Monday, December 03, 2018

A deadly problem looming in a familiar season

The cholera outbreak that affected nearly a thousand people and claimed 30 of them nationally from November last year to May this year was largely due to sanitation challenges.

Many more outbreaks that the country has registered previously have been propped up by the same problem.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Population, Dr Dan Namarika, mid this year appealed to a cluster of various committees of Parliament to lobby for more sanitation interventions to prevent possible outbreaks in the future.

At that time, the outbreak had faltered and talk about it seemed to quickly drift into oblivion.

But to communities where the disease had reared its ugliest head, everything was supposed to be done to ensure that the familiar problem does not visit them again.

“It is a dangerous disease. I almost lost my 10-year-old son, Peter. He grew weak after a short diarrhoea one night. The situation got worse at dawn but thank God, he got well when I took him to hospital,” Steria Justin, a resident of Mitengo, a shantytown on the outskirts of Lilongwe City, said.

The location was one of the worst hit by the outbreak which was finally declared over in May this year.

Steria, a mother-of-three, said she was sure her son had contracted the disease from drinking contaminated water which she drew from a nearby well because she had no choice.

She had heard about the dangerous outbreak after the first case was recorded in Karonga in November last year. In Lilongwe alone, it affected 388 people and claimed 18 lives.

Information on how to prevent the disease was not handy to most communities which were worst affected by the outbreak. They continued drawing water from unprotected sources and relieved themselves in ‘illicit’ places, among other things.

“The water from the wells was for everything. We used it for cooking, bathing and drinking. That is how my son got cholera. I don’t want to experience what happened that night again,” Steria recounted.

Now, the Centre for Development Communication (CDC) is striving to ensure communities prone to cholera outbreaks have sufficient information about how to prevent an outbreak of the sanitation-related problem.

CDC believes in prevention superseding cure and wants Malawians to be aware of how they can avoid a possible cholera outbreak as the rainy season sets off in most parts of the country.

By engaging various stakeholders, CDC is spreading relevant messages that are aimed at dealing with any possible outbreak.

“At the centre of any cholera outbreak is the issue of sanitation. Then, information becomes critical because cholera is preventable. People simply need to have sufficient information about how to prevent and have it treated,” CDC Head of Programmes, Charles Simbi, says.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the organisation, with support from the Department for International Development, through Unicef, engaged religious leaders on how they can take part in sensitising their faithful on how they can prevent and treat cholera.

Simbi points out that without concerted efforts of different stakeholders, the battle against cholera becomes fragmented and difficult.

“Religious leaders have a role to play in influencing the adoption of behaviours. They can promote negative behaviours that put people at risk, so we would like them, as opinion leaders, to spread the correct message in terms of cholera prevention and treatment.

“This will ensure that, together, we reduce the risk of cholera and the vulnerability of individuals to cholera. It is all about people knowing the right things regarding the disease,” Simbi says.

He also believes that there are several gaps in cholera prevention and treatment which can be addressed if various stakeholders engage in honest conversations about the disease.

“For instance, perhaps, we should engage in some serious reflection on issues like sanitation in graveyards. People visit these areas during funerals and sometimes spend hours there. They obviously need toilets. This is something traditional leaders should think about,” Simbi says.

And for the religious leaders, caring for their flock means more than just preaching to them.

It also means avoiding propagating doctrines that can put their lives at risk.

“They should encourage their faithful to seek medical attention when they are sick. This includes when they are suffering from cholera. Sometimes, there are delays in seeking treatment when they go to religious leaders for prayers,” Simbi says, adding that cholera is about treatment.

And the religious leaders, under the Pentecostal and Charismatic Network of Malawi (Pechanema) umbrella, who gathered in Blantyre courtesy of CDC, settled on the point that cholera has to be treated by qualified medical personnel.

They agree that in their space, they have a lot of influence in how their flock respond to various problems affecting them including those bordering on health.

Pechanema president, Apostle Willie Chaponda, who was among the religious leaders from 19 districts which were hit by cholera the past three or four years and took part in the training workshop, says the concept that cleanliness is next to godliness must be practical.

“Most of the problems that happen in terms of sickness are due to uncleanliness. This is a very big problem in our cities and towns especially during this rainy season.

“Many people go to church. Politicians, chiefs and others go to church and, therefore, the church is rightly placed to disseminate messages to do with cholera prevention and treatment,” Chaponda says.

He regrets the ignorance which he says compels some people to believe in prayer only, saying religious leaders must teach their flocks about cleanliness because “after all, people cannot live on miracles only”.

Chaponda explains: “God never intended that we should be living by miracles, but naturally following principles that can help us live healthy lives. Thus, we have to teach our faithful this and we must sincerely do it now when the threat of cholera is big.”

And CDC hopes that there will be a change in how various individuals respond to both cholera prevention and treatment.

Mothers' pain of labouring in vain

The night his daughter lost her baby just after arriving at Koche Health Centre in Mangochi District, Group Village Head (GVH) Mapata was reminded about how vulnerable his people were.

“She was bleeding and she also almost lost her life. The time she reached the health centre, about 27 kilometres away, she had lost a lot of blood,” GVH Mapata, in Traditional Authority Mponda, recalls.

Such deaths and near-death experiences are not strange in the seven villages that he oversees.

Several pregnant women labour in vain as long distances to health facilities force them to either deliver on their way to the facilities where they lose their babies by virtue of lack of professional care or to arrive at hospitals with complications which end their babies’ lives.

They seldom comply with the requirement that they should spend the last days of their pregnancies in labour wards.

“Most of them are poor such that it becomes difficult for them to divide the little food and money that they have and leave some behind while taking the rest to the hospital,” GVH Mapata explains.

At his house, a stretcher that used to conveniently take pregnant women to Koche Health Centre lies almost abandoned.

The wheels and other parts which got it onto the road are worn out, pushing locals in this part of Mangochi to bicycle or motorcycle taxis which are mostly not available at night.

“In the case of my daughter, my son hired a motorcycle but it was still too late because of the long distance to the hospital. Many more women labour in vain,” GVH Mapata narrates.

With only a village clinic in his area, that serves under-five children on Tuesdays and Thursdays while also providing antenatal services once every month, optimal health care for his people is a far cry.

They rely on Koche Health Centre, situated 27 kilometres away, or Mangochi District Hospital, about 43 kilometres away, accessed using a rugged road which often leaves them sicker than when they started off.

That is the experience GVH Mapata’s daughter, Idah Yasi, 35, had when she lost her baby.

“I faced a lot of problems. When I fainted on my way to the hospital and could not be regain consciousness until I reached the hospital where I lost my baby,” she says.

Her prayer is a familiar one. It is what many other women in her community have been quietly saying with the hope that one day joyless labour moments would be over.

Sitting on a windblown veranda of her grass-thatched house, her frail eyes staring in nothingness, Yasi relives the pain that she encountered during her previous pregnancy.

“Well, I was lucky to survive; some women have lost both their babies and their lives due to failure to access health care services in time. At least, if we had a medical worker nearby, even without a big hospital, things would be better,” she says.

The tragedy that befell her is so common in her community where family planning methods are not easily accessible to most women.

Idah Yasin of Mapata Village painfully recalls how her daughter lost her baby on their way to Koche Health Post, 27 kilometres away, after delivering in the absence of professional health workers and an atmosphere fit for a new baby.

It was night time. The tensed-up moment of her daughter failing to hold a little longer ended in a baby dying just after being born.

“It happened this year. My daughter was picked on a bicycle but, maybe because of bumps, she could not hold any longer. In fact, after delivering, she also got very sick such that we had to continue to the hospital while those who were escorting us returned home with the dead body,” Yasin says.

And fate has still been unkind to her family.

Last month, her sister had a similar experience. As her labour days approached, she started bleeding before she was taken to hospital where, after going under the knife, she lost her baby.

The long distance to the health facility, coupled with the absence of a health worker in the area of GVH Mapata, meant Yasin’s sister could not be cared for in time.

They are common occurrences in this part of Mangochi with a village clinic whose sole Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) lives several kilometres away and works only two days a week.

His scope of work is also limited to a few groups of people.

Yet the National Community Health Strategy which is currently being implemented in Malawi states that the government is committed to improving health and livelihoods through community health—the provision of basic health services in rural and urban locations.

Billed as an ambitious framework for optimal health care regardless of one’s socio-economic status or geographical location, the strategy recognises that community health contributes to improvement of health outcomes.

“However, the community health system faces resource constraints and inconsistencies around quality of service which negatively affect health outcomes,” part of an introduction to the strategy concedes.

And in the area of GVH Mapata, the absence of integrated community health services which are affordable and accessible to every household means more lives continue to be at risk.

People here feel marginalised by a system which is not ensuring sufficient and equitable distribution of well-trained community health workers to serve them.

“I pray for a day my people will no longer be dying because there is no hospital or health worker nearby to take care of them when they fall sick,” GVH Mapata says.

With a shortage of at least 7,000 community health workers and those in the system unevenly distributed across the country, many more people in rural locations continue to be marginalised.

In fact, most of the health workers are largely left to use their own resources in the provision of services aimed at improving the health of people in communities where they operate.

“For instance, I use my own money, around K8,000 to travel to and from Mangochi District Hospital to get drugs which I use at the outreach clinic,” Steve Mwale, a HSA responsible for Mapata Village Clinic, laments.

His resolve to assist those who seek his services is, however, not relenting.

At the small facility, comprising one structure with an open hall and a small consultation, prescription and treatment room, the screams of children—some trapped to their mothers’ backs, others in their bosoms—fortify Mwale’s tenacity even when his body is almost failing him.

“Some of these people come from very far away, up to 10 kilometres away, so I can’t send them back even when I’m tired. So, I sometimes work up to 8 p.m.,” he says.

The workload weighs down on his shoulders but it does not outweigh his passion for assisting the sick, the vulnerable whose only hope is him.

“If I abandon them, who will support them. I am all they have here,” Mwale says with a trace of optimistic fulfilment in his tone.

More of such workers are what Malawians need, says GVH Mapata.

They are at the centre of meeting targets in the National Community Health Strategy which seeks that, by 2022, Malawi should decrease under-five mortality rate by 25 percent, from 64 to 48 per 1,000 live births, and maternal mortality ratio by 20 percent, from 439 to 350 per 100,000 live births.

And, as World Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, states, harnessing the potential of community health workers means improving their working and living conditions.

Trodden paths to babies' graves

A small mound of red earth covering the body of an hour-old baby and the red roses on its top are still fresh in the shadows of towering trees which mitigate the sweltering heat typical of Mangochi.

The setting is a babies’ graveyard overlooking a range of bare and desiccated hills in Sub-Traditional Authority (STA) Lulanga in the lakeshore district’s North-East.

Women, about ten of them, walk quietly into the burial ground, the noise of their feet cracking dry leaves startling rodents and birds out of their habitats.

One of them is carrying a dead body, firmly trapped to her back. It is a scene playing out frequently in this part of the world where children as young as 12 years fall pregnant.

Only two days ago, the women were here—in the gloomy place—burying a stillborn baby that, among superstitious populations, seems to have invited another to lie beside it.

“These deaths are strange. They are becoming too common,” a woman whispers to me as we watch, from a distance, mothers carry out their brief entombment ritual in the quiet yard.

The bereaved mother, a 16-year-old girl, is not part of this group of women among whom are those that have trekked to this solemn site more than four times the past three weeks.

The complications that led to the loss of the new life left her in a precarious condition. She was moved from the labour ward to female ward.

There are some who talk of lakeside communities in Mangochi as some lethargic societies still stuck in the past with stubbornness and tradition.

But within that reflection is also the reality that the communities have their time so condensed that a lot of histories happen in one generation.

“I know that as population grows, deaths also increase. But the deaths of babies are just too much. It is like someone has cast a spell through this community,” the woman laments.

But the situation at Lulanga Health Centre seems to offer a clue to the ‘mysterious’ deaths.

Day in day out, young girls stumble into the maternity ward of the strained facility, seeking to bring life into the world—most of them, however, not physiologically and emotionally prepared to.

The facility does not have a running ambulance. In cases of emergency, they either call for one from Makanjira Health Centre, some 15 kilometres away, or Mangochi District Hospital, some 130 kilometres away.

In worst scenarios, they take the risk of assisting patients and, sometimes, lose them.

“More children are coming to the health centre to deliver. This shows that more children are getting pregnant,” a nurse-midwife at the facility, Victoria Sichinga, explains.

She and her fellow healthcare workers at Lulanga Health Centre have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity—to let the afflicted smile again and expectant woman carry their living babies.

But it does not always happen. Naturally, women’s bodies sometimes fail to sustain lives growing in them to the every end if they are not mature enough.

The problem is aggravated by inadequate resources for caring for the sick.

“Truth is resources will never be enough. We must all join hands in sensitising our people to the dangers of young girls getting pregnant. Some of them lose their babies or their own lives or both because their bodies are not mature enough,” Sichinga says.

Defeating the problems is, however, an uphill task in a community that still massages the tradition that young girls can be affianced to older men against their will.

Their parents treat them like some objects which, at certain points, should be sold off. So the girls live miserable lives, haunted by what they would eventually be doing with men they never choose.

“Fishermen also lure young girls with money who then either drop out of school to get married or engage in unprotected sex and fall pregnant,” Sichinga explains.

In recent times, she has noted some improvement in the number of young people accessing products with which to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies.

Still, the progress is suboptimal. Thus, teen pregnancies continue to thrive in a location which also has few organisations working to clamp down on the problem.

On the other hand, while dozens of children, especially girls, are being withdrawn from marriages with some of them returning to school, most of them live with permanent scars of the pain they endure in the unwanted unions.

There even are parents who block their children from returning to school after their marriages are nullified.

Some traditional leaders also reportedly connive with parents to illegally bless teen marriages in their communities.

STA Lulanga claims that is no longer happening in his area of jurisdiction.

But several scenarios at the only health centre here reveal a perfect antithesis of the claim. Girls as young as 15 years are wobbling into the maternity ward of the small facility, heavily pregnant.

“I dropped out of school and got married after falling pregnant. My husband and I were both in primary school,” an innocent-looking girl, who has just given birth at Lulanga Health Centre, states.

And in a way, STA Lulanga accepts that the battle against teenage pregnancies and child marriages is far from being won.

He imagines presiding over villages with well-educated and healthy people who contribute to the development of their communities where traces of poverty stick out like sore thumbs.

“It pains me a lot that we, in this party of Malawi, are often perceived as illiterate. Teen pregnancies and child marriages are contributing to this. We must change,” the chief says.

He knows that men stealthily strike deals with young girls’ parents to marry the little ones against their will.

“They do that even while far away such as in South Africa. The girls are betrothed to older men and receive gifts from the men. After that, they no longer find school attractive,” STA Lulanga admits.

Together with traditional rulers under his authority, they came up with bylaws which proscribe marriages before one turns 18.

Those who spurn the regulations—both heads of villages and parents—are slapped with penances of various degrees.

“For village heads who allow children in their area to marry, we even reach the extent of stripping them of the authority,” STA Lulanga says.

But, under the cover of darkness, some stubborn parents and local leaders still send girls away, to live with men they barely know.

The girls are systematically excluded from what they are supposed to enjoy as children. They are forced to give birth when they are not ready. Some experience stillbirths and live with permanent scars of robbed childhoods.

Their first fruits of the womb are quietly and sombrely carried by older women to babies’ graves with the trodden paths leading there telling tales of communities in need of redemption.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Conflicting messages that are violating girls' rights

Reports of girls continuously being abused in their homes, schools and communities are not waning. If it is not about a girl child defiled by her stepdad, it is some uncharitable teacher or depraved man taking his part in ruining the lives of girls.

The amendment of the constitutional provision that recognises one as a child—from age 16 to 18—was billed to protect all children from all forms of abuse, among others.

Girls were particularly expected to get some special benefit from the law review especially when it comes to marriages since the new law meant they could not be married off at 16 as was possible before.

The Child Care, Justice and Protection Act also compels parents, guardians, the state and other stakeholders to ensure they provide the best form of care to children.

But with these beautiful pieces of legislation—which have also earned Malawi some rare praise on the international scene—the girl child continues being abused; defiled in places where she was supposed to find redemption.

Executive Director of Malawi Girl Guide Association (Magga), Mphatso Jimu, agrees that fighting for girls’ rights remains a problem because what they are told to do, say, at home and what is there in the laws are totally different.

She also rues some awareness messages which target girls even when it is clear that they are conflicting with other initiatives aimed at protecting them.

“For instance, at home, when a girl child reaches the age of, say, 12, she is told to stop playing with her fellow children who are a bit younger. She is told to start putting on a wrapper and she begins to feel that she is now grown up,” Jimu says.

She further observes that sometimes without any recourse to provisions in relevant laws that project girl children, some parents force them to attend initiation ceremonies where they are taught “things beyond their ages”.

These, according to the Magga ED, put girls in awkward positions where they are sometimes compelled to ‘respond’ to what society demands, rather than what they feel is right.

“This means that the girl is deprived of her right to closely associate with those within her age bracket. It also means that the girl is forced to be in the company of adults where it is easy to be abused.

“During initiation ceremonies, these girls are taught complex things including sex. As such, they begin to think that they can do it since they have been taught it,” Jimu carps.

Executive director of Eye of the Child, Maxwell Matewere, also agrees that despite several interventions by different stakeholders, girl children continue being abused in different places.

He has since called for strict reinforcement of laws that protect girl children.

“There should be strong deterrent punishments for all those who abuse girls. We will continue pushing for this because these children continue being defiled and violated even in their homes,” says Matewere.

He adds that while precautionary measures are always the best, it is still important to reach out to girls that have been abused so that they are supported for life beyond their misfortunes.

“We do work on rehabilitating girls that are abused so that they don’t look at themselves as condemned human beings. We remove them from places where they are abused to where they are safe,” says Matewere.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), girl children in Malawi are further at disadvantages because of things like early pregnancies and schools that are not friendly for their education.

The UN agency calls on different stakeholders including government to put in place measures that will ensure girl children have ultimate protection and enjoy their rights as any child would do.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The steady rise of herbicides use

Modern technologies in crop production have not penetrated Malawi’s agriculture sector to any level near impressing their advocates, researchers admit.

Nevertheless, among those methods aimed at easing agriculture production while numbers of workers diminish, herbicides seem to be steadily winning the hearts of Malawian farmers, both smallholder and commercial.

These are essentially chemicals used to kill or inhibit the growth of weeds and other unwanted plants in a field.

The last decade has seen an increase in farmers’ use of the chemicals and according to a plant pathologist at Bvumbwe Research Station, Misheck Soko, the response continues being overwhelming.

“Herbicides are particularly used in hot areas like Salima and Chikwawa because soils are very fertile and a lot of weeds grow there. As such, manual methods of weeding are too involving and farmers prefer the use of chemicals,” says Soko who is also acting registrar of the Pesticides Control Board.

A 2016 study by the Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy (ILFSP) on the use of herbicides in Sub-Saharan Africa found that even though chemical weed control has been low or non-existent in Africa for many years, recent evidence suggests that herbicide use is now reaching significant levels “and may be on the rise more generally”.

According to the study, Malawi’s use of herbicides remains low—at 1 per cent—while other countries like Ghana have jumped to 55 per cent in just a few years.

“…These results suggest that increased use of herbicides is driven by increased awareness, availability, and demand by better off, commercially oriented households. This often happens in areas where agricultural productivity is rising and where the opportunity cost of labour may be higher,” the survey observed.

And Soko admits that while herbicides use is gaining momentum in the country, the cost of the chemicals constrains smallholder farmers from maximising their potential.

On the other hand, the plant pathology expert states that for those farmers that use them, the efficiency of the chemicals is there for all to see.

“The herbicides are very effective if properly utilised just like is any other chemical. For the smallholder farmers, sometimes it is difficult to afford the chemicals because they are a bit expensive.

“But for the commercial farmers, almost all of them are using herbicides and this obviously shows that the chemicals are effective. Commercial farmers react very quickly to something if it is not helping them,” says Soko.

He adds that due to the increasing demand of herbicides in the country, most chemical companies are now into their business with agro-dealers also cashing in on the new technology which is easing manual labour in crop production.

But Bizeck Chitseko, a smallholder farmer of Mwamadi Village in Mulanje, who belongs to a farmers’ club under One Acre Fund, says he has never used herbicides because of lack of proper advisory services from experts.

He, however, admits that he has seen other farmers use the chemicals but finds that gap that he has in understanding their potential a deterrent of the good tidings that could be synonymous with herbicides.

“Perhaps, if I get more information on how to use these chemicals and their effects, I may decide to start using them. Otherwise, currently I don’t think I can use them. Crop production is sensitive and you cannot take unnecessary risks,” says Chitseko.

Elena Kankhumba, a Nkhotakota-based registered member of the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) says she uses herbicides and that they have been effective in her agriculture endeavours.

Kankhumba says her farms are often so infested with weeds such that dealing with them using a hoe is practically impossible “because they will sprout any time soon”. This is, of course, the case in many hot areas of Malawi.

“But the use of herbicides also has its problems. For instance, sometimes after applying them, I find that weeds grow again even before harvesting my crops. Because it is also difficult to protect ourselves from the chemicals, we sometimes develop skin rashes,” says Kankhumba.

Perhaps, she is also not fully benefiting from the herbicides because of lack of proper advisory services just like Chitseko.

In fact the ILSFP study recommended that policies to prepare for the changes in herbicide use should include training farmers on their safe and effective application.

The struggle of freeing the hoe

Agriculture experts agree that farm mechanisation is the way to go for Malawi, a country with its basic economy largely dependent on agriculture.

But despite government having developed the National Agriculture and National Irrigation policies which President Peter Mutharika launched last year, farmers are still struggling to mechanise their activities because of the huge expenses that the methods demand.

The two policies are aimed at boosting agriculture investments, among others, and ensure the country maximises land use through modern technologies in a sector that accounts for one-third of Malawi’s gross domestic product (GDP).

And to the smallholder farmer, who has been trapped in a vicious circle where every effort is particularly for the assurance of daily bread, the struggle to dump the hoe seems never-ending.

Even some simple machinery used for tasks like shelling and winnowing are not being accessed by smallholder farmers who look up to government and other stakeholders to effectively manage their endeavours.

“I have had a chance to interact with farmers from other countries who say they are producing more than five times on a piece of land like mine with minimal efforts because almost every process is being mechanised,” says Mike Mulewa, a tobacco farmer in Ntchisi.

Mulewa claims that he has heard before that government is endeavouring to ensure mechanisation is a reality for Malawian farmers, but he doubts if he will benefit from the initiative in his lifetime.

One of the country’s most successful farmers, Felix Jumbe, who is also a member of Parliament (MP) observes that farming manually was supposed to be a thing of the past as different forms of technologies have been developed to ease crop production.

However, Jumbe concedes that farm mechanisation needs a lot of money such that most farmers cannot afford it because of their low levels of income.

“We are supposed to move from the current traditional methods to where we produce more with little efforts. Using hands in processes like winnowing, cleaning farm produce and tilling was supposed to be a thing of the past.

“But how many farmers can afford a tractor or even a simple winnowing machine? How many farmers have the technical capacity to use farm machinery? A lot needs to be done if agriculture is to be improved,” says Jumbe.

He adds that farm mechanisation needs a lot of land, which most smallholder farmers in Malawi do not have.

According to Jumbe, while using machinery works effectively on huge pieces of land of up to 50 hectares, most smallholder farmers have less than three acres.

“Another thing is that most of our land is not fit for mechanisation. The terrain is not even, making the use of machinery like tractors practically impossible. In other countries like Brazil, South Africa and Zimbabwe, they had to flatten pieces of land for easy mechanisation,” says Jumbe.

The lawmaker hopes that agriculture financing will one day be established in the country so that farmers—who contribute a huge chunk of Malawi’s economy—should move from manual processes to the use of machinery.

“Otherwise, as is the case now, there is no clear programme for this country to move away from traditional methods of agriculture. We have talked a lot about mechanisation but nothing is happening,” Jumbe laments.

During his recent tour of Alliance One tobacco company farms, former Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Aggrey Masi, admitted that the country needs to move towards agriculture mechanisation to revamp the sector.

In fact, such sentiments have been made several times by successive ministers of agriculture and officials under them.

Alliance One significantly uses machines in its production processes starting from tilling to irrigation through harvesting and baling.

“There is a lot that smallholder farmers can learn from how you have mechanised your agriculture endeavours. A lot of energy and time is saved while production is maximised,” said Masi to Alliance One officials who were present during his tour.

He further appreciated the fact that because of mechanised irrigation, the tobacco company is able to maximise land use by planting new crops immediately after harvesting.

“That is what we need to do as a country. Growing crops three times a year is an ideal way of maximising land use. If this can be replicated in several other places, the country will no longer be talking about hunger,” Masi added.

But the Alliance One irrigation machine which Masi was marvelling at costs more than K30 million, an amount which very few farmers can afford.

It even needs technical expertise to operate, and according to Jumbe, farmers must be allowed to easily acquire the expertise from departments like the Agricultural Development Divisions (ADDs) so that they can operate farm machines available for hire “in a few places”.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What we are ignoring on the Salima-Lilongwe water project

The tidbits of the $500 million project through which Lilongwe Water Board wants to tap water from the shrinking Lake Malawi to the capital city are seldom part of the bigger discourse of the arrangement.

What we hear from Malawi’s Parliament committees interested in the matter has vacillated between an environmental and social impact assessment not carried out and restrictive tendering processes which almost pressed the arrangement towards a desired contractor.

The price of the contract, which slightly falls short of half of Malawi’s average annual national budget has been needlessly—or heedfully—tucked away in the immense arguments on the project.

$500 million is not some amount that falls anywhere with natural ease. It’s a whooping K400 billion. Perhaps, an alternative should have been explored to ensure Lilongwe is not without water in the near future.

Lilongwe Water Board, the institution that is making sure—perhaps struggling—that I take a shower before going to work, should be the biggest culprit in the process of awarding such a contract to such an expensive bidder.

For records’ sake, when I joined the mainstream media in 2014, I was compelled to write a story that Lilongwe was sitting on a ticking time-bomb as far as water was concerned because “soon, the city would be without water if no measure was immediately undertaken”.

Experts argue that the Salima-Lilongwe water project would realistically cost not more than $100 million. So where is the $500 million coming from? Why is everyone seemingly neglecting the price? Wasn’t there an alternative—as suggested in the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act?

Malawi’s biggest tragedy is that she has government and opposition leaderships that always look to ways of gaining support for their bids for power, and sometimes do so with careless abandon. In fact, that is Africa’s biggest problem.

Why should tapping water from Salima to Lilongwe cost an amount which is more than that which would be spent on constructing a road between the same spots? In all fairness, the price needs to be assessed because there are fears it is not realistic.

General logic has eluded authorities because they have been palm-oiled. The corrupting influence of money has shut their mouths. Even those who seemed so eager to let justice flow like a river on the matter have now assumed unusual silence.

Former Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale knew what he was doing when he proposed a review of the contract. Much as he might not have seriously considered the price thing, it should be obvious that he knew it was way much on the higher side.

Perhaps, donors are indeed interfering too much in our internal affairs, but if they intimate something that practically makes sense, then, perhaps we should listen to them. The Salima—Lilongwe Water Project is one of them.

Its price tag is unrealistic, according to experts. Yet, this is something that we are not being frequently told.

The project should not cost $500—not even $400 million or $300—because it is way much on the higher side. A proper review is necessary.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Infrastructure development amid climate change

The 2016 New Climate Economy Report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate underlined once again what has almost become a clich├ęd statement from world leaders and all those advocating for sustainable climate change fight: that climate-smart, resilient infrastructure will be crucial for the world to adapt to the climate impacts.

With America having pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, it is left to a few more ‘top’ leaders to support larger initiatives to deal with climate change.

In the agreement, which entered into force on November 4 2016 shortly after it had been adopted, all countries agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius.

Poor countries like Malawi—which seldom have a notable voice in large agreements on dealing with climate change—are bearing the brunt of climate change just like the rest of the world.

Droughts and floods, necessitated by adverse and unpredictable climate patterns, are no longer the big news—except that they prompt some cry for help from leaders in the event that crops are destroyed, lives lost and roads and bridges swept away.

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate in its report titled ‘The sustainable infrastructure imperative: Financing for better growth and development’ recommended that ensuring that infrastructure is built to deliver sustainability is the only way to meet global goals on economic growth and to guarantee long-term, inclusive and resilient growth.

The report stated that investing in sustainable infrastructure is key to tackling three simultaneous challenges: reigniting global growth, delivering on sustainable development goals (SDGs) and reducing climate risk.

“Infrastructure underpins core economic activity and is an essential foundation for achieving inclusive sustainable growth. It is indispensable for development and poverty elimination, as it enhances access to basic services, education and work opportunities, and can boost human capital and quality of life.

“… Sustainability means ensuring that the infrastructure we build is compatible with social and environmental goals… It also includes infrastructure that supports the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, and contributes to enhanced livelihoods and social wellbeing,” the report said.

Malawi has had a fair share of the effects of climate change on infrastructure development despite that the problems seem to have been exacerbated by poor workmanship which might have been hidden all along.

Roads with poor drainage systems, bridges not properly edged and buildings not properly climate-proofed have been severely hit by the effects of climate change; starkly reminding the country that there is a gap to be filled in engineering processes.

Several buildings including police houses in Lilongwe, school blocks in different parts of the country; roads in the country’s cities and bridges on main roads, have been damaged before by strong winds, floods and heavy rains.

In fact the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate states that bad infrastructure “literally kills people” by causing respiratory illnesses and exacerbating road accidents, among other hazards.

“It also puts pressure on land and natural resources, creating unsustainable burdens for future generations such as unproductive soils and runaway climate change,” says the commission, which was set up to help governments, businesses and society make better-informed decisions on how to achieve economic prosperity and development while also addressing climate change.

It was commissioned by seven countries namely Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom, as an independent initiative to report to the international community.

With SDG Goal 13 urging nations to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts and Malawi having already experienced the drastic effects of climate change, there obviously is no time to waste as long as infrastructure development that responds to climate change is concerned.

According to the United Nations (UN), people are experiencing the significant impacts of climate change, which include changing weather patterns, rising sea level, and more extreme weather events.

“The greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are driving climate change and continue to rise. They are now at their highest levels in history.

“Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century and is likely to surpass [three] degrees Celsius this century—with some areas of the world expected to warm even more. The poorest and most vulnerable people are being affected the most,” the UN says in a note introducing SDG 13.

So while, the fight against climate change seems to be gaining momentum each passing day, it is not obvious that the current impacts will be eliminated soon.

That is why one of Malawi’s most prominent engineers, Paul Kulemeka, observes that every engineering activity has to respond to climate change, whatever the case.

Regarding infrastructure development, Kulemeka says there is a growing need to ensure buildings and roads—among others—are climate-proofed so that they last longer “because times have changed”.

“In terms of climate change, what has happened is that when we are designing bridges and drainage systems, for instance, we design them looking at what we call the retain period. We make assumptions that for this kind of infrastructure to withstand different conditions for, say, ten years, we need to make it this big.

“Because of the effects of climate change, the initial assumptions have to change, obviously. As engineers, we have gone back to look at how we can design something that should last longer, like making structures like roads and bridges wider,” Kulemeka says.

He adds that engineers need to be always abreast of the times and share best practices because of ever-changing times.

“As engineers, we cannot avoid climate change. It is here and we have to respond to it and every kind of infrastructure that we design has to respond to the effects of climate change. If it is a building, there have to be ways of proofing it against strong winds or heavy rains, for example,” Kulemeka adds.

Even the vision of the National Construction Industry Policy is “a dynamic construction industry that fosters economic growth and international competiveness”, implying that there is need to adapt to emerging trends in the industry so that one remains relevant.

So far, the National Construction Industry Council (NCIC) of Malawi has deregistered some construction contractors who have failed to meet the standard requirements of their professions which include producing infrastructure that has failed to last beyond the defects liability period.

But while the effects of climate change have not spared anyone in Malawi, when it comes to construction, it appears it is the towns and cities that have the information handy on climate-proof structures.

Those in remote areas might continue erecting their structures which will not withstand the next flood or storm. That is why stakeholders agree that there is need for more sensitization on the effects of climate on infrastructure development even in remote areas; even for small mud houses.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Chronicles of the award

Political and social events in the distant past compelled me to write something. Something fictitious. Precision might be far-fetched regarding when I actually penned the first sentence. But it was some time in August last year. From that frail, uninspiring sentence, a novel manuscript that was to be named Evil Assignment was born. It was conceived in the scraps of history; for what had been my core inspiration got carelessly tucked away in politics.

But, what mattered was the birth of Evil Assignment. Even though its source is one of pain and misery, it’s still an inspiration. After all, the muse speaks best out of agony.

And, when I received a phone call from the Malawi Writers Union on 23 September this year that informed me that my manuscript had reached the finals in the prestigious Peer Gynt Literary Awards which was being bankrolled by The Royal Norwegian Embassy, I was rather shocked. Not because I didn’t have confidence in what I had written. But, because I had forgotten everything about the competition. And the prize presentation ceremony was to be held three days later.

Now, the three waiting days were like eternity. You receive a phone call that informs you that your manuscript is one of the 13 shortlisted ones. Then, you're told that out of the 13, only three will win. You read in the media that out of the 13 finalists, six are veteran writers. And, this happens to be the first ever writing competition you entered. You should be justified to feel unsafe, nervous, shocked. Well, you can as well be proud of yourself for you pretty well know that you've already beaten 40 other participants. And, that you've reached the finals anyway.

Thursday, September 26. Still nervous, I travelled to the Norwegian Ambassador’s residence where we, the finalists, were supposed to have a caucus with the judges, Professor Jack Mapange, Dr. James Ng’ombe and award winning Zambian author Ellen Banda-Aaku. I was the first to arrive at the ambassador’s residence, followed by Willie T. Zingani and Aubrey Kalitera. Then, other finalists arrived in the company of the judges.

We were treated to some ‘strange’ foods, but that didn’t matter to me. I just ate to make a virtue of necessity, for my mind was on the main event of the day. During the caucus, the judges discussed with us what a good novel should have. That, still, didn’t matter to me.

We left for Latitude 13 Degrees some minutes before six. That was where the main prize presentation ceremony would take place. At the hotel, we were treated to some Country and Western music by a band whose name I can’t remember. Well, the music didn’t matter to me.

Then the main event was nearing. Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture Rachel Mazombwe Zulu delivered her speech after Mawu President Sambalikagwa Mvona and Norwegian Ambassador Asbjorn Eidhammer. I paid modest attention to what these people said.

Then, came the time. The time I had been nervously waiting for. I heaved a deep sigh as the leader of the panel of judges, Dr Ng’ombe strutted upfront to announce the winners of this year’s Peer Gynt Literary Awards. He talked about what they, as judges, had concentrated on in scrutinising the manuscripts. That didn’t seem to matter to me. It just couldn’t.

Then he went ahead to reveal that excerpts from the three winning manuscripts would be read out by the judges. The first one was read out. I don’t know from whose manuscript it was taken. Then. Then, then the second. And, I knew it. Jack Mapanje read it. He read it with so much vigour and passion that you would be forgiven for assuming he was the author. The excerpt was from Evil Assignment.

I had submitted the manuscript on 2 March, two months before the deadline. Being out of touch with most events taking place in this country at that time, I wasn’t aware that the deadline had been extended. Still, the extension didn’t matter. What I submitted on March 2 could be the same manuscript I would submit in May. And, in any case, it would still scoop the second position. It couldn't beat Shadreck Chikoti's Azotus the Kingdom which won the jackpot.

Facebook and its strange pages

According to official statistics, as of May 2013, the world’s most popular social site had at least 1.11 billion active monthly users. Among these are all kinds of people you can ever imagine: robbers, religious people, sex workers, the young and the old. And, gullible people who are unsuspectingly falling prey to some nefarious forces. And, Facebook does not have the ability to trace the real characters of every user.

There even are hundreds of thousands of groups on Facebook. While the groups’ agendas seem quite clear when one joins them, traces of apparent advocacy of opposite missions become evident. But, only a few people are sensitive enough to detect the ‘strayed’ missions of the groups.

There are groups that seem religious in nature at the outset. After some time, one is shocked to the core to find the administrators of those groups posting messages that are morally corrupt, politically insensitive and war-spurring.

Then there are other groups that are already morally corrupt in nature, but become ‘interested’ in posting religious or spiritual messages and their morally-corrupt messages interchangeably. And in all this, the ultimate victory apparently falls on evil because, after all, evil doesn’t mind being associated with good because it knows the good in evil will forever be evil.

Ethnic, religious rivalry

Any history of ethnic rivalry in Malawi is almost hidden in the mists of time, safely tucked away from our memories, except in the academia where people learn much about the future by critiquing the past. Now, some Facebook groups’ administrators, who happened to court large numbers of people because of their inviting names, have resorted to creating controversial posts where fierce debates along ethnic lines ensue.

Deliberate attempts are being made to turn Malawians of different ethnicities against each other, and the rivalling debates that follow the ethnically-insensitive posts speak volumes about the ticking time-bomb. The administrators of these groups take advantage of the fact that they have thousands of members who obviously share different ethnic ideologies.

The angry debates on the forums clearly herald fierce antagonism among people who should rather be termed Malawians. Threats of physical confrontations are even issued. And in all this, it is the evil one that smiles all the way to his home.

On the other hand, the same groups create posts that clearly call for antipathy along religious lines. The administrators deliberately create posts which they know will be offensive to some religious sections of our society and leave it to members to castigate each other’s religions and end up compromising their own faith.

What’s most surprising is that most of these groups that are keen on turning sections of society against each other operate parallel to their missions of providing breaking news and vacancies. Well, a little bit of some breather could be welcome, but not one that is intended to turn people against each other.

The ‘type Amen’ factor

It is true that Facebook is, to some people, a forum where they can get rid of their sorrows and depressions, usually, by other people’s posts of encouragement and hope. After all, there are famous preachers who have their Facebook pages and post spiriting sermons there. The messages become timely catharsises for those in search of some form of redemption.

There even are men of God who post prophecies in order to encourage people to stick to God and to inform them that God is watching over them. That should be commendable. But, what I find rather out of place is that some prophecies are reposted several times by different groups of people who claim they experienced exactly the same thing in the same way. Well, miracles are bound to happen in extraordinarily miraculous ways, more especially in this wicked and perverse generation that is in constant search of signs.

Some even reach the extent of urging – or forcing their followers – to type Amen and claim something. Perhaps, the surprises which ‘Amen writers’ are promised will soon come to pass even after the said ‘before midnight’. After all, the Bible tells us that one day can be equal to 1000 years, but, that’s to God. Maybe, to men of God too.

Some posts will even warn you against ignoring typing Amen as if salvation is some easy phenomenon that can be achieved simply by writing something on some forum.

Then there are some pages which advance sexual immorality. Their very names are perfect witnesses of their evil missions. But, sometimes, these pages become inclined to test the faith of their members by posting religious messages and subsequently asking them to type Amen as a response to the message.

Now, I have very big problems with these pages and feel greatly offended to see them appearing now and then on my wall simply because my friends have liked them. They will post ‘very touching’ stories which they just create and ask people to type whatever to claim their blessings. How God is taken for granted!

Creating a religious message which is then sandwiched between two sexually immoral posts is a dangerous mission. God can’t be mocked. He is watching all this.


One thing that is very clear from the Facebook pages that are bent at creating evil controversies is that the devil is at work. He is roaring like a hungry lion, seeking any gullible person to devour. The pages you like and the comments you make allow evil to determine your level of faith and how you can be easily attacked.

Do not be people of ignorance. You will know them by their works and you will judge for yourselves if they are from God or not. Salvation and redemption cannot be sought simply by writing something on Facebook. Do not be misled. Receive God’s salvation and you have ultimate salvation, not some human promise that is not even connected to God.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Faculty That Was Fooled

Trouble seldom ceases to brew at University of Malawi’s main constituent college in Zomba. It is either lecturers are in a civil conflict with college management or the university management; or students are taking to task college management or even Unima governing body for failing to address their needs. On very rare occasions, it is students against their lecturers or lecturers against their students.

Chancellor College suffers numerous anomalies, but, oftentimes, the powers that be seem less interested to find lasting solutions to the problems that have sadly established roots. They even appear to disregard every cry from those below them with careless abandon. And, in every way, that is a very dangerous style of running an institution of higher learning.

The graduation ceremony that took place at the College of Medicine sports complex recently might have appeared a glamorous event garnished with its deserved splendour. But, in the background, there was a loud faint cry from a faculty that felt it had been fooled. The historic event of 26 October perfectly analogised the proverbial fortune for one man, misfortune for another scenario.

The Faculty of Education is the largest at Chancellor College, but that doesn’t mean it has to dictate the progress of other faculties. Perhaps, that’s why Unima Council decided to leave it behind when it graduated all faculties from Bunda College, CoM, Kamuzu College of Nursing and The Polytechnic. Well, even from the aggrieved faculty, there were some sections which graduated, but these did not join the college more than five years ago.

Those that joined the college more than five years ago are still doing their Teaching Practice, and Unima couldn’t wait for them. It even stings deeper when the governing body engages in no soothing comments to allay the fear of the students who still believe they might graduate a year later or so.

Education students on TP are not crying for the ceremony to make a virtue of necessity; they are concerned about their futures which look bright, but can be easily dampened by any delay in accessing their formal and legitimate papers. Others have been delayed before, and it is from such experiences that education students have learnt the dangers of delaying to access one’s paper. Impressive opportunities have the tendency of slipping out of the fingers of those that don’t access their formal qualifications early enough.

The other trouble is that it takes forever for one to access their performance transcripts after finishing their undergraduate studies. Yet, in the absence of the actual degree, that is the only significant document for those who want to pursue higher studies. In fact, it is imperative for someone who has finished their undergraduate studies to immediately access their transcript for the sake of alternative employments and other personal adventures.

The aggrieved students issued a press statement before the graduation ceremony so that the authorities could consider their plea. But, Council – in its usual sloppy approach to essential matters – described the students’ concerns as a waste of time. This has to hurt.

It is a credible fact that the ceremony was long overdue, but the decision to hold it should have been reached at after extensive consultation considering the fact that Unima constituent colleges have inconsistent calendars which create problems when it comes to organising graduation ceremonies. But, now that the ceremony has already been done, the only thing the students are asking for is to hold their own soon after finishing their TP.

Every student who finishes their undergraduate studies expects to graduate as soon as possible, not a year later. Of course, many irregularities continue rocking Unima’s constituent colleges’ calendars, but these irregularities can be partly solved by letting students have their graduation ceremonies soon after finishing their undergrad studies. Such an approach may indeed be costly, but if we look at the greater good, we come to conclude that it is better to spend money on individuals who are going to help in the development of the nation as soon as possible, than to let their potential stall.

Council states that because of the ‘extra’ three months which education students add to their four years of theory lessons, it was only by coincidence that previously they graduated together with their colleagues who pursued different programmes. The observation seems attractive, but it ignores the important fact that holding a graduation ceremony soon after finishing one’s studies shouldn’t be an option. The world is moving very fast and wasting time unnecessarily should be avoided.

The students rightly feel that holding their ceremony next year – probably, October – isn’t even a sure thing. It is hard to predict the progress of Unima calendars where a four year programme has the possibility of being finished in six years. Thus, if the education students don’t graduate soon after their TP, they can never be sure of when they will. It may be next year, the year after next, or even three years from now, when potential outlets for higher education and other opportunities have been shut.

Even though the university management argues that it was by sheer coincidence that in the past education students from Chancellor College held their graduation ceremony together with their counterparts from other faculties, such a coincidence was more reasonable than Unima’s ‘normal’ arrangement. It was a beautiful coincidence that remarkably pursued the route of ethical justice.

There is an option which will be a line of least resistance for both Council and education students on TP. The higher education governing body can hold a graduation ceremony for both Chanco students on TP and Bunda College students who wrote their final year examinations last month and are still going to graduate under the Unima banner.

Otherwise, Chancellor College education students on TP feel greatly discriminated against and fooled by a mother body that seems disinterested and unconcerned. And, if the anomaly isn’t addressed now, the victims will not only be those that were recently fooled and are being fooled now. Future generations will continue being fooled.

Why I'm Opposed to Jan. 17 Demos

Malawi president Joyce Banda has shown a rare and contradictory character which might have been inherent in her all these days. Like her predecessor, who left us when we least expected it, the second woman top leader in Africa, doesn’t easily follow those she is leading.

There are people in this country who see in our noble leader a reckless top-most person whose sole agenda is to rewrite the conventional precepts of how presidents should behave in moments of crisis. We, as a country, are in a horrible economic crisis. But, just like anywhere else, our president and those who surround her, seldom feel the pinch.

They live on our sweat – and treat us with undeserved contempt. We must never cease to react, for if we do, we are doomed to be driven elsewhere. We are justified to physically protest peacefully; after all, it is a sacred provision enshrined in our sovereign Constitution.

There apparently are very few seemly ways to protest. But, that’s what crops up in a country that has thrived on love and unity, and hasn’t been given a chance to protest in its streets in times when it should have. It must be so clear that they protest best that have satisfied tummies. The other party is often a frustrated one, and can become very violent and vindictive.

That’s why I’m opposed to the [forthcoming] physical demonstrations organised by Consumer Association of Malawi Executive Director, John Kapito. Kapito is a fighter, or he could be one. People say his driving passion is the desire to see consumers, nay Malawians, live fine lives. That might be true, but then, he isn’t some demigod who declares what should happen and it happens right away.

He too can be wrong at times, and pursue an erroneous case. That’s why we haven’t immediately given him the benefit of the doubt. We have analysed his concerns and efforts. They seem good-natured and indicative of a lone voice that’s struggling to clear the way for posterity.

But, his passionate tackle of the demos doesn’t speak volumes of a patriotic director who knows when not to go to war. I would be an obsessive protestor on January 17, but I have a thousand reasons not to. The organisers don’t draw lessons from the mists of time; lessons which should be clearly evident to date since they haven’t instantly been tucked away.

The infamous July 20 demos reared one of the ugliest heads of African protests. Twenty human lives were lost and the killers have the dark stories hidden in the deep recesses of their hearts while their victims, whom we christened martyrs -- perhaps, to salvage some solace -- will never return.

The police were never right to kill, but neither were we justified to burn shops and block roads. It should have been a peaceful demonstration and, essentially, a peaceful demonstration doesn’t demand excessive presence of the police.

It went haywire because we misunderstood our rights and burnt our responsibilities. People have talked about the police failing to control the protestors. That’s somewhat ridiculous. How on earth do you give yourself the task of controlling a peaceful person whose agenda is to walk from one point to another and deliver a petition? Then, period!

If you organise a protest and let your followers destroy property and injure innocent people, shouldn’t you be taken to task? Well, in Malawi, you can rest on your laurels and let tomorrow be another clear day. The same laws which tell you that you have the right to protest peacefully don’t boomerang on you if you fail to have power over your right.

The 20 July demos could, perhaps, have been somehow peaceful if the organisers had accepted that they would be responsible for any damage and endorse a peaceful demonstration. If Kapito and company are resolute about their noble cause, they must be ready to face the consequences.

What if the ugly scenes of 20 July reappear? Will Kapito be taken to task? What if more lives are taken by our overzealous officers? Will they be taken to task? We have seen it before; we shouldn’t see it again. It’s us the lesser humans who are most affected by demos of this nature. In 2011, out of the 20 massacred men, not a single one was a civil society leader. That should tell us something.

Government invited the CAMA Executive Director to roundtable discussions on the matter. He rejected the tender. Of course, we know we still have a government that seldom wants to compromise on anything. Kapito might have read the writing on the wall, but not all of us read it. He should have gone for dialogue and come out furious after failing to agree with government’s terms or conditions. He didn’t, and that’s where the trouble lies.

I have always wondered if there is only one option when it comes to protesting against government policies. A protest in the streets may last a day in large part, but a sit-in may be a daily aspect until our grievances sink deep at the State House. We can start with mass strikes in the civil service and see how it works. Civil servants are consumers too and can listen to Kapito.

Well, I have no right to stop those who are keen on demonstrating in our streets. Nevertheless, I have a reason to. The 20 July scenario might not be repeated, but then, there is no guarantee. Government could be arrogant and therefore deserve some awakening, but, you don’t have to be the next victim of ‘stray’ bullets and unnecessary stampedes. Stay home, be safe!

JB: A President on Trial?

Listening to numerous voices that rise to right the wrongs of president Joyce Banda, you would easily believe she is a president on trial. But, she isn’t; it’s the country she ‘rules’ that is on trial. Her cohorts want us to believe she is ruling a country that isn’t giving her much room to express herself.

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

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

Now, she has come to a conclusion that our honeymoon should be over and it is over indeed. After implementing certain policies according to our highly ‘expected’ expectations, the president can’t continue towing our line. We have to tow her line, even if it is a crooked one.

It is strange that JB instantly responded to our calls that had been neglected by her predecessor, but is now holding tight to policies which we want her administration to change. The same majority that she believed was right doesn’t matter now because she isn’t part of it anymore.

Experts have advised government to stop the floatation of our currency. The president has also been tipped to reduce her cabinet and to consider delegating on some of the most mundane errands a whole state leader can ever undertake. There are other voices of reason which the president unfortunately continues discounting.

Well, if she can’t listen to the cry of her people, then she is taking them through a painful trial which but might terribly backfire. We put presidents on those coveted seats and we can easily ‘unput’ them. But, we never fail to show them the right way. We never cease to offer valid pieces of advice that can clear the way for them.

We are a people on trial. The ridiculous part of it is that the very same person who is taking us through this trial seems to believe she too is being tried. She is surrounded by hungry panthers who will not hesitate to tell her ninety per cent of Malawians applaud her policies if it means maintaining their monthly cheques. And she believes them. She can’t easily read between the lines.

Those outside the circle, who have objective eyes to see what is actually happening around, are being described as frustrated fellows who are on the president’s neck simply because they haven’t been appointed directors of government organisations. Well, maybe, they indeed are, but then, the anomalies they are observing are valid and supported by empirical evidence. You simply have to be slipshod enough to pass over them.

The Plight of Chanco Education Students

The University of Malawi has been losing its reputation of late. Unnecessary administrative scuffles, student demonstrations and poor funding are not uncommon. Its graduates too are half-baked; at least, that’s what employers out there are alleging.

And, then, there is this one matter that hasn’t received much attention and publicity. It has been safely tucked away in the vastness of Unima’s troubles. The lone voices that could take this matter out for public opinion have been promised things would be OK very soon. But everything remains pathetically pretentious, it hurts.

When President Joyce Banda ‘graduated’ students who had successfully accomplished their studies with Unima constituent colleges last October, she was mindful of the fact that Chancellor College Bachelor of Education students were not included in the book of graduands. It was understandable. You can’t graduate, unless you have finished your studies at a particular level.

The president informed the nation that those that had not been included on the list of graduands should not worry. I don’t know if she continued following her own concern immediately after the ceremony – where she was christened Unima’s Chancellor. Because if she did, she would know that almost two months after they finished their Teaching Practice, Education students haven’t yet received their final results.

She would follow – of course, maybe, through the right personnel – the tentative date of the next graduation she, or the Vice Chancellor, would preside over. Well, she is a busy president, and has too many policy papers strewn on her desk. Lesser authorities can handle the Education students’ exam results and inform her that it’s finally a done deal waiting for when she would be ready to preside over a next graduation ceremony, if she has space, which I believe she doesn’t.

But the administration at Chancellor College is still sitting on Education students’ results as if afraid the college is producing too many graduates. It’s pretty strange that the results which were allegedly submitted to college management weeks before – after a faculty level assessment – haven’t yet been considered for release. We know a senate assessment isn’t a big fuss.

While some of their colleagues from other faculties that they entered college together have found jobs with their degrees, Education students can’t even land themselves some part-time assignments because they have no formal backing. Employers can’t just trust them. After all, it is a traditional trend that soon after their results are out, Education students are supposed to be posted to different secondary schools, meaning they have their jobs cut and dried.

But Chanco has chosen to keep the students waiting for as long as it will take. In the previous years, TP results took just weeks to be released. Now the trend is changing. Every administrator has to have his own policies, and one of them is to turn the conventional predictions around and let things be viewed from a different angle.

No one knows why Education students’ final results are being withheld. No one knows why students who have been in college for some extra two years continue being treated with such malice. Well, someone must know. Someone knows and should be doing that for a better reason. Or, simply to show that they have power to do whatever they please.

The students have even reached the extent of drawing out different theories. That’s exactly what happens with frustrated people. They find solace in maxims and theories. They believe that government doesn’t have enough money to be paying another bunch of civil servants and intends to accumulate some funds first before advising Chanco to release the results of Education students who should subsequently be assigned to different secondary schools.

It could be an outlandish theory. But, if you choose to believe it, it makes sense. Otherwise what can make a whole college administration fail to mobilise relevant ways of making sure final results of slightly above 150 students are treated with the urgency that they deserve.

Creating so many complications about a small matter is one undoing of administrators. A college administrator is an academic administrator. Academic administrators ought to be shrewd and quick in matters that call for urgency. Why is this not the case with Chanco administrators?

A deadly problem looming in a familiar season

The cholera outbreak that affected nearly a thousand people and claimed 30 of them nationally from November last year to May this year was l...