Tuesday, August 19, 2014

From CSOs to Parasites: The Case of Malawi

In their forthrightness, they amassed enough attributes to qualify as subjects, not of pride for God’s sake, but of ridicule.
Indeed, as the leaders of the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) took turns in crying wolf- chasing each other like shadows over the surface of a mountain for a chance to shame themselves by making ridiculous requests- they showed that, like politicians, they are unwilling to throw in the towel when the going gets tough.
I am talking of a Southern Region interface meeting which NGO and CSO leaders had with Advisor to the President on NGOs, Mavuto Bamusi, recently as part of national consultations with CSO leaders premised on mending fences and improving collaboration.

May be we should start by defining NGOs and CSOs. According to www.ngopulse.com, CSOs are defined as organised civil society and can come in many forms, some informal and some as formal entities such as NGOs, CBOs, faith-based organisations (FBOs), among many others. This is when a group of individuals come together for a common purpose, as in to fulfill a particular mandate driven by need.

“CSOs have a constituency, as they have a clientele/beneficiaries whom they serve and ideally should represent that clientele,” reads a write up on the website.

On the other hand, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation describes CSOs and NGOs as institutions involved in campaign and research networks, teachers’ unions and religious organisations, community associations, parent and student associations, and social movements.
While the intention of holding the interface meeting must have been good, I soon got disappointed with the demands the leaders of the NGOs and CSOs were making. Save for the legitimate request that there is need to review current laws that regulate the operations of NGOs for the sole purpose that the laws should serve and protect the NGOs and not the government, I found other demands were outright unreasonable.
For instance, one of the NGO and CSO leaders demanded that the government should construct offices for NGOs and CSOs in all the administrative regions of the country. My foot!
Do we mean, after 50 years of independence, the NGOs and CSOs cannot find their own offices? I thought the demand was unreasonable because, already, the government has a load of rotten fruits on its shoulders. I am talking of statutory corporations and government departments that ‘consume’ more than they ‘produce’, piling a heavy burden on the overstretched taxpayer.
Indeed, it is for this reason that the government- of course reeling under the pressure of institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and bilateral donors- was forced to swallow the bitter pill of privatisation.
In the melee of denationalisation that followed, thousands lost their jobs as the new private owners restructured the hitherto malfunctioning state companies into cash-cows.
Today, in a bid to further reduce the role of the government in the State economy, the talk is about Public Private Partnerships (PPP). To buttress the point, the Privatisation Commission has even changed its name to that effect.
So, why should the government be forced to off-load its burdens through privatisation, and, then, PPP on one hand, and then spend its scanty resources- tax-payers’ money to be precise- on NGOs and CSOs Malawians did not create in the first place?
To make matters worse, one of the CSO and NGO leaders suggested that the regional offices would not be enough; the government should also fund the NGOs and CSOs through Parliament!
What surprised me is the fact that the other NGO and CSO leaders clapped hands. It was such a shame that Bamusi could not gather the courage to tell them off, by ‘humbly’ reminding them that the government had enough on its plate, and that, in fact, it was committed to promoting PPP. What a missed opportunity!
May be these NGO and CSO leaders do not read widely. Otherwise, they would have learned that NGOs and CSOs are not off-springs of the State, despite them being allowed to operate after registering either under the Trustees Incorporation Act or the Companies Act, as is the case in Malawi.
Imagine the government providing free office space and annual subvention to NGOs and CSOs whose mandate is not clear! That would be grotesque, especially when we consider that the aid taps are still dry, and the taxpayer remains overburdened with unnecessary taxes that are only justifiable because the tax base is narrow.
May be the CSO and NGO leaders might not have raised their points had they visited www.ngopulse.com to learn that, ““A member of civil society represents their own views. It is very presumptuous of anyone to claim to represent the view of another as we often see. This does nothing but delegitimise the work done by CSOs and should be guarded against”.

The problem with our CSOs and NGOs is that they pretend, or have, somehow, come to believe, that they represent Malawians, and the views of all Malawians.

But, if I may ask, who ensures that there is transparency in the manner NGOs and CSOs hire their staff? Why, as Madalitso Musa recently observed in his ‘Tales of Time’ column, do some NGO and CSO leaders employ people from their home village? In some cases, half the population of a village finds itself moving to urban areas to fill the staff vacancies existing in an NGO or CSO, leaving half the population to farm and produce all the food back home.

If hunger strikes, should we blame policymakers for not doing enough yet the labour has boarded the next bus to town to make hay while the sun shines?

As things stand now, there are so many things that are unseating about NGOs and CSOs that it would be a non-starter for the government to provide office space and annual subvention to them.

Ironically, one of the non-state actors, the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD), is in the forefront calling for the deregistration of all briefcase political parties!

May be New Labour Party president, Friday Jumbe, had a point when he challenged CMD’s overtures on Times Television on Thursday. Said Jumbe: “Where is CMD getting all the powers? It is just an NGO.”

There, in the statement that ‘It is just an NGO’ lies the pill of sanity for NGOs and CSOs. They are just NGOs and CSOs and should not bother the government- eer, taxpapers- with unreasonable demands. Let NGOs that operate without proper offices be deregistered for wasting Malawians’ time! Let CSOs that have no base be banished from the country.

More so when CSOs and NGOs are christened Partners in Development. Tell me, do partners ‘milk’ the very institutions they were meant to compliment?

 NGOs and CSOs should not begin to resemble the government- in terms of milking the taxpayer through unreasonable demands. The tax-paper, as recounted by history, has had a million economic mishaps since independence in 1964, the very mishaps that have made all post-colonial administrations merry for 50 years now.
I can only hope that the unreasonable suggestions were one of Malawi’s various windings on the road to democratic maturity, and that they will never see the light of day. After all, NGOs and CSOs are necessary in a democracy but lack a sense of purpose when they operate without offices and cry for government funding.

Taming Aflatoxin, The Silent Killer in Food: The Case of Malawi

Is it not ironic that the moulds that produce aflatoxin are more
visible than the prescription of death they pronounce on humankind? In legumes such as groundnuts, moulds wear their guts on the outside,
their colour laid out like a map to death. 

The Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary defines aflatoxin as “a
toxin produced by moulds that can damage the liver and may lead to liver cancer. Aflatoxins cause cancer in some animals. The fungi that produce aflatoxin grow on crops such as peanuts and wheat, corn,   beans, groundnuts and rice. Aflatoxin is a problem particularly in  undeveloped and developing countries”. 

Malawi, as one of the ‘developing’ countries, is not immune to aflatoxin fateful pangs. For example, a 2010 study titled ‘Aflatoxins in Sorghum Malt and Traditional Opaque Beer in Malawi’,   indicates that the problem is wide-spread in the country.

Researchers - Deliwe Lakudzala of the Department of Physics and Bio-chemical Sciences at the Polytechnic, a constituent College of the University of Malawi, Elenimo Khonga of the Faculty of Agriculture at Botswana College of Agriculture, Maurice Monjerezi of the Chemistry Department at Chancellor College and a researcher from Chitedze Agriculture Research Station - took part in the study. 

“Samples of sorghum grain and malt, traditional opaque sweet beverage (thobwa) and beer prepared from sorghum malts were collected from the southern region of Malawi during the humid month of January. The samples were analysed for total aflatoxins using aflatest vicam fluorometry procedure. All malt and beer samples, 15 percent and 43 percent of the sorghum and thobwa samples, respectively, were contaminated with aflatoxin,” reads the research report.

It adds: “The sorghum malt prepared for beer brewing had significantly higher total aflatoxin content than any other type of sample. The average aflatoxin content in the beer was 22.32 μg/litre (a mode of measuring toxic content in liquids), which is higher than the permissible maximum level in ready to eat foods set by Codex Alimentarius Commission (10 μg/kg). Thus consumption of opaque sorghum-based traditional beer poses a risk of aflatoxin exposure.”

Fatal laxity

 Some cancers in Malawi may therefore be as a result of exposure to aflatoxin.

That the prominence of cancer as one of the leading killers is rising is a fact that we all accept and yet we continue to look at the problem from a distance.

In spite of this knowledge, Malawi's response to the problem has
been lukewarm. Cancer awareness remains low with research
interventions into cancer being either non-existent or very little.

The Environmental Health Trust says aflatoxin is a naturally-occurring
contaminant produced by moulds, particularly Aspergillus flavus and
Aparasiticus. These moulds grow on crops, especially peanuts, maize, wheat and seed oils (i.e. cotton seed) that are stored in conditions of warmth and humidity.

It adds that aflatoxin are carcinogenic and, as such, are dangerous
to both humans and other animals and have been associated with various human health-related conditions, including the high incidents of liver cancer, growth retardation in children, reproduction impairment and immunity suppression.

Exposure to aflatoxin is known to cause both chronic and acute hepatocellular injury. 

According to the Centre for Disease Control in Kenya, acute aflatoxin
poisoning results in liver failure and death in up to 40 percent of

What is worrying though is that knowledge and awareness about
aflatoxin is minimal in Malawi. Very few people in Malawi know that a dietary exposure to aflatoxin-contaminated groundnuts and other legume-based products - even maize - can result in all the above-listed health complications. 

Very few people know how to control aflatoxin; there is virtually  no political will to address this knowledge gap. Consequently, Malawians may be dying silently from the very same produce that is  supposed to make them proud and give them the energy and nutrients that oil life. 

In real terms, how many farmers in this country know about  aflatoxin? Do our hospitals have aflatoxin testing kits? What is the  country doing on the groundnuts and other crops that cannot be  exported due to high aflatoxin levels? Are these consumed by  unsuspecting Malawians?

Or do we have procedures of disposing off aflatoxin-infested crops? Is there any evidence or records for such dispositions?

The Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation  (Admarc), the country’s grain marketer established by an Act of Parliament of 1971, says it has always treated the issue of aflatoxins "with the seriousness it deserves", citing the existence of a factory and  laboratory specialising in the same at Liwonde in Machinga. 

Admarc spokesperson Agnes Ndovi says the corporation realises the  importance of meeting international standards, hence its commitment  to ensuring that consumers are not exposed to hazardous substances.

"There are international standards put in place to control the  concentration of aflatoxins and, in Malawi, these aflatoxin largely  affect groundnuts,” she explained. “To meet these standards, we established the factory and laboratory at Liwonde in Machinga, a development that has guaranteed that our groundnuts remain fit for human consumption."

Adds Ndovi: "For your own information, our export consignments have  never been turned back. This is because we work hand in hand with  the Malawi Bureau of Standards which monitors the activities at the  laboratory and factory and issues an Aflatoxin Certificate that  accompanies our groundnut exports. It is mandatory that, apart from  the other permits, consignments of groundnut exports should be
accompanied by this certificate."

Questions, no answers

  Be that as it may, it is known within research institutions that dietary exposure to aflatoxins has been one of the causes of stunted growth. Would it be fair therefore to conclude that low knowledge on aflatoxins and the impact they have can be one of the causes of the 50 percent of stunting growth rates that we have in districts such as Dedza and Mchinji where aflatoxin-laden crops like groundnuts are grown?

Silence before death

While many countries that import or grow groundnuts have put up  measures to reduce consumption of aflatoxin-infested legumes, more  especially groundnuts, Malawi is yet to say something, not even a  proposition on aflatoxin control.  

But even if we pay a blind-eye to aflatoxin research, the chilling fact is that our  trade partners are getting stricter on aflatoxin control and may eventually hit us in the long run. This may result in dwindling marketing opportunities for groundnuts as the importing countries will only import carefully-tested groundnuts.

Groundnut market

The issue of aflatoxin in the Malawi nut has already hit the groundnut market. Malawi used to send thousands of tonnes into the European market per year but the market collapsed due unacceptable levels of aflatoxin in the Malawi nut.

In 1997, the European Union set a uniform standard for aflatoxin at the minimum acceptable level of 10 ppb (parts per billion – the measurement of toxic content in nuts or grains) in groundnuts subject to further processing and at 4 ppb in groundnuts for direct human consumption.

It is, therefore, clear that - apart from the heath risk - lack of adequate investment in aflatoxin research may in the short- medium- and
long-term affect the country economically as our produce ends up
having higher levels of aflatoxin due to poor produce management.


Taking control

However, all these may be averted by simply putting up proper  guidelines on aflatoxin control and management. Higher knowledge  levels on aflatoxin control may improve the quality and marketability  of our legumes. 

And, from the look of things, government seems to be aware of the issue. Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Industry and Trade Alex  Gomani says issues to do with aflatoxin are handled by the Ministry  of Agriculture. And Agriculture Principal Secretary Geoffrey Luhanga says the ministry has a technical committee that deals with the issue. 

Among other efforts at international level, the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute has been urging countries to promote a sector-wide approach in addressing the issue of aflatoxin control, calling for agricultural, health, nutritional and value-chain experts’ need to work together to raise awareness of the public health impacts of consuming unsafe food. 

The institute has also been imploring governments to improve drying,  sorting and storage both on-farm and throughout the value chain;  provide training and access to equipment to change inappropriate  practices such as by facilitating access to mechanical shellers to  stop hand-shelling, among others. 

But the jury is still out on whether these efforts are enough to stem death arising from aflatoxin exposure.


Book Review: ‘Football Made Simple’: Opening new ground


Passion, which often spills over the boundary between the folly of blind affection and that of fatuity, has had the potential to bring about the conflicting feelings of glory and shame in Malawi’s most popular sport, football. But, despite the horde of flying arrows of passion it triggers, very few can readily call to mind the technical, tactical, physical aspects that make football typical football.
Nevertheless, the very few that cannot readily call to mind the tactical, technical, physical and other aspects that make football resemble football should not shoulder the blame ‘alone’, more so because the publication of books on sports has been treated as a mine field very few have been willing to tread on.
To cap it all, there is a yawning gap in terms of published sports books that revolve around, say, a sport setting, event, athlete, history etcetera locally.
As the rest of the world has moved on- from book publication to sports films such as ‘Field of Dreams’ (which tells the story of a farmer in Iowa who hears a magical voice in his maize field and gets inspired to build a baseball field), ‘Million Dollar Baby’ (whose protagonist is a woman who is determined to establish herself as a no-nonsense boxer despite negative stereotypes)- Malawi has remained stuck.
And, with many areas ripe for exploration- areas such as Sports Bios, though they are sometimes blamed for stretching the limits of accuracy through their overcapitalisation on dramatic effects; sports drama, which examines the intense elements of sports; sports family, which caters for both books and films with a sports theme that suits all audiences- it falls nothing short of a shame that the country is stuck with the basics while the world moves on.
Fortunately for Malawi, there are some citizens who feel uncomfortable with the status quo, and have set about clearing the road for sports publications. One such individual is Balaka-based journalist Bartholomew Boaz, who has published the book ‘Football Made Simple’.
In so doing, Boaz has joined other reporters in the Southern African Development Community region, including Zambia’s Moses Sayela Walubita, a former reporter at the Zambia Daily Mail and Zambia’s former press secretary at the United Nations, who compiled a trajectory of Zambian sports in the book, ‘Zambia Sporting Score: A Period of Hits and Misses’.
Boaz has also joined Zimbabwe’s cricketer Henry Olonga, the author of the acclaimed autobiography, ‘Blood, Sweat and Treason’. Olonga will forever be remembered for his black armband protest against the country’s president Robert Mugabe, leading to his subsequent self-exile in his attempt to hold on to dear life. The book was a hit so much so that it was long-listed for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, apart from being nominated for the ‘Best Autobiography’ award at the 2011 British Sports Book Awards.
Is Boaz bound to scale similar heights? Let’s have a brief walk through the book.
Covering lost ground
The book, in tandem with the author’s promise in the Preface is only “…meant to explain some basic skills of football to such people [people who follow the sport and others] (who) wish to play but do not know what it takes]” and not provide a historical background of football in Malawi. And it introduces the basics in an easy format.
However, it becomes absolutely clear that the book is, in the final analysis, meant for the aspiring footballer, as espoused by its focus on such aspects as passion, knowledge, vision, reaction, adaptability, awareness, skill, composure, confidence, mental toughness, speed, endurance, stamina, strength, and things like those. Who else, apart from the aspiring footballer, needs these?
This observation (that the book is more about the aspiring footballer than it is about the casual spectator) is reinforced by the fact that the 72-page book focuses on ‘Football Field and Equipment’, ‘Flexibility Exercises’, ‘Positions’, ‘Formations’, ‘Skills’, ‘Tactics’, ‘Football Terms’, ‘Meanings of Referee’s Signals’, ‘Football and Education’ in the nine chapters that are ‘Football Made Simple’. 
While the book largely addresses issues in general terms and by repeating obvious issues such as “Football is a ball game played on a rectangular grass or artificial green field, with a goal post at each end of the pitch”, and the duration during which a full game of football is played, the information provided is enough to get one going. After all, that’s what the basics are all about.
In fact, by capturing up-to-date aspects in the modern game, it ably reflects football trends. This is, undoubtedly, due to the fact that the book was published just this year.
To its credit, the book ensures that photographs of local players, save for an occasional Ivory Coast marksman Didier Drogba’s appearance, are laced between the general tips.   
The structure of the book is based upon various elements applicable in the modern game, ranging from pitches and equipment, formations, exercises, tactics, to referees’ signals, giving the reader a comprehensive start-up ‘capital’ with its array of detailed analysis and quality. Even more interesting is the good balance between pictures and text. As they say, every sport first appeals to the eye before it ‘appears’ in the heart.

Save for the occasional anecdote, like when the author recollects an incident that occurred at Kamuzu Stadium while on duty to cover a match between Malawi and Ivory Coast and a woman spectator got excited when the teams appeared from the dressing rooms for warm-up mistakenly thinking it was time for the teams to tussle it out, each chapter follows a similar pattern, typically describing the basic rule or responsibility.

Undoubtedly, the greatest contribution of the book is its ability to create a one-stop reference ‘stage’ for all issues football, offering the reader the opportunity to first create pitches, players, equipment, tactics in their minds before they tread on the actual pitch.

This notwithstanding, questions will arise about the book’s size, which looks more of a casual magazine than a publication that captures serious discourse.
There are also indications that the book was done in a hurry. This is clear when the publishers have hidden’ some text that has found itself at the wrong place with semi-opaque seal tape. For instance, on Page 68, the last paragraph has been sealed with tape in a feeble attempt to ‘delete’ the words, “It is said that while young, Didier Drogba was forced to repeat a class because he was…This creates the impression that the work was hurried. #
The same mistake occurs on Page 56 and 57 where the statement, “Through pass is given to a teammate who is in a position to score because they can easily create one-on-one battle with opponents when a team is attacking”, is cast in seal tape. It is the same thing on Page 8, where words ‘Modern’ and, on Page 9, the word ‘number’ are ‘deleted’ with seal tape.
It is also clear that there was scanty research on the local game, and this may not be entirely the author’s fault: record keeping, in the corridors of the Football Association of Malawi and the government system at large, is a national malaise that shows no signs of healing. In fact, further research on the names of foreign players who appear (in the book) alongside such players as Malawi Senior National Football Team midfielder Robert Ng’ambi, forward Russell Mwafulirwa. Instead, it is only Ng’ambi and Mwafulirwa who are captioned, pointing to a lack of knowledge about other players on the African continent.
The book is also replete with minor, but serious, flaws. Pictures and information about the Malawian football stars of the 70s, 80s, 90s are conspicuously missing from the book, creating a picture that Malawi football has jumped from a vacuum to something. At least a combination of black-and-white and colour pictures would have given the book a feel and touch of both old and new.

Finally, while the book itself does not have an overall conclusion, it is clear that the author wants to fill the gap that has existed for a long time in the local game, and keep Malawians abreast of modern football tactics, techniques and physical demands.

When all is said and done, Boaz has done well to furnish the avid football follower with invaluable knowledge. That is to say, if the reader seeks a starting point in football, there is no better place to star than ‘Football Made Simple’.

But if the reader is out to get detailed information about local sports since independence, it is best to look elsewhere.

SADC Chaiperson's Remarks By President Mutharika on Aug 17, 2014

Your Majesty, King Mswati III, of the Kingdom of Swaziland;
  • Your Excellency, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Deputy Chairperson of SADC, and our Gracious Host;
  • Your Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia, and Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation;
  • Your Excellencies Heads of State and Government here present,
  • Your Excellencies First Spouses;
  • Your Excellency Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission;
  • Your Excellency Dr. Stergomena Lawrence Tax, Executive Secretary of SADC;
  • Your Excellency Dr. Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank;
  • Your Excellency Dr. Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA);
  • Your Excellencies Deputy Executive Secretaries of SADC and all officials from the SADC Secretariat;
  • Members of the Press;
  • Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
I am very pleased to stand before you on this auspicious occasion of the Official Opening of the 34th Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government being held here in the magnificent Victoria Falls, one of the wonders of the world.
Allow me at the outset, to express my utmost appreciation to the Government and the people of Zimbabwe, through you, Mr. President, for the warm welcome and excellent hospitality that has been extended to our various delegations upon and since our arrival in the Mighty Victoria Falls.
Your Majesty, Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen;
Before I go further, I would be failing in my duties not to express my sincere gratitude to the SADC Heads of State and Government for having accorded Malawi the rare opportunity to preside over the affairs of the region as your Chairperson.
Following the Tripartite Elections in May, 2014, I took over the mantle of leadership of our regional bloc. I want to thank SADC and individual SADC heads of state and Governments for the support you gave to Malawi during our last election. Democracy and the rule of law finally prevailed and Malawi is once again on the path towards reconstruction. I cherish deeply the support and guidance you have accorded to me, as the “New Kid on the Block.”
Your Majesty, Your Excellencies; Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen;
During Malawi’s tenure as the Chairperson of SADC, immense strides were made with the pursuance of the regional socio-economic development agenda.  It is gratifying to note that the consolidation of the SADC Free-Trade Area remains on course, and negotiations for the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free-Trade Area are at an advanced stage, paving the way for finalisation, in 2016, as well as laying the foundation for the Continental Free Trade Area.
The COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Summit is scheduled for October, 2014, at which we shall have the opportunity to review progress with the implementation of the Tripartite programme to date, and provide further guidance to this process. It is important that we keep the momentum in the tripartite negotiations because it is one of the key building blocks of achieving Continental Integration.
Within SADC, it is critical that we continue to strengthen the industrialisation in our countries, through the implementation of the key facets of our “Industrialisation Pillar.” We adopted the SADC Industrial Development Policy Framework as a vehicle for the transformation of our economies in terms of employment and wealth creation; boosting of value based exports, as well as addressing the long standing challenge of trade imbalance among our Member States.  I am excited to note that the theme of the Incoming Chairperson seeks to strengthen this initiative. I encourage the Region to rally behind the Chairperson, to ensure successful implementation of this painful but necessary process.
In the area of infrastructure development, and following the adoption of the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan in Maputo in August 2012, the process of marketing our projects has been intensified.  We, however, need to redouble our efforts to allocate local resources for investment in infrastructure if we are to scale up implementation of agreed priority projects. Of particular concern is the urgent need to address power shortfalls in the region, and provision of trade related infrastructure, namely; transport infrastructure, border facilitation measures and elimination of notorious Non Tariff Barriers (NTBs).
Your Majesty, Your Excellencies; Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen;
Pursuant to the implementation of the Dar-Es-Salaam Declaration on Food Security and Agriculture, which was approved in 2003, Malawi adopted, as a Theme for the tenure of office “Agricultural Development and Agro-Industries: Key to Economic Growth and Poverty Eradication,” as theme for her tenure of office. In this regard, I am pleased to report that we worked closely with the Secretariat, the Members States and other parties on a programme, which is aimed at addressing food security and malnutrition in the region, especially amongst the women and the young children of the Region.  In line with this mandate, the Ministers responsible for Agriculture and Food Security, and the Ministers responsible for Health, met in July, 2014 in Lilongwe, Malawi, to consider and approve the SADC Strategy on Food and Nutrition Security for 2015-2020, focusing on empowerment of women and the youth.
The Strategy which will be tabled for Your Excellencies’ consideration, today is expected to contribute towards the attainment of the objectives of the SADC Common Agenda as stipulated in the SADC Treaty of 1992; the 15-year Strategic                   Roadmap; the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan adopted in 2003; and the Dar-es-Salaam Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which called for the implementation of a series of short and long term measures to strengthen sectoral cooperation among SADC Member States and the Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP). We are grateful for the support that we received in rolling out this programme and related interventions.
During the year under review, we continued to push for empowerment of women, reduced gender based violence and gender mainstreaming.  Based on our Regional Score Card, SADC Member States are still far from attaining the targets that have been agreed at both the continental and regional levels. It is, therefore, critical that we continue to work together, supported by our own peer review, to ensure that gender equality and women empowerment reach acceptable levels.
 Your Majesty, Your Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen;
One of the most critical aspects of the SADC Agenda in the last year has been the Review of the SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan. It is heartening to note that the Secretariat and the Member States accorded this process the priority it deserved.  The outcomes of the Review shall be tabled before the Summit. What is important going forward is the fact that we should rally around the priorities identified by the review. I am convinced that these are priorities that will make the most impact on our regional objectives.
However, what is more important is to ensure that such priority interventions are adequately resourced. It is for this reason that more efforts need to be targeted towards the establishment of the SADC Regional Development Fund. I am more than convinced that the Fund will help us mobilise own resources which will assist us to achieve our dream of a “common future”. What we need is the strong will to achieve SADC’s common destiny.
Our experience in the last year suggested that the Secretariat is under-resourced and, therefore, underperforming. Again going forward, we need to scale up on allocations for key programme related activities.  In return, we expect that the Secretariat, under the watchful eye of the Council, shall utilise these resources in an optimal and cost efficient manner.
Your Majesty, Your Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen;
On the political front, the Chairperson of the Organ will give a detailed report, However, let me briefly say that as part of our mediation efforts, the long process of dialogue and preparation for elections in the Republic of Madagascar culminated in democratic elections in that country and we feel proud as SADC, that a democratically elected government is now in place and the focus in that country has since shifted to economic development aimed at improving the quality of lives of the people of Madagascar.  I call upon all our Member States to work together with the Government of Madagascar in its effort in rebuilding the country and ensure its economic transformation.  We are also proud to note that, as part of our continued efforts to consolidate our democracy, the Republic of South Africa and Malawi held successful elections during our term. We feel proud that the region continues to live up to expectations and commitments democratically.
Your Majesty, Your Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen;
The region continued to enjoy peace and security. The situation in Eastern part of the Democratic Congo has improved. The disbanding of the M23 was a milestone in the effort of SADC and the United Nations to have peace in that part of the country. The contribution of the brigades by my country, Tanzania and South Africa has contributed to this success story. SADC’s contribution in 2013 to the efforts of bringing Madagascar to political normalcy resulting in the re-admission of the country into the African Union and SADC. We, as SADC, should be proud of this achievement.
As I handover the Chairmanship of the Organisation to His Excellency, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, I urge all of us to remain committed to the ideals and principles of the SADC Treaty. In this regard, I call upon you to render the usual support to the Government of Zimbabwe in fulfilling this enormous but doable mandate.
It is my singular honour and privilege to declare the 34th Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government Officially Opened.
I wish you excellent and fruitful deliberations at this Summit, and God Bless SADC, God Bless Africa.


•Your Majesty, King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Swaziland;

•Your Excellency, Mr. Robert Gabriel Mugabe, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and Incoming Chairperson of SADC;

•Your Excellency, Mr. Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia and Outgoing Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation;

•Your Excellencies, SADC Heads of State and Government here present;

•Your Excellencies First Spouses;

•Your Excellency Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission;

•Your Excellency Dr. Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank;

•Your Excellency Dr Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA);

•Your Excellency, Dr. Stergomena Lawrence Tax, Executive Secretary of SADC;

•Honourable Ministers from the SADC region;

•Members of the Diplomatic Corps;

•Representatives of the Civil Society here present;

•Distinguished Guests;

•Members of the Press

•Ladies and Gentlemen.

I feel greatly honoured to be present at this August Assembly of the SADC family, after being elected as a Head of State of the Republic of Malawi in May, 2014. I am humbled and flattered by the extraordinary congratulatory, goodwill and encouraging messages, I received from my distinguished fellow SADC Heads of State and Government. I have been greatly touched by, particular, your willingness to cooperate and collaborate with my Government.

My deepest sense of humility comes from the fact that in the globalised world, there is nothing much I can do without you. My Government, therefore, wishes to reciprocate, by strongly affirming its readiness to cooperate and associate with all Member States within the SADC Region, for our mutual sustainable political and economic development. Any success during my tenure of office will partly be a product of your support and cooperation. I am thus humbled to know I can count on your firm support and solidarity, which have characterized the SADC family.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

Turning to our gracious host, allow me, to express my profound and heartfelt appreciation to the Government and the people of Zimbabwe, for the exceptional and generous hospitality accorded to me, and my delegation, since our arrival in this beautiful and majestic tourist town of Victoria Falls.

I am aware that your heritage is one of the wonders of the world, and it is my intention, I am sure just like most of you, to enjoy God’s creation while here.

It would be remiss on my part not to thank tremendously the SADC Executive Secretary, and her formidable team, for working tirelessly and valiantly in preparing the dossiers for this Summit. This will make us spend less time in addressing the issues as outlined on the Summit Agenda.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;

My Government attaches great importance to the ideals, principles and objectives as agreed by the Founders of this Organisation, and articulated in the SADC Treaty. Our noble and mammoth task is to translate their vision and aspirations into actual and tangible benefits for our peoples. My Government will remain steadfast in contributing to make the dreams of the Founders become a reality.

As you are aware, we are scheduled to consider the Revised SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) for 2015-2020. We must grab this opportunity and ensure that the revised blueprint document recalibrates and repositions SADC to comprehensively implement its intended objectives, in order to realize the aspirations and vision as enshrined in the SADC Treaty.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;

You will note that the ultimate goal of SADC is to use regional economic cooperation and integration as a veritable vehicle to achieve inclusive sustainable economic growth and development, as well as eradicate poverty in the SADC region.

We must use our developmental tools such as the yet to be established SADC Regional Development Fund to ensure that there is equitable sustainable economic growth and development in the SADC region, thereby facilitating effective and efficient regional integration.

I would like to assure you that my Government will play its rightful role to ensure that the SADC Regional Integration Agenda is implemented for the mutual benefit of all Member States in the SADC region.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen;

On the global front, I would wish to encourage SADC to continue working more closely on inter-regional, continental and global issues of mutual interest, in particular, the SADC/COMESA/EAC Tripartite Trade Negotiations; the African Union 2063 Agenda; the ACP-EU Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs); the Post-2020 ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement; the Post-2015 Development Agenda; the WTO Doha Development Round, just to mention but a few.

Let me emphasize this point because, by working in unison and not in isolation, SADC will be able to create a critical mass for effective and beneficial outcomes of the negotiations with the development partners.

Given the evolution in the global development aid dynamics, I strongly believe that SADC should take seriously, trade and investment, as key drivers for sustainable economic growth and inclusive development. The SADC Protocols on Trade, Trade in Services, Finance and Investment as well as the SADC Industrialization Programme, should be implemented effectively to ensure inclusive and equitable socio-economic development in the SADC region.

It is my strong belief that the successful implementation of these instruments will assist us in transforming our economies, from consuming and importing nations to manufacturing and exporting countries, thereby improving significantly the livelihoods of our peoples.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;

At this juncture, allow me to share with you some developments at home in Malawi. As you are all aware, Malawi held its first-ever Tripartite Elections in May, 2014, which were described, as free, fair, credible and transparent by regional and international organizations, such as SADC, COMESA, African Union, European Union and Commonwealth. I wish to take this opportunity to commend the SADC Electoral Observer Mission for playing a key role in the whole electoral process in my country.

As you know, 2014 is a unique year as countries that attained their independence in 1964 are celebrating their 50th Anniversary of their independences. Likewise, Malawi commemorated its Golden Jubilee of Independence Anniversary on 6th July, 2014. We used that opportunity to take stock of progress achieved, thus far, and strategize on our development agenda for the next 50 years and beyond.

The African Union also celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2013, and launched its 2063 Agenda. We in Malawi will conform and align our ambitions to the African Union 2063 Agenda together with the aspirations of the SADC’s Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, to ensure consistency, correlation and complementarities in the development of our Region and Continent.

Let me take this opportunity to personally congratulate Your Excellency, Mr. Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa, for your re-election to another term of office. This has clearly demonstrated the confidence and trust that the people of South Africa have in your leadership. In the same vein, let me wish Your Excellencies and dear Brothers of Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique, effective preparations for your upcoming elections in the course of this year.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;

As I conclude my remarks, I would like to assure you that my Government is committed to continue working towards honouring our obligations under the SADC Treaty for the transformation of our region into a highly competitive economy, socially developed, peaceful and secure.

My Government will also ensure that there are synergies between national and regional development programmes to facilitate deepening and fast tracking regional economic cooperation and integration.

We will revitalize our work in the implementation of the SADC Regional Integration Agenda, through the Revised SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan and Strategic Plan of the Organ II on Politics, Defence and Security, so as to achieve inclusive sustainable economic growth and development in this region.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you success in this Summit meeting.

God bless us all

Friday, August 15, 2014

Of AMECEA, Homosexual Unions, Pope's Teaching and the Catechism of the Catholic Church

By: Fr. George Buleya (Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi)

There have been suggestions in the recent past criticizing the communiqué that was produced at the end of the AMECEA (Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa) plenary assembly and insinuating that in matters dealing with homosexual unions, what the Church in this region has said is at variance with indications from His Holiness Pope Francis and the teachings of the Catholic Church contained in its own catechism.

Although it's not within the tradition of the Catholic Church in Malawi to be engaging people in the media over misrepresentations of the Church's doctrine (there are many of those, by the way!), the levels of interest generated by this accusation and the potential this line of thinking has in misleading and confusing people is such that I have been compelled to put a few thoughts together and situate the matter raised in the communiqué in its rightful context. I will do so by situating the homosexual union issue within the context of the communiqué, secondly, within the wider teachings and indications of the Catholic Church.

Homosexual Unions and the AMECEA Communiqué

It is important to understand that every time the Bishops within the AMECEA region meet (and that is once every three years and from now it will be once every four years), their discussions are guided by a theme that they carefully choose for themselves. This time around, for the meeting that was held in Malawi, the guiding theme was "New Evangelization through True Conversion and Witnessing to Christian Faith". The theme was chosen to reflect and explore the linkages between the Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus, the Synod on Evangelization and the just-ended Year of Faith. Recurrent in this theme are issues of (i) New Evangelization; (ii) true conversion, and (iii) witnessing to the Christian faith.

For the practical purposes of discussing this theme, as is the case in many such meetings, the theme was subdivided in seven subthemes, one of which focused on the role of the family and Small Christian Communities. It is in this context, and after thorough discussions, that the Bishops sought to defend the role of the family against all kinds of threats, including the very definition of family. It is in this defense that the Bishops mentioned the issue of homosexual unions, and this is what they said:

The threat to the family in our region is now more real than ever before . . . We affirm institution of marriage as an indissoluble union of love between a man and a woman open to procreation and denounce any attempt to redefine this institution. Family life must be promoted and protected so that it can provide men and women who can weave a social fabric of peace and harmony. We strongly condemn same sex unions and other deviations that go against human nature and natural law. (see point no. 3 of the Communiqué)

So what the one hundred Bishops (including Archbishops and Cardinals) from the eight countries did was simply in this regard to affirm the definition of marriage as an indissoluble (that is, life long and therefore no divorce!) union of love between a man and a woman (that is, not people of the same sex nor with species other that human beings!) open to procreation (that is, with an inherent readiness to have children). This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches and this is what the Church has held and passed on for centuries (see, the Catechism of the Catholic Church No.1601 and The Code of Canon Law, canon 1055). In the communiqué, the Bishops are not talking about homosexuality per se - no - the Bishops are talking about homosexual unions prompted by what they see as misguided efforts to redefine marriage and family to include homosexual unions.

Homosexual Unions and the wider teachings and indications of the Catholic Church

Understanding the difference between homosexuality and homosexual unions is key to comprehending and appreciating the various pronouncements and teachings of the Catholic Church in these matters. Homosexuality as a sexual orientation or a tendency is different from a homosexual action or even union. When one is a homosexual, it does not mean that he or she will actively indulge in homosexual acts just like when one is heterosexual it does not mean that he or she will actively indulge in heterosexual activities. One may be homosexual in orientation and not engage in homosexual acts, and one may not be a homosexual and nevertheless indulge in homosexual acts (as is the case with heterosexuals living in the limited conditions in of prisons).

Following this distinction, the teaching of the Catholic Church has always been that the homosexual condition is disordered, but not sinful in itself. It is in line with this teaching that His Holiness Pope Francis in July 2013 said that he would not judge anyone for their sexual orientation. However, once a person with this orientation or indeed a person without this orientation indulges in homosexual acts, the Church has always taught that such acts must always be judged as objectively evil and totally unacceptable. The homosexual unions that the AMECEA communiqué condemns are but homosexual actualizations and not homosexual condition or orientation! A homosexual union is not on the level of sexual tendency or orientation, it is on the level of sexual act!

So it is indeed that in the same one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, when we are dealing with homosexual acts and unions, the Church does not miss its words: these are objectively evil and totally unacceptable; but in front of the homosexual orientation and homosexual persons, the attitude of the Church is non judgmental; yes their condition is disordered but not sinful in itself.

So, for those who understand the teachings of the Catholic Church and the inherent truth in them, there is no contradiction in substance, meaning or direction between what the AMECEA Bishops have said in their communiqué and what Pope Francis and the Catechism of the Catholic Church say on the same!


The moral dialectic employed by the Catholic Church in its teachings where certain actions are judged to be objectively right or wrong while at the same time refraining from judging the actual persons is in line with and stems from Jesus' own ethical indications: condemn sin but love the sinner! What the Episcopal Conference of Malawi Bishops wrote in their Pastoral letter, Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality, Abortion, Population and Birth control, underscores this dialectic:

The Church's ministers must ensure that homosexual persons and those indulging in homosexual acts, if any exist in their care will not be misled to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is morally acceptable option. It is not. (However) as a loving mother and reflecting the unconditional love of God, the Church understands that for most of the homosexual persons, their condition is a trial. As such, they must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. (see 3.1.3 page 8)

So what the AMECEA Communiqué, the Pope and the Catechism of the Catholic Church say on this matter belong to the teaching heritage of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church! No contradictions at all!

Before We Forget: Delayed Payment of Allowances for Drivers from Government Departments


The Malawi Electoral Commission wishes to inform all drivers from government departments that worked during polling that it is doing everything possible to have their allowances paid.

Funding for paying the drivers was supposed to come the elections budget through the Treasury. However, the Commission has been unable to pay the drivers due to some technicalities.

To that effect the Commission has arranged a meeting this week with the Minister of Finance to discuss this and other outstanding issues.The Commission will communicate the outcome of the meeting with the Minister of Finance as regards when the polling staff would be paid their dues.

This will also include outstanding June salaries for District Elections Coordinators, Constituency Returning Officers, Drivers, ICT Data Entry Clerks, Stringers, Constituency Civic and Voter Education Assistants and Warehouse Clerks. The general public is assured that it is in the interest of the Commission to pay the temporary staff as soon as possible for the services they rendered and this matter is being treated as a high priority.

The public should also note that this does not affect teachers whoworked on the polling day because their honorarium is being paidfrom the donor basket funding that is managed by UNDP.

Signed this 11 th day of August, 2014 at Blantyre

Sangwani Mwafulirwa, Director

Media and Public Relations

Before We Forget: First Lady of Malawi joins High Level Group on ESA Commitment

...Scaling up comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people across Eastern and Southern Africa

For Immediate Release

29 July 2014 (Lilongwe, Malawi): The First Lady of Malawi, Madame Gertrude Mutharika, became the latest member to join the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) Commitment’s High Level Group. Madame Mutharika joins the High Level Group, composed of prominent leaders from the Eastern and Southern Africa region who oversee the implementation of the ESA commitment. The ESA Commitment was endorsed on 7 December 2013 by Ministers of Education and Health who have committed to scale-up delivery of comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people across the region.

This Commitment will help to address the many challenges facing young people in the region. For example, more than 35 per cent of young women have experienced some form of sexual violence at some point in their lives. In addition, HIV infections continue to be an urgent issue with an estimated 430,000 new infections every year among young people aged 15 to 24.

Speaking on behalf of the High Level Group, Mama Salma Kikwete, First Lady of Tanzania, congratulated and welcomed the newest member, Madame Mutharika: “I am confident that working together as First Ladies, we will make a meaningful contribution to positive health outcomes for our young people. We congratulate her on the appointment.”

Speaking at an official dinner that took place at the Golden Peacock Hotel in Malawi, Mr. Mahimbo Mdoe, Acting UN Resident Coordinator of Malawi and UNICEF Representative said, “we know that more needs to be done to end child marriage, to ensure girls stay in school, to stop teenage pregnancies, to stop STI and HIV infections and to ensure that boys and girls have the information and services that they require to be healthy, empowered citizens in their communities”. He also acknowledged the presence of the Ministers of Gender from the SADC region and stressed the need for all sectors to work together to attain the ESA Commitment targets.

Accepting the honour, Madame Mutharika said, “the endorsement of the ESA Commitment came at a critical moment in the region and will provide the momentum needed to address the education and health needs of our future generation. I commit myself to work with the High Level Group to ensure that our region’s adolescents and young people are ready for today and tomorrow.”

For more information and a copy of the ESA commitment visit the campaign website: youngpeopletoday.net

.The ESA Ministerial Commitment is an initiative of national governments, in partnership with the UN, Southern African Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC), civil society and development partners, under the leadership of UNAIDS.

.Countries endorsing the ESA Commitment: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Before We Forget: Civil Society Organisations Condemn Unreasonable Sentence of Prominent Swaziland Activists


25 JULY 2014

The undersigned organisations, meeting at the Public Interest Law Gathering in Johannesburg, condemn the conviction and unreasonable sentence handed down by Judge Mpendulo Simelane in the Mbabane High Court in Swaziland.

Last week, Judge Simelane found human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and magazine editor Bheki Makhubu guilty of contempt of court and today sentenced them to a two-year jail term without the option of a fine. Judge Simelane argued that the articles penned by Maseko and Makhubu inThe Nation magazine interfered with the administration of justice as they referred to a criminal matter still pending before court. Maseko and Makhubu had criticised the arrest and detention of government vehicle inspector, Bhantshana Gwebu, in January this year after he charged the driver of one of the Supreme Court judges with following an unauthorised route. The articles amounted to legitimate comment on the conduct of the judiciary and should not have led to the contempt of court charges brought against Maseko and Makhubu.

The pair has been unlawfully detained since their arrest in March and the trial has been fraught with procedural irregularities. Maseko and Makhubu had sought Judge Simelane’s recusal due to his personal involvement in the Gwebu case, which had been the subject of the articles in question. In his judgment, he provided evidence related to the Gwebu matter, which remained unchallenged as he had not testified during the trial.

To compound the trial’s injustices, Judge Simelane imposed the maximum possible sentence of two years imprisonment on Maseko and Makhubu and, in addition, a E100 000 (USD10 000) fine on the magazine and its publisher. The sentence failed to take into account the time Maseko and Makhubu had already spent in detention while awaiting trial.

The case has highlighted the increasing repression of activists in Swaziland and the conviction and sentence will further entrench the culture of fear in that country. The criminal justice system is being used by the authorities to silence those who dare speak out against the conduct of those in power. This case is a stark reminder of the lack of independence of the Swazi judiciary and we believe that this is a serious concern for the region as a whole.

Maseko and Makhubu’s legal representatives are discussing the option of filing an appeal against the conviction and sentence. We call on the Swazi judicial and political authorities to ensure that an appeal be heard expeditiously and that due process be followed throughout the process.

Independence of the judiciary is a cornerstone of democracy and we wish to express our solidarity with Maseko and Makhubu and the people of Swaziland.

Socioeconomic Rights Institute (SERI)

Wits School of Law

Lawyers for Human Rights

Section 27

Southern Africa Litigation Centre


Legal Resources Centre

Centre for Applied Legal Studies

Black Sash

Students for Law and Social Justice

Right to Know Campaign

Freedom of Expression Institute

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network

Centre for Child Law

Further Info:

Nicole Fritz, Executive Director, Southern Africa Litigation Centre; Tel:+27 (0) 10 596 8538; Mobile: +27 (0) 82 600 1028; Email:nicolef@salc.org.za

Jacob van Garderen, Lawyers for Human Rights; Mobile: +27 (0) 82 820 3960; Email:Jacob@lhr.org.za

Before We Forget: Fire Incident at Malawi Electoral Commission Warehouse in Lilongwe


For Immediate Release 17/07/2014)

The Commission met in an emergency session on Wednesday, 16 th July, 2014 in Lilongwe to, among other things, consider preliminaryreports issued to it concerning the fire that gutted its Warehouse inLilongwe during the night of Tuesday, 15 th July, 2014.

According to the reports, the fire, which begun at around 00.25hours, destroyed all electoral materials that were in the Warehouse including 2,400 ballot boxes which contained ballot papers, 81 GasCylinders, 168 Gas Lamps, amongst other items.Lilongwe City Assembly Fire Brigade was immediately called to putout the fire.

Among the Ballot Papers that have been destroyed are those for Lilongwe City South East Constituency that were due to berecounted following a Court Order.Having analysed the preliminary reports, the Commission is of the view that, arson cannot be ruled out.

In view of the premises, the Commission has formally approached the Inspector General of Police to institute appropriate investigations.The Commission wishes to emphasize that all security measures weretaken. The official security detail at the warehouse included 10armed Police Mobile Service (PMS) officers and two Security Guardsfrom SWOOP Security Company per shift.In addition, Malawi Congress Party provided two monitors per shift.

We have been made to understand that the National Intelligence Services (NIS) provided services although this was not agreed with us.Equally there was no prior notification of their involvement.The Commission will provide appropriate updates on this unfortunate incident.

Justice Maxon R. Mbendera, SC

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Development Challenges Facing Mwanza, Neno Districts

White elephants derail Mwanza, Neno development agenda

Sub-Traditional Authority Govati of Mwanza does not remember the last time he saw a wild elephant in the district. Yet, every time he steps out of his house, another type of elephant awaits him: The white one!

“We have a lot of white elephants in Mwanza. From Thambani, which falls in my area, and other faraway places, we simply have so many of these. Politics seems to have perpetuated the trend,” Govati says.

Of course, he is referring to uncompleted projects, and not necessarily elephants with ‘white’ skin. After all, according to www.marylandzoo.org, elephants only have “gray” and “wrinkled” skin. The website adds that elephants are known as pachyderms, along with hippos and rhinos, a name derived from the Latin words for “thick” and “skin” (‘derm’) to literally mean “thick-skin”.

To strengthen his case, Govati cites uncompleted houses marked for teachers and healthcare service delivery workers.

“We have a situation at Thambani (Trading Centre) where two houses meant for health workers have remained uncompleted for years. Again, at Kalanga Primary School, a teacher’s house built through the efforts of the Area Development Committee (ADC) has not reached window level some three, four years after the project begun,” Govati says.

Govati says other abandoned projects include a gravity water project that has remained a pipedream even after the commencement of ground work.

Unfortunately, Govati’s subjects are not the only ones affected as Inkosi Kanduku can testify of having his fair share of white elephants.

Kanduku says one of the hardest hit sectors is education, where learners have to cover a distance of between five and 10 kilometres to get to the nearest learning facility because the schools in their area do not meet minimum standards.

“For example, we have the case of Futsa Community Day Secondary School. Construction of a school block, courtesy of the European Union, started and completed in 2009 but, up to now, nobody knows when the school will open its doors to our children because there is no tangible progress. In fact, some people are using the school block as a hall,” Kanduku says.

But the Ngoni chief puts his foot down on suggestions that education officials should open the school to learners, saying it is better for community members to hold their breaths until the facility meets minimum standards other than expose their children to a deplorable learning environment.

However, the decision to keep the block closed to learners has come at a cost as learners from neighbouring areas such as Tulonkhondo have to cover a distance of more than eight kilometres to access education facilities at Thawale Community Day Secondary School in the district. However, the forum for District stakeholders adopted the proposal by Councilors Moses Bingalasi Walota and Lloyd Gosho and T/A Govati’s proposals to open the school for forms 1 and 2 while communities contribute sand and mould bricks for the remaining blocks and teachers’ houses. The two Mwanza West Councillors further pledged to present the proposal to their MP Hon. Davis Katsonga and that they facilitate the use of the Constituency Development Fund to complete the school block besides other sources of funds facilitated by the District Council time to time.

Stitch in time

Fortunately for Mwanza residents, Dan Church Aid, with support from Tilitonse Fund, has come to their rescue, thanks to the ‘Collaborative Action in Strengthening Local Governance Project’ being implemented by the Association of Progressive Women (APW).

Concerned with increased cases of abandoned projects, APW invited community members to consultative forums and mobilisation meetings in a quest to shape community perspectives and understanding around key development issues between the month of February and March this year. These efforts culminated in a number of community dialogues taking place with various community leaders in following up the unfinished or stalled projects.

“Among other things, we discovered that there is lack of coordination at various levels of government, which suffocates patriotism and community ownership to project implementation. There is also little coordination between the Central Government and District Councils in drawing up development plans and annual budgets,” Grace Moyo, the project officer, says, adding:

“There are also inadequate resources for councils to help build capacity of the Village Development Committees (VDC) and ADCs, training of traditional leaders on their new roles in democratic governance, coupled with deficiency in policy analysis, advocacy and low education levels. Deficiencies in coordination between these levels of governance are clearly demonstrated in the manner in which communities handled all these stalled and unfinished projects.”

Moyo observes that citizen influence has been generally low with their inputs having only peripheral effects in effecting positive change.

Her sentiments are echoed by programme manager, Noel Msiska, who cites a case in Kanduku’s and Mlauli areas.

Msiska says community members, through the VDC, proposed the construction of a bridge over a drift at Mkwilira River in a bid to address mobility problems faced by the pupils and residents around Dzomodya, Mbirizi, Mtaya, Butao and Kumpakiza villages during the rainy season.

He said the proposal was accepted by the Neno District Council and construction materials started arriving at the project site after community members had contributed sand and stones. The Council, he said, recruited its own contractor without thorough consultations with the ADC and VDC and the project took off.

“However, the ADC members, who were providing oversight monitoring, observed that, out of 50 bags of cement meant for the project, only 15 were used in electing the foundation of the bridge. As a result, construction works stalled and the communities still suspect that the rest of the construction materials, particularly cement, were taken up by the contractor who just left the project at foundation stage and they can hardly locate him. They wonder that the council is not holding him accountable for the unfinished project,” says Msiska.

Apart from these projects, the other notable projects that have been unnecessarily delayed or stalled in Mwanza and Neno altogether include the Ziyaya Chidole School Project, Kunenekude Police Unit construction, the community ground construction project and Muwanga Okhota Schools Development initiative where community members proposed the construction of a modern school block; Chidokowe Primary School, a Standard 1 to 6 learning facility that has only one block; Golden Village clean water project; Chifunga Police Unit; respectively among others.

Msiska contends that challenges faced by Mwanza and Neno residents are not unique to the districts, raising concerns that failure to complete projects seems to be a nationwide malaise.

He suggests that the Malawi government should engage an expert team to conduct an assessment study on all uncompleted projects in Malawi and make recommendations on how government can recover costs from such projects. He adds that legislation and the funding mechanism systems of the Constituency Development Fund and the Local Development Fund should also be reviewed.

“There is also need to implement measures such as increasing access to information at district level, simplifying reports to give all residents the opportunity to offer scrutiny, promoting open bidding for contracts, using agreed monitoring tools and promoting equal presentation of local leaders at district level to bring about transparency and accountability at all levels of governance,” says Msiska.

He adds that there is need to build the capacity of village monitoring committees in project monitoring, budget tracking and governance for them to be able to demand satisfaction of development projects within their localities, as well as reviewing the Local Government Act and Decentralization Policy.

Recurrent business

Mwanza District Commissioner, Gift Lapozo, says, under normal circumstances, councils act as engines of development by creating policies, mobilizing technical and financial resources in their bid to ensure that resources are well-utilised in advancing the development agenda.

Lapozo also says, under normal circumstances, public projects are not supposed to hit a snag on the basis that Members of Parliament (MP), or councilors, who initiated them have been voted out of office.

“Government is a growing concern: It doesn’t change; if anything, it’s the faces that change. So, if the government is a growing concern, why do development projects initiated by MPs stall once they are voted out of office and yet we say development derives from the people? It’s like kugwiritsa anthu ntchito yopanda malipiro (letting people toil in vain),” laments Lapozo.

Lapozo expresses concern that some stalled projects started as way back as 2010.

“These development projects just need funding. Piecemeal development approaches are catalysts for poverty, illiteracy. Let’s find out and discuss the way forward so that the newly-elected ward councilors can work smoothly. It’s time to share, to rectify problems and complete all stalled projects,” Lapozo says.