Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Unruly drivers must face the law

Unruly drivers, many of whom manage to get a licence without appearing for a driving test, are a major menace on the roads. These drivers are reckless, change lanes to create traffic congestion on the road, over-speed and have no regard for other road users.

There are many such drivers, but, minibus drivers top the list of most unruly, annoying and a-pain-in-the-neck-drivers. These drivers break traffic laws with impunity and when caught, they cry foul.

These drivers pack people into their minibuses as if they are packing bags of Irish potatoes. When passengers try to protest, they have the audacity to tell them to go hire a car or to keep quiet.

Minibus drivers do their trade as though the law doesn’t apply to them. Thumbs up to the road traffic authorities for reminding them that there are traffic laws that must be respected and adhered to. It’s either they abide by the law or ship out.

The laws governing their business have been there for some time. For instance, minibus drivers and owners know pretty well that they are not supposed to carry more than three people per seat. They instead choose to go against the rule.

It is hard to feel sorry for these drivers and yes, any other reckless driver who is fined for wrongdoing. They are simply paying for their sins. In fact, minibus drivers should not feel as though the law is only targeting them, many motorists are being fined for various traffic offences.

The laissez-faire approach by the authorities in enforcing the laws can be faulted, but certainly one cannot fault them for trying to bring sanity on the roads which have been characterised by chaos and total disregard.

What is needed is to work with the authorities to ensure that the roads are not death traps due to reckless driving. If all motorists played a part in making sure that all traffic laws such as observing the speed limit are followed, maybe somehow, road accidents will be on the decline.

For now, I urge the authorities to fine, even if it means locking up, all unruly drivers. People should learn to follow the rules. If they can’t follow the rules, stay at home and don’t drive. There are rules for using the roads even if you are a pedestrian.

The attitude displayed by minibus drivers is shameful and shows how ignorant they are and also reaffirms that many of them simply buy their driving licences—otherwise any driver who has gone through a driving test knows what they can and cannot do on the road.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mayaya is the man

Without beating about the bush, activist Billy Mayaya is the man. He is the only Malawian so far that I have seen that is able to stand up to government whenever there are injustices. He does not mope about economic or social ills prevalent in the country on Facebook, Twitter or within the confines of his home, he publicly expresses his displeasure at a government that pays a blind eye to sufferings of Malawians.
Mayaya does not wait until the streets are filled with people to validate his cause, he simply does what he feels needs to be done at a particular time.
While the rest of us the timid sit and watch even though we know things are going wrong, Mayaya is not afraid to pick up his placard and march in the streets even if it means doing it alone with a horde of people laughing at him. He does not relent—now that is courage that is not in many of us.
We are good at complaining behind we rarely pluck enough courage to face them. It’s either we cultivate this habit or politicians will always take advantage of our timidity.
Now, many have chastised Mayaya for taking to the streets every now and again. Some say it is “too much” and he is now diluting the spirit behind demonstrations. I thought the spirit behind demonstrations is to express one’s feelings about something they feel needs correcting?
And there are some Facebook-based activists who say there is not yet significant crisis in the country to warrant demos. In  the words, what these people are saying is that we should wait until things get out of hand, when there is not even a single tablet of a painkiller in the hospital and we stay for a year without power as our leaders are tired of aimlessly spending that is when we should demonstrate. What happened to nipping it in the bud? I believe that is exactly what Mayaya is doing. Thumbs up to him.
Others are of the view that demonstrations do not bring any change. Who said demonstrations are an end? Demonstrations are merely a means to an end and not an end itself. It does not mean change has to come as soon as the petition is delivered.
Others are bashing Mayaya for being “a lone ranger” during the demos. What these people are not getting right is that demonstrations are not a game of numbers, but a matter of expressing one’s views and sending that important message home. Trust me, government heard Mayaya loud and clear, and that is why government organized counter demos—they deny it but you and I know that they did.
I believe there is nothing like “too much” when it comes to expressing one’s views on matters dear to their heart. You just have to let them do it, whether you are in agreement or not.
After all, freedom of expression is their constitutionally guaranteed right.
To Mayaya and consumer rights activist John Kapito, please do not falter in your activism and whipping our leaders into line. If demonstrations are a means to that end, then keep on doing it. (Article was first published in Nation Online www.mwnation.com).

Friday, October 23, 2015

Yes, this nonsense has to stop

President Peter Mutharika needs to have a candid talk with his communication team. It is obvious that the team misled him if the anger he displayed at the press briefing last week is anything to go by. I do not see anything wrong in asking the President to explain why Malawi had such a big entourage at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). I do not see political witch-hunting, either. Gerald Viola should have known better than fanning APM’s anger with his ridiculous statements about the media.

Taxpayers have every right to ask for a report on how their money was spent. Even if Malawi had sent only six people to UNGA, Malawians would be right to ask how their hard earned money was spent on those six people.

At that press briefing, Mr President you were not talking to the media, but to Malawians through the media, let us be clear here. You were expected to give Malawians your report about the trip to UNGA, to which they sent.
Talking to them in such condescending manner was unwarranted. Mr. President, you were basically biting the hand that feeds you. All you needed to do was explain in a calm, coherent and clear manner. Your anger did not help to clear the matter.

Is it possible if may ask, that everyone who went to the UNGA produces a report of whatever plenary session they attended, which should include what the plenary was about?

Trust me Mr. President, most of those who went with you would not scribble a paragraph, because well, they did not attend the meeting.
It is not ‘nonsense’ when Malawians who fund your travels ask for a report, they have every right to do so.
And this ‘nonsense’ of employing praise and worship people as your communication team has to stop, too. I mean, we all know that Viola is a DPP stalwart, but he did not need to bring up the name of a dead president in the conversation. Hearing Viola speak passionately about former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika in his introductory remarks, one would be forgiven if for once they thought Viola was a DPP regional governor. I believe that position requires the occupant to be your spokesperson as the country’s President and not the president of the party.
You see, Mr President, Viola only demonstrated to you that he cannot handle crisis. If it were me, I would start thinking otherwise. Tough times lie ahead, will Viola stand the heat? I do see him losing himself and in the end making you also lose yourself. Malawians are watching. It would be wise to stop talking to them in such patronising manner. How you handle them today will definitely determine whether you will also be a one-term President like your predecessor Joyce Banda.
This ‘nonsense’ has indeed got to stop right now. Malawians deserve better.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Let’s embrace cultural, linguistic diversity

Last week as I was coming from a friend’s wedding at Comesa Hall at Trade Fair in Blantyre, I was booed, threatened and called all sorts of nasty names by a group of men. They shouted and uttered almost every unprintable word they could. I was called hule, mfiti, chitsiru, wakuba (whore, witch, fool and thief) but that’s just the few words I can write, the rest were obscene utterances.

One of the men blatantly told me that if he had a gun with him, he would have just shot me dead. Mtundu uwu ndiofunika kungowupha (this tribe should be killed). He continued: Ine kungokhala president ndikhoza kungowathamangitsa anthu amenewa. Amabowa (If I were president of this country, I would chase this tribe out of Malawi).

The only crime I committed was to speak Chitumbuka which according to these men, disgusts them. I was told when in Malawi I should be speaking Chichewa which according to them is the only true local language. I was  told that Tumbukas are foreigners in Blantyre hence they ought not to speak their “foreign” language while in Blantyre. These people were eavesdropping in a conversation which I had with a colleague also from the north.

I never bothered to ask them what wrong I had done neither what wrong did  “this tribe” do to them—doing so was going to be futile as my voice could not have been heard over their loud voices. I chose not to dignify their hate with a response. I simply walked on but terrified.

This scenario made me realise that we still have many Malawians who are yet to embrace cultural and linguistic diversity that exists in our country. Many Malawians do not realise that people have a right to express themselves freely. If one thinks they can express themselves better in Chiyao, so be it. No one should be gagged.

I am a staunch believer in language being part of one’s identity. Those who know me know that I am not someone who would feel ashamed of speaking Chichewa, Chitumbuka and a bit of Chitonga. We are able to identify ourselves with one another either through our shared cultural beliefs and language. I have always insisted in preservation of our languages and what a better way to do that than speaking them? We definitely cannot preserve our language only on paper—that’s doomed.

Linguist Ken Hale talks of the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity. He says because of historical events and human migrations the maintenance of the languages of the various ethnic and cultural groups is critical for the preservation of our cultural heritage and identity. The loss of language means the loss of culture and identity.

I would hate to see my language die because of the dominance of one language as the bullies wish. We need to accept that we have a multilingual society. We cannot expect everyone to speak our language. Let’s respect one another and respect other people’s cultures and beliefs. Remember there is no one who is more Malawian than the other, we are all Malawians. 

Bushiri is an unnecessary distraction

News flash: Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, Major One, Papa is in town. The Major one landed at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe on Thursday to an elated crowd of people, mostly his followers—we cannot completely rule out, though, some curious on-lookers and those who simply wanted to ascertain that the Major One indeed flew on his own aircraft.
Bushiri has earned himself the ‘man of the moment’ title, thanks to the ‘capturing’ sermon and a reincarnation of one of the famous Biblical miracles—Jesus walking on water. But he was sensitive enough not to let people confuse him with Jesus, so he chose to walk in air.
The social media is buzzing with talk about the “go deeper” famed prophet. He is being talked about in pubs, minibuses and homes too, of course, not for the good reasons, but because of the suspicious miracles and his flamboyance.
I have no problem with those who cheer or jeer at the self-acclaimed man of God—they are within their right. However, my problem with the whole Bushiri hullabaloo is that it is distracting us from discussing and debating issues of national importance.
Spending our time and energy debating Bushiri’s “miracles” only makes our leaders grin knowing that we are spending less time and energy scrutinising them and that we have practically given them a free pass. We shouldn’t let Bushiri distract us.
Before us is a whooping 2.8 million Malawians—from 25 of the 28 districts—facing starvation this year. Government, as usual, has sounded an SOS to donors and well-wishers to assist in whatever form to feed the many households facing hunger. 

And while we are dead worried about the welfare of Malawians who are going to bed on empty stomach and many other problems, our President and his larger-than-life entourage to the UN summit are on a shopping spree—we all know how most government officials never attend such meetings. It is a chance for them to hit the shops and might only show up at the meeting to sign some legal document that they have not even read nor understand and groan about it later when they are asked to abide by the contents of the document.

It is because we have shifted our attention from this that our President thought he could sneak out the purported large entourage to the UN. He probably thought we won’t notice because we are so caught up in triviality such as the Bushiri talk.
We have a kwacha which has taken a downward spiral that it may not be wrong to say that it is falling faster than the speed of light. Our leadership is failing to provide direction on how it intends to arrest the situation. Meanwhile, we are left holding the baby.
Our service providers, who have proved to be a persistent thorn in our flesh, continue snoring while on the job. In fact, everywhere you turn there is trouble. The big fish in Cashgate is somewhere somersaulting in some cool waters and laughing at us for thinking that what we have at Mikuyu Prison is the biggest catch.
I used to hold our civil society organisations (CSOs) in high-esteem, but both you and I know well that our CSOs are so reactionary that most important issues slip through their fingers. The few that have not joined government rank and file are simply watching.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Female condom, a scarce commodity

It has been 20 years since the first female condom came on the market but over 13 years since Malawi launched it, as the only female-initiated preventive measure against unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Female condoms remain largely marginalised and inaccessible in Malawi even when studies show that there is some high level of awareness and acceptability in the country.

Nevertheless, most Malawian women cannot use it because it is neither available to them nor do they have the knowledge on how to use it.

Factors such as pricing, lack of funding, high illiteracy rate, cultural and religious belief exacerbate the low use of female condoms.

At only K50 a man gets a three pack of condoms while at the same price a woman gets a pack of two female condoms.

In contrast, the male condom enjoys wider promotion and accessibility, despite the fact that its use in achieving safer sex almost entirely depends on the cooperation of the male sexual partner—a thing which poses problems in the HIV and AIDS pandemic fight as well in sexual and reproductive health for women in general.

The predominantly patriarchal society that Malawi is does not help matters either as women often than not find themselves bowing down to male pressure. Lack of open and free talk about sexual health has only worsened the already bad situation.

Few places that offer women a relaxed environment where they can freely and openly share experiences while building relationships with each other are hair salons.

According to PSI Malawi, hair salons, barber shops, drug stores and pharmacies provide easy access and allow easy training of providers—a hair dresser, barber, drug store owner of pharmacy in the correct use of CARE female condoms and how to impart this knowledge to customers and how to answer questions related to the product.

Population Services International Malawi Country Representative Sarah Gibson says the chosen points of distribution have achieved the intended purpose of supporting exchange of detailed information to support successful use of CARE female condoms.

The female condom, commonly referred to as FC was first piloted in Malawi in 2000 by Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM).

Eight years later, PSI Malawi, with the support of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health in 2008, launched the CARE Female Condoms, a branded, social-marketed female condom.

Promotion of the female condom, CARE included, has not been impressive. It is therefore little surprising that out of the five salons visited, none of them stocked condoms and most of the people interviewed have heard about it but have never seen the condom before.

Gibson said currently her organisation is struggling to promote market as well as distribute the CARE female condom because of lack of funding.

“We are currently struggling to secure funding for this important, female operated HIV prevention method. This means that our ability to communicate more widely is limited and this impacts negatively the level of information about CARE female condoms among the general population,” she said.

Despite it being the only available female initiated method that provides dual protection against unplanned pregnancies and STIs including HIV, few women in Malawi are aware of its existence.

The few that are aware of it mostly do not have adequate information and knowledge on how to correctly use it. This coupled with its inaccessibility and the cost of the female condom, makes it difficult for women to bargain for safer sex.

A random visit in some salons and some pubs in Ndirande and Limbe revealed the extent to which a female condom remains a scarce commodity in Malawi.

While others knew about it, others have simply heard about it but have never seen it.

“I know a female condom but we don’t stock them because nobody asks for them. Why stock a product that won’t be bought,” said a barman who works for Mbiya Pub in Ndirande Township.

However, he was quick to say that they have male condoms in abundance.

Hasima Salon in Ndirande Township gets an average of 10 customers in a day. The owner who boasts that business has been really good, just like the barman, expressed ignorance of female condoms.

“I have heard that there are condoms for women but I would not lie I have never seen them,” said owner of Hasima Salon in Ndirande Township who didn’t want her name mentioned but had no problems mentioning the name of her salon.

Hasima salon gets an average of ten clients a day. The owner of the salon says is more than willing to stock the condom as long as there is enough information on how to use it.

PSI says although men are not the main target of their communication activities, they are key partners in the promotion of female condoms.

Gordon Mataya, a man in his early 30s concur with PSI saying men need to take and support the promotion of the female condom as the underlying benefits not only benefit women but men as well.

Mataya said he has no problem in using either male of female condom as long as they agree with his partner.

“I understand that the female condom has to be inserted even hours before intercourse. This to me makes them more formal than their male counterparts meaning they are best suited for stable, long-term relationships where both partners know when they would engage in sex,” he said.

He however said that the time it takes to put on a female condom may not work well with what he called “hit and run” or one night stands.

“Male condoms are kind of spontaneous and well suited for hit-and-run and one-night-stand scenario. So whether I would use either of the two would depend on prevailing circumstances. The key thing is that both partners should be okay with whatever protection method they choose to use,” Mataya said.

It is clear that there is a high level of acceptability for female condom, what remains to be put in place are proper promotion, marketing and distribution mechanism to ensure easy access nationwide.

Apart from that, the knowledge gap needs to be addressed as PSI says, through adequate funding, political will and change of mindset without which, this important product will remain a scarce commodity in Malawi which is also working hard to reduce HIV prevalence rate.

UNEA has office bearers

The Malawi delegation that attended the meeting
At its first-ever meeting held on Monday June 23 2014 held in Nairobi Kenya, which is known as the “the environmental capital of the world,” United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) elected office bearers who will constitute the Bureau of the Assembly.

The Environment Assembly becomes the universal body and replaces the Governing Council, which had limited members.

In his welcome remarks, outgoing Governing Council President, Hassan Abdel Hilal who is Sudan’s Minister of Environment, Forests and Physical Development said UNEA represents a “ground-breaking platform for leadership in environmental policy and is set to make strategic decisions, provide political guidance and promote a science-policy interface.”

The first and newly elected UNEA president Oyun Sanjaasuren, reminded delegates at the conference of the grave global environment and development challenges that stem from an increasing global population which is now projected to hit 11 billion at the end of the century.

She highlighted UNEA’s position to deliberate on two priority areas which are sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda and illegal trade in wildlife.

Illegal trade in wildlife and timber topped the discussions at the conference with many African countries facing dwindling numbers in wildlife related tourism.

UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said that illegal trade in wildlife, a US$200 billion per year market is connected to human and arms trafficking and he stated that it not only threatens endangered species, but human livelihoods too.
Apart from the president of the assembly also elected eight vice presidents and one rapporteur.