Friday, August 29, 2008

Eyes Into Africa’s Bright Future

The first wave of partnership in Africa was in the 1960s. But it was not for long. Coups, disease, hunger and wars became part of life. Now there is hope and Africa is moving forward to realise true independence.

March 6, 1957, was a defining day in Africa’s history. Gold Coast, Ghana from this date, attained independence from Britain.

The country’s founding President Kwame Nkrumah, speaking without a prepared speech or notes, was an inspiration to all Africa.

"The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa," he declared.

It was a speech from the heart. And Nkrumah meant it, because a year later, he called African liberation leaders to Ghana to strategise the continent’s independence struggle.

The fruits were soon to be seen. Twenty African countries were independent by 1960.
Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was in Ghana and admired Nkrumah’s success. It was from Ghana that Banda was invited to help Malawi’s struggle for independence.

Why did Orton Chirwa and others invite Banda when there were other Malawians outside the country?

The answer is simple. Banda—and other educated Africans—was motivated by Nkrumah and supported the struggle in Malawi.

Namibia’s founding President Sam Nujoma describes Nkrumah as a "progressive president, an accomplished academic, an incisive thinker, analyst and writer, and a legendary pan-African revolutionary."

Indeed he was, at least seen with an understanding mind and smelled by scholarly nostrils. Nkrumah knew the importance of industrialisation.

In nine years he established 68 state-owned factories. He listed some of them in his 1963 book, Africa Must Unite: a distillery, a coconut oil factory, a brewery, a milk-processing plant and a lorry and bicycle plant. There were agreements for a large, modern oil refinery, an iron and steel works, a flour mill, sugar, textile and cement factories.

The New African editor Baffour Ankomah says Nkrumah forgot factories for shoes, glass, meat, gold, fruit and tomato, chocolate and a radio and television assembly plant.

This, says Ankomah, was in addition to building a huge hydroelectric plant at Akasombo—that major source of electricity studied in Malawi’s primary school geography, a motorway from Accra to Tema and free educational and medical services "that made Ghana a showcase for Africa."

Further, Ghana had a continental radio station broadcasting beyond Africa. The radio, say analysts, helped the African liberation struggle.

"For unless we attain economic freedom, our struggle for independence would have been in vain, and our plans for social and cultural advancement frustrated," says Nkrumah in his book.

But this progress did not last. Nkrumah was overthrown on February 24, 1966, while in Peking (now Beijing) on his way to Vietnam with plans to end the American war.

"It is difficult to imagine the greatly improved condition of the African people today if Nkrumah had continued in power in Ghana to lead the pan-African movement," says June Milne, Nkrumah’s research and editorial assistant.

"One of the most shocking incidents in Africa was the overthrow, in February 1966, of that great man. I don’t think we will ever recover from those events," writes Zambia’s founding President Kenneth Kaunda in the New African of February this year.

Nkrumah wanted and fought for a united Africa, one that could progress together. He thought a united Africa should have a one-word-name: Africa.

"There is no time to waste. We must unite now or perish," said Nkrumah at the historic OAU meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1963.

"Kwame Nkrumah was [Ghana’s] leader, but he was our leader too, for he was an African leader," said Tanzania’s founding President Julius Nyerere in Accra in 1997 when Ghana celebrated 40 years of independence.

Scholars—and all critical minds—can only reflect at history with wonder.

Major-General Henry Templer Alexander, last British Chief of Defence Staff in Ghana dismissed by Nkrumah, had no kind words for the architect of one Africa. Nkrumah "is not a brave man...nowadays he keeps himself very much confined," says Alexander in his book Africa Tightrope

Colonel Afrifa, who was part of the coup, says in The Ghana Coup, Nkrumah could have been a great man.

"He started well...and became...the symbol of emergent Africa. Somewhere down the line, however, he became ambitious... and ruthlessly used powers invested in him by his own constitution. He developed a strange love for absolute power," says Afrifa.
What went wrong in Ghana between 1957 and 1966?

"It is likely that historians will be asking that question for many years to come," says The New Africans, a Reuters guide to the history of Africa’s founding leaders.

Indeed it’s a question that needs an answer because the link between Nkrumah’s end and the rise of dictatorships in Africa is becoming clear. Why did, for example, leaders like Banda and Kaunda, who were close to Nkrumah, turn to one-party politics?

Nkrumah established a one party state and controlled his Convention People’s Party (CPP) and all the organs of state; dismissed security chiefs and judges at will.

Was Nkrumah just that bad to enjoy absolute power? Perhaps the challenges of his presidency can help explain.

He faced at least seven assassination attempts. But one was most apparent. On August 1, 1962, a grenade was thrown at a village of Kulungugu, in northern Ghana, where he stopped on his way from meeting President Maurice Yameogo of Upper Volta.

Four people died, 56 injured, most of them seriously. Nkrumah escaped without any injuries but saw everything that happened. It was a dehumanising experience. He later wrote of how a cheering crowd turned into "a screaming mass of people, blood stained, limping [and] disfigured".

The incident was followed by others. But the Kulungugu attack disturbed him. He lost confidence in Ghana Police and organised a private army with Russian help on January 2, 1964.

On this date, a constable named Ametewee chased Nkrumah, fired five shots at him, missed, but killed the chief presidential guard, Salifu Dagarti.

It was another disturbing and dehumanising incident but not the first, not the last. He had endured a lot which his friends—Kamuzu, Kaunda, Nyerere and others—heard.

This is perhaps the reason why Nkrumah turned into a dictator. He was pushed into a corner and had no choice but to protect his life and the interests of his people.

Some African leaders, like Kamuzu, perhaps became dictators, dealing with every opposition immediately, for fear of being the next Nkrumah, Africa’s model.

The military coup that ended Nkrumah’s rule was organised by the CIA with support from London and carried out by local collaborators in Ghana, according to information released in recent years the West.

It is easy to blame the US and Britain. But the major culprits were Africans who collaborated with the West. Since then Africa has mainly been a sad story. Portugal handed over power to Africans in Angola and Mozambique but civil wars followed immediately. Malawi was host to over a million Mozambican refugees in the 1980s until mid 1990s.

Some remained and have become Malawians just like that confirming perhaps one of Nkrumah’s dream that Africans must be one, have one passport and move freely in their continent which was to become a country.

There was war in Liberia, Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Burundi, and trouble in Zaire.

South Africa was struggling with apartheid. There was no peace in Ethiopia. People are still fighting in Somalia, Sudan, Ivory Coast and Uganda and many other counties.

It has largely been a hopeless Africa, perhaps traced from Nkrumah’s troubles and fall.

But all that is changing now. Of course, Nkrumah’s fall was a setback because all African leaders were affected. And Kaunda was not exaggerating the effects when he suggested that Africa would not recover from the coup and its effects.

Yet there is light. Slowly Africa is moving and into the right direction. The wars in Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are over.

Mozambique and Angola are prospering. Liberia has a highly educated President, Ellen-Johnston Sirleaf, who is a symbol of a bright future for the war-torn country. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has made significant changes to bring lasting peace and economic boom to his country.

He was at the White House recently talking to President George Bush, sharing a vision while their ministers were signing treaties to boost trade. Rwanda remains the world’s best example on women representation in decision making positions.

There are serious peace efforts in DR Congo, Ivory Coast, Sudan and attempts at normalising Somalia.

Nigeria, a country of coups and assassinations, has been at peace with a civilian president for close to a decade. That is an achievement and a pointer to a brighter future.

Africa shares its fears and hopes. Most countries have held elections yet that is not democracy.
The main challenge facing emerging democracies is rushed elections assumed to bring liberty and therefore liberal democracy.

The good news is that now there is willingness, even pressure from within, for liberation and that starts with liberalising the economy which leads to political liberalisation because liberalised economy leads to modernisation.

Dictatorships were brought down in the 1990s. The IMF, World Bank and donors were able to do this in Africa and elsewhere bringing hope that soon vanished because there was no meaningful replacement and countries were plundered in a way that is very difficult to reconstruct.

Still there is a real chance for Africa to move forward. British Prime Minister writing in The Guardian in January, 2007, challenged Africa, saying it is the continent’s time to move forward.

"A century ago," he said, "people talked of ‘what we could do to Africa’. Last century, it was ‘what can we do for Africa’. Now, in 2006, we must ask what the developing world, empowered, can do for itself."

Nkrumah, born September 21 in 1909, had a vision for Africa, for a big country to be called Africa, one that could take advantage of its natural resources—land, forests, fresh water and hard working people—to develop.

Sadly he died on April 27, 1972, in exile in Guinea, without seeing that vision. Instead Ghana and Africa had become a land of coups, wars, hunger and disease.

In Nkrumah’s words, these problems, coming after independence, forced Africa to make one step backward. Now, he said in a visionary statement in 1966, "we shall take two forward".

It is happening now. Africa is moving forward and it’s good news, sweet news. The sweeter news is that Malawi, with President Bingu wa Mutharika, is moving along with eyes fixed into Africa’s bright future.

It is time to join Mutharika in serious, visionary thoughts about Malawi, a country in which we live, not for ourselves, but for our children and their children—from whom we have borrowed Malawi, a piece of land which we are expected to return better than we found it.

Help That Matters

There is poverty in Malawi. There is also help in the country. What has been done and what else can we do to help reduce poverty and educate our children?

The headmaster of Makata CCAP Primary School in Blantyre, Tedson Sesani, was a teacher in a dilemma. Or put correctly, has been a man with divided loyalties.

He wants to maintain discipline in his pupils, so boys must tuck in their shirts, always. But here comes the dilemma. Some boys have torn short-trousers and the moment they tuck in their shirts, buttocks come in the open. "This is a dilemma of discipline," says Sesani.

It is, and a real one. How does he enforce discipline when physically it is just impossible? This, too, is one face of poverty, that school boys may look like minibus touts, not willingly though.
Makata is one of Blantyre’s biggest and oldest primary schools. One block was constructed in 1953. Now the school has nine blocks with 25 classrooms.

But the pupil population is just too big for the classrooms. There are 2,803 boys and 2,971 girls, meaning, in total, 5,774 pupils. This is against 68 teachers, eight male and 60 female, meaning a teacher-pupil ration of one to 85. It is not a healthy ratio. No wonder teachers may miss challenges faced by pupils.

Poverty is just one of the challenges for the pupils. They put on torn clothes, most of them. They don’t have winter clothes. If they do, they are torn and not as warm as required. They walk in bare feet. Some of them come from child-headed homes, having lost both parents to road accidents, disease and, especially, Aids. Some children are HIV positive.

What can teachers do? Indeed as the country talks about improving education standards, how can such pupils be helped?

Education activists often campaign for school blocks, better conditions for teachers, teaching and learning materials. Rarely do they advocate for pupils welfare. Yet qualified teacher and willing learner are two important keys to quality education.

Project Malawi knows this well. The project is a long-term initiative funded by two Italian institutions Banca Intesa and Fondazione Caripolo to fight challenges caused by Aids. It is a project that approaches the fight against the epidemic using all necessary weapons available. The project works with four partners and one of them is CISP, a microfinance part of the project.

CISP knows there are poor pupils in schools. But how do they get help? CISP has trained HIV positive people in entrepreneurial skills. They were hired to make desks and school uniforms. On Wednesday last week, a couple of thousands of people assembled at Makata Primary School to witness the hand-over of school uniforms and desks.

Dr Mary Shawa, PS for HIV, Aids and Nutrition at OPC was there to preside over the function. These will be distributed to 25 primary schools in Blantyre. Each school will get 400 uniforms and 300 desks.

But Makata is at an advantage because of its big size. It will get 800 school uniforms. But this is not the best news of the story. The desks and school uniforms were made by the HIV positives business people trained by CISP.

Now these HIV positive people have something to do, some business to run, and they are able to earn some income for themselves and their dependants.

So, it was not just the pupils benefiting. Some HIV positive people have benefited as well. It is a meaningful approach indeed because teachers have benefited, too.

Poverty, says Sesani, the headmaster, tortures the pupils physically and mentally. And, like an afterthought, he adds: Pupils poverty "does not affect the children only, teachers are also affected" and the example of pupils who could not tuck in their shirts comes to mind.

So, when one by one they walked towards Dr Shawa to receive school uniforms, their smile was too wide to be missed.

The pupils sang and danced and assured all that they would work hard to prosper academically. It was a smile from the heart of their hearts. They knew part of their challenges are over. Lack of clothes can be torturing. While you may be having problems over which dress to put on for church, some have problems over soap to wash the only dress they have.

Yet the school uniform and desk distribution project runs up to end of July. But the hope is that it goes on and on and on. This was clear from speeches.

But this also revealed that we do not necessarily help ourselves. The poor children of Makata in Ndirande go to churches and mosques but religious leaders and all of us are not spending time to help them. Instead, we are busy raising funds for halls, radio stations and other white elephant projects. These poor children have neighbours who look with blind eyes.

We can help the children with K1,000. This money can buy school uniform for one pupil, perhaps two, depending on the market and, for a moment, they can forget their poverty, work hard in school and become important citizens of the country.

Not all of them can become the Mary Shawas of Malawi, of course. But help that matters can help pupils become useful citizens. The 25 schools in Blantyre are just a small part of the total population in Malawi.

Project Malawi and its partner, CISP, have done their part. Now it is our turn to help one pupil, perhaps two, so that when they tuck in their shirt, their buttocks should not be in the open.

Servants of People

They are almost a perfect pair, one that lives to help those who cannot help themselves. Their message is that everyone can help in some way and that is what we should be doing.

True lovers, says old wisdom, never meet. They just contemplate each other, as the 13th century poet Rumi writes, "since the beginning of time".

But James and Brenda Nyondo, it seems, are lovers who met and have formed a pair that believes in giving out—everything from time to kindness and money. "We live on five percent of our income," says James. "The rest goes to people."

A journey from Lilongwe City to T/A Masumbunkhunda beyond Chigwirizano, takes not more than one hour. But one late afternoon in February, James and Brenda spent about two hours on the road.

It had been raining heavily for a month. And on this particular day, it rained for close to two hours. Yet that did not stop James and Brenda from seeing an old woman at group village headman Khumba’s area. On the way, their 4X4 vehicle, which they use as an ambulance for the poor, got stuck in the mud. James, on the drivers seat, tried extra gears, but the land was too muddy for the vehicle. The situation seemed hopeless.

"James," says Brenda, "let’s try prayer." There is no delay. "Let us pray," says James. "Our Father in heaven, thank you for this opportunity you have given us to travel and help people on your behalf. We are stuck. Take us out of this mud now. Amen."

Next James instructed his wife to buckle up because the 4X4 vehicle would leave the mud with force and he did not want any injuries. But it failed.

Yet he did not worry. All along there were men who wanted to dig and get the vehicle out of the mud. "It is their way of life," says Fiskani, a young brother to James. "They wait for vehicles to get stuck, dig them out and make money for a living."

So, they did their work and after about one hour, the 4X4 vehicle was out of the mud. The men were paid K1,500 "for beer" in their own words.

In ordinary thinking, James and Brenda were supposed to return home, to the comfort of their mansion. But that was not their choice. They continued to see the old woman who is well known as agogo.

She did not know James and Brenda were coming and she was happy to see her children, as she called them. "It is nice you have come," she says. "I have no food and insects are giving me sleepless nights." Her house, a small hut, is a product of Servants of the Nation, an NGO run by James and Brenda.

The two first came to help her when they heard a story about an old woman who was killed by a hyena in the same village because her door had no shutter.

"Why should we help a person when he or she is no more?" Asks James of the woman whose funeral attracted an expensive coffin from well-wishers in the village.

To teach the people a meaningful lesson, James and Brenda organised villagers into a group to identify the needy and help them in a way the community could. That is how the old woman they saw this evening was identified. She had a house without a roof. The community, with courage from Servants for the Nation, brought grass and trees and the organisation brought plastic paper. Now she has a house that does not leak when it rains.

"I am comfortable now," she tells the couple, "except the ants."

It was for this reason that James fished out a K500 bank note for "salt and sugar and soap" and asked the community’s leader to come to Servants of the Nation offices at Likuni to collect rice for the old woman. The next day, James and Brenda were on their way to Dedza to meet community leaders and people from villages outside the town.

But he went via the office in Likuni to instruct staff to buy insecticides for the old woman to chase ants from her house. Meanwhile, in Dedza, about 60 people had assembled at a house near Umbwi Secondary School. They discussed agriculture and business. James assured them of support from Servants of the Nation. He preached about love and an end to discrimination of any kind.

"We do not choose parents. We do not choose tribe. We must not, therefore, discriminate anyone because of tribe," says James.

Servants of the Nation, he says, is founded on love; love for one another as preached by Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is the Son of God. This love, says Brenda, sees no skin colour. This love, she adds, does not consider class or race and that is what Malawians must believe in.

It makes sense somehow because James considers himself a Malawian, not a man from Karonga. He grew up in Area 18 in a house that could afford only basic existence and knows he the smell of poverty. His father is a mwenecheni of the Lambya people in Karonga. He is the next in line and his son, Mulisya, will takeover from him.

"From an early age, I was groomed for leadership through my father’s tutelage," says James who has two bachelors degrees in law from University of South Africa and business administration from University of Texas at San Antonio.

It seems true. His organisation employs about 20 people, some of them graduates mainly from the University of Malawi but as James says, a degree without love and kindness and a serving spirit "is nothing".

"Leadership is first and foremost an act of service," says James. "Without servants serving the nation, we are a doomed people regardless of who governs this country. Leadership without service benefits leaders not people."

This is the reason the organisation is named Servants of the Nation. Their work includes fixing poor people’s houses, helping the sick access medical attention. One of their vehicles is used as an ambulance for the poor. They also give out wheelchairs to those who do not dream of getting any. Paul, in the rural areas outside Likuni is a typical example. He had no mobility. He used to crawl. Now he has a wheelchair and is able to go to church.

It is a special wheelchair, with a hole in the middle, so that users do not have problems in the toilet. Paul is just one of the beneficiaries. There are hundreds in Lilongwe, Balaka, and other areas of the country. The organisation has also been giving out books on leadership to Parliament, University of Malawi and other organisations.

"Servants of the Nation will serve anyone and everyone regardless of that person’s beliefs, language, skin colour, social standing, origin or any other considerations," says James and Brenda in statement. "We tell people that real leaders are for something that will benefit their fellow man. It does not take greatness to be against something. People who are against never build anything and never unite."

These are wise words befitting this season of political turmoil. They are words from a man and a woman who have found love.

That night, when they returned from helping that old woman, James and Brenda smiled at each other and thanked their God for looking after them. They planned for the next day, how they would travel to see more poor people, the desperate who do not hope for any intervention from anyone.

James and Brenda seem to make a perfect pair destined for a greater office, especially now when people are thinking of Malawi of 2014, after President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Our Chopped Wings

This was supposed to be a year of celebrations, that Air Malawi’s wings have been in the skies for 40 years. But that is not the case. Instead, the airline is seeing its last days.

Flying Gets Better at 40, says Air Malawi of its 40 years of existence. Or put with emphasis on past tense, said Air Malawi last year when it announced that it was two scores old.

But the picture on the ground is not that sweet, flying might be getting better but the future of the company is foggy. Instead of celebrating—the function has been cancelled, it seems—Malawi is debating the intended liquidation of the airline.

The airport was not that busy eight days ago. Air Malawi staff were not wearing their usual happy faces. The few passengers in the lounge looked tired.

At 5 pm, 45 minutes after the scheduled departure time for Dar es Salaam, two Air Malawi staff come into the lounge and their faces tell a story.

"Ladies and gentlemen," says the man, "I have a message." We all knew it was not good news. But we did not expect the worst: cancellation of the flight. We were supposed to fly out to Dar at 4:15 but we did not. At 5, a message comes that Air Malawi is using a chartered plane which, because of its nature, was delaying by 30 minutes on every flight.

"We will depart for Dar at 5:30," says the man. But we flew out of Chileka after six o’clock. What is happening with Air Malawi?

"Morale is down, here" one staff said weeks ago. "Even patronage on our flights is down. Talk about liquidation has not helped our business. It seems people are not sure of the future of the airline."

Of course. How can we be hopeful? Air Malawi was supposed to be celebrating 40 years of existence in March this year. Towards the end of last year, the airline invited essayists to write on airline business. The competition was in three categories: primary school, secondary school and university students. The winners were supposed to be announced in March during celebrations to mark 40 years of Air Malawi’s existence.

Nothing has been heard so far. The celebration is not there. How can there be celebrations when the airline is coming to an end?

My flight back to Malawi on Wednesday last week was not better but I was still happy. I was supposed to fly straight to Blantyre but ended up coming via Lilongwe. This happens anywhere in the world. It was a free-sitting flight because, as one cabin crew put it, "it’s not a full flight". Indeed. One could count the passengers. Perhaps not so many of us travel to East Africa.

But this was not the first time I have traveled on the Blantyre-Dar-Nairobi flight. I have been on flights that were full.

So, as we flew over Tanzanian skies I remembered that on January 27, 2006, Mutharika launched a new Boeing 737-500 in Lilongwe and challenged Air Malawi to operate like an airline, not minibus company. Former board chair Jimmy Koreia Mpatsa knew that the President meant his word.

"By our estimation, we should be able to break even at the very latest by the second year because as the President said, if we do not do so, he will convert our [airline] into a minibus company, so we do not want him to do so," said Mpatsa.

By July 2006 news was that Air Malawi was stabilising. Flights, 95 percent of the flights, were on time. Some form of profit was coming into the accounts of Air Malawi. The managers were happy, addressing press conferences with smiling faces.

There was a K43 million loss in 2004 and a whopping K854 million in 2006. That was sad news. But there was good news. In the first six months of 2007, Air Malawi made a profit of K32 million.

Then more sweet news followed. Air Malawi was 40 years old. It was formed on September 2, 1967, when the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland’s Central African Airways was dissolved.

"As we mark the 40 years in the airline business, the future of Air Malawi looks brighter," said Mchungula last year.

Not anymore. The airline planned to celebrate the 40 years in March this year. The essays were being submitted, I think. But as that was happening, government was planning something else. Towards the end of last year, Comair of South Africa was rumoured to be taking over Air Malawi. Later, government changed, saying the negotiations did not materialise.

The beginning of this year was bad news as well. Air Malawi was suspended from the International Air Traffic Association (IATA) for nonpayment of funds. In April, government announced liquidation.

"There have been some thoughts over liquidation.... The picture they [Air Malawi management] continuously presented has not really been part of reality," said Henry Chimunthu Banda.

So, Air Malawi managers were not telling us the whole reality? Of course, they cannot. But it seemed the airline was getting better than before. Malawians were flying on their own airline. I resolved to fly Air Malawi, always, and the slogan the airline coined, Flying Gets Better at 40, was making sense. Now it stands meaningless.

As we flew from Lilongwe to Blantyre, I gazed at the land through the window and saw houses, small as shrubs. The descent to Chileka International Airport was like a descent into an end of something.

The land was hilly, with small rivers flowing, most of them dry. Once there was water in some of the streams. Now they are dry. Why do things come to an end? I asked myself. Of course, you can repeat or play again a song or a film. But the end still comes again. The more you play, the more the end comes. It’s just part of life that things, even love, come to an end.

Government is now sure of the end of Air Malawi. The airlines staff can smell the end. This is clear on their faces. How do they reconcile the good news of profit and the bad news of the end?
Not long ago, they were working hard to turn around the company. The marketing department was clearly creative, coming up with a lay bye system of payment. What else did people want? Cabin crew was getting better, everyday. Services were improving, slowly, not as fast as some wanted, but still improving.

Now that the liquidation is for sure—I want to believe that it is for the good of the country—what else can we do? I am not traveling a lot nowadays because I am busy. But I hope to be there on Air Malawi’s last flight and do a story tentatively titled, Our last flight.

If I will not be traveling on that day, I hope to fly by invitation. My love goes with Air Malawi.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Love Across Kuyimba Albums

The theme of love in Kuyimba albums is systematically handled, perhaps a lot better than any other band has ever done. The point of departure is clear and the journey visible.

The journey of love starts from the beginning, in Kuyimba One. The founder of Kuyimba albums, Evison Matafale, starts on a rather doubting note. Nkhawa bi in Kuyimba 1 is a song about a persona, a man revealed in the voice of Matafale, hoping for love, a girl, from a distance, both economic and social.

Ndikakuona utakwera motocar,
Makamaka utakwera kutsogolo,
Ndimangoti mkazi uja wapita,
Ine nkhwa biii.

She is just a hope, a man’s hope of love. Yet the second part of the first stanza brings some tangible hope and almost a guarantee that there is something, already.

Koma tikakumananso,
Iwe umandiuza,
Kuti ndisadandaule,
Chifukwa umandikonda,
Ine mtima ziii.

Matafale, his voice or the persona, is like a man watching a girl from a distance, admires her but knows she was not born for him only. Anyone, even the voice in the song, can win her love. But he thinks like any other man; he has that insecure feeling that someone else has won her love. This is someone driving. Call it power of a car.

But is it that simple, that a girl goes for a car? Love is more complicated than that and the second part of the first stanza in which the girl assures of her love, is evidence. Women look for more than money although economic security is crucial.

Here, too, Matafale shows the bewitching power of love. Even if people saw her riding a car, the character in the song forgets all people are saying and believes in her love assurances. This is not strange, it is part of life. People stick to one another for reasons others cannot understand. Which is why Edgar ndi Davis in one song wondered what a man liked in a wife who did not do any household chores. The man knew what he liked.

But was the girl’s assurance real? It does not seem so. Which is what we see in Kuyimba 2. Matafale sings about a love affair that is failing to take off the ground after years of assurances.

Sunachite kulemba kalata,
Kuti mwina ndiziti sunalembe ndiwe,
Sunachite kutuma munthu wina,
Kuti mwina ndiziti anandinamiza,
Ndi pakamwa pako unanena wekha,
Kuti umandikonda,
Nanga lero bwanji?

This reality comes after years the persona has spent believing that he is in love. But the stark reality is unfolding: the girl is not necessarily in love.

Of course this song can have several interpretations. It can be political, a reference to MPs who come with promises that are never fulfilled at the end of five years. It might be that Matafale was borrowing from politics: how parliamentary candidates speak with their own mouths about their commitment but after years, nothing happens.

Then, Matafale died in circumstances Malawi has not understood up to now. But the Kuyimba journey did not die with him. The mission continues with the Black Missionaries. In Kuyimba 3, there is a new attempt to win the girl’s love. The persona is now revealed through the voice of Anjiru Fumulani in a composition challenging the girl:

Ngati umakonda undikonde ine,
Ngati umadziwa undidziwe ine.

He challenges the girl with great love, dare to love me, he says. Love begets love, so we say. But there are grains of doubt. If, the word if (ngati), means the persona is not sure of the girl’s love. Are we ever sure of love?

"That’s a good question," says Pierson Ntata, a Zomba based musician. "If not, then what are we? Are our lives all a pretence? Are they a hoax? We love and we are loved."

There is a point when people are sure of love, he says, hence people are shocked when a spouse breaks the sanctity of marriage. "If we were not sure of love, then we would not be shocked," says Ntata. "In practice, people convince themselves of love not because there is proof but because of fear of the opposite, the consequences."

Still, in a world where love does not last, the man is compelled to ask his girl’s assurance. And, for the first time in the Kuyimba journey of love, relatives are introduced into the love theme. They are uncles, and they are crucial in any journey of love that aims at destination success.

Ndinati zikomo,
Zikomo malume,
Komanso zikomo,
Okonda wangayo.

The scene is in public, before uncles and aunts. Perhaps the man’s side had gone for a formal visit to the girl’s home. The two, it seems, are growing in love, hence in Kuyimba 4, Ndamusowa, tells it all.

Ndamusowa ine,
Okondedwa wangawo,

Now love is flowing like water in a river and there are such bodies of water in Chileka. So, the analogy of love flowing fits well because the missionaries from Chileka grew up watching water in the rivers and streams of Chileka.

In a way, Ndamusowa suggests that the man wants the girl to be the last to see when he goes to bed and the first to see when he wakes up. This is how love is supposed to be but, sadly, not the case always. It’s a theme explored in detail by arts: true lovers, says common sense, never meet; they only contemplate each other, existing in the mind.

But the Kuyimba 4 lovers are true, at least seen at this stage of the love journey in Kuyimba albums. Kuyimba 4 was the end of the first part of the journey. After hoping for her in Kuyimba 1, courting her love in Kuyimba 2, pleading for her love in Kuyimba 3, the two are in love and can declare so to the world in Kuyimba 4.

It seems like a journey that resonates with all of us. We start from hoping, move on to courting and when that fails, we plead, even kneel down and ask for love. Isn’t that what pleading is all about? So, the two have agreed and they move on in love.

Now wonder in Kuyimba 5, it is clear the two have invited the world to witness a union, a wedding of some sort, which takes place at the man’s rural home: Chileka, for example.
So, you can imagine the man, Anjiru in this case, singing:

Tsono uti bwanji iwe,
Nditinso bwanji poti umandikonda,
Uzinena za ine,
Ndidzanena za iwe poti umandikonda

What else? The journey is at a climax. In fact, one can imagine that the two are singing as bride and bridegroom, at their wedding, assuring people that they are one, they are in love, married, the beginning of a new journey, the reality, so to say, whose fruits appear in Kuyimba 6.

Ngooneka Bwabji? is a song in Kuyimba 6. The journey of love, or call it flight, is now in troubled skies. The woman is questioning the man because rumour is that he is going out with someone else, hence the question, ‘how beautiful is she?’

How beautiful is she, that I should leave you for her? This is the question the man asks in defence. He means to say, "My girl, you are beautiful, more beautiful than anyone else that I can’t go for someone else." Here, says Ntata, starts true love.

"In premarital love," says Ntata, "interaction is minimal. The affair is more romantic than love [because] there is a refusal to look at the negative side for fear of straining the relationship and you don’t want that to happen."

But after marriage, people live together all the time and the idea that you have secured the deal makes you less cautious and less careful. Yet here starts true love because people accept each other and learn to live with each others strengths and weaknesses.

This is what is happening in Kuyimba 6. The man might have been talking carelessly with girls and people have reported that he is going out with someone else when in fact nothing might be happening.

Kuyimba albums are addressing different circumstances faced by men and women, boys and girls. But most importantly, they are painting a truly practical, positive picture of love. Some musicians have mastered hopelessness music. There is a lesson from Kuyimba albums that there is a lot of love in the world and artists need to sing about it.

What about Kuyimba 7? The Blacks are in the studio working on a seventh album, what will be the next step on the journey of love?

"You would bet the song in Kuyimba 7 will be a continuation of this trust," says Ntata. "It will be something like people wanted to disturb this love but they are still loving each other."

Hopefully, the Blacks are working on something in line with the journey of love in Kuyimba albums. It has been a rich journey, one that engages people in real issues. It is, in short, a journey that reflects reality but also shines on reality—our daily complicated lives.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

‘No MOU, no budget’

The opposition in Parliament has accepted to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) prepared by the clergy to end the political feud that is budget and Section 65. I spoke with UDF leader in the House, George Nga Mtafu, on the MOU and its future.

The opposition’s stand all along was Section 65 first, now you say budget first. Why the change of heart?

We have to put a few things right. One, the mediators wrote us a letter asking us—government and opposition—whether [or not] we were willing to sign the MOU. The last day for answers to that question was on Monday [August 4], and we in the opposition have said yes. I don’t know what the government has said. That being the case, we said we will sign and we are waiting for the mediators to say come and sign. Let it be known to everybody that we have been willing to end the political impasse.

Two, we agreed to a motion to pass a resolution to allow the Minister of Finance to spend the first four months of this financial year and we have also given, in that resolution, monies for presidential and parliamentary elections and fertiliser subsidy. Three, with that the budget per se has not been passed. Four, the brilliant compromise agreement is, for us, still valid.

Why do you call it brilliant? I have heard you say so several times.

It’s a good compromise agreement.

What do you, as opposition, lose in this compromise because in any compromise you lose and gain something?

What we are asking for is that priority this time be given to Section 65 and from the agreement you see that on day 12 [of parliament meeting] the budget will be passed first and at the end of it will come Section 65. We are doing all this so that the dear Republic of Malawi can move forward.

Initially, we were asking that we impeach the President but this is a formula we departed from a long time ago. The clergy asked if we are interested in that. We said no. This is part of the MOU, we will sign it. But let it be known to everybody that we have not departed from our demand that Section 65 must be dealt with in this sitting. Unless 65 is done concurrently in this sitting, then there are troubled days ahead of us.

But it sill comes after the budget is passed, most likely, and once beaten twice shy....

No, no, no.

The President may close Parliament as he did last year.

Let him do so. We are willing to let him do so. The budget has not passed as of today. Get it from me.

The understanding is that on day 12 the budget will be passed.


After that matters of Section 65 will start.

Yes, that is if we all sign the memorandum of understanding.

So, if the ruling side does not sign, then budget...

Then the budget does not pass.

In a way, as you put it, the onus is on government?

The onus is on government. Our demand for [Section] 65 has not lapsed, the demand is still live, come what may.

You have given money for elections next year, meaning you are interested in contesting and winning because we contest to win. But the way issues of Section 65 are discussed in public does not necessarily win you support. Are you sure you are on course politically?

We are standing for the right and the country must now know who is the aggressor. These people [the clergy] were called to bring us together, to bring us to a compromise solution and someone doesn’t want a compromise, they want to get hundred percent. What I am saying here is that nobody gets 100 percent. They can just forget it. You can’t get 100 percent! Forget it! So, we are moving ahead, Section 65 will have to be done whether one likes it or not!

And the ruling side will claim the opposition is delaying the budget...

No, no, no. We are not delaying the budget . We have gone so far to say, ‘let this country get somewhere’, and someone is saying ‘I don’t want this country move forward’.

Both government and opposition sides claim they want this country to move forward, but we are not moving. Who should we believe?

Someone doesn’t want this country to move forward. What we have said is that we give K91 billion for elections and fertiliser. That is moving forward. This is up to October and he who wants this country to move forward will have to make sure it moves on from October.

But we are already late, as a country, and fingers are pointing at the opposition.

The opposition is not at fault in anyway. It has never been. All the opposition wants to do is that if we bundle up together budget and [Section] 65 there is no problem. But if someone wants Section 65 to be forgotten, then they are making a big mistake because that is not what we want to do.

So, all this we are being told that the opposition is against the budget is mere propaganda, is that what you mean?

We have agreed to release monies for the country to be moving. Even the wise men of God have actually discovered the element of legality of the Constitution and that both Section 65 and the budget are constitutional and we must get both. But someone wants to get only his way through, which is wrong. Mind you, the issue of [Section] 65 has been lingering with us for over three budgets. We have been so nice, saying ‘our country first’. But now our time is up, our issues also must be considered.

Our issues? What is your message to Malawians?

I hope they will sit back in their important time and go over the entire scenario. We have done our part as opposition. We have been willing to dialogue. We have been willing to hear wise words from the men of God. They have advised us to come to a compromise agreement and we have said ‘yes’. The country will have to decide and give a proper verdict.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Our Beautiful, Life Saving Ways of Life

Not everything western is good. In fact, there is a lot of good in African faith and cultures. Malawi needs to single out the best of its cultures.

Michesi Mountain in Phalombe is as high as Chiradzulu Mountain. But this is where similarities stop and differences, stark and clear, start.

Chiradzulu Mountain, some 15 kilometres from Blantyre, is bare. Once covered with trees, it is bald. Three decades ago, the mountain was green with trees. All that is gone. Now, the few trees that remain are being turned into charcoal mainly sold in Blantyre.

Sixty kilometres away from Chiradzulu, is Michesi, a highland covered with trees, some growing at the foot of the mountain.

Why do the people of Phalombe preserve trees when elsewhere trees are cut as if they were not of any use? Is it because the mountain is a protected area? Why then is Chiradzulu Mountain, a protected area as well, bare?

One reason, and perhaps the main one, is faith. People in Phalombe believe the mountain is the dwelling place of ancestral spirits, the messengers of their God, and cutting down trees deprives spirits of their dwelling place which is an unforgivable sin.

"The belief that there is someone invisible watching you, always, is strong here; and if you cut trees spirits will punish you," says Bright Molande, a cultural theorist in the English Department at Chancellor College. "This is their faith."

How do the people get firewood, then? Spirits dry some trees, especially branches which people collect. It seems their God knows and understands people’s needs and provide firewood in mysterious ways.

The story of Phalombe is just one evidence of the importance of cultural beliefs and faith in our daily lives from health through agriculture to economics.

This was so hundreds of years before the arrival of Islam and Christianity which assumed that there was little good in Africa. The missionaries called almost everything we were doing pagan, even our names. So, at baptism, they gave us English names: Mwaiseni became Michael, Mwiza became John while Tadeyo became Paul.

Our music instruments were called pagan. Don’t use drums, they said, use keyboards and organs. Yet the sound is the same. A keyboard produces the sound our drums produce. The electric drums that came with the missionaries produce the same sound as that done by maseche and visekese.

They doubted our initiation programmes and called them pagan. Even now they don’t understand our ways of life. They say we don’t discuss sex with our children. Yet Malawi has ways sex is discussed: a man talks that with his nephews, a woman her nieces.

Our faith in God is as old as man’s history in this part of the world, hence names like Chiuta, Mlengi, Namalenga and others. Mbona and Mlauli were messengers of our God. Their story is, in some ways, like that of Jesus. In fact, every society has its own version of God and his sons and messengers only that the story of God and Jesus was chronicled and made popular by the West.

"In traditional African society, the sacred and the secular are inseparable says," says Somadhi Adewale, a scholar on Yoruba religion in Nigeria. "There is no compartmentalisation of life. What religion forbids or condemns society also forbids and condemns, and similarly society approves those things which religion approves or sanctions. An offence against God is an offence against man, and in like manner an offence against man is an offence against God, since man is a creature of God. Either offence is criminal."

Traditional African religion (TAR) has no documents showing what is legal or illegal, but it has a code of conduct which people know. This code constrains individuals to live in conformity with the well-being of society.

In African morality, says Francis Kasoma, a Zambian professor of ethics, a good thing is that which benefits society, not an individual.

This is communal life, which the retired Reverend Stewart Lane of the Anglican Church describes as "God’s way of life". Yet individualism is taking root in our society. The West which brought Christianity also brought individualism which is slowly replacing our ways of communal life.

As long as morality and spirituality are concerned, Africa has been doing fine for centuries. Forbidden criminal actions include adultery, breach of covenant, burglary, fornication, incest, kidnapping, irreverence and unkindness to parents, lying, murder, rape, seduction, speaking evil of rulers, swearing falsely, theft, sodomy and malice.

What did the West bring? Christianity or their culture? A critical analysis concludes that Christianity was used as a vehicle to carry the missionaries’ culture. Education, too, was a means of bringing their culture to Africa. Religion was not about faith only, it was also about culture: their food, dressing, etiquette, and values.

The trouble, as Buti Tlhagale, the Catholic metropolitan archbishop of Johannesburg says, is that the meeting of African culture with the western and Christian cultures was not "an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and [a] search of those common elements that reinforce the values embedded in each culture".

"This has not always been the case," says Tlhagale. "Colonialism did not create space for the African culture. The dominant group did not recognise that African culture had its own wisdom, insights and values that informed the lives of Africans. African culture appeared to have had an arrested growth. At any rate, the aspiration of the dominant group was to civilise the Africans or to assimilate them into their culture."


Weeks ago, Michael Jana, a lecturer at Chancellor College, wrote in defense of the involvement of traditional leaders in local governance. His argument was that Malawi does not need ward councilors because there is an established local structure of traditional leaders.

Participation of people in planning, implementation and evaluation of their development activities at local level ensures that the activities are relevant to local needs. This, in turn, is believed to lead to empowerment of the poor, effective public service delivery and reduction of poverty.

"One avenue of people’s participation that forms a significant part of local governance in liberal democracy is the election of ward development representatives, also known as ward councilors, to represent the development needs of the people at local and district levels," says Jana.

In Malawi, the district assembly, which is influential in development, is supposed to consist of elected ward councilors, elected members of Parliament, traditional leaders (who do not have voting powers), and five people from civil society appointed by elected members of the Assembly.

Jana says by excluding ward councilors, "Malawi can achieve a more legitimate, cost effective, democratic and motivated local governance than the one that currently provides for the inclusion of ward councilors".

Village heads are best suited to represent people in development matters. They know every person in their areas. Take your example. Your village head, most likely, knows where you live and work. He or she knows you by name. This is true of the rest of the people from your village.

Your village head knows the needs of the people better than a ward councilor. The challenge is that we have copied what we think are democratic structures from the West at the expense of our own democratic structures. This assumes that democracy is not African which is not true.

"Who killed African democracy?" Asks Professor Ali Mazrui, one of Africa’s brilliant minds. "The cultural half caste who came in from western schools and did not adequately respect African ancestors. Institutions were inaugurated without reference to cultural compatibilities, and new processes were introduced without respect for continuities. Ancestral standards of property and legitimacy were ignored."

To understand how our ways are best suited to our needs, consider population and housing census. This is work village heads can handle professionally. Each village or a group of villages can appoint an individual, a retired civil servant, for example, to be trained by the National Statistical Office (NSO).

This person would collect data and hand over to a village head who would, in turn, hand over to the group village head, to the T/A and finally the district commissioner who would send the data to NSO.

This is a lot cheaper and convenient than the current set-up. Each village knows its people pretty well. It could be in cities and towns where NSO would hire enumerators. This is if we were serious with our traditional governance systems which the West does not understand because they don’t have a similar system.

Orphan care

One area where western life has shaken our society is on orphan care. Government’s official policy is that orphans should live in families with aunts, uncles.

Unfortunately, the African family tree is being broken and being replaced with the western family tree in which a brother is called an uncle. A family is a man, his wife and two or three children. The rest should be in orphanages where they live among themselves, children without parents. They see the world of children with parents as something far away, in some distant land where life is all honey and milk.

What society are we bringing up in orphanages? It is difficult to make conclusions now. But one can imagine that a generation of people growing up away from families will have difficulties to appreciate family values, and the fall of the family unit, is the beginning of the fall of a society.

"This is a fair conclusion," says Charles Chilimampunga, a sociologist at Chancellor College in Zomba, "especially when children at an orphanage don’t have an opportunity to interact with [adults]."

Chilimampunga says a child grows well by interacting with adults and children. "Children who grow up in orphanages lack interaction with the wider communities," he says.

Where has the idea of orphanages come from? Now the concept is established. Even people who can look after children whose parents have died are searching for some orphanages to raise their children. Some single parents are running away from responsibility and taking their children to orphanages. It’s almost a crisis.


Our ways of life ensure that we grow up healthy people. Expectant women are not supposed to do hard pieces of work. There are times we laugh at ourselves for cultural practices like chokolo.

But have we done a historical analysis of the practices? Chokolo is a practice that enables a man to marry a widow of his brother. We need to think of this in terms of the 19th Century when people lived in small communities, which were far from each other.

Chokolo came about because once a man died, patriarchal societies felt sorry to let a kind woman leave their village. So, they gave her another man. It was also a way of lessening her burdens. Where would she go? Her home? She would find no land. She would be a stranger. Finally, it was a way of ensuring children grow up within the family.

Compare this with our society today. A man dies and his widow marries again. The new husband is not satisfied with his wife. He rapes his stepdaughters.

Chokolo has been with us for decades, even religion tolerated the practice. It has just been labeled bad after HIV started devastating Malawi. Where were the evils of chokolo all this time?

Once upon a time, children were not allowed to eat eggs. We often laugh at this and label our forefathers backward. But even today cholesterol in eggs is bad, not only for children but for adults as well. The recommended maximum number of eggs is four per week.

In this case, our parents were more brilliant than us in the modern world who insist on meat, eggs, and meat products and despise nutritious vegetables like bonongwe, luni and ntapasya.

Our traditional ways of healing like vimbuza are not magical. They are psychological; they use psychoanalysis. A person who is depressed needs some serious entertainment. Our parents explained depression as mizimu, an attack from spirits. They devised what they thought was a magical way of healing. But the truth is that the dance entertains a person in a way that takes away worries.

Each of our ways of life can be explained. They are helpful in all senses. The reason people of the Shire Valley don’t make ridges is that M’bona would have problems walking. This is the theoretical framework. The practical aspect is that the Shire Valley area does not need ridges because it is a flat area.

Dress and God

One evidence that religion was used as a way of bringing western culture is dressing. If one is to preach in a church, they must put on a neck-tie and a jacket.

But jackets and neck-ties are not religious, they are cultural. Is he a God of western dressing only and not the African gear? Why should a Malawian Muslim dress the way Arabs do in the Middle East?

Sheikh Dinala Chabulika of the Islamic Information Bureau says a Muslim can put on a jacket and a shirt during prayers. "It is a requirement that we must hide our nakedness," he says, "which for man starts from the knees to the navel."

This means that so long a man covers himself from the knees to the navel, he is welcome in a mosque. Why, then, does it seem a must that Muslims should dress like Arabs? "It is a question of the background of religion. The founders [of all religions] were dressing in a given way and we are trying to dress like them," says Chabulika.

Here is the answer. It is not religious to dress in anyway. Africans are simply trying to dress like the people who brought a new religion, a new religion because we had our own which they described as pagan.


Not everything African is evil as we are made to believe. Using herbs as medicine is not evil. What is the difference between SP and a liquid from boiled peach leaves? They both cure malaria, only that the liquid has not passed through a factory. Is the herb at Limbe market evil because it did not pass through some factory in Mumbai, India?

It is time to reflect on our ways of life and discover those we believe will benefit us. There is a lot we are losing by abandoning everything African and adopting everything western. Agriculture is just one example. Manure from animal waste is a lot better than fertiliser that is destroying our land.

Faith is another. Now people have cut trees even in places marked as protected areas. People are breaking rocks everywhere as if we don’t need them anymore.

Faith, our faith and cultures, are crucial elements in environmental protection, health, agriculture, governance, development and morality. The example of Michesi Mountain in Phalombe where trees are not cut anyhow, is just one. Malawi can chronicle several others to confirm this argument.

Rethinking Malawi, the Way Forward

It is over a month without a budget and all looks well: state services are available. But the long term results are catastrophic. We are reversing progress made in decades, and the price will be bitter.

It is the end of winter and the warm season, a time for work, is here. In fact, early farmers have already started work in readiness for the rains.

Each season has specific work and Malawians understand this well. Our sense of time is serious that anyone who does not pay attention to seasons is regarded out of touch because time for planting is for planting, not for making ridges.

So we are, a month into a new financial year without an approved budget. On the surface, it looks like a political feud: the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) want Section 65 while the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wants the national budget.

Journalists have a weakness for declaring this moment or that one as critical. But today, more than a month into a new financial year without an approved budget, there is little doubt that we stand at a critical moment of our future—the welfare of our children and their children.

"Soon we will see deterioration of both quality and quantity of public goods and services, automatically disadvantaging the poorest of our society," says Collins Magalasi, a economic commentator in Lilongwe.

Public hospitals will offer poor services, schools will run out of teaching and learning materials, and roads will lack maintenance. The security organs, police and army, will have inadequate resources to provide security. Even when the budget is approved, the delay will cost us because procurement of drugs, for example, takes time.

One, the drugs we could have bought now will cost us more in months to come. Secondly, essential drugs may run out and between now and the next procurement, we may court unnecessary deaths. Will any politician justify such deaths and point a finger at someone as responsible? Shall Malawians listen to such politicians and cheer them, even vote for them?

"The productivity of this country and general availability of basic necessities will go down and this will ignite [an] increase in prices. Again, the one to suffer most are the poor," says Magalasi.

Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe may be wearing a brave face but his ministry is already under stress. The reality of spending without a budget will soon hit ministries of finance and economic planning and development. Gondwe and Ken Lipenga will face donors without an approved budget.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be coming to Malawi for talks on the next IMF programme, either on a new poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) or a poverty support instrument (PSI), either of which require a budget.

"We must remember that the IMF gives signals to the rest of the donor community whether to support Malawi or not. So, without an approved budget, the IMF programme will be a non-starter and the country will be out of the compass of donors. The results are serious," says Magalasi.

Serious indeed. The Reserve Bank of Malawi will be under pressure to manage inflation, interest rates and exchange rates. This management is necessary now when maize prices are rising, and world inflation rates are unstable and governments are working 24/7 to ensure economic stability.

The private sector that we want to grow to provide taxes to government and employ more people will be hit hard, and the costs will be transferred to consumers. The poor will pay the price. We are, as one economist says, "destroying what we have been building all these years."

But we are not able to see this now, partly because of our partisan opinions. We do not evaluate ideas and events as Malawians but as party followers. We live in an ideal country, full of partisan influence. We forget that Malawi is a real country and has real people who need a real government that offers real public services.

The worst consequence of not passing the budget is that we are saying ‘we don’t care about Malawi’. It shows politicians do not care at all about this country and this has worse results than we think. Why should a common man care for telephone cables when MPs don’t care about this country? Why should people care for public property when party leaders are denying Malawians a budget?

Are we surprised that private and public property is being stolen for sale in Malawi and neighbouring countries?

Budget or Section 65?

One fact—a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless—is that Malawi may soon stop moving forward. This budget/Section 65 deadlock, in real sense, shows the selfishness of our elected leaders, our politicians and our partisan thinking that we still support our politicians when they are taking this country to a hell of darkness and hopelessness.

One lesson of leadership offered by Nelson Mandela, the world’s greatest man living, is that life is not about things being in black or white, that you can choose either Section 65 or budget.

Life is more complicated than choosing between A and B. Time Magazine managing editor Richard Stengel, writing weeks ago, celebrated Mandela’s 90th birthday with eight lessons of leadership. Stengel worked with Mandela on his book Long Walk to Freedom.

When they began a series of interviews, Stengel often asked Mandela questions like this one: When you decided to suspend the armed struggle, was it because you realised you did not have the strength to overthrow the government or because you knew you could win over international opinion by choosing nonviolence? Mandela would then give Stengel a curious glance and say, ‘Why not both?’

Next, the brilliant journalist started asking smarter questions. "But the message was clear: Life is never either/or," says Stengel. "Decisions are complex, and there are always competing factors. To look for simple explanations is the bias of the human brain, but it doesn’t correspond to reality. Nothing is ever as straightforward as it appears."

The current political feud is not as straightforward as budget versus Section 65. The lesson from Mandela’s life teaches us that every problem, including the current political dispute, has many causes.

While Mandela was clearly against apartheid, he knew its causes were complex. They were historical, sociological and psychological. Mandela’s calculus, says Stengel, was always, "what is the end that I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?"

What is the cause of the political battle we have now? What is the end we seek for Malawi? Why should Section 65 be a problem now when we have lived with it for over a decade? The truth is that the struggle is not between the budget and Section 65. These are lifeless things. They do not speak. The warfare is between those who speak for the budget and Section 65.

It cannot just be that Section 65 and the national budget have become competitors today. The two cannot compete because they are different.

The validity of Section 65 can be decided by a court of law or a constitutional conference. The validity of the budget is not an issue for courts or debate at a constitutional conference. This means it is wrong to equate the budget and Section 65 because their importance is different.

Section 65 is partisan while the budget is national, for everybody, regardless of political party membership, meaning Section 65 and the budget cannot compete and they are not competing.

The struggle is between President Bingu wa Mutharika and former president Bakili Muluzi. The two worked together and we do not know what they agreed to do after Mutharika’s election. The least we can guess is that the UDF expected financial returns from state resources because, as former UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu said, Mutharika was supposed to help the party pay back debts incurred during the 2004 campaign.

Way forward

We must now stand up for our country, tell the two leaders to leave this country to move forward. We cannot allow to be held at ransom by two people. Why?

This is time to confront reality. With patriotism and thinking Malawi first, it is possible to have something that is unsatisfying to both sides of the budget/Section 65 row but that benefits Malawians and prevents the worst scenarios from unfolding, secures hope and allows the country to regain its energies and strategic path to becoming the centre of Southern Africa.

But for that to happen, we have to see Malawi as it is now, not as it once was, not as it could have been, not as we hope it will become, but as it is today.

There will be ample time to assign blame and debate who was right or wrong. But, as at now, Malawians must win and their victory is in the budget. The challenge is to look at the budget as national, for all Malawians.
We need the budget to move on as a country. We need development, whatever our party loyalty. Malawi’s most revealing statistics is not that 10 people die of Aids every hour. This is no longer news although the media treats it as such. The most informative statistics is our unemployment rate, which some websites put at 90 percent.

The root cause of this unemployment is, of course, our small economy. It is this small economy that needs to grow. Malawi needs people who consistently ask important questions about patriotism, the relationships between individuals, communities and governments or who think more deeply about how we should conduct ourselves in a multiparty democracy in which loyalties of partisan politics continue to rule. We need to do the following to move our country out of this political bad blood.

Malawi first. Why are we so much divided by politics? Are politicians the only people who can guide our life, and the future of our country? "Politics," said General Charles de Gaulle, "is too serious a game to be left to politicians alone."

The hope of this country is in our hands, not in the hands of politicians, some of whom have no idea about Malawi. We must find a way of holding politicians to serve our interests. We are all developing this country although some want us to believe it is Mutharika responsible.

Of course, it would be foolish to give all the credit for the developmental changes to Mutharika but equally foolish to deny him any of it.

The President was right in Nkhotakota when he opened the new district hospital. He said no one should say Mutharika has done this or that because we are all developing the country. He cited nurses, teachers, journalists as examples.

This is what we need to do: to look at ourselves as Malawians and think Malawi first, not individuals, not parties, not religion.

Servants, not masters. One challenge facing us is that we regard politicians as masters when they are our servants, employed to serve our interests, the interests of this country.

"Malawians trust their leaders a lot, and there is nothing wrong with that," says Magalasi "In the run up to elections, politicians come to voters with promises; in other words, they decide their own job deliverables when, in fact, it is supposed to be us voters telling the candidates what milestones they much achieve."

Section 12(i) says "All legal and political authority of the State derives from the people of Malawi and shall be exercised in accordance with this Constitution solely to serve and protect their interests." Section 12 (iii) says: "The authority to exercise power of State is conditional upon the sustained trust of the people of Malawi and that trust can only be maintained through open, accountable and transparent Government and informed democratic choice."

Why, then, do we seem powerless, leaving this country to suffer a struggle between Muluzi and Mutharika? One reason is that we take them as our masters, not servants.

One way to erase the idea that politicians are masters is to stop referring to them as honourable. The title honourable should be reserved for MPs while in the august House. It is the House that is honourable and everything that happens there is supposed to be honourable, even the people.

Honourable is an irritating title. Let it be reserved for judges and justices. Let it be reserved for business in the august House. Let politicians live ordinary lives, taking pride in their leadership, not honour.

Patriotism. We need to love our country more than our parties, religions, tribes and jobs. Politicians, especially, need to lead in patriotism.

The economic growth that Malawi has registered in the past few years is meaningless if it stops today. We need continuous growth for 20 years to double our average incomes and see real change in our lives. This growth needs to continue and that can happen if we cherish the country, if we care for Malawi as we do a newly born baby.

Even opposition parties need to be happy because once they get into power, they will continue from a solid foundation. We need continuity, not to start all over again every five or 10 years. We need to move on as a country, for our benefit and that of our children and their children.

What is it that we should do to love our country first? One, the national flag should be for all of us, anytime. It should not be reserved for senior government officials as if the rest of us are not Malawians.

Any person should be free to hang a flag inside their vehicle, fly it on their house, company premises and all such places. Our children should learn about Malawi more than any other country. We also need a service week in which all of us engage in services to our nation: cleaning our surroundings, helping public institutions like hospitals and schools and debating national issues, among other things.

It is not the work that will make people love their country. It is the theory behind the service week that will sink in people’s minds: that we are Malawians and this is the only country we have and ought to take care of.

Beyond politics. Our country is so much into politics and it seems we have no other newsmakers apart from politicians.

The media portrays politicians as the only important people in the country when there are professionals doing the right things about this country.

There are businesspeople and chief executive officers whose stories should be told to Malawians. Think of Rose Mkandawire, George Patridge, Thom Mpinganjira, Rose Chibambo, Anastasia Msosa, Vera Chirwa, Aleke Banda, the Mulli Brothers and Matthews Chikaonda. Consider our professors and their contribution to Malawi? Think of the Kishindo brothers, Paul and Pascal. Remember Wapulumuka Mluwafu, Kings Phiri, John Saka, and others?

Why, then, do we talk about politicians as if they are the only ones responsible for the future of Malawi? People need to appreciate that there is life outside politics. These successful people teach us that to develop a country, go into business or academics, not politics.

Malawi needs the story of Malawi told through Malawians in all fields. Then, perhaps, we shall realise that we are all developing this country and that our future is too fragile to be left to politicians only, especially now when we are in a season of work, a time to tirelessly develop our country.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Was it a Story?

The class had just ended and a student was waiting for me outside the language laboratory in which I teach my students at Chancellor College every Friday.

Sir, she said, I want to ask you a few questions. She is, as she later said, a philosophy student. "Why hasn’t Nation carried any stories on the pornographic pictures?" Then, Nation had not carried any story on the issue that was all over Malawi. I told her I am not Nation and would not know why we didn’t publish a story. "Instead," I said, "I will tell you my professional view of the whole issue."

Did the media need to break the story that there were pictures in town? I don’t think so. The reasons are several. One everybody else had known about and seen the pictures and there was no need to put the story in official media outlets.

Two, ethically, telling people there are pictures was not good for our national psyche. Some stories are better left to grapevine than told in the media. Once the story was in the paper, we invited more ethical questions: How do we treat the pictures? Do we put them in the newspapers? In what form? Do we manipulate them?

All these, I think, were unnecessary questions because, in the first place, the story was unnecessary. The Nation carried—and I was happy with this—Police reaction.

It was just a story that Police were investigating pornography pictures in town. It was not a description of the pictures as would have been the case in a story that breaks a scandal. I am still grappling with the question of media effects: What did the story, not the pictures, do to our society?

This is an important question now when information is flowing freely 24/7. The question of ethics is even more important now than ever before because information can be a powerful force that builds or destroys.

Unfortunately, not many journalists are reading journalism books and this is dangerous because we are practising without theory which is like looking at midday, summer sun with naked eyes. Theory is like a filter to practice. In fact, theory is mother of all practice. I know lawyers are reading, accountants are reading, the clergy are reading. But few journalists are reading journalism or any other books.

Is it surprising that sometimes we publish stories that should not be published? The pornographic pictures story was just one of them. But I have wondered for months now, what stories on rape, defilement and suicide do to society.

Don’t the stories sometimes give people a way of getting rid of life. Take the example of suicide. Sometimes it is like people have agreed to end their lives. One kills himself in Mulanje today, another does so in Machinga tomorrow, while another commits suicide in Kasungu two days later. And we report all these events. Does the media link people with similar problems and offer a ‘solution’ of suicide by reporting that a man killed himself because he tested HIV positive, for example? For my fellow journalists the question is: What is the foundation of our practice?

Finally, we discussed my personal view on the pornographic pictures. I told the student that the pictures were a shame, of course. In fact, you cannot begin to imagine if it were your father or mother or spouse. But the people in the pictures are not a shame. They are human beings whose life must go on.

And I was happy their church was praying for them. Their families are supposed to stand by them which is what I hear is happening. We need each other in such trying times.

As a man of letters, I enjoy reading the Bible which some Christians believe to be the Word of God. The Bible is full of poetry and prose. In fact, the writers were great journalists who could tell a whole day’s event in a sentence. On that Friday, after the student left me alone, I chanced over Isaiah 1-18: "Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be as red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

My plain view is that while all of us were busy mocking Grey Nkungula and Tapiwa Msiska, God and his angels were beckoning them, "Come our children". God was not mocking them, not at all. He was, instead, offering comfort to the two and their families. It was a kind of comfort that cannot come from anywhere else.

Interview with Anastansia Msosa

We have seen the Malawi Electoral Commission busy in the past few weeks doing training and other preparatory work. What is the progress like as at now.

We started with training of trainers who are busy training the actual officers we have recruited to work in the actual registration and operating cameras. Training is going on in Lilongwe now. We have also trained our stringers, the journalists who will be covering all items relating to elections and political parties during the campaign meetings. We are going to train drama groups that will be involved in civic education. This will be next week. So, I would say so far we are on course.

Looks like a lot of work for Malawi Electoral Commission staff, are you sleeping at all?

We have a committed group and most of them have been here for some time. They are professionals and they are doing their work. There is a lot of work, of course, and they are managing because I haven’t received any complaints so far.

You have announced dates for registration and some parties have said you are starting with urban areas when you were supposed to start with rural areas where transport might be a problem when it rains. You haven’t heard any response from you, yet?

We are meeting sometime either this week or next to think about that and that will be addressed. What we are doing is that our regional managers are mapping out the areas where we are doing registration. On our part, we made sure that the first registration exercise which is two weeks should be done in such a way that the supervision of registration clerks and camera operators should be easy, at least for the first exercise, so that if there are any challenges we can deal with them without much problems. We could have had areas in far North, down South and some areas in the Centre but because we have a team of professionals that will supervise the work, we thought that it’s much better to de the registration in the regions but in areas that are close to each other. But for the follow-up exercises, the concerns will be addressed.

Elections take a lot of money and as we are seeing the Malawi Electoral Commission is already spending millions of kwacha. Yet the 2008/09 national budget is not yet approved. Are you worried as MEC?

All I can say is that elections are not cheap. We need money. We are looking forward to the passing of that budget because that is where the money is.

What is your message to Malawians as you prepare for the registration process to take place in the next few weeks?

My main message is that Malawians should participate in the process. They should register, so that they can exercise their right to vote because without registration they will not be able to vote.

As Malawians we have no reason to doubt the Malawi Electoral Commission. But you should win our confidence. Why should we trust MEC, that it can manage free and fair elections?

I think we have been entrusted with that responsibility to do the best to conduct free and fair elections.
Personally as chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission, I think, I have commissioners who are dedicated and willing to do their work professionally and in an independent, free and fair manner. But we need the cooperation of everybody and what we are doing is that we will be interacting with stakeholders very often, so that we can continue with the consultative meetings we started.

Who goes back to Lilongwe?

The battle for Parliament has started. Who goes back? The arithmetic is not promising. What about the mood?

Blantyre, with 13 constituencies, offers a practical lesson for members of Parliament. Out of 13 MPs between 1999 and 2004, only one returned to Parliament in 2004.

He is Henry Phoya, MP for Blantyre Rural East. The rest—Fidson Chisesele, Peter Chupa, Nicholas Kachingwe, Masten Kanje, Samuel Kaphuka, Henderson Mabeti, Elwin Maluwa, Paul Maulidi, Lee Mlanga, Isaac Ndoka, Yakub Osman and Jan Sonkie—didn’t make it. They failed in party primaries or in elections or didn’t contest at all.

Now a year before elections, MPs are strategising. Parliamentarian for Blantyre City South East, Billy Kaunda will contest in Mzimba next year. Yes, Mzimba, not Blantyre.

Kaunda told The Nation in April this year that he planned to be MP for his Blantyre constituency for one term and when people of his home in Mzimba heard this, they invited him to be their representative. "They said they have the votes," said Kaunda of Mzimba West constituents. "But they do not have the [right person] to cast them for."

When did Kaunda decide to serve one term in Blantyre? Why? The deputy minister of tourism, is clever enough not to comment on the issue anymore.

But that does not stop people from speculating. Kaunda—and this is speculation only—may have studied the elections he won in 2004 and concluded that both the arithmetic and the mood in Blantyre City may not be in favour of a second term. This, in a way, is being wise because there are those who will contest again knowing they cannot win.

The one term pattern may mean that voters are assessing MPs and hiring and firing them on merit. It may also indicate that people can gang up against a sitting MP, just because he or she belongs to a different camp, even in the same party.

But most importantly, the Recall Provision, which some activists want back in the Constitution, is not that important for two reasons. One, voters are able to assess their representatives, fire and hire on merit; and, two, the section, like Section 65, may complicate Parliament in a country where envy is the greatest enemy.

Blantyre was not the only district to display the one term pattern. Chitipa, too, fired all its MPs who represented the district between 1999 and 2004. Peter Chiwona, Webster Kameme, Manifesto Kayira, Chipimpha Mughogho and Kingsley Ng’ambi—all didn’t make it back to Parliament in 2004.

This trend was visible in the North and the South. Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) suffered heavy losses in 2004. Aford produced six MPs while UDF had 49. Mangochi, with 12 constituencies, produced eight independent MPs, the highest rate in the country.

The Centre is a place that least changes MPs and does not necessarily produce independent MPs. This could be for two reasons, says Bonface Dulani, a political scientist at Chancellor College.

One, the MCP is democratic enough to allow people choose the candidates they want unlike in the South where the UDF imposed candidates and lost heavily in its stronghold areas of Mangochi and Machinga. Two, the people just love MCP.

"The loss suffered by the UDF was reflective of the process of selecting candidates," says Dulani, a Ph D candidate at Michigan State University, now in the country for a couple of months.

The people who won as independent candidates were not independent as such, they were UDF but frustrated with party primaries that in some cases were not as democratic as is expected. The constituency of Zomba Ntonya where independent candidate Berson Lijenda beat Bernad Chisale, then a Cabinet minister, is just one example.

The UDF made in-roads into the central region in the 1999 elections when it came out the strongest party in Parliament. "People," says Dulani, "were beginning to challenge the authority of the MCP."

But the UDF, like Aford, lost track and relaxed its democratic principles and went on to impose candidates in the 2004 parliamentary elections. The reason, therefore, people voted for MCP MPs was not within the party only, but also in other parties: that they imposed candidates and people went for the MCP which had given them power to choose candidates, not absolute power, but more power than other parties.

It may also be that the central is just hooked to MCP and can’t divorce the party. What are factors that people use to vote for candidates? The MCP might be strong in the central but there are individuals who were voted out of the party.

"The electorate are getting to appreciate the value of their vote. They are holding the MPs and parties to account. If they don’t do a good job, they are voted out," says Dulani, adding that this is good for the country’s democracy because it makes the Recall Provision irrelevant.

So, who goes back to Parliament in next year’s elections? It is difficult to tell because prediction in any field is a puzzle.

But there are places that can be trusted to maintain their MPs. Phalombe district is one of them. The district uses its votes wisely, voting out nonperformers and getting in performers. If John Joswa, Anna Kachikho, Ken Lipenga, Felton Muli and Bonface Chilomo have performed, they will return to Parliament. If they haven’t, they are on their way out.

This is so because people are voting for individuals, not parties. This, too, is the reason people of Mangochi voted for independent candidates who were not independent in all senses but were UDF. It shows people vote for individuals not parties, and this puts into question the theoretical framework of Section 65.

Surprisingly, every MP believes they will go back to Parliament. But the truth is that not all of them will go back to Lilongwe next year.

Money will play a minor role as it did in 2004. Merit will be the biggest need and people are looking for development conscious MPs. People are looking for MPs who put Malawi first, not parties first.
The party that fields the best candidates will carry the day and best is by people’s definition. Blantyre will, again, be the district to watch.

In fact, Phoya will be the man to watch. Will he return to Parliament, again?