Author Archives: cliffkawanga

Empower girls first

I love her so/I want you to know/

She’s mine, oh mine – Burning Spear

 

In his song, Don’t Mess with Jill, Burning Spear is reminding us that caring for the women would mean protecting them. It is a voice of a man who would do anything just to protect women.

Don’t Mess With Jill’ is taken from the 1973 Studio One Album. The song was redone some years later and it was titled She’s Is Mine from the album Farover.

As a boy growing up, back in 1995, no music had such a huge influence than Burning Spear’s; it still has today.

It was not unusual, while growing up, that almost every peer of mine was talking about Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Toots and The Maytals, Black Uhuru, Israel Vibration and more. The need to identify myself with someone constantly missing in our conversation was so huge that I chose Winston Rodney, the Burning Spear.

Burning Spear is so much significant to my up-bringing. Temporarily, my preference for new music meant I had forgotten about Burning Spear for several years; it was a mistake.

In the run up to the 2019 elections in Malawi, the 50-50 campaign has intensified – and it was the same in 2014. The justification is to help female politicians get into Parliament.

I absolutely have no idea why we are obsessed with politics; perhaps we believe change will come through empowering women politicians while ignoring the bigger picture why we are in this situation.

Politics has blinded us that we fail to see the solution to this seemingly male-dominated society. We must make sure there are a lot of girls enrolling in primary school, a lot of them completing secondary school and a lot of them proceeding to the university. Since this has not happened, women remain victims of gender-based violence and if this were to change, it will take more than appearing in 2019 selling the 50-50 agenda and forget women after the elections only to re-appear in 2024.

Still more, we would like to see more female writers, more female poets, more female editors and more female musicians. Eventually, we should stop talking about female artists or female politicians. All we would be talking about should be either artists or politicians. This talk of 50-50 representation will subside after the election year, 2019, because there will be no funding to sustain the campaign. Didn’t we experience the same after 2014?

I am not surprised that these activists are only passionate because there is money involved but I doubt if we are really committed, as a nation, to address the women empowerment issue. And most importantly, how do we intend to empower women in Malawi.

Listen to Burning Spear’s songs like ‘Mamie’ and ‘Girls Like You’ from Rocking Time, ‘Tell the Children the Truth’ ‘Woman I love You,’ and ‘Say You are in Love from Mistress Music, ‘African Woman’ from Mek We Dweet, ‘Mother’ from Man in The Hills and ‘For You’ from Fittest of The Fittest.

These songs are just as significant as Don’t Mess With Jill or She is Mine.

If none of these songs is a clear statement of what men ought to be, I fear for the women we pretend to love. Why are there few female musicians in Malawi? And writers? And poets? Should we say our society is hostile towards women who want to compete in this seemingly male-dominated society? Is it the environment we have sustained which does not favour girls pursuing their goals maybe? Would we change that by empowering female politicians who would follow the template set by male politicians and fail to empower the girls in my village?

It does not give me confidence when issues of women empowerment are discussed in our society. So often, I see influential women motivated by their own agenda to be noticed and go to Parliament. What the women in influential position have failed to do is hold their fellow women by the hand. If this were done, the men will be ashamed for failing to do what women are ready to do.

Artists form a society’s opinion. The fact that the music industry has few female artists, what we have is a biased view often created by male artists.

Meanwhile, an African woman — yes that woman from Nthalire, Kaphatenga, Chikowi or Nkando — continues to suffer. She has no food to eat or no health centres within walking distance. Somewhere in the village, a health centre would use plastic bags as gloves to aid delivery, have we seen a campaign advocating better services for my African woman? Instead, all we have managed to do is to defend the political establishment and ignore the mediocrity we all see.

Won’t we need the voice of female artists to speak for the African woman rather than torturing our ears with this talk of 50-50 representation which is motivated by elections and more funding?

Who needs the empowerment most? Some would argue that the female politicians would speak on behalf of that woman. I differ. Let’s empower that African woman, we can only do that if we empower the girls to grow into women of influence. They need a proper environment to go to school, they need to be protected from early marriage and they need to be protected from harmful practices that have only made them second class citizens.

As activists once again amplify their voices to speak against violence against women during the 16 days of activism, there is a lot to reflect on.

Surely music teaches many. Women ought to be protected, they need to be loved. Hopefully men will stand up and tell the world that “don’t mess with my Jill”.

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Community saves girl from early marriage

From the numerous challenges that girls face, early marriage has been the main one. Although many girls are forced into early marriage because of poverty, this has not been a long-lasting solution.

Instead, education has been touted as the realest means for girls to be empowered. So when boys and girls in a community in Dedza decided to look for a girl who had quit school to enter into marriage, the community was determined to end that marriage knowing well that it was its responsibility.

Against all odds, those leading the nullification of this marriage were boys and girls — with the eldest being 13 years old — who are members of the Learners’ Council which was established to empower girls while also playing an important role in addressing Gender Based Violence.

Together with the Police, traditional leaders and the school authorities, the Learners’ Council has registered some success.’

Member of Learners’ Council Elefasi Mofolo, 13, says the chiefs, teachers and the Police advise them to pay attention to what is happening around them.

“There was a 14-year girl who was forced to marry an older man, but no-one at school knew about it.  We noticed that our friend was not attending classes, we followed up and reported to the headteacher. Using the local structures, the marriage ended and the girl came back to school,” he says.

Another member of Learners’ Council Gladys Simedi, 15, says they encourage girls and boys to speak out.

“There was a girl who was being verbally abused by her own parents whenever she asked for money to buy notebooks. When we reported to the headteacher, the parents were summoned. The parents promised to change after being counselled,” Simedi says.

Officer-in-Charge for Chimbiya Police Unit Marpa Kamanga says their collaboration with the community has been successful.

“The community is aware of different forms of GBV. We carry out awareness activities in the community and we also work closely with the schools, pupils and traditional leaders. Now the community is aware of the different forms of GBV,” Kamanga says.

Gladys says the approaches they are using can help others to tackle GBV too.

“I believe boys and girls in other communities can learn from what we are doing here. They should speak out when they notice that something is wrong in their community. The good thing is that the Police have structures in every district and if these issues are reported, there will be change,” she says.

LCC must act on Chilima’s order

Nobody prepares for disaster, which is why we always sympathise with those who fall victim to calamity.

It is also indisputable that, of late, emergency situations have become commonplace, partly due to climate change and partly due to artificial circumstances created by people.

One of the things that have become an undesirable weight on our heads is that of floods. In the past, the Lower Shire was synonymous with floods.

In the end, the pattern of floods became predictable, to the extent that some well-wishers started backing down, after getting suspicious that, perhaps, the Lower Shire people were used to hand-outs. To make matters worse, the people themselves were reluctant to relocate, arguing that they could not abandon their ancestors’ graves.

Over the past three years, floods have started affecting areas hitherto considered safe. We are talking of areas such as Mtandire in Lilongwe, where floods wreaked havoc last year. As you are reading this, some of the victims of the floods have expressed anger over failure by the authorities to fulfill promises.

Recently, the country woke up to the sad news that Lingadzi River flooded again, destroying property worth millions. We feel for the victims of the floods. We know that no one prepares for disaster.

At the same time, we feel that, sometimes, we expose ourselves to danger. For example, while the country has city and town plans, some people go about constructing houses and other infrastructure in areas not designated for settlement.

In this regard, we agree with Vice-President Saulos Chilima that it is high time we took appropriate action. It baffles us that, sometimes, even when it is clear that procedures have been flouted, our leaders leave things to chance and behave as if this is a lawless country. Perhaps leaders fail to do the right thing because they are looking for votes.

A few years ago, under the administration of the late Bingu wa Mutharika, some cities introduced the Red Star campaign. The initiative gathered steam at the time, only to falter along the way.

The other day, Blantyre Water Board compensated those who were illegally farming on its land.

Of late, Blantyre City Council has been failing to chase those who have illegally settled on the foot of Soche Hill, even after the people have been offered land to settle on elsewhere. To make matters worse, some of the illegal settlers have challenged the City Fathers, vowing to die on the pieces of land they do not own.

This seems to be the case in Lilongwe, too, where some people continue to defy City Fathers’ orders to relocate. In the end, when disasters such as floods hit, it is the nation that pays the price.

Moving forward, those responsible must bring this state of lawlessness to an end by relocating people who have constructed houses in undesignated areas. We can no longer afford to reward lawlessness. We believe this time the Lilongwe City Council will not allow politician to stand in its way otherwise Chilima’s order would mean nothing.

Don’t compensate everyone

There is too much emphasis on corruption as the reason a number of projects have stalled in Malawi. While it is easy to blame corruption on almost everything that goes wrong, there is need to seriously look at how people’s lawlessness has affected projects that would benefit Malawians.

The lawlessness we are referencing comes in the form of illegal structures built on land meant for structures which either the city or government planned for. It is quite strange that when the government wants to construct a road for instance, the people who have illegal structures on that land would demand compensation.

Almost everyone knows that the dual carriage road from Area 49 to City Centre through Area 18 would make life easier for motorists in Lilongwe. This is a huge project which must not be delayed by some people who are demanding compensation yet most of them cannot explain how they got the land or the permission to construct on a land reserved for a road.

It is the same situation near Kachere Township where the road construction has stalled because some houses are close to the road and if the government was to demolish the structures, the owners would demand compensation.

The way some Malawians demand compensation is quite baffling. It is not unusual when someone is compensated for damage or loss of property. In Malawi, compensation has become an easy way of making money because anyone can construct anywhere knowing well that the government would compensate them.

Perhaps we must blame the government from doing little to discourage illegal structures. Since almost everything is politicised, it would not be surprising that the government would do nothing because if it were to do something, people would not vote for the current administration.

Some of the questions one can raise are: Who deserves to be compensated? When should they be compensated? How much should be the compensation package and why are some compensation figures are so astronomical?

Unless we scrutinised the compensation system, people will never stop demanding compensation for petty issues. People should only be compensated for pertinent issues like injuries, damage to property or loss of property and loss of life.

It is very unfortunate that some greedy people, who demand to be compensated, have only succeeded in delaying the projects that would improve our lives.

Perhaps it is the lesson to government that lawlessness cannot be condoned. Those who build on land that does not belong to them must not be treated with kid gloves. The government has some decisions to make. The right decisions would make government popular because almost everyone is tired of seeing everything going wrong.

 

Don’t compensate everyone

There is too much emphasis on corruption as the reason a number of projects have stalled in Malawi. While it is easy to blame corruption on almost everything that goes wrong, there is need to seriously look at how people’s lawlessness has affected projects that would benefit Malawians.

The lawlessness we are referencing comes in the form of illegal structures built on land meant for structures which either the city or government planned for. It is quite strange that when the government wants to construct a road for instance, the people who have illegal structures on that land would demand compensation.

Almost everyone knows that the dual carriage road from Area 49 to City Centre through Area 18 would make life easier for motorists in Lilongwe. This is a huge project which must not be delayed by some people who are demanding compensation yet most of them cannot explain how they got the land or the permission to construct on a land reserved for a road.

It is the same situation near Kachere Township where the road construction has stalled because some houses are close to the road and if the government was to demolish the structures, the owners would demand compensation.

The way some Malawians demand compensation is quite baffling. It is not unusual when someone is compensated for damage or loss of property. In Malawi, compensation has become an easy way of making money because anyone can construct anywhere knowing well that the government would compensate them.

Perhaps we must blame the government from doing little to discourage illegal structures. Since almost everything is politicised, it would not be surprising that the government would do nothing because if it were to do something, people would not vote for the current administration.

Some of the questions one can raise are: Who deserves to be compensated? When should they be compensated? How much should be the compensation package and why are some compensation figures are so astronomical?

Unless we scrutinised the compensation system, people will never stop demanding compensation for petty issues. People should only be compensated for pertinent issues like injuries, damage to property or loss of property and loss of life.

It is very unfortunate that some greedy people, who demand to be compensated, have only succeeded in delaying the projects that would improve our lives.

Perhaps it is the lesson to government that lawlessness cannot be condoned. Those who build on land that does not belong to them must not be treated with kid gloves. The government has some decisions to make. The right decisions would make government popular because almost everyone is tired of seeing everything going wrong.

 

We must have functioning justice system

If we had a country without laws, how safe would it be to live in it? Or if we had laws without a system to enforce the laws, how useful would such laws be?

In Malawi, we have both the laws and the system to enforce the laws but as it has been observed on numerous occasions, the justice system in Malawi is not yet at the level we all desire.

Despite the many challenges, one that has been obvious is the delayed judgements which have caused a lot of suffering to those who rely on the courts to have their issues resolved.

The delays are a huge concern. The fact that the Malawi Law Society President Mwiza Nkhata is equally worried, we believe it is high time we saw change.

We assume that this has been discussed in other forums before and the longer it takes to address this, the more worrying it becomes because soon the public will lose trust in the system.

Ideally, the public must have trust in the justice system. This would not only ensure that justice prevails but it will also promote justice-seeking behaviour among citizens who in turn will become upright and champion justice themselves.

One of the worrying trends in Malawi is mob justice. This has been sustained by the failure of the justice system to quickly prosecute cases. We believe quick delivery of justice would entrench in the society the trust which is required to have a lawful country.

Mob justice is a result of the frustrations people have always harboured. Although it can be caused by a number of factors but what has been captured, among the frustrated people to engage in mob justice, is the perception that the courts take too long to help.

The incident in Mzuzu, for instance, is a result of an individual’s frustration who since 2015 had hoped that justice would take place. Although we are not condoning his behaviour, we believe had the courts acted quickly to deliver judgement, the incident could have been avoided.

Of course we can point at all the bad things about delayed judgements but at the end of the day, someone must take responsibility to ensure that Malawi must have a functioning justice system.

Don’t dismiss Callista’s sentiments

Former First Lady Callista Mutharika has made a lot of allegations suggesting that President Peter Mutharika is not bad but the bad people who have surrounded him are misleading him.

While some people say this is a family issue and should be left as such, others still believe the issues raised are national affecting every Malawian who has failed to access the basic things because of the bad people surrounding the President.

It might not be possible to highlight every detail but what is clear is that Mutharika has surrounded himself with loyalists and friends who are doing everything to remain close to the President. While this might be perceived as a good thing by the President, to have loyalists, there is a bigger picture that Mutharika must not ignore that is why Callista’s sentiments should be appreciated as such.

On a number of occasions, Mutharika has failed to act despite knowing well that some of the people close to him are corrupt or have somehow contributed to corrupt practices. Despite same issues being raised by the media and indeed some Civil Society Organisations, Mutharika seems not to care and life goes on.

Meanwhile, the people who mandated Mutharika to lead the country in 2014 continue suffering for lacking the basic needs. Of course people who care about the country have been looking for an explanation and Callista has just provided it.

The bad thing about bad people is that they would tell the President lies that everything is well when it is not. The bad people would paint a picture that all is rosy when it is not. And the bad people are the first one to dip into the national purse and help themselves knowing well that the President would do nothing.

But as the former First Lady has suggested, there is a way to end this. The good thing with life is that an opportunity would always arise for one to correct what is wrong and choose the right path. Reflecting the First Lady’s sentiments, that opportunity will come in 2019 during which Malawians will choose visionary leaders.

It is not only the President that Malawians would have an opportunity to choose. There are members of Parliament and indeed councillors that must be chosen for their vision and not their lies.

We all know that there are members of Parliament who also serve their interests and not the interests of the people who gave them the power. These are bad people too.

Just like many people would want the former First Lady’s sentiments to be dismissed, Malawians must reflect on the bad things that the bad people have done. The bad people have not only misled the President but they have also derailed the country’s development that is why 2019 presents Malawians with another opportunity to get rid of bad people.

Sant’Egidio eases Mulanje Prison’s water woes

The Community of Sant’ Egidio regards imprisonment as an opportunity for offenders to reflect on their lives. It is the time that prisoners need to be loved with the hope that after serving their sentences, they can be accommodated back in the community and become meaningful citizens.

Inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Community of Sant’Egidio is implementing a number of projects including the Prison Service which has transformed prisoners’ life using the word of God, nurturing friendships and emphasising on the spirit of giving.

During one of the regular visits to Mulanje Prison – the recent one being in November 2017 – the Community of Sant’ Egidio identified unreliable water supply as a challenge in the bid to reform the prisoners.

One of the responsible persons for Community of Sant’ Egidio Bruce Tambwali said the spirit of giving is what motivates the members to make sure that prisoners live in an environment which will help in their reformation.

“Some people feel that prisoners must be punished but what Jesus teaches us is that even prisoners should be loved. When we visited the prisoners last year, we found out that water was a problem. Sometimes it can take three days without running water in the prison,” Tambwali said.

Tambwali said the Borehole Project will cost about K18 million which was raised by the members in Italy.

“We are grateful to our friends in Italy who have contributed a lot to this project. It is important to understand that water is life and no-one can survive without water.

“We will sink a borehole and a pump will be installed too. We will put in place water tanks which would be enough to be used for five days if there was no running water,” he said.

Apart from sinking the borehole, the project will also see the renovation of the water system in the prison.

“We noticed some leakages which we will work on as part of this project. We also want to build a communal kiosk inside the prison which our friends can use,” Tambwali said.

Although the Community of Sant’ Egidio is a non-profit making organisation, Tambwali said the contributions members make has made the community’s work easier.

“We have managed to implement a number of projects because the members are committed to what we do. We believe in giving and sharing because that is what Jesus Christ teaches us,” he said.

Superintendent Charles Nyambo, who is Second-in-Charge of Mulanje Prison, said the project will ensure that the environment inside the prison is clean all the time.

“Whenever you talk about sanitation, then you need to have clean water all the time. Not everyone in prison is allowed to go out of prison so it is important to make water available to prisoners. We thank the Community of Sant’ Egidio for easing our problems,” he said.

Friendship is the foundation on which the work of Sant’Egidio is built on. Through friendship, the Community of Sant’ Egidio is committed to serve the poor.

The students of 1968 who began gathering around the Word of God, felt the Gospel could not be lived far from poor people: poor people as friends and the Gospel as the good news for poor people.

When the service of the community began, it was called People’s School because apart from tutoring, it was the beginning of a friendship between the rich and the poor.

Provision of safe water is priority

Only the government believes it is doing a good job in its response to the cholera outbreak in Malawi but in reality, we should not be talking about this disease whose long-lasting remedy is safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

To think that cholera would soon be the story of the past is deliberately ignoring the attitude of the government: “Anything that has no effect on the livelihood of the elite is nothing to worry about.”

Have we, for instance, found an explanation why Kauma will likely have a number of cholera cases but none in Area 12 which is just a stone throw away? The answer is simple: the two groups are living in totally different worlds – the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

Perhaps starting another debate about, the haves and have-nots, will confuse the readers especially because the conversation here is about whether the government is doing enough in its response to cholera.

Firstly, the cholera outbreak is reflective of investment in ignorance and now we are just reaping from what we invested in. Surely, cholera has no carrier but the activities of the people in the community will contribute to the outbreak somehow. In this age, a lot of people in Malawi still believe that cholera emanates from witchcraft. The reason for this thinking is that since cholera would kill fast, people in the community would believe that anything that kills you fast must be connected with magic. Wasn’t it just recently that a lot of people believed that anyone who died while taking a bath meant that the person was struck by a magic hammer? Since there is more awareness than before, most people in the community now understand that high blood pressure can indeed kill. Perhaps the question is: Has the government, through relevant departments or ministries done enough to explain to the people how cholera is spread? It is easy to blame the communities for their role in the spread of cholera but it is the responsibility of the government that should be addressing the knowledge gaps.

Secondly, there seems to be no enforcement of sanitation and hygiene in our cities and towns. For argument’s sake, we usually see food certificates hanging on the walls of restaurants which indicate that the restaurants have met minimum standards to provide food to the people. But when one goes around the cities and towns, there are a lot of people using make-shift restaurants selling chiwaya but the hygiene of the place is not that good. Is cholera being spread by the people selling chiwaya or the government which is failing to enforce the standards by taking to task the city or town councils?

For instance, all the three cities – Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Blantyre – banned the sale of ready-made foods to try and combat the spread of cholera.  This was a commendable decision but this was just a public stunt so that Malawians should say the city councils are doing something to control the spread of cholera. But if you were to visit the cities today, the ban was never enforced and you can see food vendors operating their businesses as usual. This only shows that the city councils can relax knowing well that the government itself cannot do anything about it.

Thirdly, the government is yet to step up efforts to respond to the cholera outbreak. Knowing well that a lot of people drink water from unprotected sources, there is no indication yet that the government is working with the water boards to either distribute chlorine or treat the water before use.

If you see pictures of officials either distributing chlorine or pretending to be working in Lilongwe, just know that is being done for publicity and not to save people’s lives. Instead, these officials should go to rural areas where the media is absent because the greater benefit is to see that most people get help.

It is a reality that most rural areas do not have boreholes and where boreholes are available, sanitation is an issue. For instance in Ngolowindo in Salima, there is a household where a woman was diagnosed with cholera and fortunately she was treated and now she getting better. However, after tests were carried out, it was found out that the water from the borehole is contaminated yet the borehole is not sealed. The warning to the users was only through word of mouth. What is obvious is that some people stopped using the borehole nearby while others who are still using the water are either boiling the water before use or using chlorine but how effective can this be? For instance, for those using chlorine, can they apply the right quantities always? For a government that is serious, you would expect to see workers in the communities. Their presence alone would generate the interest among the people and who in turn would seek proper guidance on how to avoid the disease.

Indeed the government might be seen to be doing something about the cholera outbreak but I believe there are a lot of people in the communities who are still vulnerable just because the government is yet to step up its efforts.

 

Consult widely on HIV/Aids Bill

The importance of legislation in a democracy is obvious. The process of formulating any kind of legislation should be exhaustive considering that any gaps would cause more problems than the original problems that a particular legislation is meant to address.

 

To begin with, legislation is one of the most important instruments of the government in organising the society and protecting citizens. It determines amongst others the rights and responsibilities of individuals and authorities to whom the legislation applies.

 

In Malawi, the HIV and Aids Prevention and Management Bill, which if enacted, would address a number of issues regarding HIV and Aids. Chief to that is protection of citizens most of whom have suffered immensely due to practices of individuals.

 

However, as some Civil Society Organisations have indicated, there are a lot of challenges hence their stand to see the bill dropped.

 

Whichever side one takes, it is obvious that this bill will cause problems therefore there is need to consult widely before any decision is made. This would mean consulting groups of people who might have been ignored initially despite the fact that most of the CSOs represent the views of the people.

 

Knowing how formulation of legislation is done, we believe there were consultations before reaching this stage. Whether concerned citizens’ views were considered or not, it is not too late to re-look at the Bill and decide whether it is important to go ahead or not.

 

The strides that Malawi has made in HIV/Aids fight, through a number of interventions, provide hope that the right approaches have been embraced. As indicated by the concerned CSOs, those achievements might be eroded if we are not careful.

 

As suggested by the activists, the interventions that have proved to be effective should be intensified instead of redirecting energies elsewhere which could only lead to more confusion.

 

We understand the call made by CSOs that the Bill should be dropped but we also believe that some of such decisions are only emotional. To ensure that the country takes the right direction, we believe there is need to consult widely.