Archive | April 2012

Mabvutojobani

By Mabvuto Banda

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Malawi has requested a new financing program from the International Monetary Fund necessary to unlock needed aid from Western donors, a senior IMF official said on Friday.

The IMF’s mission chief to Malawi, Tsidi Tsikata, told Reuters discussions on IMF support had begun on the sidelines of meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington.

He said an IMF mission would travel to Malawi before the end of May to discuss details of an economic program, which would be supported by an IMF loan.

The IMF had suspended a three-year $79 million loan after the program went off track when the government failed to devalue its kwacha currency and implement public finance management reforms.

“We should be going back to Malawi in a matter of weeks, at least before the end of May … but what we need is some clarity on the…

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HIV Self-Testing: Is Malawi Ready?

Issues of supervision and safely linking HIV self-testing to counseling and care came to the fore on April 19, when scientists and members of the public met in the College of Medicine’s Breeze Bar to debate the best way to scale-up HIV Testing and Counseling (HTC) in Malawi.

The Science Café initiative, titled “HIV Self-Testing: Is Malawi Ready?” was MCed by Tamara Chipasula and featured scientists who argued either for or against the viability of oral self-testing with the OraQuick Rapid Antibody test – Principal Investigator for the Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust (MLW) Clinical Research Programme Dr. Liz Corbett, College of Medicine Head of Pathology and Medical Laboratory Sciences Dr. Geoffrey Chipungu and John Hopkins Project Director Newton Kumwenda.

Augustine Choko of the Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust (MLW) Clinical Research Programme demonstrates the OraQuick rapid HIV antibody test as part of the “HIV Self-Testing: Is Malawi Ready?” Science Café held at the College of Medicine Breeze Bar on April 19.

Corbett argued that a 2010 MLW study has “already shown that Malawi is ready to self-test” and that self-testing with OraQuick promises to “plug the gaps” that standard HTC rapid finger-prick blood tests have left in the early identification of the virus.

She said the 2010 MLW feasibility study on the uptake and accuracy of oral kits for HIV self-testing involved 287 randomly selected participants in Ndirande, Likhubula and Chilomoni and that of the 287 participants 261 consented to self-testing.  Ninety-nine percent of participants who chose to self-test rated it “not hard at all to do” and 56 percent of participants rated it as their future preferred option.

Based on the “very successful results” of the study, Corbett said home-based HIV self-testing could bypass challenges for early identification such as the inconvenience and cost involved in visiting facility-based rapid diagnostic testing services, and encourage regular repeat testing, couple testing and first-time testing in hard-to-reach groups such as men.

While Kumwenda agreed that “people are ready to take the test” he questioned if “the technology itself is ready to be used in that way” due to challenges such as people misinterpreting their results or failing to follow-up a positive result with HIV/AIDS care.

“The test alone is not enough,” he said.  “The technology is not ready.”

But according to Corbett “with Internet-based sales it’s happening whether policy-makers like it or not.”

“The Malawi government is very interested in the oral self-testing despite its high price (US$3 compared to US$0.70 for a finger-prick blood test) because they seem to be more accurate in practice than the blood-based test, they’re more simple to do,” she said.  “But at the moment there is no regulation around diagnostic kits… so it means that anyone can sell anything and claim anything for their kit here.

“Don’t buy kits on the Internet,” she cautioned.  “Don’t buy kits over the counter.  Until you know that they’ve been licensed in the country, which at this point they haven’t.”

She said community information sites could be set up to link HIV self-testing to counseling and care before Chipungu closed the café saying, “I think the take-home message here is that one individual test is not enough.”

Money lending sparks new-found rights for women in Malawi

This article was originally published on the Toronto Star website on April 16, 2012.

Women from the Nkalo village VSLA are pictured contributing and lending kwacha during one of their meetings. Photo by Karissa Gall.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but in Nkalo village it grows near one.

In the centre of the village a tree has become the site of new financial freedom and empowerment for local women – an outdoor Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) that is literally taking a grassroots approach to providing women with the opportunity to access a loan.

Roughly 25 kilometres from the ATM queues that are characteristic of Malawi’s commercial capital of Blantyre, 10 Nkalo women meet regularly under the tree to contribute kwacha in amounts that range up to $3 depending on what they can individually afford, and lend to one another.

The microfinance project is overseen by the Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children (CAVWC) Women’s Rights Programme and based on the VSLAs first engineered by aid agency CARE International in Niger in 1991.

According to Chrissy Chibwana, one of the members of the Nkalo VSLA, the alternative micro-lending model has made her more economically independent and better equipped to care for her family.

“Before (the VSLA) I had to ask for money from my husband all the time to buy salt or sugar or pay for my children’s school fees,” said Chibwana.  “Now, I no longer have to wait for my husband to look for the money to send my children to school. I have the power to get money whenever the need arises.

Because the women are  lending to themselves, the VSLA model is not only providing women like Chibwana access to loans but also allows the women to earn interest and save.

Nkalo VSLA members Dorothy Musaya and Anne Maere said they have been able to lend money and save enough of the interest to improve their standards of living; with Musaya able to buy 24 iron sheets for her house and Maere being able to buy cement, and a mattress.

According to CAVWC executive director Joyce Phekani, such success stories are becoming more common in Malawi as VSLA membership rises each year, increasing economic independence and empowering women who would otherwise be dependent on a man.

“We were finding that women would stick to a relationship where she was being abused because she was not economically independent,” said Phekani.  “But these VSLAs are financially empowering women.

“When we first start a VSLA we find that the women are not empowered, they are really shy, inhibited and can’t see any future with their lives.  From day-to-day, we find that these women are able to survive better than in the past.  For women who were never able to save anything in their lives you can see the visible joy that they now have.”

However, challenges still exist in achieving greater gender equality through the VSLA finance model; access to financial resources alone does not automatically translate into empowerment or equality and according to Phekani some women are still being short-changed.

“We can’t rule out women who succumb to their husbands, which is a challenge for us,” she said.  “Recently we heard of a woman who had built capital by doing a small business of selling tomatoes.  When she was asked where the money she’d earned was she said she’d given it all to her husband.”

Pece Pearson of Nkalo confirmed that such challenges exist on the ground, saying that “there are some men who steal from their wives and use the money for petty things like beer.”

To address the issue of not only access but control of financial resources, Phekani said the CAVWC plans to “build the capacity of the program” through leadership, business management and training workshops.  The training will aim to address issues of power relations within the VSLA groups as well as in the family home.

Since CAVWC launched its first VLSA in 2009 a total of 326 VSLAs have been established in the Chiradzulu district in Nkalo, Kadewere and Onga.  Of them, 314 associations are exclusive to women who have been historically disadvantaged in access to material resources like credit, property and money.

With files from The Daily Times Sellina Nkowani

Deputy minister confirms illegal DPP succession scheme

At approximately 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 7, state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation officially announced the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, that the country will observe ten days of mourning and that the Malawi Constitution will be adhered to in regards to succession.  The announcement came nearly two days after initial reports of the late president’s death began to appear in international media and in Malawian diaspora.

But at 8:30 a.m. a Zodiak Radio interview with Deputy Minister of Transportation and Public Infrastructure Gotani Hara put the government’s intentions for constitutional order in question.

Deputy Minister of Transportation and Public Infrastructure Gotani Hara. Photo via Parliament of Malawi website.

With unprecedented candour from a government official, Hara confirmed rumours that Mutharika’s Democratic People’s Party (DPP) cabinet members have been holding emergency meetings on the issue of succession, adding that according to the constitution holding such meetings in the absence of Vice President Joyce Banda is illegal.

Hara said that since initial reports of Mutharika’s medical condition on Thursday, three meetings have been attended by all cabinet ministers and deputy ministers and were chaired by Minister of Energy Goodall Gondwe.  He said that at the meetings, Mutharika’s brother, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mutharika, expressed the view that because Banda is not with the DPP she is illegible to take over as acting president.

Hara said cabinet’s strategy at the meetings was to prepare documents and argue in court that Banda should not lawfully succeed Mutharika as acting president, using Section 85 of the constitution to argue instead that cabinet should choose the next president.

Vacancy of office of President and Vice-President

31 of 1994

85.

If at any time both the office of President and First Vice- President become vacant then the Cabinet shall elect from among its members an Acting President and Acting First Vice-President who shall hold office for not more than sixty days or, where four years of a Presidential term have expired, for the rest of that Presidential term.

When asked if she was concerned for her political future as a minister after coming forward, Hara replied that being a minister is a privilege and that even if she loses her position she will still be a member of parliament and able to serve her people.

“My conscience is clear,” said Hara.  “The constitution says in the absence of the president the vice president takes over.”

Section 83 of the Malawi Constitution:

Tenure of office31 of 1994

1998

83. –
  1. The President shall hold office for five years from the date that his or her oath of office is administered, but shall continue in office 38 of until his or her successor has been sworn in
  2. The First Vice-President and the Second Vice-President shall hold office from the date of the administration of the oath of office to them until the end of the President’s term of office unless their office should come to an end sooner in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
  3. The President, the First Vice-President and the Second Vice-President may serve in their respective capacities a maximum of two consecutive terms, but when a person is elected or appointed to fill a vacancy in the office of President or Vice- President, the period between that election or appointment and the next election of a President shall not be regarded as a term.
  4. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of President, the First Vice-President shall assume that office for the remainder of the term and shall appoint another person to serve as First Vice-President for the remainder of the term.

Information Minister Patricia Kaliati on Friday night (April 6): “(Joyce Banda) speaks as if there is a vacancy in the seat of presidency which is very unfortunate because by the virtue that the Vice President started her own political party makes her illegible to take over in such situation.”
The Malawi Constitution holds no such caveat.

Mabvutojobani

Malawi’s cabinet have agreed to finally endorse vice president Joyce Banda to take over as head of state but a small group within cabinet is still fighting the decision.

At the time this article was being written, the vice president had about 75 percent of support in cabinet which  means that she can proceed to call for cabinet immediately the death of the President is made official.

“This is the reason why you have seen all diplomats gathered at her house for a briefing, why the military command led by Brigadier General John Msonthi are here,” said an official at the Veep’s residence.

About five ministers are seeking to apply for an injunction to stop Banda from taking over. But when we checked with both the Blantyre and Lilongwe high court, no application was found.

President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack, medical and government sources said on…

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Former-president Dr. Bakili Muluzi addresses Malawian press

Former-president of Malawi Dr. Bakili Muluzi addressed approximately 10 journalists at a press briefing that took place in a board room located on his private residence on Blantyre City Assembly (BCA) Hill at 11:45 a.m. Friday morning.

Muluzi opened the press briefing by welcoming the journalists who had assembled and by giving the following press statement in both English and Chichewa.  The full text of the English press statement which Muluzi read at the briefing and provided to journalists who attended follows:

________________________________________________________________________

Press Statement

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen

I have called this press briefing this morning following a number of repeated calls from both local and international media as regards events (sic) of yesterday 5th April 2012 in relation to the health condition of our State President Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika.

Last evening, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation carried a news item to the effect that the President is in a stable condition but was expected to be flown to the Republic of South Africa yesterday evening.  Thereafter, there has been no news on the health status of the President.

I do appreciate the need and importance of right to privacy in so far as medical matters are concerned.  In fact many Malawians and I wish our State President quick (sic) recovery from the present condition so that he can continue governing this country.

As you are aware the office of the State Presidency is at the heart of government business.  It is against this background that I am pressed to make a statement on the current state of affairs in our country.

As we all wish our President quick (sic) recovery, may I appeal to all Malawians that let us all remain calm during this very difficult period in our country.

My second appeal is that let there be a Constitutional order.

The present scenario where the Government machinery is almost silent on the health status of our President is very unfortunate; and ought not to continue.  It is the Constitutional duty and indeed good practice of the Government to inform its citizen (sic) and the world community timely, accurate and transparent information about the particulars of the ongoing treatment and health condition of their State President especially now when the country is rife with different versions.  And I urge the Government spokesperson to be more forthcoming on the matter.

The fact that the State President was flown to the Republic of South Africa and the international media is reporting that he is in a critical condition following heart attack at the New State House tend to suggest that he is incapable of running the affairs of this country.  In that event, the Constitution is clear that the Vice President should assume the office of Acting President till such time that the President is certified capable of resuming his duties so that there is no interruption on Government business especially now when the economic situation on the ground is worsening every passing day.

It is important that the doctors that are treating the State President indicate whether he is able to discharge the duties of the office of President or not.  If their position is that he is not able then a Board of independent medical practitioners be (sic) appointed as soon as possible to certify whether he is indeed so incapacitated.

In the event that he is so incapacitated then the Vice President and majority of cabinet ministers are obliged to sign the said declaration and the Vice President is duty bound to submit the said declaration to the Speaker of Parliament.

Upon submission of the declaration, the Vice President is required to immediately assume the powers and duties of the office of President as Acting President.

It is for situations like the one we are faced today (sic) that the framers of our Constitution provided for positions of Acting President and smooth transition to ensure that national matters are not left in abeyance.

It is thus clear that all holders of the Constitutional offices of the Vice President, Cabinet Ministers and Chief Justice are expected to put the national interest above everything else to ensure that there is no power vacuum and that peace, tranquility, law and order continue in this country.

My humble appeal to all politicians involved both in Government and those in opposition is that they should put the interest of the country ahead as we anxiously await to hear from the doctors attending upon the State President.

I call upon everyone to pray for our State President so that he recovers from this sudden illness as quickly as possible.

I call upon these office holders to start talking to each other and deal with the situation as a matter of urgency especially now when there are too many stories on the internet.

May the good Lord continue blessing Malawi

God Bless you all

Thank you

Dr Bakili Muluzi

FORMER STATE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF MALAWI

________________________________________________________________________

Following the dictation of his official press statement, Muluzi opened the floor to the press to ask questions.

The first question was posed by the BBC’s Raphael Tenthani and asked if Muluzi had had any official communication with the current government, to which Muluzi replied, “no we have not been officially communicated which I think is most unfortunate,” adding, “but we know what has been going on” based on “unofficial information.”

Muluzi refused to speculate in response to further questions on the current medical condition of the president and urged journalists and Malawians to “wait for an official communication from government.”

When asked for comments on the capacity of government to act on the constitution in the case of the president’s incapacitation or death, Muluzi further emphasized the need for government to have “constitutional order” and stated, “to follow the constitution is the best way to do it… we have no choice.”

Muluzi recalled being in South Africa when then-president Dr. Nelson Mandela took ill, and that the government did not hide information but allowed cameras to follow Mandela to the hospital and had the vice president issue a timely, accurate and transparent press statement.  Before concluding the press briefing he asked why Malawi government has not been able to do the same.

________________________________________________________________________

Outside the press briefing Muluzi beckoned me to his car window where he explained why he felt compelled to hold a press briefing in the absence of any official communication to the nation by the state.  With no official communication from government to the people of Malawi “there will just be confusion,” he said.

At that time Muluzi also stated that “they (cabinet) want to call parliament to change the constitution… they can’t do that.”

haba na haba

With the rumors still unclear on Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika’s health/death and not a word coming from the Malawi government, one thing remains clear: in Mutharika’s incapacity or death, the Vice President, Joyce Banda, will become president.

So, whether you believe the European presses that are saying he’s in critical condition or the Tweets/Facebook Status updates from Malawians in Lilongwe saying he’s dead, in both cases, the matter of who is technically expected to be running Malawi is not an open question.

In the case of incapacity, Chapter 4 Section 87 of Malawi’s constitution (available on the SNDP web site) states the 1st Vice President will act as president. The exact wording from the constitution:

Whenever the President is incapacitated so as to be unable to discharge the powers and duties of that office, the 6 of 1995First Vice-President shall act as President, until such time, in the…

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Mabvutojobani

Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika is in a coma at Kamuzu central hospital and about 15 soldiers have been deployed at the resident of Malawi’s vice president Joyce Banda in what many believe is in readiness to any possible take over the President’s health deteriorates following a cardiac arrest he suffered in early Thursday.

“More Soldiers have been deployed at the Vice President’s residence as a matter of procedure in such situations,” said a senior army officer.

Reports say that the President will be airlifted to South Africa in the evening and is expected to arrive at Lanserie airport in Johannesburg at 10 pm. He will then be taken to Milpark hospital,” said a senior minister

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U.S. Ambassador talks politics, democracy with Malawian university students

United States Ambassador to Malawi Jeanine Jackson visited the Malawi Polytechnic on Wednesday, April 4 to engage a turnout of approximately 25 students of the university and the Malawi Institute of Journalism on political campaigns, the role of the media in covering elections and the role of the youth in the future of democracy.

The open discussion, entitled “The Impact of Elections on the Development of a Nation,” was led by Ambassador Jackson along with U.S. Embassy Economic Officer Chris Nyce, U.S. Embassy Economic/Commercial/Labor Specialist Priston Msiska and vice principal for the Polytechnic Dr. Grant Kululanga in the university’s Blantyre American Corner room.

U.S. Embassy Economic/Commercial/Labor Specialist Priston Msiska, U.S. Embassy Economic Officer Chris Nyce, United States Ambassador to Malawi Jeanine Jackson and vice principal for the Polytechnic Dr. Grant Kululanga (left to right) lead an open discussion on “The Impact of Elections on the Development of a Nation” at the Malawi Polytechnic Blantyre American Corner room on April 4. The discussion was attended by approximately 25 students of the university and the Malawi Institute of Journalism.

With coverage of the Republican U.S. presidential nomination race dominating American news, Msiska began the discussion at the beginning of the campaign trail – the nomination process.

Students responded that “the voice of Malawi hasn’t been heard insofar as (political) conventions go,” arguing that simply holding political conventions to choose party leaders overlooks the opinion of “people on the ground” and that the “show of hands” voting procedure characteristic of Malawian conventions is less democratic than the confidential ballot procedure utilized in the U.S.

According to the students, the public practice of taking a show of hands to nominate a party leader puts nominators more at risk of being influenced by political pressure or the perceived threat of political retaliation based on their nomination.

From comments on the nomination process and political convention best practices the discussion progressed to the topic of party politics, wherein students argued that Malawian parties are led by individual personalities as opposed to a clear ideology.  Students also voiced out on the proliferation of political parties in Malawi, which Kululanga said points to the fact that the only political ideology at work in the country is “an ideology of removing (other parties).”

Jackson responded that “understanding democracy and understanding individual rights and responsibility is very important” in democracy and added that civic education is an important tool in teaching people to “feel responsible for doing the right thing for their country.”

To conclude, Jackson emphasized that the U.S. is “very interested in the youth of Africa,” and asked the students, “what do you think Malawian youth can do together to make their voices heard?”

The first student to respond told a story about a young “extraordinary” minister that served under Kamuzu as “a lesson that maybe youth are overlooked when it comes to public office, serving the public.

“We only need to be given an opportunity,” he said.

“If we just leave the youth out and say that they don’t have experience, we are doing harm to our country,” said another student who then called on experienced politicians to “work hand-in-hand” with inexperienced young people who show an interest in politics.

“I should like to be able to believe that the older (politicians) should be able to open up to the youth,” another student agreed.  “We should not take a political career as something for someone who has retired.  A political career should be something you could enter into out of university,” he said.

“The time has come for young people to stand up.”

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