toll, leading many Malawians to believe that the MPs latest demands are misplaced at best, outright selfish at worst.

February 25 2013

Nationwide Strike Delivers Blow to Malawi's President

Malawi's president is beating back calls for her to resign after hundreds of thousands of civil servants demanding a wage increase went on a two-week long strike, shuttering the country's international airport and paralyzing hospitals and schools.

Public sector workers had asked for a 65 percent wage increase to combat a rising cost of living sparked by President Joyce Banda‘s tough economic reforms, including a devaluation of the local kwacha currency. During the nationwide strike, schools were closed and health centers were left with bare-bones staff as doctors, nurses, teachers, and other civil servants walked off the job.

Though the country's finance minister had said earlier that the striking workers’ demand, which would nearly triple the government's wage bill from 97 billion kwacha [about 275 million US dollars] to 276 billion kwacha [about 785 million US dollars], was impossible, officials bowed to workers’ demands and agreed on a 61 percent wage increase on February 21, 2013.

The ordeal has not helped Banda, who is up for re-election next year. The country's first female president, who inherited a crumbling economy from her late predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika, has increasingly drawn ire at home for implementing austerity budgets and other painful economic reforms in part to please the international community, whose aid accounts for about 40 percent of Malawi's budget.

A further blow to Banda's government were the remarks of Malawi's Minister of Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe, published on the eve of the strike, accusing his fellow countrymen of being lazy.

Joyce Banda  speaking at the DFID conference in 2010. Photo shared on Flickr by DFID under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) .

Joyce Banda speaking at the DFID conference in 2010. Photo shared on Flickr by DFID under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) .

Blogger Alick Ponje wrote that Banda has broken the public's trust:

The truth is we are being led by a president that isn't giving us enough opportunity to express ourselves. She must guess what we want and act on the guess even if she hasn't divined it. That’s pretty dangerous. We are being tried by our own president and our voices are subdued in the immense power that she all of a sudden wields.

At the beginning of her really glorious times, [Joyce Banda] hoodwinked us into believing she is a listening president who would always be at our beck and call. She had to in order to have a nice start, with all the deserved support.

But blogger Pearson Nkhoma argued that demanding Banda's resignation or impeachment wouldn't solve the problem because parliament would remain populated with members who supported former President Mutharika, who brought Malawi into its current economic mess:

We want to paint a picture that [Joyce Banda] has miserably failed. Indeed, she may have failed, but we are the people who clapped hands at the ‘achievements’ of Bingu wa Mutharika when others were wailing night and day, saying that Bingu, the autocrat was failing Malawi; that Bingu was taking the country into oblivion where it could be impossible to save. Now [Banda] is having problems in taking the country from the hades of destructions. We, who are calling for the head of [Banda], are to a larger extent to blame for this mess.

Pointing to the clear divide between the ruling class and everyone else, blogger Alick Nyasulu wrote in a post that appeared in The Nation newspaper that the government is not fulfilling the social contract that it holds with the Malawian people:

The spirit of entrepreneurism is vivid and well sunk in the average person that is not abusing the privilege of being in control of tax payers money. I don’t think anyone should preach success simply because they have had a privileged position of allocating themselves undue wealth at the expense of public trust. Unless we stop, doubtful in contemporary circumstances, elected public figures and their surrogates from stealing public funds, all talk about raising living standards is nothing but old colonial school colonial talk under the skin of the guy next door. We are not lazy but deserve more.

Blogger Watipaso Mkandawire, writing that every class in Malawian society from top to bottom fails to do what is expected of them, called on civil servants to increase their productivity now that they have won a wage increase. Maybe this will encourage Banda's administration to honour its promises to the people when it comes to the country's plan for economic recovery, but probably not, he wrote:

Of course the reality is that this is plain psychological. Malawi's economy is in bad shape and there is “organised chaos” among those that are trying to implement the Economic Recovery Plan. They have a contract with Malawians, but they don't intend to honour that contract because simply it is not in their nature and they don't care.

November 04 2012

Malawi's Economy: A Mountain Too High to Climb?

Since April 2012, when Joyce Banda took over the running of the government from late Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawians have been experiencing a mix of hope and despair.

The optimistic international community has released some budgetary support for the country, which was suspended during Mutharika's presidency, following significant financial and governance changes made by Malawi's new president. Fuel and forex shortages improved almost immediately.

Some five months down the road, Malawians have been told that the 18 month Economic Recovery Plan will be the answer to the country's economic challenges; this has made a number of netizens react and respond in different ways.

Malawi's first female President Joyce Banda. Photo source: Friends of Joyce Banda Facebook page.

Malawi's first female President Joyce Banda. Photo source: Friends of Joyce Banda Facebook page.

Watipaso Mkandawire, in a post titled ‘Mountain Too High‘, explains the realities of Malawi's economy:

Barely 5 months after occupying Plot No. 1, the economy, is struggling with voices of disgruntlement growing by the day. The noticeable challenges include; increase in prices of basic commodities, fuel price increase, re-emergence of fuel queues, runaway inflation; dissatisfied low and middle-class; poor tobacco season, 1.2 million people facing hunger; etc. Many observers argue that JB and her People’s Party have no vision for Malawi and that what we are seeing is a “Subsistence Government”. In all fairness, JB inherited an economy that was on its knees (if not on its back) and the country was almost bankrupt.

A seasoned media practitioner, Levi Manda, discusses with a visiting friend about a pro-poor budget:

“This country favours the unproductive: government ministers, religious leaders, MPs, chiefs, heads of government institutions and most lazy villagers.”
“Ministers and MPs enjoy duty free importation, free transport, free housing, free marriage, unlimited untaxed allowances; chiefs enjoy free housing and salaries. The other year, one principal secretary gave himself annual leave money equivalent to 1000 leave days!”

However, the president knowing fully the economic realities, seems to have made an effort to address the country's financial problems by cutting her own salary. Journalist Kondwani Munthali reports:

“In support of the austerity measures, the President and the Vice President have voluntarily decided to reduce their monthly salaries by 30 percent with immediate effect. Government is also actively considering other cost cutting measures and these will be announced in due course,” said Kachali. On the Economic Recovery Plan, the Vice President said it has identified five strategic sectors that can quickly that can quickly turn around the economy for export led growth and foreign exchange generation.

This news was welcome by all sectors of Malawi. In general, Malawians are looking forward to the recovery of the economy, which has so far become hot topic in the country as next presidential election in May 2014 approaches.

October 17 2012

Malawi: Online Journalist Arrested for Allegedly Insulting the President

Online journalist Justice Mponda was arrested Monday morning 15 October 2012, in Blantyre allegedly for insulting the president, publishing false information and criminal libel. Mponda works with the news website Malawi Voice.

Discussing the new development that came in the wake of a new electronic bill (E-bill), journalist Pearson Nkhoma writes:

…one can question whether Malawi is a democratic state or an authoritarian one which demands people to tow to the opinion of the government…..
Ironically, the Malawi Constitution, particularly Section 35 and 36, vehemently affirm that “every person shall have the right to freedom of expression” and that “the press shall have the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad, and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information”. journalist Justice Mponda. Photo courtesy of

He continues:

Through its machinery, the Government of Joyce Banda sent two heavy armoured Land Cruisers to net Justice Mponda who has so far been charged for publishing false information and insulting the president.

The E-Bill seeks to regulate and control online communications in Malawi.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has already expressed worry over the bill and condemned the arrest of Justice Mponda:

[…]the Malawi government today descended on the Media fraternity based on what the Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has called “outmoded pieces of legislation enacted during the colonial era to suppress dissent and promote colonial superiority”.
Through its machinery, the Government of Joyce Banda sent two heavy armoured Land Cruisers to net Justice Mponda who has so far been charged for publishing false information and insulting the president.
So far, MISA has issued a strong-worded press statement calling for the immediate release of Mponda.
The statement revealed that MISA “is shocked and deeply saddened with the detention of…Mponda [on the basis of laws which are] archaic and retrogressive for our country”.
According to Misa, “archaic laws have no role to play in a democracy”.
The charter has far called upon government to desist from dragging the country to the colonial era by implementing such laws.

The E-Bill, among other things, defines:

[…]precisely the responsibility of technical service providers and editors of online contents.

The bill's chapter three of Part III, which has the headline ‘Online user's protection and liability of intermediaries and content editors', defines who the editors are in Section 23.

The draft bill describe operators as intermediary, who are any legal or physical person or any entity that provides electronic communications services consisting of the provision of access to communication networks, as well as storing or transmission of information through communication networks.

The said section of the draft bill says the editors of online public communication services shall offer in an open standard, among others, their names, domicile, and telephone number.

Blogger Richard Chirombo on Zachimalawi quotes his Malawian friend living in South Africa who hopes that the case will be handled fairly:

I hope his charges of sedition, insulting President Joyce Banda and misinforming on the Malawi-Tanzania lake-boarder conflict are not authentic. I hope his case will be handled fairly, and that his lawyer will secure bail on second attempt. I feel personally involved and hope I will not be disappointed eventually.

Commenting on Malawi Voice Facebook page, John Kazibwe says:

Banda is following the path of her predecessors like Kamuzu and Bingu. She's indeed a true jezebel

Mafunga hopes for a speedy and fair trial:

Guys, let the law take its course. We need a speedy trial so we can know whats going on. Its not easy for a journalist of his calibre to tell lies, but its not impossible for him to do so. I hope the police has a valid case, otherwise, this is a very bad sign. I also hope Mr Mponda has solid grounds for his stories.
In any case, I hope he is treated with the fair conduct of “innocent until proven guilty”

Malawi Voice has been critical of Joyce Banda's government since she came to power:

Malawi Voice published an article that revealed that Joyce Banda [Malawi's President] had pardoned a serial rapist Agala Festone Kuiwenga, just a month after the Hig Court had extended his 8 year sentence by one more year due to the gravity of the offence he committed. She also pardoned George Allan Nyambi, a relation of Senior Chief Nyambia of Machinga. Nyambi was convicted of murder.
However, in an effort to silence the alternative voice, the Malawian Governmnet descended on the media practitioner on charges which include insulting the president, publishing false stories aimed at generating public anger against the president.

Mponda has been freed on bail and his court hearing has been set for 16 November, 2012.

August 21 2012

Africa: Time for a Circumcision-Driven HIV Policy in Africa?

After overcoming much skepticism, the idea that circumcision is an effective measure in reducing HIV transmission is now globally accepted by the health professionals community and the general public. In fact, the World Health Organization is now advocating circumsision programme as part of the HIV prevention package in areas greatly affected by the virus.

However, the jury is still out on how the measure will be adopted by the target population given their cultural specificity. Experts and bloggers weigh in on the practicality and the effectiveness of a circumcision-driven public health policy.

A proven approach 

Even though the approach has been suggested for a decade, the validation that medical male circumcision substantially reduces the risk of contracting HIV is fairly recent. Three randomized clinical trials were conducted in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. In 2007, The WHO and the UNAIDS provided the following comment on the results of the study:

 There is now strong evidence from three randomized controlled trials undertaken (..) that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60%. This evidence supports the findings of numerous observational studies that have also suggested that the geographical correlation long described between lower HIV prevalence and high rates of male circumcision in some countries in Africa, and more recently elsewhere, is, at least in part, a causal association.

Some newly developed technological devices may even facilitate the deployment of this policy. Donald G McNeil Jr of The New York Times recently reported that:

a bloodless circumcision device for adults, will be tested in at least nine African countries in the next year [..] a two-nurse team slides a grooved ring inside the foreskin and guides a rubber band to compress the foreskin in the groove. After a week, the dead foreskin falls off like the stump of a baby’s umbilical cord

Still, not all the scientific community is convinced that this policy is the right direction to take in the fight against HIV. For instance many argue that such a policy would be offset by increased HIV risk behaviour, such as reduced condom use or increased numbers of sex partners. In a journal article, Kalichman et al. write:

Circumcision likely reduces the risk of acquiring a non-HIV STI and may be partially responsible for the decreased HIV risk observed in circumcision RCTs [1]. Nevertheless, the failure of models to account for increased STI risk due to risk compensation likely inflates estimates of averted HIV infections. Estimates of HIV risks resulting from increased exposure to STIs that coincide with reductions in condom use have been included in previous models of the cost-effectiveness of HIV prevention interventions [11] and should be included in MC models.

Cultural challenges 

Despite those recommendations, the approach still encounters many challenges to getting implemented in many countries. Ugandan global health graduate Edgar Asiimwe shares his findings regarding the willingness of young men to undergo safe male circumcision in Uganda, in this video uploaded to YouTube by user DukeGlobalHealth on 10 July, 2012. In the video, Asiimwe explains that the Ugandan government still favors prevention programs based on abstinence which makes implementing medical circumcision difficult to implement:

In South Africa, traditional circumcision is still carried out, however, the circumcision often only partially removes the foreskin from the penis. Maughan-Brown et al. explain the results of their study in Cape Town:

Partially circumcised men had a 7% point greater risk of being HIV positive than fully circumcised men (P < 0.05) and equal risk compared with uncircumcised men. Most (91%) men were circumcised between the ages of 17 and 22 years (mean 19.2 years), and HIV risk increased with age of circumcision (P < 0.10).

Efforts should be made to encourage earlier circumcisions and to work with traditional surgeons to reduce the number of partial circumcisions.

In some of areas of Madagascar, circumcision is also a tradition. The traditional method of circumcision may carry some health concerns and differs vastly from medical circumcision. Arinaina explains [fr]:

 La circoncision se fait au crépuscule d’où le feu et les bougies. Tous les hommes, le grand-père, le papa, les oncles sont là pour préparer tout ce qui est nécessaire au rituel et assister l’enfant en le tenant bien fort. Un dernier homme est aussi présent; le guérisseur traditionnel ou le « rain-jaza » qui va couper avec sa lame le prépuce. [..]  la circoncision à Madagascar, c’est surtout pour que le garçon devienne un «vrai homme».

Circumcision is carried out at dawn hence the need for candles and fire. All the family men, the grandfather, the father, the uncles are present to prepare all that is necessary for the ritual and help hold the child still. Another man is also present, the traditional healer who will cut off the child's foreskin.
Painting of a circumcision in Madagascar by Arianiana (used with permission)

Painting of a circumcision in Madagascar by Arianiana (used with permission)

HIV prevalence is relatively low in Madagascar compared to the other southern African states and it is possible that the cultural acceptance of circumcision plays a part in keeping HIV at low levels. This was not the case early on in Kenya though. June Odoyo, a member of the Nyanza Province Male Circumcision Task Force,  explains:

Despite initial resistance from cultural leaders in the region, male circumcision has been widely accepted in Nyanza, with more than 110,000 men undergoing the procedure since 2008 [..] Rural areas experience high cases of cultural resistance to the programme, while the acceptability in urban areas is comparatively high.

Increase in demand for circumcision may have been sparked by young men's desire to have unprotected sex. A study in Malawi explains that dislike for condoms was a factor in undergoing circumcision. For instance, Peter states:

so I see that most of my friends have a tendency of having sex with different kinds of women, so I do
take part in explaining to them to say; I think maybe the best thing is maybe if you can consider
this circumcision. Maybe you can be half way protected. Because there are other people who
don't like to use condoms but they want to have sex with a woman plain [no condom on].

While health policy advocates always emphasize that circumcision is by no means meant to replace the use of condoms, one has to wonder how many men would forego the use of condoms because they have undergone circumcision.

More convincing needed?

Beside the issue of potential reduction in condom use, other doubts were raised by bloggers regarding the inclusion of male circumcision in HIV prevention policy. Jason Bosch, a South African scientist in Cape Town, argues:

If you tell someone it will reduce their risk then they’re more likely to take the risk. After my post I heard from a colleague of mine who has read the paper that at least one of the trials was flawed because those undergoing circumcision where educated on safe sex practices while the others were not.

James Sweet, a blogger from the United States that has lived in Ethiopia, adds:

Given the sociopolitical pressures to justify circumcision, I suspect this data might be exaggerated, but there does seem to be something to it. This, of course, is weighed against the direct risk of complications from the procedure, which are rare but not unheard of.


August 14 2012

Oil Exploration Prompts Lake Malawi/Nyasa Ownership Dispute

News that Malawi is exploring oil on Lake Nyasa (also known as Lake Malawi, Lake Nyassa, Lake Niassa and Lago Niassa) has attracted hot debate over the ownership of the lake. While the Malawian government claims exclusive ownership of the lake, Tanzania is pressing for recognition of some earlier ownership of half of the lake.

The matter dates back to colonial times in 1890, when Britain and Germany shared boundaries in East and Central Africa. At that time hopes for any oil on the lake were far fetched.

According to journalist and blogger Mavuto Jobani, last October 2011, Malawi said it had awarded oil exploration licenses to UK-based company Surestream Petroleum to search for oil in the lake.

A map showing two different borders between Tanzania and Malawi. Image courtesy of

A map showing two different borders between Tanzania and Malawi. Image courtesy of

Quoting official Tanzanian sources, Jubani writes:

“Malawi claims that the whole lake belongs to the country according to colonial boundaries … But our stated position is that half of the lake belongs to Tanzania,” said Assah Mwambene, a spokesman for Tanzania’s foreign affairs ministry.

While some Malawians fear for the future, the government says things are under control as they have planned to deal with the matter appropriately.

Bloggers like Pearson Nkhoma have avoided giving their opinion on the new development preferring to present the facts as they are. For instance Nkhoma writes:

Lake Malawi is home to 1,000 endemic species of fish, an estimate to be more than any other place on earth. It is Africa’s third-largest, after Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania and Lake Victoria which is partly also owned by Tanzania. In Tanzania, Lake Malawi is called Lake Nyasa, a name derived from Malawi’s colonial name, Nyasaland.  In the early 1960s, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, then president of Malawi, also claimed that Mbeya in Tanzania were also part of Malawi.

Malawi media and social forums are awash with the debate about the ownership of the lake and potential wealth from the oil exploration. Most Malawians claim full ownership of Africa's third largest and fresh water lake.

Lake Malawi/Nyasa view from Likoma Island. Photo released under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) by Wikipedia user Worldtraveller.

The government of Tanzania ordered in 2007 that all maps that show that the border between Malawi and Tanzania running along the Tanzanian side of Lake Nyasa be impounded and set on fire, because they ‘mislead the Tanzanian public' on the actual location of the border.

The two countries will meet in Malawi on 20 August, 2012, to discuss the matter.


June 19 2012

Malawi: New Government, Costly Livelihood

While many Malawians seem to be filled with hope since Joyce Banda became Malawi's president, some Malawians are coming up with innovative ways of making ends meet because of high cost of living.

Some youths have explored how best to make a living from the best possible initiatives in towns. This is amid fuel, forex and power shortages whose improved situation is yet to trickle down to everyone.

Discussing shortages of essential supplies in Malawi, Richard Chirombo writes:

Fuel shortages continue. It has, particularly, been worse the past three weeks.
Foreign exchange shortage is another remarkable feature, both in the last two years of the forgotten regime of the Democratic Progressive Party, and the April 5, 2012-born regime of Joyce Banda.
Essential drugs still cannot be found in Malawi's public hospitals.
The only thing that runs in abundance is hope.
There seems to be renewed faith in Banda's regime, a regime that tames lie-peddlers such as Finance Minister Ken Lipenga.

Blogger Vincent Kumwenda in Lilongwe shows how residents making money out of wooden bridges. The entrepreneurs are neither licensed nor pay taxes to the city council for trading along and on Lilongwe river:

Malawian youths earn a living from collections they make on a wooden brige they constructed across Lilongwe River. Photo source:

It is a useless river to those who simply pass it everyday.It is one of the dirtiest rivers around and no meaningful business can come out of it. But for Dalitso Chimwaza it is where they earn their living. Chimwaza and several other friends earn a living from collections they make on a wooden brige they constructed across Lilongwe River.

I counted four bridges ran by dfferent groups of people who are always busy collecting money and giving back changes to their customers. Some people can pass through the bridges several times each day. The bridges are made out of long blue gum trees and planks sourced from the nearby market.

This is happening while Malawi's parliament is discussing the 406 billion Kwacha  (est 1.63 billion US Dollars) budget for July 2012-June 2013. The so called recovery budget was presented by Finance Minister Ken Lipenga

Meanwhile, Malawians are still coming to grips with a nation without former president Bingu wa Mutharika:

Malawi's president Joyce Banda speaking at the DFID conference in 2010. Photo shared on Flickr by DFID under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) .

It has been a roller coaster ride for the warm heart of Malawi in the past 67 days since the demise of the mighty Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika. Alot has been done and undone by the ‘new' regime that took over from the fallen African son. Things have been moving too fast to the extent that this blog could not keep up with he pace of events. Information flow was and is still not stable yet as it was in the past months. Fancy you can hear of a purported change in government positions from mere people even days before the official announcement. Rumours have been in constant supply in the past 67 days even more than the nearly 8 years of Professor Mutharika's rule. What is worrying me most is that most of these rumours prove to be true. Somebody ought to tighten the grip on the information flow!

However there are several issues worthy mentioning on this blog. It took me time of compile these issues because of their sensitivity and how they keep on changing with the pasaage of time.

Following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika in April, Malawi sworn in Vice President Joyce Banda as its president at the parliament in Lilongwe on Saturday 7 April, 2012. She becomes the 4th but first Malawi's female president and will serve for the remainder of Mutharika's term to May 2014.

President Joyce Banda is the second female president in Africa after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

Mutharika had been under heavy local and international pressure to improve political and socio-economic situation for Malawi during his administration.

June 13 2012

Africa: Improving Governance and Accountability with New Media

Kwami Ahiabenu, II, is a team leader of International Institute for ICT Journalism, the co-ordination organisation for African Elections Project (AEP). With over nine years of experience in management, marketing, new media, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and development, Kwami was Executive Director of AITEC Ghana and a former board member of Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS).

He served as a key committee member for the organization of World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) African Regional Meeting 2005. He has undertaken several training sessions on new media across Africa. He is a Steve Biko and Foster Davies Fellow.

African Elections Project was established in 2008 with the vision of enhancing the ability of journalists, citizen journalists and the news media to provide more timely and relevant elections information and knowledge while undertaking monitoring of specific and important aspects of governance.

AEP has covered elections in Ghana, Cote d‟Ivoire, Guinea, Mauritania, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Togo, Niger and Liberia. African Elections Project uses social media tools and ICT platforms such as blogs, interactive maps, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook.

L. Abena Annan (LA): What is your affiliation with the African Elections Project?

Kwami Ahiabenu, II (KA): I am part of [the] founders, currently serving as a consultant to the project, providing management support and serving as the training director.

LA: How long have you been involved with the project?

KA: Since the birth of the project in year 2008. We started the project by launching the coverage of Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea elections. Ghana elections did take place in 2008 but Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea took place in subsequent years.

LA: How would you describe this project for the average person to understand? What do you intend to accomplish with it?

KA: It is an online, SMS, mobile service which provides authoritative elections information and knowledge specifically news, analysis, elections powered by ICTs and new media. The service is brought to our audience by a team of dedicated journalists supported by civil society actors and citizen journalists

LA: What countries have you worked in? Do you intend to go to other countries as your website states only 10?

KA: We have worked in 11 countries to date, namely Botswana, Namibia, Ghana, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Mozambique, Malawi, Togo, Liberia and Niger working across English, French and Portuguese speaking countries. We currently cover each election happening on the continent on our homepage with Ghana elections 2012 being the current country we are covering. In addition to elections coverage, we have done some work in post-elections focusing on transparency and accountability issues and currently in partnership with Africatti we are monitoring health and education issues in two districts of Ghana under “Enabling Governance and Economic Transparency in Ghana using new media Project,” with plans to roll out to other African countries in the near future.

LA: How can people effectively use your website or information provided on it?

KA: Our audiences come to our website because of the high quality content which we generate and they consider it useful for themselves, so we can only improve our services by ensuring we constantly provide timely and relevant content to our audience base.

LA: Do you believe new technologies have improved democracy in Africa? Why?

KA: Democracy is a long journey, in this direction new technologies are assuming important roles in ensuring our people benefit from the fruits of democracy. That said, the journey is a long one; though we are recording some improvements we still have a long way to go to ensure that Africa as a whole nurtures its democracy.

LA: How empowering would you say technology has become to citizens of Africa?

KA: Technology can only play a role when the fundamentals are in place. If there is no true freedom of speech or free press, technology role becomes limited, though one may argue that technology can contribute to empowerment but it is important to stress the fact that technology plays a facilitating role and it works best when empowering environments are in place and protected to ensure technology’s role strive.

LA: What do you think the effect of technology on democracy will be 10 years from now?

KA: Technology roles cannot be discussed in isolation. Rapid growth of the tenets of democracy on the continent is a sure guarantee that technology impact on democracy is going to grow and become very important each passing day.

LA: What are your biggest challenges as an organization?

KA: We like to deploy cutting edge technologies in our coverage, but the high cost of ICT tools coupled by expensive bandwidth are always a challenge. Also user content generation is picking albeit slowly and our work will be made more interesting if the grandmother in the village can also contribute to our project.

LA: Any successes so far?

KA: The project has contributed significantly to building the capacity of journalists and citizen journalists in covering elections using new technologies, more importantly providing them with skills set they need to cover elections impartially thereby contributing to better elections which is a cornerstone of any democracy. One key achievement worthy of mention is the successful pilot of Ghana Post elections Project (”Because Accountability Counts”), where we contribute to the promotion of the culture of political accountability by providing a mechanism for citizens to match campaign promises and manifesto versus action and inaction of the ruling government.

The project incorporates citizen journalism mostly driven by mobile phones and has so far covered elections in 11 African countries namely Botswana, Cote d'lvoire, Ghana, Niger, Togo, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Liberia and Namibia. This is one of key result area.

The project has also contributed local content from an African prospective for the global market, thus, presenting the African story using African voices.

We have also contributed to the body of knowledge in African elections and democracy through our country specific countries and recently we contributed “A JOURNEY THROUGH 10 COUNTRIES - Online election coverage in Africa” article in the Journal of Journalism Practice.

At its innovation fair, “Moving beyond Conflict”, Cape Town, South Africa 2010, the World Bank ranked African Elections Projects as innovative in the area of improving governance and accountability through communication technologies.

Thumbnail image: An elderly lady being escorted by his son to vote. Photo courtesy of @liberiaelection.

June 01 2012

Zambia Donates Five Million Litres of Fuel to Malawi

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

Years of diplomatic incidents between Malawi and Zambia culminated recently in Zambia’s donation of five million liters of fuel to Malawi. The gift was ostensibly for the funeral of the country’s late President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died on 5 April 2012, after a heart attack. The political wrangling that has led up to this gesture, however, has a complicated backstory.

In 2007, Michael Sata – then the Zambian opposition leader – travelled to Malawi for a private visit, but was deported on arrival at Chileka Airport and driven 400 kilometers back to Zambia. Four years later, Sata was elected Zambia’s president.

At the time of his deportation from Malawi, Sata reportedly joked that Bingu had given him a fully fueled Lexus GX with a private chauffer (i.e., the immigration officer) for the journey, which was far more than Levy Mwanawasa, then the President of Zambia and Sata’s political opponent, had ever done.

Shortly after Sata’s election as President he was automatically invited to attend a heads-of-state summit for COMESA, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa.   As the summit was being held in Malawi, however, where Sata’s deportation was still pending in the courts, the new Zambian president declined to attend the summit, telling a Malawian special envoy:

“His Excellency Bingu wa Mutharika is aware of the predicament I am in. I would have loved to take this trip as my first official foreign visit. I thought you were bringing the revocation [of the deportation case] but you have not. Once you have rectified those issues I will come some other time.”

In Sata’s place, the Zambian government sent its Vice President Dr Guy Scott to the summit. The next time Sata would meet the Malawian leader was in South Africa at the centenary celebrations of the ruling African National Congress.

At that event, both Zambian and Malawian media reported on a chance meeting the two had. As the Zambian Post reported:

Zambian President Sata meets Malawian President Mutharika

Zambian President Sata meets Malawian President Mutharika in South Africa. Picture courtesy of ZodiakOnline

“As President Mutharika, who arrived late for the dinner, walked past where the Zambian head of state sat at the VIP table, President Sata stood up and the duo – previously regarded as enemies – hugged, exchanged “kind words” and laughed.

After they hugged, President Sata asked Mutharika, “kumunzi kuli bwanji? How is the village?” and the Malawian leader responded: “kuli bwino. Nanga mubwela liti? The village is okay. When are you coming (to Malawi)?

In his response, President Sata told Mutharika, “tizamu uzani. We will tell you.”

Zambia and Malawi share common languages and customs along their border, which stretches from Mozambique in the south to Tanzania in the north.

A few months earlier, however, Joyce Banda (then the vice-president of Malawi, and now the president) had been to Zambia to attend the neighboring country’s independence celebrations on a trip that did not go down well with the Bingu administration.  When she arrived in Malawi, she was threatened with arrest allegedly because her trip had not been officially authorized by the Malawian government.

Unfortunately, President Bingu died shortly thereafter, leaving behind a shattered economy in the grips of serious shortages of foreign exchange, electrical power and fuel, with Joyce Banda taking over as president.

The afore-mentioned donation of fuel to Malawi was the first significant display of Zambia’s acceptance of President Banda’s new government. The irony of all ironies, though, is that, in the Banda administration, Zambian President Sata’s Malawian lawyer, Ralph Kasambara, is now Malawi’s Justice Minister.

Regarding the donation of fuel, Zambia’s Energy Minister Christopher Yaluma, who had travelled to Malawi, said in April:

“This flagging off [for the shipments of fuel] being witnessed today is a mere donation towards the funeral arrangements of the deceased president. Yesterday 15 fuel tankers left and will have reached Malawi this morning.”

Because of the shortage of electricity to power refrigeration facilities in Malawi, President Mutharika’s body was transferred to South Africa, where he was buried on April 23.

ISN logo This post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide.

Visit the ISN blog and see more related stories.

May 20 2012

Science Blogging in Sub-Saharan Africa

Blogging has become an integral part of popular culture in Sub-Saharan Africa but blogging about science is still lagging behind. Many initiatives have been launched to increase the culture of sharing in the African scientific world, yet African science blogs, particularly about research, are still few and far between.

Lack of public interest?

The reason for this dearth of science blogging may be related to the uneven development of scientific research on the continent; the need for more research is well-known. B. Ruelle explains on his blog [fr]:

Le niveau de développement atteint par l’Asie du Sud-Est devrait pousser les Africains à investir dans la science et la technologie ; la science et la technologie représentent la seule voie d’évitement de la perpétuation de la faiblesse de l’Afrique dans le commerce international ; c’est aussi, dans un monde inégalitaire où racisme et xénophobie perdurent, la condition de l’affirmation de la part des Africains dans l’un des phares de la connaissance humaine.

The level of development reached by Southeast Asia should push African nations to invest into science and technology; science and technology are the only way to avoid the enduring shortcomings of Africa in international trade; it is also the only way to prevent racism and xenophobia in this increasingly inegalitarian world; the one remedy to assert African contribution to the global human knowledge pool.
University of Cheik Anta Diop in Dakar Senegal by Myriam Louviot (CC-License-BY).

University of Cheik Anta Diop in Dakar Senegal by Myriam Louviot (CC-License-BY).

The continent is not short on talented scientists. Bernard Kom lists a few of the mosts prominent African scientists [fr] right now, and some of them are also active on the web.

Jacques Bonjawo is a Cameroonian engineer who chairs the Board of Directors of the African Virtual University (AVU). He explains the objectives of the institution [fr]:

L’UVA a été conçue comme un système d’éducation à distance à travers Internet dont la mission est précisément de former une masse critique d’africains à des coûts faibles, grâce à des économies d’échelle ; une formation moderne et de qualité au terme de laquelle l’étudiant devient immédiatement opérationnel sur le marché de l’emploi.

The AVU was conceived as a complete remote online teaching institute whose mission is to train a critical mass of Africans at low cost through economy of scale. We provide a modern quality curriculum that aims to make the student immediately operational for the job market.

Mzamose Gondwe from Malawi recognizes the need to promote more African engagement with science. That is the objective of her blog, African Science Heroes. She explains what she aims to accomplish:

 I documented in print, exhibition and film African Science Heroes, Afrrican scientists who have made considerable contributions to science. In this way I hope to generate a sense of pride in our African science accomplishments and promote public engagement with science.

African research pigeonholed? 

When scientific news from Africa makes it to mainstream media platforms, it is usually related to environmental programmes, public health or research on exotic animals. A typical story that was shared many times on various online media was the recent research publication of the mating habits of the female gray mouse lemur in Madagascar. The title itself, “Costly sex under female control in a promiscuous primate”, was bound to draw quite a bit of interest from the non-scientific community.

As it turned out, the study draws interesting conclusion about strategy for the survival of the species as Sara Reardon from Science NOW explains:

Either a polygamous lifestyle confers some unknown evolutionary advantage for females, the team concludes, or girls really do just want to have fun.

African science and engineering has much to offer in other areas as well. The blog Afrigadget highlights innovative engineering projects aiming at solving specific problems. One of these projects is biogas installations in Kenya.

Paula Kahumbu explains how piki piki (motor bikes in Kiswhahili) can help distribute dung more efficiently:

The problem I face is common to many folks around here, we rent houses but we don’t have livestock. But there are huge cattle farms around us. So Dominic came up with a solution that creates jobs and moves poop quickly and efficiently. So we went to the local juakali welder on the roadside to create a dungmobile ..a trailer designed specially for cow dung!

The Africamaat project aims to document the full history of African science and its inventors. More precisely, it adds [fr]:

Notre démarche vise donc essentiellement à démontrer qu’il est profondément arbitraire d’exclure systématiquement l’Afrique noire de l’historiographie universelle lorsqu’il est question des sciences

Our approach aims to demonstrate that it is deeply arbitrary to systematically exclude black Africa from the universal history of science.

In this video, YouTube user White African showcases an invention by Killian Deku, a Ghanaian engineer that came up with a device to dose the amount of chlorine to add to water:

Open access to publications 

Madagascar is accustomed to have its lemur population draw more headlines that its people. However, it should not go unnoticed that the scientific blogging community there is starting to emerge. Several projects aim to collect and make available to the public all the scientific resources about the country.

Ange Rakotomalala describes the objectives of website Thèses Malgaches en ligne [mg]:

Ho hitanao eto ireo vokam-pikarohana tontosa teto amin'ny firenentsika nanomboka tamin'ny taona 2002.

On this website, you will be able to find all the theses and dissertations published since 2002

The scientific community blog MyScienceWork aims to promote the culture of sharing among scientists [fr]:

Pour construire la culture scientifique de demain, la science doit devenir toujours plus multidisciplinaire. Elle doit s’adresser aux amateurs de science, au public, aux professionnels de la recherche [..] En 2011, nous avons publié les textes d’étudiants en informatique des pays d’Afrique du Nord, de chercheurs en communication d’université belge, de doctorants en neurosciences, en agronomie, d’exobiologistes de renom [..] Parce que nous croyons que la culture générale doit inclure les savoirs scientifiques, nous vous remercions chaleureusement. Faites passer le message : « partager c’est vivre ».

To build the necessary scientific culture of tomorrow, science must strive to become more multidisciplinary. It must be accessible to science amateurs, the general public, the research scientists [..] In 2011, we published articles on IT from countries in Northern Africa, in communication with renowned Belgian researchers, and in neuroscience, agronomy and exobiology from PhD students [..] We did so because we believe that general knowledge ought to include science and we thank you for reading us. Please pass along this message: “sharing is living”.

The final words on science in Africa belong to Cheikh Anta Diop, one of the most prominent scientists in Africa, as posted by Africamaat [fr]:

En attendant, les spécialistes africains doivent prendre des mesures conservatoires. Il s’agit d’être apte à découvrir une vérité scientifique par ses propres moyens en se passant de l’approbation d’autrui, de savoir conserver son autonomie intellectuelle

Meanwhile, the African specialists must take prudent measures. It must be about being able to discover a scientific fact by our own means and without the approval of anyone else, about keeping our intellectual autonomy

May 19 2012

Malawi: President Promises to Lift Ban on Homosexuality

Just months after the Zambian netizens were up in arms against UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon for asking the country to be tolerant of homosexuals, President Joyce Banda says that Malawi will lift the ban on homosexual acts in the country angering some Malawi netizens over the pronouncement.

In her first national address Joyce Banda told Parliament that  her government will repeal laws that discriminates against people based on sexual orientation.
“The indecency and unnatural acts laws shall be repealed,” she said.

A map showing penalties targeting gays and lesbians in Africa. Image source:

Malawian religious groups have made it clear that same sex marriages cannot be allowed in God-fearing and cultural strong Malawian norms. However, human rights groups argue that minority rights, including those that encourage same sex marriages, should be promoted.

A court in Malawi sentenced Malawi gay couple to jail for fourteen years 2010. This was after the gay couple, Steven Monjenza and Towonge Chimbalanga, hosted an engagement ceremony. They were immediately arrested and thrown in jail.

Netizens reacted to the news on Facebook. Khalil notes:

She dnt have a choice

Isaac disagrees:

She had a choice of keeping quiet.

Abdulmalik suggests that the move results from donor pressure:

No wonder the late President quarreled with her. She is just a stooge of the West. We don't need such stooges in Africa

Joyce Banda speaking at the DFID conference in 2010. Photo shared on Flickr by DFID under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) .

Harutizwi asks, “Where is our African identity?”:

Western nations are pressuring African nations to legalise homosexuality in exchange 4 aid. Malawi's Banda is already playing 2 the western tune. Where is our African identity? If we allow homosexuality will we ever hv a future? Ndiyani achazvara 4 the next generation? I can't even say gone 2 the dogs coz dogs hv never heard o4 that. May the God o4 heavens save mankind.

But Phetie reminds critics that Malawi's system of government and even Christianity did not come from Malawi:

Its no prblm 4 Malawi legalising homosexuality…after all almost evrythn in our system of government copies 4rm western countries…even christianity came 4rm them

Clemans congratulates the president:

Wow Banda congrats

Lyson Sibande identifies five fallacies against decriminalisation of homosexuality:

Fifth fallacy: The Bible is the ultimate judge over homosexuality

It is an absurd fallacy ever, to think that every human being believes in the Bible. In this regard, it is a total disregard of the secularism of the constitution should homosexuals’ rights be criminalized on Christianity grounds. There is no rationale behind judging homosexuals with the Bible, which they may not believe in. It is like forcing a Moslem or Hindu to swear over the Bible. Nonetheless, if homosexuality is a religious catastrophe, then denominations have the right to deal with it among their memberships within their jurisdiction.

My conclusion:
According to Christianity, homosexuality harbors grievous transgression of God’s law and is punishable by death; Leviticus 20:13, as a Christian myself, I believe this Biblical teaching is irrefutable within its domains. However, non Christian homosexuals can not be denied their rights based on Biblical dogmas. Malawi as a secular nation that upholds democracy; where discrepancy arise as such that particular religious beliefs conflict with democratic fundamentals, democracy must prevail; because democracy is for everyone while religion is for those that espouse the respective teaching. Therefore, such a gesture as condemnation of gaysim based on Christian morals would symbolize crucifixion of democracy on the cross of Christian creeds.

Seba Space, LGBT blogger from Uganda, believes that Joyce Banda's heart is in the right place:

Bless her soul for taking a lead on homosexuality. Malawi‘s president has vowed that the gay law will be repealed.

Yes, Malawi’s Joyce Banda is swimming against the parliamentary tide but her heart is in the right place so we must applaud her stance. Africa needs a lot of conviction politicians like her.

On Twitter, the news quickly attracted attention.

@mugumya: #Malawi's president #Banda wants to overturn ban on homosexuality in country. Why do I think she will lose the next election?

@femianthony: In Malawi, Homosexuality is Punishable by 14 Years in Prison

@moronwatch: @gnixon88 @Original_Cindy I'm not - just returned from Malawi where a book on the evil of homosexuality was on sale at the airport

@moronwatch: @gnixon88 @Original_Cindy I'm not - just returned from Malawi where a book on the evil of homosexuality was on sale at the airport

However, the Africa producer for BBC News, @forbeesta, says that the President's Office in Malawi has denies the reports:

@forbeesta: Malawi Pres Banda's office have confirmed to me that they object to reports that she will repeal homosexuality laws. BBC will update #Africa

Early this year, Uganda re-tabled a controversial anti-gay bill introduced in 2009 that proposed the death penalty for homosexual acts. Former Liberian first lady Jewel Howard Taylor has introduced a bill making homosexuality liable to a death sentence.

Malawi will be the first country in Africa to lift ban on homosexuality since 1994. It is outlawed in 38 African countries and it can be punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan, and northern Nigeria.

May 02 2012

Africa: Calls for Transparency Over Marked Increase in Land Deals

The UK Guardian newspaper's Global Development blog reports that an international coalition of researchers and NGOs has released the world's largest public database of international land deals. This marks an important milestone in highlighting a developmental issue that has received little attention in the international news cycle.

The report states that almost 5% of Africa's agricultural land has been bought or leased by investors since 2000, and emphasizes the fact that this is not a new issue, yet points out that the number of such land deals has increased tremendously in the past five years.

Many observers are increasingly worried that these land deals usually take place in the world's poorest countries and that they impact its most vulnerable population, the farmers. The benefits seldom go to the general population, partially because of a lack of transparency in the proceedings of the transactions.

An additional report by Global Witness, entitled Dealing with Disclosure, emphasizes the dire need for transparency in the making of land deals.

World's poorest nations targeted 

The Global Witness report lists that 754 land deals have been identified, involving the majority of African countries for about 56.2 million hectares.

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

The nations targeted are usually some of the poorest in the world. The countries with the most deals in place are Mozambique (92 deals), Ethiopia (83), Tanzania (58) and Madagascar (39). Some of those deals have made headlines because they were conducted to ensure control over food imports, when the targeted regions faced major food crises.

The NGO GRAIN has already explained in detail the gist of their concerns in an extensive report released in 2008:

Today’s food and financial crises have, in tandem, triggered a new global land grab. On the one hand, “food insecure” governments that rely on imports to feed their people are snatching up vast areas of farmland abroad for their own offshore food production. On the other hand, food corporations and private investors, hungry for profits in the midst of the deepening financial crisis, see investment in foreign farmland as an important new source of revenue. As a result, fertile agricultural land is becoming increasingly privatised and concentrated. If left unchecked, this global land grab could spell the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in numerous places around the world.

In Malawi, land deals have grown increasingly prevalent to the detriment of the local farmers. A report from Bangula explains the challenges faced by Malawian farmers, Dorothy Dyton and her family:

Like most smallholder farmers in Malawi, they did not have a title deed for the land Dyton was born on, and in 2009 she and about 2,000 other subsistence farmers from the area were informed by their local chief that the land had been sold and they could no longer cultivate there. […] Since that time, said Dyton, “life has been very hard on us.” With a game reserve on one side of the community and the Shire river and Mozambique border on the other, there is no other available land for them to farm and the family now ekes out a living selling firewood they gather from the nearby forest.

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Farmers in Madagascar share similar concerns because they do not own the rights to the land they farm and an effective land reform is yet to be implemented. The Malagasy association Terres Malgaches has been at the forefront of land protection for the local population. They report that [fr]:

 Les familles malgaches ne possèdent pas de document foncier pour sécuriser leurs terres contre les accaparements de toutes sortes. En effet, depuis la colonisation, l’obtention de titres fonciers auprès de l’un des 33 services des domaines d’un pays de 589 000 km2 nécessite 24 étapes, 6 ans en moyenne et jusqu’à 500 dollars US. (..) .  Face aux convoitises et accaparements dont les terres malgaches font l’objet actuellement, seule la possession d’un titre ou d’un certificat foncier, seuls documents juridiques reconnus, permet d’entreprendre des actions en justice en cas de conflit.

Malagasy families do not usually own an estate property document that enable them to secure their lands against land grab. In fact, since colonial times, one has needed about 24 steps, 6 years and up to 500 US dollars to get such documents. There are merely around 33 agencies in the country that deliver such documents for a country that is 589,000 kilometres square […] In the face of the increasing land grabs that Malagasy land is currently at risk of, this certificate is the only document that can trigger legal action in case of conflict.

The association also reports on the practices of a mining company Sheritt, in Ambatovy, which have created a buzz in the local blogosphere because of environmental concerns for the local population and business malpractices (via MiningWatch Canada):

Sherritt International’s Ambatovy project in eastern Madagascar – costing $5.5 billion to build and scheduled to begin full production this month – will comprise a number of open pit mines (..) it will close in 29 years. There are already many concerns about the mine from the thousands of local people near the facilities. They say that their fields are destroyed ; the water is dirty ; the fish in the river are dead and there have been landslides near their village. During testing of the new plant, there have been at least four separate leaks of sulphur dioxide from the hydro-metallurgical facility which villagers say have killed at least two adults and two babies and sickened at least 50 more people. In January, laid-off construction workers from Ambatovy began a wildcat strike, arguing that the jobs they were promised when construction ended have not materialized. The people in nearby cities like Moramanga say that their daughters are increasingly engaged in prostitution.

Video of a worker's testimony in Ambatovy.

Solutions for the local population? 

The plight of Madagascar's farmers' plight may be slowly changing though. Land reform discussions are in progress, according to this report:

 According to a paper presented at the 2011 International Conference on Global Land Grabbing, about 50 agribusiness projects were announced between 2005 and 2010, about 30 of which are still active, covering a total land area of about 150,000 ha. Projects include plantations to produce sugar cane, cassava and jatropha-based biofuel.
To prevent the negative impacts of land grabbing, (The NGO) EFA has set up social models for investors, with funding from the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The goal is to help investors negotiate with the people in the area where they want to implement projects, as a way to prevent future problems.

Joachim Von Braun, formerly  of the International Food Policy Insitute (IFPRI), wrote the following regarding land deals:

 It is in the long-run interest of investors, host governments, and the local people involved to ensure that these arrangements are properly negotiated, practices are sustainable, and benefits are shared. Because of the transnational nature of such arrangements, no single institutional mechanism will ensure this outcome. Rather, a combination of international law, government policies, and the involvement of civil society, the media, and local communities is needed to minimize the threats and realize the benefits.

The need for transparency in land deals is further emphasized by  Megan MacInnes, Senior Land Campaigner at Global Witness:

Far too many people are being kept in the dark about massive land deals that could destroy their homes and livelihoods. That this needs to change is well understood, but how to change it is not. For the first time, this report (Dealing with Disclosure)  sets out in detail what tools governments, companies and citizens can harness to remove the shroud of secrecy that surrounds land acquisition. It takes lessons from efforts to improve transparency in other sectors and looks at what is likely to work for land. Companies should have to prove they are doing no harm, rather than communities with little information or power having to prove that a land deal is negatively affecting them.


May 01 2012

Malawi: Bloggers' Reactions to New President Joyce Banda

When Bingu wa Mutharika died on 5 April, the then Vice President Joyce Banda took over as Malawi's president following the country's constitution. But the events before and immediately after Bingu's death would not point to an easy transition.

She was sworn in on Saturday 7 April as Malawi's Head of State and Government becoming first female president in the country and the SADCC region. Bloggers have generally received the transition with a lot of excitement.

Joyce Banda speaking at the DFID conference in 2010. Photo shared on Flickr by DFID under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) .

In a detailed post titled Joyce Banda I know and trust, journalist Kondwani Munthali chronicles his own admiration of Joyce Banda. Having known her from his youthful days, he states:

The Joyce Banda I have come to know and respect, is the mother who speaks on empowering the poor from her heart. She does not read the script nor pretend she knows, she asks questions at every stage of her statement: 'sichoncho'.
The Joyce Banda who inspires me was the one who removed all the trappings of the Vice Presidency and went to sit down on a mat in Ndirande to condole a family of the victim of Police brutality.
The JB I know that well is the one who kept telling the people empowerment is possible even at grassroot sharing of livestock such as goats, cattle, small processing plants and mechanisation of farming.
The Joyce Banda I know is the one that could go and hug an old woman anywhere and feel confortable.
My favourate quotes of President Joyce Banda remain when she spoke after attacks on women in Lilongwe and someone tried to misintepret. She said it was a sympton of the larger problem among te youth.
When she walked almost a kilometre to see Atupele Muluzi, I asked her why she decided to walk, she said, “It is a necessary evil that we can be free.”

Richard Chirombo says that Malawians should expect more from Malawi's ‘accidental' President:

Malawi's ‘accidental' President, Joyce Banda, has set her feet to the peddle. Her first task, as it were, was to sack flamboyant Information and Civic Education Minister, Patricia Kaliati. For a woman who prides herself in gender emancipation, Banda set in motion the opposite instinct in her mantle. Malawians should expect more.

However, Gregory Gondwe takes a very different approach. After identifying key issues needing her attention such as forex, maternal health, media freedoms, nepotism, propaganda and fuel, he makes a stinging attack on the president:

I am in deep doubt that you are any different fro your predecessors if going by your appointment of Dr. Benson Tembo is anything to go by. Here is a man who was in the management of MBC at the time Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda used it as a suppressing tool. Dr. Tembo is the same person who perpetuated his charge even under President Muluzi when he was the pioneer head of the then Television Malawi. You cannot describe how it operated then as professional. And this is the person you appoint again and knowing how you used to chastise workers at MBC when you were a cabinet minister for not covering you enough, I know we are back on the same circumstance for another vicious cycle.  The most unfortunate thing is that the grassroots are sensitive to any mistake that you will make and they will give you, your prize or God will do it on their behalf.
I wish you all the best your Excellency President Joyce Hilda Mtila Banda.
Yours Sincerely
Vitus-Gregory Gondwe
Her new cabinet has also attracted reactions from bloggers. A political scientist Boni Dulani says that he should be excused for being very skeptical given the composition of her new team:
We must confess at this blog to being underwhelmed by the cabinet names that came out of Mudi House last Thursday. Only 13 names in the 32 member-cabinet are holding ministerial positions for the very first time. The rest, including President Banda herself and Vice president Khumbo Kachali – have either served in the Muluzi or Mutharika administrations. Meanwhile, eight of the ‘new' ministers have served in both the Muluzi and Mutharika cabinets.
While this gives Banda's cabinet a heavy dose of experience, it is not the kind of experience that inspires this blog, given the performances of our recent cabinets. Indeed, of the 19 members with prior ministerial experience, 15 have served, or were still serving in the late Mutharika's cabinet. Can we now expect these individuals to become better “performers” simply because their former mentor is no more? We have serious doubts about that.
Surprisingly, female bloggers have avoided commenting on Joyce Banda's rise to the presidency.  A prominent journalist Rebecca Chimjeka has avoided sharing her opionion in almost all her posts about Joyce Banda. For instance in her post about Banda's view on Malawi hosting AU Summit, Rebecca remains factual:

This blogger understands that during her meeting with civil society organizations on Monday, President Joyce Banda alluded to the fact that hosting of the summit will depend on the AU secretariat’s assurance to source money for Malawi to host the indaba which will cost more than one billion Kwacha.

According to the president, the country could not have hosted the 53 member countries’ indaba had it been that there were no assurances from Addis Ababa and other African leaders to provide financial support.

Madame Banda, then ceremonial vice president, vehemently opposed to hosting the AU summit amidst the economic crisis the country is going through.

One final reaction comes from Ndagha who says Joyce Banda has started well but should ensure that she respects all sectors of society:

So far JB has started well and she has to keep it up. A president cannot afford to hate the media, civil society, the church, the judiciary, the electorate and academia in Malawi and expect that things will run as usual.

Yes God keep it a land of peace. God loves this country. No one should take it for granted.

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