Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On the Publication of misleading adverts in national newspapers: The Case of Soul Winners Church, Malawi

On Saturday, December 27th, The Malawi Weekend Nation Newspaper published a full page advert from "Soul Winners Church" advertising "miracles, miracles, miracle and more miracles at the 'church's end of year service on December 31st. The Church claims people will be healed of various ailments, including HIV, blindness, barrenness among others.

I responded to the claims in the advert by posting on twitter asking whether media houses should accept adverts that have the potential to mislead....this generated a lot of discussion and debate on Saturday morning. Among others, @jkainja: @mynassah; @andrewlikaka88; @KoheiPearsonX; @newsmalawi; @chimhenz and @jodeet weighed in and offered their take on the issue:

In the end, @jodeet proposed that we draft a letter to the Nation Editor to express our concerns. The letter is attached in full below:

The Editor
Nation Newspapers
P.O. Box 30408
Chichiri,  Blantyre 3.

29 December 2014

Dear Sirs/Madam,

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep concern at the increasing frequency with which your esteemed Newspaper has been publishing adverts whose contents we believe are at times false and grossly misleading to the public.

The most recent such advert appeared on page 7 of the Weekend Nation of Saturday, 27 December 2014. In this advert, a religious group calling itself 'Soul Winners Church' is promising healing miracles from various ailments, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, barrenness and blindness.

While it is by no means our intention to impugn the value of faith healing, we are motivated purely by the desire to guard against the publication of messages that have the potential to put the public in danger. By publishing these types of adverts, whose veracity is nothing more than the word of those who place them, you might inadvertently be giving credibility to conmen that seek to trick people at their most vulnerable time.

At a time when the country is making progress in containing HIV/AIDS, the advert cited above quotes 'testimony' from an HIV/AIDS patient claiming taking anti-retroviral drugs made her life "miserable." To our knowledge, anti-retroviral drugs remain the only effective remedy for HIV/AIDS. We are thus hugely disappointed that a newspaper of high repute like yours can publish unsubstantiated claims that the lives of HIV/AIDS patients will get better after they stop taking their drugs as the advert seems to suggest.

In the same note, we find it archaic and outdated thinking that women who are unable to have children are portrayed in the advert as living a life of "shame."

While we acknowledge that newspapers need to generate advertising revenue to survive and to deliver news at affordable cost, we strongly believe that this has to be balanced with the equally important duty of educating and informing the public in a manner that does not mislead. This includes the responsibility to ensure that material that appears in the newspaper, including advertisements, are neither false nor misleading.

We are of course aware that other media houses publish and broadcast similar messages, but we felt we needed to write you because of your unique position as the country's  leading print media house.

Yours, very concerned Malawians,
Boniface Dulani (Zomba)
Blessings Chinsinga (Zomba)
Jimmy Kainja (Zomba)
George Mkandawire (Blantyre)
Henry Chimbali (Lilongwe)
Idriss Nassah (Johanessburg, South Africa)
Pearson Nkhoma (Durham, UK)
Andrew Likaka (Melbourne, Australia)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Getting back to blogging

Nine months. That is how long it has taken since the last substantive entry on this blog. I apologize to all readers for this silence. I know nine months is such a long time - it is an entire academic year; a period long enough for farmers to plant and harvest their crop; long enough for a mother to conceive and give birth to a child. A baby born since my last post might actually be learning to speak. I have no excuse and can only apologize to my readers.
So much has happened during the last nine months- some good, some bad and some ugly. Through it all, I am grateful for the gift of life.
Great Hall Complex at Chanco- My office is on the third flour
I returned to Malawi in mid October of 2012 and rejoined the faculty at the University of Malawi, Chancellor College. Chanco has changed very little: the classrooms remain bare and mostly derelict; there is a shortage of office space; the library, which was built in the early 70s for a student population of under 500, now has to cater for 5,000+ undergraduate and graduate students with very little resource allocation for purchasing new books. The Internet on campus remains frustratingly slow (although I now have very fast wi-fi connection on my home network, thanks to Burco's wimax system). Oh, and the University of Malawi salary remains such an embarrassment!
I have also kept up with my Afrobarometer work as Fieldwork Operations Manager. With 34 surveys completed, we now only have one more country before we reach our target of 35 countries- a major achievement as this represents  75% increase form the 20 countries that were covered in the Round 4 surveys.
For the most part, it has been great getting back and operating from Malawi. I no longer have to make the long trans-Atlantic flights between the USA and Africa. That said, I have increasingly found that it is a lot more difficult to travel within Africa from Africa than it is flying from the US. Flight schedules within Africa are a lot more difficult while securing visas is another major pain as there are few embassies around.
My apologies once more to followers of this blog for my long silence. It is such a shame that at a time when I have first hand experience of Malawi politics, I have kept quite. I am back and will be writing and sharing my thoughts as the country prepares for the 2014 general elections. Stay tuned. Ooh,m and follow me on twitter @BoniDulani

Friday, September 21, 2012

We are now on twitter!!!

After some procrastination, we have now joined the twitter craze. Follow us

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Joyce Banda would win an election in June 2012- Afrobarometer survey results show

On Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2012, the Afrobarometer (AB) released its first results from the Malawi survey. The Malawi survey, the fifth in the country,  was undertaken over a four week-period in June 2012 and sampled a total of 2,400 adult Malawian citizens. This sample size has a margin of error of +/-2% at the 95% confidence interval.
Respondents were randomly selected, with every adult citizen in the country having an equal chance of being selected. Face to face interviews were conducted in Chichewa and Tumbuka over a period of four weeks.
The first release event, which was led by the Afrobarometer National Investigator in Malawi, Dr. Maxton Tsoka of the Center for Social Research (CSR) of the University of Malawi, and Mr. Joseph Chunga from the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at Chancellor College,  covered the following topics: public attitudes on civil society and NGOs; attitudes on the rights of women, children , people with disabilities and homosexuals. Lastly, the presentation looked at partisan identity in the country; voting intentions and opinion on crossing the floor.
Here are excepts of some of the findings:
More Malawians are going to CSOs/NGOs to assist with their development problems than government officials:

A majority of Malawians think that teachers should not use corporal punishment to discipline pupils:

A plurality of Malawians say that they would vote for the People's Party presidential candidate if an election were held in June 2012:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A gathering without substance: brief thoughts on the People’s Party Convention

The main news from Malawi this last week was the People's Party (PP) convention that run from August 27th -28th. Several commentators have applauded the PP for holding a convention to elect various office holders. The fact that several of the party's founding members lost seats to 11th hour newcomers has been cited as an indicator of how open elections were.
Given recent experience, I guess it is fair to give the People's Party some credit for giving its membership a chance to decide the party's senior leadership. This is a major contrast to the Democratic Progressive Party (which was never democratic or progressive), which has never held a convention in its seven-year history.
Other parties can hopefully take a lesson from the PP and give their membership a chance to have a say on who should lead them. This is the minimum one can ask for in a democratic society. As it has been said several times, we cannot expect to be a true democracy if democracy is lacking in our political parties.
But I also happen to believe the PP has been given a free pass on what the party did not do at this convention.
Firstly, I was hoping the party would use the convention as opportunity to define itself. I have never believed the individuals that have been flocking to PP in recent months claiming that there are attracted to what the party stands for. Yet, it is not clear (to me at least) what the PP exactly stands for other than that it is led by Joyce banda and not Bingu wa Mutharika or Bakili Muluzi. I was hoping Joyce Banda and the PP would use this convention to define the party's agenda and policies. Democracy would have been better served if the PP membership at the convention had been given the chance to make a contribution to the PP's platform.
"Fisi ndi fisi"- a hyena is a hyena.
Secondly, I thought the PP missed a huge opportunity by retaining the same tried and failed politicians. As that old adage goes, fisi ndi fisi (a hyena is a hyena) – Simply clothing individuals that were part and parcel of the DPP and UDF misrule in the PP orange colors does not make them suddenly capable and competent. I have said this before, and I will say it again: Bingu Mutharika was the main conductor of the economic and political collapse in recent years in Malawi- but he was not alone. At a minimum, his misrule was was aided and abated by some of the very individuals that have now flocked to PP. If Bingu were alive today, most of these opportunists would still be plundering the country and trampling on our rights while taking the country to the dark ages. Forgive me if I am not enthused by their joining of PP.

Lastly, I was honestly shocked that there was no debate on the People's party Constitution. For a new party, I was hoping the convention would debate and endorse the party's constitution. Indeed, how else did people know the positions they were contesting for are legal in the absence of discussions on the party's constitution?
At the end of the day, it was saddening that no one cared about defining the party platform or debating and endorsing the PP's constitution. It was in this regard, a gathering without substance, and I for one feel it was a great opportunity that was missed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Apology and news about my homecoming….

It has been a while since I last posted…There has simply been too much pleasure at work, but I still feel the need to apologize to the followers of the blog – who have kept coming back again and again in the hope of finding new material.

The good news is: after six years in Michigan, I am returning to Malawi at the end of September 2012. I will most likely be returning to Chancellor College, University of Malawi, in Zomba, although there are a few issues that need to be worked out.

I have a number of ideas on what I intend to do in Malawi and will be bouncing off some of them on the blog for suggestions and input.

Being in Malawi will also enable me to be closer to the people and newsmakers in a country I love dearly, even if at times life can be frustrating. I will continue blogging, and hope to expand the scope and number of contributors to the blog. Look out for the new changes (as well as more regular and frequent postings!).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

...from Cameroon, enroute to Malawi

Have been in Yaounde, Cameroon the last week. Wonderful country, wonderful people but too much bureaucracy.
Getting a Visa to travel to Cameroon was one of the hardest experiences I have had to endure - and in the end, I  only succeeded din getting the visa after asking the Malawi Embassy in Washington DC to help. I will go out on a limb here and say that Cameroon has some of the most restrictive visa rules that I have ever encountered. Sometimes I get the impression that our countries have not bothered to revise the visa rules that were inherited from the colonial era. Ironically, these rules hurt travelers using African passports the most.
And negotiating through the bureaucracy at Yaounde Nsimalen airport on departure would merit a separate blog entry - just to say that getting one's bag opened and checked three times in a distance of less than 15 meters seems to me to be an overkill. Oh, and did I say that  there was no power  at Nsimalen Airport despite having a couple of night departing flights? Sigh.

I am now  en route to Malawi where I have some work for the next three weeks. It will be an opportunity to encounter the Joyce Banda government first hand. Looking forward to it. Will keep our readers updated.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The more things change, the more they stay the same: thoughts on Joyce Banda first cabinet

Joyce Banda's presidency will ultimately be judged on her ability to turn around Malawi's ailing economy. It is just as well, because if she were to be judged by the caliber of her first cabinet which was announced on Thursday, April 26th, she would get a fail grade from this blog. Looking at the long list of recycled individuals in the supposedly new cabinet, we could not but help think the UDF or the DPP are back in power. And then it dawned on us that the People's Party (PP) of Joyce Banda is really nothing more than the DPP which was itself nothing more than UDF.
We must confess at this blog to being underwhelmed by the cabinet names that came out of Mudi House last Thursday. Only 13 names in the 32 member-cabinet are holding ministerial positions for the very first time. The rest, including President Banda herself and Vice president Khumbo Kachali – have either served in the Muluzi or Mutharika administrations. Meanwhile, eight of the 'new' ministers have served in both the Muluzi and Mutharika cabinets.
While this gives Banda's cabinet a heavy dose of experience, it is not the kind of experience that inspires this blog, given the performances of our recent cabinets. Indeed, of the 19 members with prior ministerial experience, 15 have served, or were still serving in the late Mutharika's cabinet. Can we now expect these individuals to become better "performers" simply because their former mentor is no more? We have serious doubts about that. Already, in the week before the late Mutharika was put to rest, one of his ministers who has retained Joyce Banda's confidence, was out on the streets closing shops and issuing threats to grocers for the pricing of sugar. If this is how the new cabinet is going to operate, we doubt the Joyce Banda administration is going to be much different from the previous administrations.
And that is before saying anything about the group of opportunists that joined Banda's People's Party in the morning to be rewarded with cabinet seats in the afternoon. Apparently, one of the new PP members, a former party president, never even bothered to inform his Secretary General before he went on air to claim that he and all the members of his former party had decided to join the PP. We seriously doubt such individuals are in government for anything other than their own personal interest. This is not the recipe for Government of National Unity as many a people have termed this cabinet. We see instead a lot of opportunistic handclappers who will mislead the new president or fail to offer her sound advice so long as they are assured of benefiting from state resources.
Over the past couple of weeks, many a person has spoken about some names carried over from the DPP of not having been part of the excesses of the Mutharika administration…they are said to have been quiet and /or came out quickly to speak out about the proposal to hand the presidency over to Peter Mutharika after Bingu's death. Others have said that well, some of these were Banda's informants in the DPP. Well, if they were quiet, can we expect them to be outspoken now that they are in Joyce Banda's cabinet? And if they informed on a government they served in without resigning, doesn't that show their lack of moral character? What we see are individuals that have so perfected the art of 'not being outspoken' and double-dealing that they are able to glide from one government to another with ease. That to us is not something to be rewarded. It is called cowardice.
Mrs. Banda's saving grace might be that she does not have to do a lot to win over the love of the Malawi public. Already, she has reached out to donors and renewed friendships with neighboring countries in ways that represent a departure from the late Mutharika's personalistic style of leadership. If truth be told though, these were always going to be the easiest things to do, a kind of picking the low-hanging fruit so to speak. The more pressing challenges will involve getting the economy back on track and reviving public confidence in government. Seeing some of the main architects of the disastrous economic policies of the recent past, including the faces of the zero deficit budget and its punitive tax regime, it is hard for us at this blog to be optimistic about the future. We will of course gladly revise our estimation of the new cabinet if it can prove that our fears are unfounded. But until I then, excuse us for being very skeptical.

The new Cabinet in full (an asterix after a name denotes individuals who have never served in cabinet before)
President & Minister Responsible for Public Service            Joyce Banda
Vice President & Minister Of Health Khumbo Kachale
FinanceKen Lipenga
Foreign AffairsEphraim Chiume
EducationEunice Kazembe
Energy & MiningCassim Chilumpha
GenderAnita Kalinde*
Economic PlanningAtupele Muluzi*
Justice & Attorney GeneralRalph Kasambara
AgriculturePeter Mwanza
TransportSidik Mia
Water DevelopmentRitchie Muheya
Local GovernmentGrace Maseko*
Information Moses Kunkuyu*
TradeJohn Bande
LandsHenry Phoya
Home Affairs Uladi Mussa
Defence Ken Kandodo
TourismDaniel Liwimbi
LabourEunice Makangala*
Environment & Climate ChangeCatherine Gotani Hara
Youth & SportsEnock Chihana*
DisabilityReen Kachere
Deputy Ministers
FinanceRalph Jooma
Economic PlanningKhwauli Msiska
GenderJennifer Chilunga*
Local GovernmentGracewell Mtendere*
TransportSosten Gwengwe*
EducationChikumbutso Hiwa*
AgricultureJermoth Chilapondwa*
Environment &Climate ChangeIbrahim Matola*
Foreign AffairsRachel Mazombwe Zulu*