Thursday, December 31, 2009
What a year 2009 has been:
The Malawi elections of May 2009 were obviously a major event for Malawi. The results, which gave the Democratic Progresive Party of Bingu wa Mutharika a resounding victory in both the presidential and parliamentary elections were a major highlight and completely changed the political landscape... former President Bakili Muluzi was once again rejected in his attempts to return to State House for the umpteenth time...
As 2010 dawns, there is already plenty to chew and discuss....
....the country is in the middle of a heated debate on whether to change the national flag (as proposed by government) or not...
Meanwhile, the drama involving two gay men that got 'engaged' within the last week of 2009 will continue into 2010 as the two men are brought before court to answer charges...
will there be local government elections or not?...
we will be here again soon to discuss these and other emerging issues.
Once more, a happy and prosperous 2010 to all Malawians and all our friends across the world.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Hastings Kamuzu Banda (Prime Minister and President, 1961-1994)
Was Kamuzu ever married? did he have children? If not, why, especially for a man that put Malawi women - his "Mbumba" at the top of his priorities? And what exactly was the role of the "Official Hostess" in Kamuzu's life? Why did Kamuzu always had to speak in English and require a translator (much like many of our numerous pastors today)?
Bingu wa Mutharika, President, 2004-to date
Now, Bingu wa Mutharika. Although less enigmatic than Kamuzu, Mutharika's personal history is also very sketchy. Born Brightson Webster Ryson Thom, very little (that is convincing at least), is known as to why had to change his original names and adopt the Bingu Mutharika moniker.
Does changing ones name from Thomu to Mutharika truly disguise one's identity from the agents of the one-party era as has been suggested? What exactly had he done that required such drastic changes in his life as to not only escape from Malawi, but also to change his entire name? (especially when one considers the most famous victims of Banda's dictatorship like Henry Masauko Chipembere, Kanyama Chiume, Orton Chirwa, etc, did not have to change their names in exile)? Even if we are to he had to change names to escape the one party brutality, did his family (read brother) also have to change names? And does Bingu have any other siblings other than his eponymous brother, Peter?
Where exactly did Thomu/Mutharika do his university studies? Did he physically attend the Universities of Delhi in India and the now defunct Pacific Western University to get his MA and PhD respectively? And did he have a Bachelor's Degree before obtaining the MA at the University of Delhi? If yes, where was this obtained?
We read in the run up to last May's elections, there were so many people showing up looking for jobs by claiming to be related to Mutharika. That is perhaps the price to be paid when very little is known about the background of the man holding the highest office in the land.
The bottom line is that we need to learn more about our leaders. In the absence of credible official information, we are left to rumor and speculation. We need people who are willing to take up these subjects and write up the histories of our leaders while they are still alive, or, in the case of the late Banda, to learn more about the man from those that were close to the late president and are still alive to share what they know of the man. Anyone out there willing to take on this project?
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Let me start by apologizing to readers and followers of this blog for the long period of silence. I could not believe it myself to find that my last post was in August – three months back. I have no strong reasons to offer for this silence and can only apologize.
Now to my two topics, starting with the introduction of quota system for University selection.
I must say I agree with President Mutharika on one aspect of this issue: the imbalance in University selection needs to be addressed to malke it more representative. However, I do not agree that the quota system is the way to addressing the root causes of the imbalance.
The solution, in my humble view, rests in the answer to question: why do students in one particular region (the north) fare better in our national exams than those from the other two (and more populous regions)? The fact that our brothers and sisters from the northern region have time and again demonstrated an ability to perform well in national exams is something worth celebrating. To accuse them of cheating – as the President implied in his recent address when he argued that University Lecturers from the north leak exams to northern-students – is not only cheap of the President, but is also demeaning and contemptuous to the professionalism of our esteemed Lecturers from the north – whose dedication and intellect I can personally vouch for any time, any day.
We should look at the strong performance of the students from the northern region as an opportunity, one that we should replicate in the other two regions. In my view, students from the central and southern regions are no less intelligent than those from the north. The question to be addressed by any policy therefore has to be to work towards bringing out this intellect from central and southern students to enable them to stand up on their own with their northern counterparts. The quota system, in my view, merely addresses the superficial aspect of the imbalance, not the root causes.
I do not have solutions to the problem, which needs some deeper research. But I dare say among the issues to be considered are the student-pupil teacher ratios. It is a known fact that there is more congestion in schools in the more populous central and southern districts, with some statistics suggesting that there are twice as many students for every teacher in the central and southern regions than there are in the north. There are also more students sharing a classroom in the central and southern regions than there are in the north. Clearly, these factors contribute to undermining performance of students from the two regions in national exams. A real solution to addressing the imbalance in University selection therefore needs to address these underlying issues - by improving the student-teacher ratio, increasing the number of classroom space and generally making the education system more conducive than is currently the case. Others might argue there is also a need to change the attitude towards education in the central and southern regions, but I am no expert on that.
Otherwise, to the extent that quota system does not address the underlying problems, I would say it is no solution at all.
On elections for Leader of Opposition
I must say I am very saddened to see the turn of events and the direction that our politics is taking. While many celebrated the DPP's landslide victory in the last elections, there were some of us that feared the consequences of such an absolute majority on our young democracy.
There is simply no way I can agree to the view that the ruling party should have a say on who should be the Leader of Opposition. It is a joke and a mockery to our democracy that a Parliament that some had argued had the best brains on the land has chosen to go down this path. The government side should have no say on who should lead those opposing it, much in the same way as the opposition currently has no say on who should be the leader of the government side in the National Assembly.
The recent changes that have allowed the government to have a crucial say in the choice of the Leader of Opposition demeans the value of that office, as the holder now becomes beholden to government and has to answer to them to keep his/her seat. For a government that already has a strong majority in numbers, they could have demonstrated some maturity by keeping out of the infighting among the opposition.
For those who argue that this move serves to teach MCP strongman, John Tembo a lesson – I would say you miss the point. Laws/ rules should not be designed to target a particular individual. They are meant to be timeless. This was the reason some of us strongly objected to the efforts to remove the presidential term limits in 2001/2002. The argument by the UDF at the time that Muluzi was a good leader and a performer (????) was never enough to justify changing a law that applies to all future presidents of the country.
Removing Tembo from the position of the Leader of opposition should have been an internal MCP matter. Those MCP MPs/members not happy with Tembo's leadership should have taken their battle to a party convention. Otherwise, in my view, despite the validity of their protestations about lack of democracy in their party, they are no better than the man they accuse by choosing to take a non-democratic route themselves. Those who celebrate that Tembo's removal is good for democracy, I would: what democracy? The people that have orchestrated Tembo's removal are not democrats themselves. I personally would rather live with people that are democratically elected, even if their democratic credentials are questionable than applaud the removal of a democratically elected leader by non-democrats.
It is a sad day for democracy in Malawi and I for one, am not celebrating.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Pacific Western University (PCU) of California, USA is described by Wikipedia, the web based, free content encyclopedia project, as "an institution criticized on multiple occasions as a substandard educational institution or 'diploma mill'. Among the ranks of its alumni is our own President, Bingu wa Mutharika who obtained a PhD in Development Economics from there.
In the last couple of weeks, a number of economic decisions made in Malawi in my view, have gone to confirm the questionable of economics one would expect from a diploma mill like PCU. On July 31st, the Daily Times run an article headlined "Forex Shortage affects Unilever". According to this article, Unilever, is struggling to procure raw materials for its products from outside Malawi due to forex shortage. As a result, the company is currently unable to produce enough products for the local market.
Two days before the Unilever story, the same paper had carried an article chronicling the struggles of one Eunice Kendulo, a fifty-one year old cotton farmer from Salima district in central Malawi. This story reports that cotton buyers have 'voted with their feet' by staying away from buying after the President imposed a minimum buying rate of K70 per kilogram while the buyers were offering half of that. The end result is that the likes of Ms. Kendulo are stuck with a commodity that they cannot sell or consume.
President Mutharika's responses to these episodes? Closing down of forex bureaux and threatening cotton buyers with deportation (never mind that none are currently buying) if they refuse to pay the set minimum price. Tobacco buyers have in recent years faced similar threats of deportation when the President has, in his wisdom, set minimum prices for the tobacco crop.
The President's desire to ensure Malawian farmers get the most for their produce is a noble goal. Similarly, the refusal to float the Malawi Kwacha is being justified as an attempt to cushion local consumers from price increases that would result from devaluing the local currency.
While I am not a believer in unfettered laissez-faire economics, it surprises me to see the levels of protectionism that the Bingu government is undertaking in Malawi (perhaps the outcome of 1960s protectionist economics?). For one, the resistance to liberalize the currency exchange market is as ridiculous as it is self defeating. Not only are Malawian companies unable to procure necessary raw materials for their domestic production, but it also results in the very thing that Bingu is trying to avoid- price increases as fewer goods are produced in a market that demands more. Additionally, an overvalued currency also makes Malawian goods very uncompetitive on the international market, reducing the inflow of foreign currency, further perpetuating the forex shortages.
As for the minimum price settings, the President would do better to convince the farmers not to sell below his preferred minimum price. Let Ms. Kendulo and her fellow cotton farmers decide whether to sell at lower prices or keep their cotton harvest unsold. The President should not adopt this self-defeating know-it-all attitude.
As for these constant threats of deporting foreign investors, well, who is the ultimate loser? While I am not naive enough to assume that all 'investors' have the good of Malawi at heart, I strongly feel this scare-them policy only serves to scare away other investors, depriving hardworking Malawians of employment opportunities. And frankly, all this gives the impression of a leader who is not in control.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Be that as it may, I feel as a country, we should have been told - at the minimum, that he was going on holiday, even if the destination remained a secret (for whatever reason). But it seems in the typical mode of the Big Man leadership style, the President is not even comfortable saying he is going on holiday to nurture the impression that the Big Man never rests.
The sad part of all this over-secrecy is that rumour quickly fills in the void. Is the President sick and in hospital somewhere? Did the grueling campaign cause some slipped discs requiring unforeseen medical attention? Perhaps he is getting a regular medical check-up? where is he being treated/ checked? In a hospital or is he being prayed for by some faith healers somewhere? Perhaps getting attention from a sing'anga akunja? ?
The long and short of it is that all this unnecessary secrecy, far from propping up the Big Man image that our President and his advisers seem so keen to cultivate, only serves to undermine it. The President would not lose any authority by openly stating that he is going to take a short holiday or even stating that he needs to go for medical check up. He is human after all.
If I am to go on holiday, I just don 't go attending conferences and then decide to extend my stay by taking a holiday. As taxpayers, we are the President's bosses and need to be told what he is doing, and preferably, where. For all the tax-payer money he gets to spend at our expense, the least he can do is to let us know what he is up to. That is not too much to ask.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The recent awards recognizing the 'achievements' of a few Malawians dished out during the 45th Independence anniversary celebrations raise a number of questions, three of which immediately come to mind.
The first question from these awards is how we as a country define achievers? The list of Malawi's supposed achivers that were recognised this last July 6 is dominated by politicians and their closest friends. The first Head of State, the late Kamuzu Banda and the incumbent Bingu wa Mutharika, were both accorded the honorific titles of "Excellent Grand Commander". Didn't Malawians reject Banda in the early 1990s because, as the Catholic Bishops' said in their oft cited Pastoral Letter of 1991 "the majority of [Malawians] live in circumstances which are hardly compatible with their dignity as sons and daughters of God". And hasn't Bingu himself claimed that he had to free into exile to run away from Banda's dictatorship? Didn't some on the list of achievers suffer national ridicule and forced to live the lives of exiles under the very Banda who is being accorded the title of Excellent Grand Commander? And by granting both Banda and Mutharika this highest title, are we to assume their achievements are at par? Now, I do not want to ignore Bingu's achievements in the last five years, but are we as a country satisfied with what has been done so far? There has been some progress in terms of road infrastructure, some bumper maize harvests (paid for the tax payer, not from the President's pockets). But If anyone tells me this merits a double adjectival description, i.e., excellent and grand, I have to say it is so depressing that we have to be satisfied with so little. In my view, Mutharika's achievements, notable as they are, are neither excellent nor grand. They merely stand out because his predecessor set the bar so low, so much that we are seeing a mountain in achievements that are nothing more than an anthill.
My second question is who decides these awards? In the ideal world, one would hope for a more neutral panel to select the awardees. However, looking at the list, it is quite clear that a group of politicians with obvious party leanings sat down and decided who to award and who not to. That Bingu looks up to Kamuzu's as his hero is no secret (despite claiming to have fled the country because of Kamuzu's authoritarian rule). It comes as no surprise then that besides Bingu, Kamuzu is the other recipient of the highest honor a sign that the student feels he is now at the same level with his teacher/ hero. The majority of the names on the list are politicians, both dead and alive, who, although not necessarily affiliated to the ruling DPP, are at least not associated with the current political opposition. While I don't want to begrudge the contributions of most of these sons and daughters of Malawi the recognition they deserve, I am at a loss to understand what a number of the people on the list have contributed to justify their recognition over and above the contributions of others. In particular, what is so special about politicians? My former primary school headmaster, in my view, worked so hard and achieved much more than what most of the people that were recognized last Monday. The likes of Allan Namoko, Archbishop James Chiona, Levi Ziliro Mumba, John Chilembwe, John Gwengwe, Daniel Kachamba- to mention but a few are, in my view, great and genuine achievers that truly stand out, even if a dodgy group of party loyalists overlook their contributions because their recognition does not generate any political mileage for the ruling party.
The third conundrum is the criteria for granting these awards. Does a criterion really exist? Does it make sense to award individuals that are still living, and thus potentially with a lot more achievements yet to come? Is there a clear criteria on measuring what amounts to an achievement that is to be nationally recognized? For example, what have certain opportunist Chiefs achieved other than bestowing meaningless titles on leaders in return for patronage? How do we explain the recognition of Malawians that played roles that are polar opposites to each other, such as those of a former "Life President" and those of a freedom fighter who was imprisoned for standing up to the very same dictator? And further, how does one recognize the achievements of individuals who served as faithful deputies and yet ignore the contributions of the very people they deputized? (Now, this should not be taken to mean I endorse those who suggest former President Muluzi should also have been recognized. But it seems to me if Muluzi's deputy achieved so much, then common sense would imply Muluzi too must have achieved something (whatever that is).
The long and short of it is that these political awards are ridiculous and unnecessary. There are millions of Malawians that are contributing in many meaningful ways. Parents that strive against odds to provide meals to their kids every day; Teachers that continue to educate Malawi's future generation and yet get paid next to nothing; medical practitioners who struggle and improve to serve hundreds of lives in our poorly equipped hospitals; volunteers that are trying to find ways to reduce poverty in our land; poorly paid police officers who are trying their best to bring about peace and security in our midst; pastors and church people that bring comfort and solace to people when politicians are busy sharing the national cake. There are better achievers out there that are simply doing their work and do not expect to be given any awards or titles. The sad part is that these people are made to feel that their contributions are meaningless when we have national events that honor wannabe achievers.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Presidential Election Results
Here's a summary of the presidential elections results, based on the schedule of results released by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) at 12:228pm on Saturday, May 23rd 2009.
Share of Valid Votes
Bingu wa Mutharika (DPP)
John Tembo (MCP)
Kamuzu Chibambo (PETRA)
Stanley Masauli (RP)
Loveness Gondwe (NARC)
James Nyondo (Independent)
Dindi Gowa Nyasulu (Aford)
Total valid votes:
Parliamentary Election Results
I have reconciled the results of the elections of May 19th as released by the Malawi Electoral Commission with those announced on the radio and circulating on the Internet. I did note a couple of errors on the list that has been doing the rounds on the net. For instance, one seat that was won by the MCP candidate in Dowa South East was allocated to a DPP candidate who actually came second. Another seat that was won by an independent candidate in Thyolo South was listed as having been won by the DPP candidate. In yet another case, two independent candidates were both listed as having won the same seat in Zomba Likangala. In Lilongwe Msozi North, the wrong person was listed as the victor yet the winner was a different person, albeit also an independent. Having made these corrections, here's the final parliamentary list:
Share of Seats
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)
Malawi Congress Party (MCP)
United Democratic Front (UDF)
Alliance for Democracy (Aford)
Maravi Peoples Party (MPP)
Malawi Forum for Unity and Dvt (MAFUNDE)
* note that elections were not held in one constituency following the death of one of the contesting candidates.
While the DPP is short of the two thirds majority by 16 MPs, it is worth recalling that a high proportion of the candidates that were elected on an independent ticket were those that were frustrated in one way or another in the DPP primary elections. It is likely that a majority of the 32 independents will side with the DPP when parliament meets. Indeed, already, a number of the new independent MPs have rejoined the ruling DPP, further bolstering the ruling party's numbers before the new Parliament has even met. The opposition parties (MCP, UDF, Aford, MPP and MAFUNDE) between them have a combined total of 48 seats, translating into 25 percent of the seats in the new Parliament.
Parties that will receive Parliamentary Funding
As the numbers currently stand, only the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) with 58.33% and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) will be the only parties entitled to receive parliamentary funding on account of the fact that they have at least 10% of the seats in Parliament. For the first time since 1994, the UDF will not be eligible to receive Parliamentary funding.
More Women in the new Parliament
The campaign to increase the number of women legislators in the new Parliament appears to have had some success, albeit marginally. The 2009-2014 Parliament will have a total of 42 lady legislators (22%) - up by 15 from the last Parliament which had 27 lady MPs (14%). The new figure of 22 percent is still lower than the SADC gender protocol which called upon member states to have a minimum of 30% female legislators.
High Turnover of MPs
One characteristic feature of the May 19th elections has been a high turnover of legislators. The new Parliament retains only 53 of the original 193 legislators that sat in the House in the last Parliament. A whopping 139 of the 2009-2014 Parliamentarians (73%) are entering the National Assembly for the first time (138 if we exclude Khwauli Msiska, who was a member of the House in the 1999-2004 Parliament). The list of casualties applies across the board. The DPP is returning 26 MPs from the last Parliament, while both the MCP hand the UDF have returned 12 each. MPP's Uladi Mussa, and two independents - Cassim Chilumpha and Billy Kaunda are the other three returnees.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
The calm way that the Malawian public conducted itself on polling day and the manner in which the results have been received also deserves our appreciation. We should not take this for granted - we know elsewhere on the continent, election results have sparked violence that in the worst cases, has resulted in multiple deaths. We deserve to pat ourselves on the back for maintaining peace throughout the process.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
perhaps the biggest surprise is coming in Parliament. While a number of independents are outperforming some DPP candidates in a few areas, by and large, the strong performance of the DPP is being repeated in the Parliamentary race. Indeed, even among the independents that are winning, most are among those that were frustrated in the DPP primary race. In other words, these are essentially DPP candidates that are most likely to go back to their DPP home.
The people's verdict is in - some of us will be talking about what this bodes for the future of the country's democracy, about the future of the opposition, about voting trends in a country long used to regionalistic politics. All that should be put in the context of what the Malawi people want. They cannot be expected to vote for individuals who have failed them just for the sake of maintaining an opposition. they cannot be expected to vote for people from their region even if they are deemed failures. It is the dawn of a new politics.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Being so removed from the ground has meant that I have been unable to make any independent judgments and predictions on the entire process. It is the second election that I will be missing and this gives me a heavy heart. I can only hope that those that have the vote use it on Tuesday and decide on who should be entrusted with the power to exercise the role of President for the next five years and who should also be entrusted with making laws for the same period. There is just no excuse for not voting.
So who are the likely winners and losers from these elections? My predictions, I should stress, are based on second hand information, reinforced by the live radio coverage from Zodiak radio and Capital radio's daily news summaries - two of Malawi's best radio stations).
President: Bingu wa Mutharika faces a tough challenge from MCP's John Tembo, whose electoral fortunes have been boosted by his coalition with the UDF. An Afrobaromter survey conducted late last year gave Mutharika a commanding lead over both Tembo and Muluzi (standing as individual candidates). While the coalition gives MCP and UDF the chance to consolidate their vote, I am not convinced this gives them enough to overturn Mutharika's lead from last October's survey. Yes, a couple of decisions on the DPP side - including running mate selection, confrontational and sometimes ill-advised choice of language that disparages opponents and their supporters alike, might have eroded Mutharika's support among a section of the middle class. However, while this will make the presidential race a tighter race than the Afrobarometer survey data suggested, I still feel Mutharika will sneak in.
Verdict: Mutharika for President.
Parliament: The selection of candidates for the DPP in the primary elections left a lot to be desired. candidates were imposed, while some winners were discarded in favour of preferred names. While DPP is going to increase its numbers in the new Parliament from the six it had in the previous one, it might yet again fall short of a majority. I am also somewhat unsure of the impact of the UDF/MCP coalition on Parliament. Listening to the campaign coverage on Zodiak radio, I cannot help to think that voters are bound to be confused when you have John Tembo / Bakili Muluzi introducing candidates for both parties in the elections that will be competing against each other. This might have an impact on their performance in the elections.
Verdict: another split Parliament
Friday, April 3, 2009
I am not naive of course. Mercy is just one of thousands of kids like her in Malawi. Just because Madonna sought to take her to join little David does not change much for the plight of orphans in our country. Adoptions like these, in other words, much as they change the lives of the single individual kids, impact very little, if at all, on the challenge of orphans in our country. We need a more holistic approach other than celebrity adoptions to solve the problem.
This does not mean though we should frustrate well wishers like Madonna and other unheralded individuals who want to help by adopting some of our less fortunate children like Mercy. I am a firm believer that the opportunities we get very strongly influence our destiny. While David Banda might have been condemned to a life of underachievement, he now stands to fulfill his full potential and perhaps more due to the world of opportunities opened for him under Madonna's roof. Otherwise, we have too many children growing up in our beautiful country who have so much potential yet they are never given the opportunity to translate this potential into meaningful lives because it remains untapped.
Let me state here though I do not in any way blame the High Court for making the decision it has. It is not for the Court's to make laws for the country- theirs is simply one of interpretation. The blame, in my view, ought to be placed squarely on the feet of our politicians.
The problems in our adoption laws were exposed when Madonna first adopted David Banda a few years back (or most likely earlier when other less glamorous foreign nationals might have faced similar challenges). After that episode, we should have woken up and been proactive to address the deficiencies by amending the law accordingly. Instead, we were preoccupied with the trivial political games that appear to be the hallmark of our politics at the expense of addressing serious issues that affect us. It is thus hypocritical for all manner of politicians, including cabinet Ministers, to make noises against the ruling when it is precisely their fault that they did not act. To hear the likes of Patricia Kaliyati and Anna Kachikho speaking on the matter makes me realize these people have no clue as regards what their role is in law making. Had the law been changed, the Court's would have ruled differently. It was not.It it would thus be unfair to blame Judge Esmie Chombo - she was simply doing her job and applying the law as it stands. That is called the rule of law.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
I must confess I have been gripped by the events as they have unfolded this week. It is moments like these that I miss being at home.
Just my two tambala's worth on the process:
1. I feel the electoral commission needs to come up with a better system of submissions for the presidential candidates. as the system currently stands, it gives a slight (emphasis intended) to the candidate that is last to present their nomination papers. Considering the secretive nature of these processes, the candidate who presents their papers last has a chance to change his/her ticket as a response to the choices of the earlier candidates.They could all come together and present their papers at the same time (am sure there are ways to prevent chaos and any violence in such circumstances - wasn't this the way it was done in 1994?)
2. Talking of secrets, I have been bemused by how all the major parties not only stage-managed the selection of their presidential candidates, but also how they have been united in the secretive nature of choosing their running mates. wouldn't it be better for the candidates to go to their conventions and contest for the presidential ticket with a running mater already in place? this way, a very strong candidate does not end up choosing their son / wife / brother etc as their running mate.
3. As regards the candidature of former President Muluzi, that is now up to the Electoral Commission now to make a decision. Suffice it to say my own interpretation of section 83(3) - the presidential term limits is influenced less by the letter of the law and more by the 'spirit' behind the provision. But even looking at the letter of the law, I fail to read : a "Maximum of two consecutive terms" in any other way but to say a maximum of two terms, one following the other. No more.
Otherwise, I feel we have a strong field of candidates, all of whom in my view have the qualities to lead our beautiful country. The field of running mates is equally strong, and all of them are patriotic Malawians that can step into the shoes of the presidency if required. No one will have an excuse for not going to exercise their right to vote.
I just hope the candidates will demonstrate a level of maturity in the campaign and focus on issues rather than character assassination. It is time our democracy is built around issues, not personalities or emotions. May the best team win!