Saturday, February 27, 2016

Malawi Embraces Publishers' Diversity

Imagination creates as many books as the mind can hold.

But, naturally, not every dream will be absorbed into reality: Some would-be authors live to see their dreams actualised when publishers give the manuscripts a seal of approval, while others endure the experience of seeing cold water being poured on their manuscripts.

Of course, authors often rate their manuscripts highly and count the eggs before they hatch, yet, it is the publisher who turns the dream into reality. Only authors with promising projects that can negotiate the publisher’s stringent tastes.

No wonder that writers— through the Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) — have directed a tide of bitter condemnation at publishers under the Book Publishers Association of Malawi (Bpam), crying foul over their’ [publishers] preference for textbooks at the expense of general books.

Whatever the case, local authors may seek solace in the fact that rejection— which remains one of the most dangerous voids in life— no longer marks the end of one’s dreams to publish a book. Those who emerge from the pit of rejection unbroken and resolute still have a change to actualise their dreams following the influx of publishers in what could best be described as Malawi’s publishing revolution.
MSADALA: We started doing this in 1995

Choice headache

Bpam president, Alfred Msadala, observes that Malawian authors are spoilt for choice. He cites the proliferation of textbook publishers as a case in point.

“From a point where we had one publisher for textbooks prior to 1995, we [Bpam] have 19 members and this means we have made head-way and the industry is growing,” says Msadala.

Of the 19 publishers, however, over half seem to have developed preference for textbook publishing or distribution— most notably, Dzuka Publishing Company, Bookmate Publishers, Claim Mabuku, Jhango Publishers, Bookland International, Montfort Media, Bookworm, among others.

According to Msadala, Claim Mabuku publishes, sells and distributes books. It has its own series, dubbed ‘Arise’ which are basically secondary school textbooks.

However, apart from ‘Arise’ series, Claim Mabuku also sells titles from other publishing houses. Life, at Claim, does not revolve around Bibles and hymns.

Then, there is Montfort Media, which has just joined Bpam. The Balaka-based publisher has just rolled out textbooks for Form One.

Blantyre-based Bookland International, which sells general books and series, acts as the representative for Moran Publishers, which publishes IGCE textbooks while Longman Publishers, which was recently bought by Pearson, is another publisher who is locally represented by Anglia Book Distributors. So, even though students still buy dictionaries branded Longman Dictionary, they actually buy a Pearson Dictionary.

JHANGO Publishing is another company that has made strides in the local publishing industry, making its presence felt in publishing secondary school textbooks books.

Bookmate is another player with a niche in the sciences— most notably in the subjects of science and chemistry.

The other publisher, Dzuka Publishing Company, has contributed immensely to the country’s education sector. At one point, the publishing company— which is Bpam’s oldest member— was the only company producing teaching and learning materials prior to 1995.

Dzuka has its own series but also cuts across since it also acts as a distributor and sells other publishers’ series.

MSADALA: We started doing this in 1995

One roof

However, as one way of bringing harmony in the otherwise diversified industry, Bpam has been bringing textbook publishers under one roof.

“We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to publish and sell teaching and learning materials. As such, we gather in one place to showcase the books we have on offer,” says Msadala.

Basically, the publishers take their books to the users in the country’s three administrative regions. In the Northern Region, the publishers gather under one roof at Mayemo Secondary School in Karonga District, Katoto Secondary School in Mzuzu and Mzimba Secondary School. In The Central Region, the publishers gather in the Central East Education Division [Chayamba Secondary School] and in Central West Education Division [Bwaila Secondary School].

In the South East Education Division, Machinga Teachers’ Training College is the centre while in the Shire Highlands Education Division, Luchenza Secondary School becomes the centre of activity. The publishers also showcase their materials in the Central West Education Division.

Msadala says publishers— whose number has been growing every year— have been doing this since 1995, and observes that the strategy has a number of advantages.

“In the first place, we take the market to the doorstep of users while, at the same time, selling our products. Most importantly, we are also trying to tell people that we have the books,” says Msadala, adding:

“Another advantage is that some publishers are based in the Capital City [Lilongwe], especially those who distribute Cambridge and Oxford University Press books. Greymatter, which represents East African Publishing Books, is based in Lilongwe. So, when we move like this [together], we take books to the people. It is like all syllabi are under one roof,” says Msadala.

In a way, this means independent publishers are doing their part to take secondary school textbooks to all parts of the country. What remains is the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is to ensure that it, too, does its part in terms of publishing and distributing primary school textbooks.

As things stand in Malawi, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, through the Malawi Institute of Education, is the one that deals with primary school textbooks.

MSADALA: We started doing this in 1995

African revolution

However, as the issue of textbooks taking over the market from non-textbook publishers continues to stir debate in Malawi— with Mawu president Sambalikagwa Mvona disclosing to Weekender last year that writers had complained to the International Authors Forum that local publishers were showing little interest in publishing general [non-textbook-based]—other authors in Africa are looking for alternatives.

One of the way-out initiatives is the establishment of the Self-Publishers Association of Southern Africa (Spasa), a grouping of self-publishing companies, societies, authors and related professionals formed to create “a win-win situation” after realising that “all self-publishers face the same challenges”.

“We face public perception that self-published books have poor content, are sometimes badly printed, have low quality layout and are not considered as ‘good’ as regularly published books. Other challenges include marketing, promotion and distribution for authors, an unregulated industry, print issues and the search for good editors, proofreaders, and other professionals,” says Spasa in a write-up.

Spasa has, therefore, made it its objective to create a regulated industry, promoting standards and linking authors with professional organisations. It also helps members to create self-publishing channels, offer courses and resources, provide a platform for manuscript reviews and book ratings, and establish a Spasa Seal of Approval awarded to self-published books that meet quality standards requirements.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Malawi: From food basket to basket case

Officially available but practically inaccessible, the debate on maize availability has become a game whose prize could turn out to be human life.

On one hand are government officials who— haunted by the daily struggle to fill the gulf between citizens’ high expectations for them to deliver and the nudging reality of maize scarcity and rising food prices— have been reduced to downplaying concerns raising against biting hunger.

Just on Monday, February 15, Agriculture, Irrigation and Food Security Minister, Allan Chiyembekeza, sought to dispel the notion that the country does not have enough maize stocks by announcing the procurement of an additional 41, 000 metric tonnes of maize to supplement the 9,221 metric tonnes under Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc)’s lock and key.

“We expect that the maize that is available now will take us through to the end of the lean period in April after which people will have harvested. We will make sure it reaches every selling point so that Malawians, especially those in remote areas, purchase the maize,” said Chiyembekeza.

On the other hand are opposition and civil society organisations who— sure that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration has failed to deliver the goods in terms of food security and economic performance— have publicly called for President Peter Mutharika’s resignation.

During the two-day Public Affairs Committee (Pac) meeting held in Blantyre from February 17 to 18 last week, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson, Jessie Kabwila, People’s Party spokesperson and Ken Msonda took turns to issue the government a 30-day ultimatum to release maize to all Admarc selling points, failing which Mutharika should step down.

“Government has no clue on the problems that the country is facing. We are dismayed by the inaction of the government to respond with urgency to the current food crisis, in spite of huge financial injections to the Farm Input Subsidy Programme,” said Msonda.

Political issue

The problem associated with food security issues is that they take a partisan politics angle. For example, political parties contesting in the May 2014 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections had the component of food in their manifestos.

In its manifesto, the MCP indicated that “MCP considers the agricultural sector as key driver for national economic development; a key source of income; food security and a frontier for an export-led economy”.

The party then pledged that, once in power, it would develop organized agricultural systems that would uplift agriculture as a viable economic development sector.

The United Democratic Front, on its part, pledged to promote food security by putting in place effective risk management systems, commercialising agriculture, agro-processing and market development, and promoting sustainable agricultural land use and water management.

The governing DPP also had sweet-sounding words, saying it would “give highest priority to agriculture as the basis for maintaining sustainable livelihoods and economic growth of our economy.”

The PP— recognising that agriculture “remains the backbone of Malawi’s economy” and “contributes over 90 percent of the country’s export earnings; accounts for 85 percent of total employment; contributes 39 percent Gross Domestic Product; supplies over 65 percent of the manufacturing sector’s raw materials; and provides over 60 percent of the total income of rural people”— pledged to take a cue from the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and adhere to the CAADP principle that encourages African governments to spend at least 10 percent of their annual budgets on agriculture in order to achieve a minimum growth rate of at least 6 percent per annum.

Empty promises?

President Peter Mutharika, while opening the 45th Session of Parliament and the 2015/16 Budget Meeting in Lilongwe, indicated that his administration had readied itself to face the “looming food shortage” head-on, and “to ensure availability of food at household and national levels”.

Among other measures, he announced that the government had allocated K8.0 billion in the 2015/2016 budget for restocking the Strategic Grain Reserves. He also said the government had held discussions with development partners to provide more resources for the same purpose.

“Meanwhile, government, with support from development partners has provided early maturing maize seed, fertilizer, sweet potato vines and cassava cuttings to support affected smallholder farmers to revive their farming enterprises to take advantage of residual moisture and irrigation,” he said.

However, over eight months after Mutharika ignited the fire of hope among Malawians, challenges abound, one of which being that, while government and Admarc officials maintain that the country has enough maize stocks, citizens continue to queue on endless Admarc queues to purchase 10 kilogramme of maize.

However, Admarc Chief Executive Officer, Foster Mulumbe, maintained on Times Television’s Times Exclusive on February 13 that “We have enough maize stocks and reports that we [Admarc] are running short of maize stocks are not true”.

Mulumbe also dismissed reports that some people were sleeping at Admarc depots, saying “maybe those who go to Admarc deports and markets at 4 am do so to be in a good position when the depot or market’s official opening time comes”.

Whatever officials say, it is clear that the country is in food crisis, according to Right to Food Network Coordinator, Billy Mayaya. He said Malawi needed to go beyond implementing social protection programmes to creating an enabling legal environment in a bid to ensure that the state is held accountable when it fails in its duty to ensure the attainment of the right to food.

“While there are laudable efforts to provide social protection through initiatives such as FISP, there are still gaps in Malawi, as a state, fulfilling its obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food. The human right to food is a human rights concept which is justifiable. Justifiability refers to the ability by any party to take individuals and the State to court to seek legal redress in terms of proven violations of the right to food,” said Mayaya.

In centre of storm?

Malawi has been sailing in troubled food security waters since the 2014/15 agricultural season. The country’s miseries took a new turn when unfavourable weather conditions marred the 2014/2015 growing season. The bad weather cocktail menu included such dishes as heavy floods and prolonged dry spells.

According to a 2014/2015 crop estimates report , maize production decreased from 3,978,123 metric tonnes in the 2013/2014 agricultural season to 2,898,123 metric tonnes, representing a 27.7 percent decline.

The report also indicated that the country registered a “slight decrease” in the production of other major food crops such as rice, millet, cassava and sorghum.

The only good news was that, apart from cotton and groundnuts, other cash crops such as
pulses registered a “slight increase” increase in production.

And, according to Mutharika, the government also initiated talks with “development partners to provide more resources for the same purpose”.

True to his words, well-wishers have not been hard to come by. In January this year, the Chinese government donated K6.8 biliyoni to help mitigate the country’s food crisis. The Egyptian government also donated K20 miliyoni towards the same cause.

Last year, the Japanese government donated $12.4 million to Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe through World Food Programme to shore up food security initiatives.

From good to bad?

It is so surprising that a nation that exported 306, 000 metric tonnes to Zimbabwe between March 2007 and April 2008 could, within eight years, be reduced to begging from well-wishers.

Everything was well between 2007 and 2008, Malawi was basking in glory as National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) Chief Executive Officer, Nasinuku Saukila, “proudly” said in a recent interview that Malawi reaped from the deal.

“For your information, the deal created a value-chain in Malawi. The export of the 306, 000 metric tonnes created a horde of activity....There was a lot of activity that took place. To begin with, 306, 000 metric tonnes were transported by the Road Transport Operators Association (RTOA) [using] 28 metric-tonne carrying capacity trucks, translating into about 11, 000 truck-loads of maize and 6.1 million 50 kilogramme bags of maize. In short, here is the value-chain the deal created.

“In the first place, we look at the maize grain. We bought it locally, creating worth for producers in the process. The grain also had to be thoroughly cleaned and women from Ntandire, Bangwe, Chilomoni and other townships were engaged to winnow the maize grain and they were able to economically sustain themselves. We had cases where husbands were just drinking beer at home, sure that the wife would bring something at the end of the day, and we saw women carting K1, 000 or K2, 000 home daily and, at the end of the month, that is K30, 000 or K60, 000.

“The winnower maker also benefitted because of the extra demand for winnowers. It is job creation at its best. Secondly, the chemical supplier comes into the picture. The grain had to be fumigated and the local chemical industry did the job and got paid for that. Jobs were created, too, because extra workforce was needed to do that job. Thirdly, the bag manufacturing industry came into play because we had to package the maize grain. K550 million gross was generated by the bag manufacturing companies during that period. As I said earlier, 306, 000 metric tonnes translate into 28 metric tonne trucks, further translating into about 11, 000 truck-loads of maize and 6.1 million 50 Kilogramme bags of maize. Then, we have the actual maize inspector. Malawi maize had to conform to the standards applicable in Zimbabwe, thus inspectors had to be engaged, generating extra funds in the process while creating job opportunities. Then, we talk of transportation and the motor industry,” Saukila said at the time.

Compare and contrast the situation to February 2016. There is “a horde of activity”, yes; but the activity is about delivering relief items to hunger stricken families, or maize delivery activity at an Admarc depot or market.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Hoffman Aipira's metamorphosis

There is, as Indians say, always one candle that kindles unlimited numbers of other candles, each with the same intensity as the first, there yet remains the original.

To poet Hoffman Aipira, that original candle is his father, Cheliza Leonard Aipira who, although resident in Zimbabwe at the time, still pulled the strings back home.

“I cannot deny: The love of words, writing, started way back after my father, Leonard Aipira-- I fondly call him Cheliza because I am proud of my Yao heritage-- sent me a dictionary from Zimbabwe while I was in Standard 4 at Mvundula Primary School in Mangochi,” recollects Aipira.

“I went through the book; there was no picture. I then went to my mum, Adisi Aipira, and asked: 'What does dad want me to do with a book that has no pictures?' I took it to my Primary School teacher at Mvundula to seek guidance and the teacher told me that I would understand later. He advised me to keep the picture-less book, saying it would help build the foundation for my vocabulary later,” says Aipira, who comes from Mvumba Village, Traditional Authority Nankumba, in Mangochi.

In the world of the children of yester-years, according to Aipira, a book was not judged by its cover alone. Pictures were worth more than the cover.

But the lack of pictures did not discourage Aipira from flipping the pages and enjoying the artificial breeze created by the purposeless turning of the pages.

“Still, I took interest in flipping the pages. I must say that the sound of the clicking pages fascinated me and I am sure that my love of words sprouted from there [the page-turning]. Later, I graduated from marveling at the sound of the flipping pages to 'building' my vocabulary. The vocabulary gave me a footing in writing,” he says.

Aipira adds that, whereas his father inspired, his mother played the disciplinarian by, among other things, not giving him the leeway to go swimming or fishing-- as is the norm with children born along the lake.

“By the way, I was born at a mission hospital and my father used to ask the missionaries: 'What should I do so that my kids become as educated as you are?' Actually, I heard my father mention the word 'university' several times and I knew that would be my destination some day. The discipline came from my mother, who was self-taught and knew how to read and write,” says Aipira, the last-born in a family of three boys and two girls.

Unlike other people who find it difficult to cope with life when one of their parents decides to leave their homeland and seek greener pastures in a foreign land, Aipira has kind words for his father, who used to be a city council worker before embarking on a trip to Zimbabwe where he could communicate with his family back home through the Post Office.

“My father went to Zimbabwe so that he could secure a job and be able to pay school fees for his sons. You see, my father had a tailoring and fishing business. He registered little success in tailoring and, as regards fishing, some people stole his fishing gear. He also tried tobacco cultivation, with no success. Thus, angry, he left for Zimbabwe.

“My parents had interest in education. In those days, in the 1950s, they sent the first-born in our family to Khola, a boarding school in Ntcheu--away from Mangochi, away from the hustle and bustle of fishing and swimming,” Aipira explains.

Foray in poetry

With the help of the picture-less book, Aipira built the foundation for his writing career and, today, he can proudly look at 'Reflections and Sunsets', a collection of over 50 poems published by Kachere Series, with pride and claim that words, too, have the enduring power to create images-- just like pictures can simply a million words.

About 500 copies of 'Reflections and Sunsets' were printed and, to put an icing to the cake, rights of book were sold to the United Kingdom through African Books Collective [ABC] by the publisher. This means the collection can be found in the United Kingdom and Europe in general.

“I composed the poems in 'Reflections and Sunsets' collection when I was in the United Kingdom. Some of the poems were even featured in American and Irish literary magazines,” says Aipira.

One can see traces of his father's influence in the collection, as evidenced in one of the poems 'Dad'.

Take the hoe my son

Carefully tie the seed-bas

At the end of the hole-handle

At first light

Before the dew is dry

Mark a patch of soil

To carry this life seed

And give life


The persona in the poem is waxing lyric about agriculture and the emphasis is, clearly, on working. It is common knowledge that if one toils, their life is given the impetus of hope. The one who works neither suffers nor depends on others.

Maybe Malawi, our dad, can learn from this. For 51 years, Malawi has failed to “take the hoe” and “Mark a patch of soil”, “To carry this life seed/And give life/Hope”. Not surprisingly, donor dependence has become Dad Malawi's way of post-independence life. Malawi is, therefore, a bad 'dad'.

There are three sections in 'Reflections and Sunsets'. The first one, titled 'Reflections and Sunsets' see the personae reflecting on life back home. We can only assume that the persona is Malawian. The section has such poems as 'The first rains', 'Dad', 'At Wenela Bus Station', 'Sunset at Lake Malawi'.

Section two, under the title 'Another Winter', could as well be described as a reflection of new experiences of a persona whose body has been trapped in a foreign land-- on, say, academic, religious, tourism grounds--but the mind is stationed at home.

The foreign destination must, surely, be Europe, where the shadow of winter defines the cycle of life. Poems such as 'Crossing continents', 'Waiting for Pelicans at St James Park' and 'An evening on the city' furnish the theme.

But, then, what goes around comes around. So, section three, titled 'Distant drums' is about anticipation, which defines the mood when time to go back to one's native home approaches. So, it is not a surprise that 'Two halves', 'Grandfather's footsteps', 'Telling tales' are some of the dominant poems in the section.

The last section, titled 'Telling tales', is a reflection of the African spirit that prioritises story telling. Finally, the personae are back home and have to tell their stories, share their recollections of life to those they left behind. Ironically, instead of telling tales of the personae's experiences in the foreign land and knowledge acquired abroad-- in much the same way grandmothers gathered their grandchildren around a fire and told stories that had been told, retold, retold, and retold by, and from, one generation to another, before the winds of modernity blew the communal spirit away-- the stories shared are about the native country.

This is reflected in 'Chichiri 3 pm', 'The granaries at Kanengo', among others.

Other grounds

However, 'Reflections and Sunsets' is not the only work associated with Aipira. He has also co-edited the anthology 'The Time Traveller of Malavi: New Poetry from Malawi'. The anthology, which features creative writers such as Yamaha Ali, Sylvester Chabuka, David Lubadiri, Temwani Mgunda, Zondiwe Mbano, Ken Lipenga, Matilda Kampezeni was co-edited by Malawi Writers Union president, Sambalikagwa Mvona and Hoffman Aipira.

Aipira continues his journey of reflections in the anthology through such pieces as 'Visiting Maone', 'Malawi', 'The delights of Nankumba Peninsula'.

Says Aipira: “The poem I love the most in 'The Time Traveller of Malavi: New Poetry from Malawi' is 'The delights of Nankumba Peninsula' because I talk about home, Mangochi.”

He has also contributed poems to the anthology 'Operations and Tears', edited by Anthony Nazombe. Aipira's poems include 'A letter from home', 'Mix and match', 'Water fall'.

Family business

But Aipira is not the only writer in the family.

“I am not the only one interested in writing in our family. The third-born in our family, Okomaatani Steven Aipira, has interest in writing. He has written 'Business Studies for Developing Countries' now being used by students. The book was published by Dzuka Publishing Company,” he says.

Wokomaatani has also authored 'Malawi takes off', a book published by Kachere Series. The book focuses on the late Bingu wa Mutharika's first term in office.

That time, Malawians were running high on both hope and economic prospects, as evidenced by the fact that, according to the Economist Magazine, the country registered the second-fastest growing economy in the world after oil-rich Qatar.

The way things have turn out today is a story for another day. But Okomaatani could not be blamed for his optimism.


Maybe Zangaphee Chizeze and Edson Mpina grew up believing that they were nothing more than human beings. To Aipira, however, they also served as his sources of inspiration.

“As I grew up, I looked up to Chizeze and Mpina. In the case of Chizeze, I came across his poem 'If ifs were ifs' while I was at Bunda College of Agriculture and I said: 'There is beautiful writing here'. As for Mpina, I was left speechless by his poem 'Summer fires of Mulanje Mountain', which won a BBC award in Commonwealth. It's a very short poem, but it is well written,” says Aipira.

Outside Malawi, he is a fan of William Wordsworth and Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize of Literature.


Aipira, who studies General Agriculture at Bunda College of Agriculture from 1976 to 1979, started off as a humble civil servant when he joined Ministry of Works and Supplies in 1980.

In the ministry, he worked for the landscaping section in the Buildings Department. His work saw him landscaping Sanjika and Kamuzu palaces.

He was one of the pioneers of the Landscaping section, a development that meant Malawi had joined two other African countries-- South Africa and Kenya-- that had landscaping sections. For this reason, International Federation Architects president, ZVI Miller, visited Malawi in 1982.

His expertise in landscaping saw him writing for non-fiction magazines.

“As I did landscaping, I was a member of the Association of Advancement of Science of Malawi [AASOM], whose chairperson was architect Dr Bernard Zingano. AASOM had a magazine and he asked workers, especially new graduates, to contribute articles to the magazine. I wrote an article on the environment in 1981 and he said “Your article is very good. You are a very good writer.”

'You can imagine how happy I was to see my article. One of my friends was Richard Maganga, a graduate from the Polytechnic who was aspiring to become a quantity surveyor. He wrote a very good article, too,” says Aipira.

After working for the Ministry of Works between 1980 and 1985, he received a scholarship to study at the University of Bath in England, where he studied horticulture between 1985 and 1989 and I received an award in 'Outstanding Performance in Horticulture' along with a white girl called Alice Forbes. He was the first foreign student to win the award.

He then worked for a private firm of landscape architects in Bristol, United Kingdom, before pursuing a post-graduate course at the University of Iowa, Northern England, United Kingdom.

“While there, I made a u-turn from Horticulture to look into urbanization. We were looking at the growth of cities and how we could manage them [cities]. It was realised that the majority of people in 2050 would be living in cities. So, it was about how to manage people. Just imagine, as I am speaking Tokyo has a population of 38 million while Delhi and Shanghai in China have populations of over 20 million people.

“I even published an article in 'ECODECISION: Environment and Policy Magazine' published in Montreal, Canada in winter [Between November and February] of 1995. The title of my article was 'Urban farming: Making Africa's cities sustainable'.

“This was the beginning of my interest in the role of cities. There was, indeed, a term coined; 'The bush of the rural areas and the pull of the cities' which was being used by people with interest in this area. The United Nations, through United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) took interest to make the issue global,” he says.

Aipira also worked on a UNEP report titled 'Urban farming in low income cities: Report prepared in connection with the first workshop on urban farming: strategy for food and environmental health in low low income cities'. He co-edited the report along with Charles Cockburn and the findings were published by the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, University of York, in One World Studies 24 November 1993.

That was not all. He continued his work in another report 'Urban and Rural Change in the Developing World: procedures of the International Workshop on Urban Farming and Rural Tourism: Priorities for Action in the 21 Century. The editors were Hoffman Aipira, Noorizan Mohamed and Charles Cockburn.

He also had his articles featured in the United Nations magazine 'Nature and Resources' Volume 32 Number 2, 1996. The title of his article was 'Urban Food Production' published under UNICEF in Paris, France.

“Actually, at [University of] York, they wanted me to start department but I said: 'I have to go back home'. I came back home in 2009,” he says.

Maybe, as he write, he may become another candle that kindles unlimited numbers of other candles but remain the original candle-- like his father did.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Rising from the ashes of street life

In a forgotten part of Mudi Bridge between Blantyre Main Market and Blantyre Flea Market, on a spot hidden from human comfort and the noise of freedom, Peter Sithole and a group of other orphaned and abandoned kids ‘founded’ their own version of heaven.

Forgotten at home in Blantyre’s Bangwe Township, looked down upon by the world on top of Mudi bridge, and with no hope for the future, the now 18-year-old Sithole almost resigned to fate and thought he would be there— under the bridge— for the rest of his life.
SITHOLE: I kept on pestering the employer to employ me as a guard despite being only 15 years

But his fear did not hold or, if it did, it did not hold for a long time. Soon, Sithole and the other kids graduated from sleeping under the bridge to sleeping under benches at Blantyre Flea Market.

“I spent eight years as a street child,” says Sithole.

This means the beardless Sithole has lost eight out of his 18 years in life. In eight years, as Sithole was jumping from one street to another in Blantyre and, as he puts it, “from one damaged carton to another at Blantyre Flea Market”, other ‘lucky’ children were able to progress from Standard 1 to Standard 8.

If he had his way, “I would be home attending to school, chatting with friends and family, exchanging gifts on birthdays, Christmas, New Year days. But life treated me harshly and I just heard from the grapevine that any such opportunities existed”.

Of course, Sithole had problems when his parents were alive. But his parents were there to take care of them [problems] and the children— who basically included Peter and his sister [name withheld].

However, the problems escalated beyond hope when his father died.

“My father died in 2002 and I had no close relation to take care of me. I don’t even know my home village. I understand that my home district is Ntcheu, but I do not even know under which Traditional Authority I fall. So, I was a child lost in my own country. To make matters worse, nobody seems to care,” says Sithole, who grew up in Blantyre’s Bangwe Township.

Lost family

According to Sithole, life on the street is a delicate balance between life and death.

“You have to be steadfast in order to survive, to bring food to your mouth. With street life, there is nothing storing food, or bringing food to one’s table. To begin with, there is no food because, every morning, one rises up— I am not saying ‘waking’ up because, sometimes, one spends sleepless nights thinking about why they should be the only ones singled out for harsh treatment by life when others are enjoying it— without knowing where the next meal will come from. Secondly, there is nothing like bringing food to one’s table because a street child has no property.

“A street child walks with all his belongings on him; in the pockets, in other parts of a short or pair of trousers that are specifically ‘designed’ by the street child for the safe keeping of things. But, as you can guess, the property one has are little things— not something like a table,” says Sithole.

He adds that, among street kids themselves, there are others who have been on the streets for a long time that they boss others around. They grab food and money from other street kids. They beat stubborn ones up; and passers-by, no matter how mature or childish they are, just pass by— unperturbed by the injustices being administered by one unjustly-treated human being to another; victims turning against other victims in a vicious circle of revenge.

“When the victimised grow up a bit, they administer the same treatment, if not harsh, on others. Life is brutal on the streets and the task everyday is to survive, find food, be a team player, and live to the next day,” says Sithole, adding:

“But I am not crying over spilt milk. All I am worried about is my sister. For your information, I am the second-born in our family. My sister, maybe after giving up on prospects of a good life, is into commercial sex work. It’s sad that I can’t help her out for now,” says a visibly-touched Sithole.

Despite what he has gone through on the streets, he still has a caring heart and wants the best— nothing but the best— for her sister.

“Two people from one family should not be lost together. That is a disaster. I am sad for what has happened to my sister,” says Sithole.

Lawless Samaritan?
In a country that seems to attach little value on social programmes, vulnerable groups such as street sometimes use common sense— at the expense of international conventions against, for instance, child labour— to survive and bail themselves out of abandonment and desperation.

For Sithole, the unconventional means took the form of child labour and, ironically, Sithole is all praises to the man and company that gave him a ray of hope by heeding his plea to disregard international instruments against child labour and offer him a job.

“Life on the streets did not break my spirits. Actually, on those cool or hot nights, I could think about school. I, therefore, made up my mind to go to school. I had done some primary schooling when my parents were alive and, so, I started drawing plans on how I could sit examinations and go to secondary school,” says Sithole, adding:

“At 15 years, I went to a security company in Blantyre and pleaded with the directors to employ me as guard. They refused, saying they could not employ a 15-year-old boy as that would be promoting child labour. They said employing me would also be violating Malawi’s labour laws. I pleaded and pleaded, telling them I wanted to generate funds from my fees but they put their feet down.

“I did not give up and kept on pestering them until they gave me what I consider a life-line. I was working as a guard at the age of 15 years and I used the funds to pay fees and buy necessities at Njamba Secondary School [in Blantyre].”

Sithole also found another ‘Good Samaritan’ in chips sellers, who would give him and other kids piece work to peel Irish potatoes. While this could be described as another form of child labour, it saved Sithole’s life.

“All one needed to do was work up early, rush to the chips seller’s bench and, if you were the proverbial early bird, you would be given the task to peel the potatoes. We did not receive payment in the form of cash. No. They could give us food— chips— and we could start the day with something in our stomach,” says Sithole.

His resilience paid off.

“I have just sat for Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations in 2015 and I am hopeful that the future is bright. I was not born to fail and I want to be an agent of positive change in my mother country. I will do it. I don’t want to be on the streets again and I want good life for my sister, too,” says Sithole.

Rough road

Step Kids Awareness executive director, Godknows Maseko, once was a street child and knows how it feels to be exposed to such an environment.

“It is not easy to be on the streets as all sorts of nasty things happen to children on the streets. Some are trafficked. In my case, I was once trafficked to a foreign country and only survived by the grace of God after being rescued by the son of the man who had found a market for my body parts. We really need to bail these children out by providing the basic necessities,” says Maseko.

African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect – Malawi Chapter executive director, Kenwilliams Mhango, suggests that the country needs to put in place “robust” social programmes for vulnerable children.

Mhango says the social programmes will help children who have been abandoned by society to find a new lease of life through government interventions.

“Otherwise, removing children from the streets merely serves as a mechanism of treating the symptoms of a disease but not the actual disease. Before long, the children go back to the streets. These children need to be taken care of through, say, child placement homes or utilising extended family systems by sending the children back to their communities and providing social support through those channels,” says Mhango.

Government act

But Minister of Gender, Disability and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, says the government is working on creating lasting solutions.

“For your information, Sithole is one of those earmarked to benefit from the Community Colleges’ initiative. It is our hope that, through this intervention, we will be able to help Sithole become the responsible citizen he has always wanted to become.

“You may also wish to know that we have social cash transfer programmes that have assisted in making lives of, say, the elderly bearable. We have these problems and will work hard to ensure that a lot of people benefit so that we may be, together with the citizens of this country, turn sadness into happiness for many who think that society has forgotten them,” says Kaliati.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Malawi Way to Film Prominence

The aim was to establish their presence in a crowded and competitive cultural sphere.

In the end, or mid-way through the journey, that presence seems to have been established, and film makers seem to have received more than what they bargained for: They have managed to sneak their interests in national discourse.

This is the story of film making in 2015. To some degree, film makers managed to add colour to entertainment-starved Malawi by interpreting social, economic, cultural issues and giving them a sense of local significance.

While the holding of festivals such as the Lake of Stars Festival and the Blantyre Arts Festival did not come as a surprise in 2015, as some of these events have been on the local arts calendar for a while, film makers— through the Film Association of Malawi – came with a bolt from the blues when they organised a film festival in Lilongwe between October 23 and 25.

As Film Association of Malawi president, Ezaius Mkandawire, observed, the event was a first in the history of the baby industry.

“We are not duplicating issues. As far as we know, there is no festival that has given film space. We are also looking at the festival as a development project for the industry,” Mkandawire told Weekender.

However, Mkandawire also cited the venue for the festival as a point of departure from other arts festivals.

“We are looking at using Lilongwe, which has no festival in terms of geography, in the Central Region of Malawi. In terms of objectives, we are looking at building a pool of future film makers. The festival has a component of training,” he observed.

The aim, according to Mkandawire, is long-term: To cultivate “a cinema going culture; something that can spur the growth of the industry”.

Of course, being a baby industry, it was always going to be a tall order to host an all-Malawian films’ festival. No wonder, festival organisers also beamed films from Senegal, South Africa, Mali, among other countries.

The highest moment at the festival was when ‘Lilongwe’, a film by Joyce chavula, was premiered. Another film, produced by a Ghanaian and titled ‘South Valley’, was also premiered.
Building from nothing

Fifteen years ago, it would have been wishful thinking to imagine that film makers would have a festival dedicated to the art.
More so when the intentions of the film makers who came up with the idea of establishing the grouping had other reasons for doing so.
“The idea to establish Film Association of Malawi was mooted in the early 2000s when a group of people decided to establish an association with a specific purpose of lobbying the then sole television station, Television Malawi [now Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Television], to provide cheaper rate for broadcasting material,” recalls Mkandawire.
But, like many of the local film maker’s dreams, the idea [to lobby MBC] did not work. Nevertheless, the film makers can finally have solace in the fact that some of their ideas, including the one to hold the Malawi International Film Festival in 2015, materialised.
Indeed, over the years, local film makers have chalked one success over another.
In 2013, for example, Blantyre-based Chimwemwe Mkwezalamba won Best Emerging Director award for her film, ‘The Designer’, at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival held in California, USA.

Another Malawian, Mwizalero Nyirenda, won the Sembene Ousmane Award in Zanzibar (Tanzania) after his film, ‘Umunthu’, won the hearts of judges. Shemu Joyah’s ‘Seasons of a Life’ and the ‘Last Fishing Boat’ have been nominated several times.

Misses, losses

Despite making headway, however, Malawian film makers have lost out on a number of opportunities.
For example, while 2015 came with a host of opportunities for film makers, the chance bypassed locals. One of the festivals that made headlines is the African Film Festival held in New York, USA.
In addition, Greenpop hosted ‘Forest in Focus’, a film festival fundraiser in celebration of forests, in Cape Town, South Africa from 6 to11 June 2013. This was part of an integrative media event that screened a selection of winning short films from the United Nations Forum on Forests and Forests for People awards.

In association with the United Nations Forum on Forests, Forest for People awards, the programme screened five award-winning documentary shorts by “fusing” activism and culture, arts and environmentalism” and, as usual, no Malawian film maker made it to the top.

It is unclear whether local film makers will patronise the Amakula International Film Festival, Uganda’s oldest independent film festival, which will return and celebrate its tenth anniversary this year.
Its objectives are to contribute to a vibrant local film industry, by broadening access to and developing audiences for quality African film production; inspiring local film makers to produce quality local films based on own stories; facilitating, presenting and promoting local film productions; and offering a professional networking platform for the film making community in East Africa and beyond.
A statement from the organisers reads: “After nine consecutive successful festival editions from 2004 to 2012 and a period of reflection, the Amakula International Film Festival is now set to return to the scene and screen to celebrate its 10th anniversary edition in March 2016 in Kampala, Uganda.
“We are now accepting film submissions, especially from African filmmakers, including African diaspora, in all categories (feature films, documentaries, short films, animation). Only films completed after 2013 will be accepted. Films from African filmmakers will automatically enter the Golden Impala Award competition. Films by other filmmakers are submitted out of competition. There will be a special Maisha Screenwriters Award for Ugandan submissions as well as a Student Film Scholarship Award for student submissions.”

China also has film parties lined up, most notably The Chinese-based FIRST International Film Festival which has since called for African film and documentary makers to submit their entries to compete for the Crystal Brick Award during their 10th FIRST International Film Festival Xining 2016 to be held from July 21 to 30, 2016 in Xining, Peoples Republic of China.

The festival, which is aimed at enhancing China-Africa cooperation by introducing African films to Chinese audience, is targeting films produced from June 1, 2014 to date.

According to a statement released by organisers of FIRST International Film Festival Xining, the festival is premised on the idea of “enhancing the development of contemporary film culture and providing opportunities for young filmmakers” by focusing “on the early work of emerging filmmakers all around the world and would love to introduce outstanding African films to Chinese audience”.

However, Mkandawire justified the absence of Malawians at most foreign festivals.

“Most Malawians do not participate in the festivals indeed. The biggest problem is that most film makers in Malawi are not aware of such opportunities. [Of course] The film association helps in making available such kind of information on the various festivals taking place worldwide. As an association, I am not certain if we can participate [in such events] as an entity,” said Mkandawire.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Is Malawi Becoming blood-Thirsty Nation? If Not, Why Were The Following People with Albinism Attacked in 2014 and 2015?

Some things are giving Malawi a bad name. One of them is, definitely, the targeted attacks on people with albinism.

Some of the attacked people have escaped with scars in both their hands and hearts. But others have not been so lucky.

Below are some of the people who have either been killed, injured, of abused in one way or another:

Apart from the murder of Esnert Phiri in Kasungu, and Prescot Pepuza from Mchinji, cases of albino killings, attempted killings, abductions, and attempted abductions have been so commonplace that they are disturbing.

In January this year, a nine-year-old girl was rescued from the jaws of death in Machinga when a 24-year-old man, identified by police spokesperson Davie Sulumba as Mandela Paipi, attempted to abduct her. Paipi is said to have offered the girl's brother K500, 000 in order for him to facilitate the move.

In September 2015, an 11-year-old boy was fighting for his life at Karonga District Hospital after two men kidnapped him and tried to cut his throat and right arm in Karonga. Karonga police spokesperson, Enock Livason, said at the time that the two suspects persuaded the boy to accompany them to the market, only to turn from sheep to wolf, and turn against the unsuspecting boy.

Just last year, suspected members of a criminal gang tampered with the grave of an albino in Balaka District.

In Zomba, eight-year-old girl Maria Kosta might have thought she would return home when she decided to visit Mayaka Trading Centre on July 2, 2013. She has never been heard of again.

She suffered the same fate as Violet Kanyama, 25, but Kanyama's remains were recovered, albeit with amputated feet and no arms.

But the worst case scenario was when people attacked a Machinga District house before mid-night in February last year and abducted the family's two-year-old girl named Ibra Pilo.

Malita Makolija, 68, from Zomba disappeared on January 17, 2015, only for her headless body to be found without arms and legs.

In January this year, four people were convicted for being found in possession of bones believed to belong to an albino.

These developments last year prompted Inspector General, Lexen Kachama, to instruct police officers to shoot-to-kill those caught in the act of abducting or killing albinos. “These people are ruthless, have no mercy and, therefore, need to be treated like that [shot at].”

Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Women and Social Welfare, Isaac Katopola, was quoted in June, 2015 as telling AFP that citizens needed to “change their mindset and realise that albinos do not have magic powers”.
He is on record to have said that, since the spate of attacks escalated in December 2014, six albinos were officially registered as dead. This contrasted sharply with UN agencies' reports. They agencies put the figure at nine.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Pangs of Hunger in Mwanza Central Constituency

A tropical storm hit Mwanza Centre Constituency, the border district between Malawi and Mozambique in the Southern Region, on January 8, blowing away iron sheets, sweeping away over 10 hectares of the maize crop, and leaving community members desolate.

Some of the community members are still living in tents, almost a month after the disaster.

With no food to eat, they are happy for every Good Samaritan who comes to their aid. Well, we were there six days ago, and were humbled by the thankfulness of the affected people to something as small as those five and, to others, 10 kilogramme bags of maize flour or rice.

You never know what a kilogramme can do!

Malawi is reeling under a food crisis. In September last year, President Peter Mutharika’s called for food assistance, and the United States donating $15.7 million [about 9 billion] worth of food commodities.

Mutharika sounded the SOS before his departure for the U.S. to attend the 70th United Nations General Assembly.

U.S. Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer, said in a statement that the food commodities were meant for some of 2.8 million people in need of humanitarian food assistance.

“This assistance is in response to the September 21 appeal for donor support of up to US$146.4 million (K 84 billion) by the Government of Malawi following the Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) findings in July 2015,” read part of the statement.

The statement added that The UN World Food Program would receive and distribute the United States food donation of 6,250 metric tonnes of beans and 2,810 metric tonnes of vitamin A & D fortified vegetable oil as part of a larger food basket designed to meet the nutritional requirements of those in need.

The food donation is expected to arrive in the country next month.

According to the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee, 2.8 million people face hunger in 24 districts, necessitating the need for food assistance between the months of October 2015 and March 2016. The development has been blamed on the late onset of rains, severe flooding, mid-season dry spells, and early ending of rains, reducing the country’s maize crop production by 30 percent.

Mutharika said on Monday that his administration was ready to support the 2.8 million people facing hunger and using its own resources has bought 30,000 metric tonnes of maize from Zambia at the cost of K2.82 billion, and it
is in the process of buying additional 26,000 metric tons, at the value of about K3.5 billion.

Said Mutharika: “This maize will be used to stabilize the price of the commodity on the market through ADMARC across the country. The Strategic Grain Reserve currently has maize in stock and it continues to be replenished. The government is therefore; ready to roll out food relief to food insecure households during the lean period from October, 2015, to March 2016, as recommended by MVAC.”

Mutharika also said, following the MVAC food insecurity report, the government has developed the 2015/2016 Food Insecurity Response Plan which requires a total of US$146.378 million.

Food-Flooded, or Water-Flooded Year?

Panic runs through some farming communities in Malawi like a meandering river in a limitless 'forest' of sand.

The rains started somewhat 'unfaithfully', giving room to the sun to scorch crops at will, and leave farmers struggling to raise more funds for for fertiliser and seeds. Replanting was no longer a question of 'to do' or 'not'; it was a must.

Where I stay-- in Chiwembe, that is-- even those who can afford a bag of maize wore sadness on their faces. Who doesn't appreciate a green cob of maize from the backyard?

But, finally, the rains are on us. And have started wrecking havoc, too.

Where I went today-- Mwanza in Southern Malawi-- the sun was left with more room to scorch the maize crop than a downpour would cure. Now, the maize crop-- at one metre tall-- has stopped growing up and is flowering.

And, then, flush floods are on us in some parts of the country again. Like at Mtayamoyo in the Lower Shire. It rained curses and blessings on Tuesday that a five-year-old child was swept away and some crops were submerged in water.

Surely, it is going to be a mixed year. But not as worse as the 2014/15 growing season.

In case we have forgotten, here is a recap of how life was like and how people struggled to tame the rains and the destruction that followed.

2014/15 Relived

The rains had been anticipated, though nobody expected that they would also destroy what the crops they were supposed to help blossom.

In the end, the January floods in the 2014/15 agricultural season will forever be remembered as an act of nature that forced President Peter Mutharika’s hand to make the first— the State of the Nation Address aside— major decision eight months into his presidency.

What was surprising about the January floods was the fact that they occurred at a time farmers had been expecting unreliable rains after the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services statement announced in a statement on September 8 that the season would be marked by an El Nino spell.

The department added that the country would receive “generally favourable amounts of rainfall”.
“The key factors expected to influence the rainfall over Malawi during the 2014/15 rainfall season include the Sea Surface Temperatures over the tropical oceans of Pacific, Indian and Atlantic. Currently, a weak El-Nino is expected to develop over the Eastern Central Equatorial Pacific Ocean.

“This phenomenon affects rainfall patterns over southern Africa, including Malawi, and is generally associated with erratic rains over the region. The phenomenon is expected to persist up to early part of 2015, hence affecting the 2014/15 rainfall season over the region,” the statement read in part.

El Nino, for us to be on the same page, is a phenomenon which is caused by unusual warming of waters over the Eastern Central Equatorial Pacific Ocean, a development that culminates in depressed rainfall. When temperatures are lower than average, the condition is called La Nina.

The development came after international climate experts and the Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum meeting held in Windhoek, Namibia, in August last year, indicated that, “During October to December 2014, the Southern half of Malawi is expected to have normal to above normal rainfall amounts while the Northern half will have normal to below normal rainfall amounts.”

They further indicated that the southern half of Malawi would have normal to below normal rainfall amounts while the Northern half would receive normal to above normal rainfall amounts between January and March 2015.
The rains did come, of course, but they simply could not stop falling— culminating in the destruction of property worth millions.

Ironically, against the fears of El Nino came rains that could simply not stop falling. Indeed, as the year 2015 draws to a close, some of the victims of the heavy rains are yet to travel back to anything like normal life.

Take, for instance, the case of Talley Losha, the head teacher at Chikonje Primary School in Nsanje.

When rains started falling around 8 o’clock in the morning of January 12, 2015, he had a wife and a child.

Remembers Losha: “As time elapsed, around 6 o’clock in the evening, water flooded the whole sitting room. However, we thought that the situation would be okay, and we stayed put. This was despite the fact that, by this time, the sitting room wall had collapsed.

“But things came to a stand-still around 1 o’clock in the morning. The whole house collapsed. That’s when I realised that raging waters had flooded into the house, and the waters swept me, my wife, our child, and another child we were staying with.

“Fortunately, we managed to cling to trees and, later, we found safety in trees. I sought refuge in a tree some 250 metres from my house, while my wife and our child climbed a tree located some 400 metres from our house.”

In the end, his wife and child were swept away by the raging waters and their bodies have never been recovered.

How, then, can he travel back to anything like normal life— with the void in his heart.

The year 2015 could also be described as a year when one disaster followed another. If the news was not about floods, it was about hunger, victims sleeping in classrooms, cholera taking its toll on those who had survived the floods and hunger.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) has warned that the country faces food insecurity threats due to unpredictable rains and floods. To make matters worse, the Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) announced that maize, the country’s stable food, was becoming a “tricky” crop to produce due to changes in climate.

In its Basic Needs Basket report for March, CfSC observed that, “To make matters worse, most farmers are still cultivating unimproved varieties that are less productive and resilient to climate change. The recent floods that have hit half of the countries’ districts, have been a wakeup call to farming households and indeed all the stakeholders in the country to rethink the heavy reliance on maize for staple food needs,” reads part of CfSC’s indictment in the report.
“To safeguard the livelihoods of Malawians from economic wide effects of the floods and erratic rains, CfSC believes that there is need for collaborative efforts by all stakeholders to institute and implement pragmatic short, medium and long term strategies that will ameliorate peoples’ suffering and ensure food security at all the times,” added the CfSC the report.
Coming after FEWSNET had indicated in its February Food Security Outlook that an estimated one million households had been affected by the floods and approximately 105, 000 metric tonnes of cropped maize has been washed away across the country due to the floods, the news could not get worse for Malawi.
This was before the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee had indicated that an estimated 615,837 people would need assistance in flood affected areas for two to five months from March 2015onwards, requiring an equivalent of 23,750 tonnes of maize.
This was bad news on top of bad news because Civil Society Agriculture Network had just announced that maize production in the 2014/ 2015 would drop by at least 30 percent.

Unrelenting monkey

But the monkey of the 2015 did not get off the back of Mutharika who, nine months after the January floods, was forced to make a frantic call for food assistance on Monday, September 21. He made the call before his departure for the U.S. to attend the 70th United Nations General Assembly.

Countries such as the United States (US) immediately responded to Mutharika’s call, donating $15.7 million [about 9 billion] worth of food commodities.

U.S. Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer, said in a statement that, “This assistance is in response to the September 21 appeal for donor support of up to US$146.4 million (K 84 billion) by the Government of Malawi following the Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) findings in July 2015.”

The statement adds that The UN World Food Program would receive and distribute the United States food donation of 6,250 metric tonnes of beans and 2,810 metric tonnes of vitamin A & D fortified vegetable oil as part of a larger food basket designed to meet the nutritional requirements of those in need.

According to the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee, 2.8 million people face hunger in 24 districts, necessitating the need for food assistance between the months of October 2015 and March 2016. The development has been blamed on the late onset of rains, severe flooding, mid-season dry spells, and early ending of rains, reducing the country’s maize crop production by 30 percent.

On its part, the government has been setting the ball roling.

Mutharika said on September 21 that his administration was ready to support the 2.8 million people facing hunger and using its own resources has bought 30,000
metric tons of maize from Zambia at the cost of K2.82 billion, and it
is in the process of buying additional 26,000 metric tons, at the
value of about K3.5 billion.

Said Mutharika: “This maize will be used to stabilise the price of the
commodity on the market through Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation across the country.The
Strategic Grain Reserve currently has maize in stock and it continues
to be replenished. The government is therefore; ready to roll out
food relief to food insecure households during the lean period from
October, 2015, to March 2016, as recommended by MVAC.”

Mutharika also said, following the MVAC food insecurity report,
the government has developed the 2015/2016 Food Insecurity Response Plan
which requires a total of US$146.378 million.


This year’s challenges notwithstanding, there is some positive news emanating from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA).

DoDMA spokesperson, Jeremiah Mphande, said on November 29 that reports submitted by District Disaster Risk Management officers indicated that food distribution exercises started as early as October in some districts.
“[For example] World Vision (WV) started the distribution for 2015/16 MVAC [Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee] response in Chikwawa on October 1. These distributions marked the commencement of the response to the July 2015 MVAC report. The distributions started with focusing on the flood affected as the team was concurrently conducting registration processes for dry spell affected households in the district,” said Mphande.
Other organisations, including Gift of the Givers, have also been helping victims. Immediately after the floods, the charity embarked on a household food recovery programme aimed at supporting families that were affected by the floods with farming inputs.
Through the project, which is being supported by Malawi Relief Fund in the United Kingdom, the organisation is distributing farmers’ packs containing 10kg of CAN fertilizer, 10kg of Urea, 2kg maize seed, 2kg legume seed and a hoe.

The organisation has since January been assisting the flood victims with relief items such as maize flour, tinned fish, likuni phala, plastic sheets, kitchen utensils, blankets, washing powder and Oral rehydration salt (ORS) in 8 of the 15 districts namely; Nsanje, Chikwawa, Phalombe, Thyolo, Mulanje, Mangochi, Machinga and Balaka.

Other humanitarian organisations such as the World Food Programme also went around with a begging bowl, after announcing that it needed a whopping USD 10.8 million (approximately K5 billion) to scale-up the floods response and satisfy the needs of 616, 00 people it described as “food insecure flood victims”.

After the devastation 2015 imposed on Malawi, one only wonders what 2016 will be like.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Peter Mutharika hints at tough cyber laws

It was a statement enveloped in spirituality, but President Peter Mutharika hinted that the government was 'cooking' something that would see cyber space facing strict rules.
For a time, the Ministry of Justice has been working in the background to concoct laws that would see social media tamed, and cyber space policed.
And, on Saturday, during the consecration of the Very Reverend Father George Desmond Tambala as Bishop of Zomba Diocese at Zomba Catholic Secondary School ground, Mutharika specifically mentioned a case in which a banker based in Blantyre's Bangwe Township was rumoured on social media to have murdered his wife.
However, it turned out that the issue was a figment of the imagination.
“Where is our national integrity? Where is our love for one another? This is a country where people create a story that so and so has killed his wife, and spread the rumour on social media," said Mutharika.
This, on the surface, is an innocent statement made by a concerned president. The truth, however, is that the president was preparing the ground, the national psyche, for bigger things to come.
It could turn out that Malawi may find herself facing tough cyber laws, and those in the driving seat will cite cases that those of the Bangwe banker.
That is the bigger picture.