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*

Monday, April 23, 2012

The life and times of Bingu wa Mutharika as he is put to rest

Bingu wa Mutharika who is being put to rest on Monday, April 23 was Malawi's third president after the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda and Bakili Muluzi. He died on Thursday, April 5, 2012 at the age of 78 after suffering a cardiac arrest at the New State House in Lilongwe.

Mutharika was born Brightson Webster Ryson Thomu on 24 February, 1934 at Kamoto Village in Thyolo district of what was then the British protectorate of Nyasaland. His parents were the late Ryson Thomu Mutharika and Mrs Eleni Thomu Mutharika. The young Bingu was educated at various mission schools in Thyolo and Mulanje districts before proceeding for his secondary education at Henry Henderson Institute in Blantyre and Dedza High School where he obtained a Cambridge Overseas School Certificate in 1956.

Mutharika was one of 32 Malawians that were selected to travel to India for tertiary education as the country prepared for independence from British colonial rule. Mutharika enrolled at the University of Delhi where he obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce and a Master's Degree in Economics in 1961. On his return to Malawi in 1963, Mutharika was appointed as an Administrative Officer in the Ministry of Finance, based in the colonial capital of Zomba.

In 1964, Mutharika reportedly fell out with Banda and went into self-imposed exile in Zambia. There are however no records of what exactly contributed to this alleged fall out. Mutharika's name does not appear anywhere in the discussions about the infamous cabinet crisis of 1964 where several senior Cabinet Ministers disagreed with then prime Minister Banda's policies on the pace of Africanization in the civil service.

During a recent trip to Malawi in early 2012, a colleague at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi relayed a story that suggests that Mutharika's decision to flee to Zambia was based on a complete misunderstanding. According to this source, Mutharika was supposed to travel to attend a conference in the United Kingdom. However, as telephones were such rarities at the time, the message informing Mutharika about the conference was relayed through the Zomba police station. As the police messengers did not find the late Mutharika home, they simply left a message asking him to contact Zomba police. As this took place around the same time of the cabinet crisis, Mutharika interpreted the summons to mean he was himself being targeted and opted to flee to Zambia.

While in Zambia, the former Webser Ryson Thomu changed his name to Bingu wa Mutharika in the spirit of the pan-Africanism of the 1960s. Mutharika's curriculum vitae shows that he worked in the Zambian Civil Service where he reprized his old Malawi position as an Administrative Officer in the Ministry of Finance. He did not, however, stay long in the Zambia civil service as he moved to join the United Nations Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1966. Mutharika served at UNECA for the next nine years, rising to the position of Director for Trade and Development Finance. Between 1975 and 1978, Mutharika briefly left UNECA to take up a new position as the World Bank's Loan officer for Kenya and Tanzania. In 1978, he returned to his old job at UNECA and remained there until 1990.

After an absence of nearly three decades, Mutharika returned to Malawi in 1991. He joined the likes of Bakili Muluzi, Brown Mpinganjira and others to found the United Democratic Front (UDF). In an early sign of the late Mutharika's reliance on Muluzi's patronage, he was appointed the first Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) when it was formed in 1994 .

However, a scathing report that highlighted Mutharika's profligacy, poor leadership and gross mismanagement led to his ouster from COMESA in 1997. Mutharika blamed Muluzi for instigating his removal from COMESA and returned home a bitter man keen to even scores with his former patron. He went on to found the United Party, on whose ticket he contested in the presidential elections of 1999. Mutharika performed poorly and came last among five candidates, scoring only 0.47% of the vote. Broke and with very limited opportunities, Mutharika reconciled with Muluzi and dissolved his United Party. He survived on income from an old and dilapidated minibus which operated in the suburbs of Lilongwe with Mutharika as the driver/conductor.

After dissolving his UP and rejoining the UDF, Mutharika was appointed by Muluzi to serve as deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi. In 2003, Mutharika was brought into Muluzi's cabinet as Minister of Economic Planning and Development.

Following Parliament's rejection of the third-term proposal in July 2003, a bitter Muluzi went over long serving UDF leaders, who he suspected of sabotaging his quest to prolong his tenure, and handpicked Mutharika to stand as the UDF's presidential candidate in the 2004 elections. In a campaign where Mutharika spoke very little, the loquacious Muluzi portrayed Mutharika as an 'economic engineer' who would devise solutions to Malawi's development challenges. Mutharika won the elections with 36% of the vote. 
At his inauguration on 24 May 2004, the new President Mutharika pledged to pursue an anti-poverty agenda with a focus on food security and fighting corruption. Mutharika's anti-corruption agenda, meanwhile led to a quick fallout with his mentor, Bakili Muluzi, who was one of the targets of the anti-corruption drive. Muluzi and the UDF responded by making plans to impeach Mutharika. Mutharika reacted by resigning from the UDF on February 5, 2005 and went on to found the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Between 2005 and 2009, Mutharika and the DPP faced a very hostile Parliament that was dominated by the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the UDF.

At the instigation of the opposition-dominated parliament, the Mutharika administration introduced a programme in 2005 that provided heavily subsidized fertilizer to Malawi's subsistence farmers. This led to a major boost in the production of maize, Malawi's staple food crop. The increased agricultural productivity led to impressive economic performance, with the economy growing by an average of 7.6% between 2005 and 2009.
On the back of this strong economic performance, Mutharika was reelected in May 2009 with 66% of the vote, the highest share of the vote of any presidential candidate since the transition from authoritarian rule in 1994. His DPP meanwhile won about 140 seats in the Malawi National Assembly, giving it more than two-thirds overall majority.

As Mutharika's remains are put to rest at his Ndata Farm in Thyolo district on April 23rd, he leaves behind a mixed legacy and many unfulfilled dreams. The strong economic performance and the success of the agricultural subsidy programme gained him a lot of deserved local and international acclaim during his first term. His unfinished second term was on the other hand characterized by poor governance and economic collapse. He picked up fights with an array of individuals and groups, including donors, opposition parties, academics, civil society organizations and the private media. 

In February 2011, he ordered the expulsion of the British High Commissioner to Malawi, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet. The British government, Malawi's largest bilateral aid donor, retaliated by expelling the Malawi High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and suspending aid. In June 2011, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) declared its programme with Malawi 'off-track' after disagreements over fiscal and monetary policy. This resulted in the suspension of budgetary support to Malawi by most western donors. This has led to severe shortages of commodities ranging from fuel to sugar. Foreign currency shortages have forced many companies to close down or downscale. 

While he preached fiscal responsibility, Mutharika traveled extensively with large entourages in an expensive jet. He constructed an inland port in Nsanje that became the definition of a white-elephant.
Although Mutharika maintained a strong anti-corruption rhetoric, this was constantly undermined by his own extravagance. This started with Mutharika's decision in 2004 to move into the 300-room state house in Lilongwe. Most recently, Mutharika constructed an opulent palace at his Ndata farm in Thyolo, where he had also built the mausoleum where he will be put to rest next to his first wife, Ethel Mutharika, who died of cancer in 2007. Mutharika was further criticized following his decision to put his second wife, Callista, on a government payroll between 2010 and 2011.

On July 20, 2011, Malawians protested the deteriorating economic and governance conditions by staging unprecedented nation-wide demonstrations to demand economic and political reforms. Government responded in a heavy handed manner, killing 19 protesters while injuring and arresting hundreds more.

The late Mutharika's claim to be a true democrat was further sullied by his idolization of Malawi's former 'life president' Hastings Banda and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. He surrounded himself with sycophants and was thus unable to appreciate how others thought of his leadership style. His egotism resulted in a failure to work with any of his two deputies, Cassim Chilumpha and Joyce Banda. Joyce Banda, who has since succeeded Mutharika as president, was expelled from the DPP in 2010 after refusing to accept the imposition of Mutharika's brother, Peter, as the ruling party's presidential candidate in the 2014 elections.

Mutharika was married to Ethel Zvauya Mutharika, who died of cancer on May 28, 2007. On May 1, 2010, Mutharika married his former Minister of Tourism, Callista Chapola Chimombo. He is survived by his second wife, Callista and four children from his first marriage.