Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Unsung heroines: Malawian grandmothers and rural women

We are a very ungrateful society at all levels. In our homes, communities, social gatherings, workplace and even at the political playing field. Notwithstanding 52% of Malawian population, our service to the suffering of grandmothers and the rural women is awful to say the least.

The rural woman deserves a very big pat on which ever part you can think of. She has come of age and maintained our existence as a nation that continues to struggle with corrupt male chauvinism. Not forgetting the ageing grand mother who is now burdened with costly decisions of their children in the light of AIDS. A 2005 poverty study shows that some households in rural Malawi are as big as 27 and its the women that are taking care of such households. No one seems to care and most often we think this normal

Despite all these burdens the rural woman moves on. I imagine the ever increasing number of orphans that rock our country. As we go enmasse to the graves, the rural woman seems to bear the most burden. She still has to walk long distances to fetch water. She has to give birth in dangerous circumstances often without the help of a trained medical practitioner. She has to walk long distances to access a poorly stuffed clinic to vaccinate her baby. No one seems to care. She has to farm while the males are drinking kachasu and expecting to be fed as if its their right to do so. She has to endure abusive husbands who for some reason have been programmed to think beating a powerless woman is cultural. The women suffer in silence and they dont faulter. They still lead us.

Come election time. They are ferried in lorries all over the country to sing for ungrateful corrupt politicians with their big bellies. Politicians who pride themselves in riches aquired through unorthodox means. The rural woman is then told to vote..they are the ones that put politicians in power.

Rural women are the biggest voting block in Malawi. They make people Presidents and MPs....and they are the ones least served by them. Whither Malawi! I cry for the rural woman and the grandmother! What a nation! Very ungrateful.

Encounter with Bingu and his Cotton Economics

I must admit. I have meant Bingu once as Minister of Economic Planning in a Mangochi resort as a team of taskforce economists on the Malawi Growth Strategy in 2003. Something that i remember is his belief in cotton as a wonder crop to fix some of the problems Malawi is facing. Mining also featured highly and if i recollect myself, he said "I dont want a strategy that says we should be exprting sand" but some thing of value.

In today's discussion I look at cotton and revisit some of the beliefs Bingu had. For me it was an opportunity I cherish to talk directly with a person who i thOught was likely to be president in few months.I WAS CORRECT..it was so informal..no cops and all those folks that put on those dreaded helmets brandishing various military hardware that i have seen on TV. This is not the point. Some humour? Maybe. After all we are on cotton while on top of the Kabondwe Table mountain in my home village. No vipers and mambas..winter is fast approaching..so cool unscary chat.

Cotton prices slumped in the mid 1990's and our production has never peaked or atleast reached the highest record we had in 1986. Yet it offers the best opportunity for our farmers who for some reason have been cornered to believe that no maize no life. The rise of the textile industry in Asia has given hope. The African growth opportunity Act (AGOA) is offering more incentives for us to exploit the market in the US.

Yet, somehow I belive that authorities have somehow faultered. I am not competent to talk about the privatisation of Mapeto...i still belive it was the right thing to do except for the controversy. However, I have read in recent media reports that Mapeto is finding it hard to get the amount of cotton that it requires. I think there is something fundamentally wrong but very easy to address. Action from the Malawi government has not been strong enough to revive fortunes from this cash crop.

My synthesis is that there are lot of opportunities in this crop. The action that I have seen from governement is price regulation. There have been contracted battles about prices yet easy solutions are available and yet we are still in our slumbers. We have been slow in adopting biotechnology...call it genetically modified varieties. If you have problems with GMOs on cotton, perhaps this is the time to rethink. GMO cotton varieties have been proved to be high yielding, resistant to diseases and weeds....and no known environmental and health effects....its not food after all......and therefore requires no chemicals. Our current cotton varieties require heavy use of chemicals that often pollute the environement. Remember RIPCORD? Very deadly chemical used in cotton! Professor Kym Anderson, an eminent trade Economist, has shown that countries in Africa are likely to gain if they adopt GMO cotton varieties currently in use in China and the US.

Given the pace at which trade negotiations are going under the Doha Development Agenda, it will take many years for the US and the EU to remove subsidies to cotton. This means that our farmers will find it hard to compete fairly. Adoption of Cotton GMOs would lessen the costs farmers incur particulary on chemicals. GMO varieties on cotton are the sole domain of biotechnology firm, Mossanto, which is opertaing in Malawi. Why are we still in the slumber? It is time to move as quickly as possible and give those farmers in Nsanje, Chikwawa, Balaka, Salima, Rumphi and Karonga a new lease of life while giving the cotton user industry a locally sourced material and save some forex for drugs?

Lets get out the mountain. Its cold but pick any bush fruit as you descend save for a cobra bite.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bingu and Bakili on Economic Philosophy

I try to see the resemblance in the minds of Bingu and Bakili on economic philosophy and draw contrasts.

Bingu and Bakili in the first instance are subjected to common external economic forces like need for structural and stabilisation thinking of World Bank and its cousin, the IMF. How they have reacted to these forces and reformed our economic system reflects their differing philosophies.

Bakili has hard a tough ride with the IMF and World Bank. On paper, though he did what any politician could do for diplomacy sake. However, Bakili is a left wing politician and it is very difficult to implement IMF ideals. You know Chavez? He too is a left wing politician. I would classify Bingu as a centre right politician and so are his economic credentials.

The fundamentals are that Bakili yielded to what was privatisation, a belief that the world bank will defend to the last line. Some success stories have been cited like Dairy board as well as questionable privatisation of Railways. Bakili is a left wing politician who through the poverty reduction strategy, championed welfare of the underpriviledged by direct provision of services to them. Give them money, give them free fertiliser. In other words Bakili's economic philosophy is not really pro-growth economic growth. I reckon his thinking is that growth does not reduce or put it simple, rarely improves the welfare of the marginalised. His current speeches do point to this philosophy in how an economic system should operate. Populits left wing ideas....displaying commodities and massive public shopiing at Metro! Some have argued that Bakili being a business person his ideas are pro-business, I disagree. He is a workers' and marginalised mass grouping folk.

Bingu, is in sharp contrast and i call him an economic liberal. If you follow Asutralian politics, I would call Bingu, John Howard and Goodall Gondwe Peter Costello. The striking difference between the two is that Bingu is more pro-business than Bakili . His belief in the Zambezi Shire water way and committent to cutting budget deficits are ideals of a liberal economic philosopher. Bakili and Bingu differ on how they engage the poorest person in the economic process. By clinging to a starter pack, Bakili is an economic conservative. On the other hand, Bingu and his subsdies stand in the grouping of liberal economists that belive in engaging households in the economic sytem through some effort. Getting them to work to afford a subsidised bag of fertliser. Thats the story.

Well it is difficult to discern which philosophy has an urge over the other. I reckon the ecology in which an economic system operats is crucial. The efficiency of the judicial system, property rights and non-discretionary policies in management remain crucial to successful outcomes. These, to my knowledge, have remained the same and Malawi is still stagnant.

What is the best way? Well, lets reserve it for the "thoughts of the native son" as he goes to the table mountain in a moment.

Thoughts of a native

Some folks have commented on my blog and its always interesting to hear them. I get encouraged to come up with pieces that are insightful to rock the mind and offer some hope. Today I go on top of Kabondwe table mountain as I pass the Kaphikhulas in my native Mzalangwe village in rural Mzimba-Malawi. I did not know that my village is home to the only table mountain in Malawi. I learnt about such mountains in high school geography. My own uncle Japhet t he used to call it "Table Monkey". I never figured out what he meant until high school days. Its a table mountain...if you have been to Cape Town then you know what I am talking about.

Lets cut this story short. I am on top of the mountain and thinking aloud about Malawi--or -a country that I call home. On the mountain we think and brainstorm while enjoying bush fruits in matwatwa, matunduluka, mahuhu, etc. But what baffles my mind is that since we got the British out in 1964 things have not changed..perhaps they continue to worsen. I simply dont understand and I am looking for solutions on the mountain amid malauding puff adders and other dangerous snakes that feel their habitat encroached. They are charging hard like a gorgeous but angry robin displaying that marvelous virgin breast.

We hav been cheated in this country for long. The political rhetoric has corrupted our minds since 1964 and the mind of a typical us remains static. A culture of silence has been systematically cultivated. Political and social vultures have taken control right from the workplace, to the family home and even in our prayer houses. Somehow our self belief has been compromised by forces that be and cancerous ideas cultivated in our brains. That now we think about today and nothing else. So sad.

Who is going to save this country from systems that poison our self belief. The journey has never taken off since 1964. The mind of everyone continues to rot while colleagues in and around our borders match ahead and Nyasaland continues to struggle with a booming coffin making industry. Cry beloved Malawi. Are we a banana or a coffin society? We continue bickering and busy calling each other wakumwera or mpoto forgetting that in each of the regions north or south do exist. We are all in the middle of the North and South Poles. What is all this fuss about? Culture of poverty or what? Give me a break!!! We continue to derive hapinness in the suffering of others. Our leaders in whatever organisations have not been spared this malaise and we revolve in the same mediocrity of a caged chicken unaware of a butchers knife.

Malawi has to move forward or else it will soon perish! I am no sadist but at the top of the mountain i can feel the pain of native sons. Dreams of a country that are fast cementing their positions in cemetries. Thoughts of native. Really?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Individual Decisions Exploding into HIV Crisis: Malawi on cliff

I dont want to bore anyone of you with my economics though that is what life means to me. Whatever people say about the economics profession I agree with them because everything is right and wrong at the same time. Economists rarely agree with one other and think their view is the best solution. Its normal. Similarly if you dont agree with what I want to say, no problem just like i have no problem with you agreeing with me. Take time though to appreciate my thoughts . I am not thinking aloud but desiring so.

But I want to state that in quest to satisfy wants, societal decisons are collective individual decisions . This can be said about the HIV crisis in Malawi that we have failed to contain since the first case in 1985. Perhaps I am not sure how the first person contracted HIV but its been known that over 90 percent of the cases have been through sexual intercourse. My reasoning therefore premises that sexual decions are key to HIV containment.

That is why I say we must look at decisions that each one of us has made since 1985 regarding sexual behaviour. I was not yet 10 though and I am not asking for anything. Firstly, some politician in those days of Nyakula, thought talking about sex is a taboo, decided that HIV/AIDS be called magawagawa without elaborating the mode of transimmission. Another one called it a disease of " matenda awa ni apa Mphasa". Some folks called it Kanyela and that sing'anga Yakobe could cure it (Some HIV Video that i watched while in Secondary school...short at Chanco).

Then someone thinker or call him an expert decided that the best way to solve the problem was a piece of latex/rubber called a condom be the solution. These actions are not sequential by the way. Then the church, government,chiefs, uncles, sibwenis, malumes, elders, ngo's agreed and disagreed. These are all individual decisions that have been made. So from a 0% HIV rate we now have 11.4% if use th official statatics. But we are not doomed nation. There is hope.

So how have these individual decisions worked? Well one can think about agents as we, in the economics profession call them, just like scientists call them subjects or clients if you belong to the professions that God loves most( I WILL NOT SAY WHICH! ITS A JOKE FROM NYASANET).The point is, after all these actions, as individual persons, either out of ignorance or crazy courage, MAKE decisions that LEND ourselves more vulnerable to this disease. I reckon, that a human being is so rational but somehow we have missed the point in our country to contain the problem.

Behavioural change is paramount but what I see ARE ineffective stratagies, beautifully crafted and in public office shelves. But what I want to advance is that th campaign for behavioural change should happen to an individual in a style of a door to door style. This to me is more effective and would help most of us to make proper wise decisiosn about our sexual lives. Its not to say that the human mind or soul of a Malawian is stubborn but to understand that in a million, it is natural that one thinks this concerns them but not me. Just like some of us think we will never die but them.

The strategies that the National Aids Commission has taken are not workable. But I dont suggest a dissolution of NAC but I believe they have too much money for HIV but do not know how to use it. They can do better than what they are currently condcuting themselves. I have always seen organisations, NGOs that have received NAC funds to fight AIDS calling for expressions of interest in our local media..they want to us part of the proceeds to buy furniture and refurbish their offices. AIDS/HIV is serious business and this nonsense must stop. I would want the fight taken to individual households through villge or community counsellors and encourage the spirit of volunteers. I would want the approach similar to the Measles and Vitamin A campaigns that are undertaken once in a while.

Just to borrow some few tricks from Obama and Clinton campaign style....the guys have been knocking on the doors of voters delivering the message that they have.Similarly, I have been meant to believe that to sucessfully campaign for an MP must under the cover of darkness go door to door and convince voters in this country. It works. A politicina friend confided in me. If this is the approach we can take then we will help our society through proper decisions making regarding sexual choices. I am not putting a blame on NAC but suggest that all organisations need to incorporate such approaches. The messege that a Church pastor carries in the church on HIV is different if he/she visits one of their folks at talks about social issues in the home of their belivers. When did your pastor visit you? We also have to accept that we have a problem and we are all part of the solution.

All I can say, is that, a messege delivered to an individual person is more effective that a Chishango Billboard along Zalewa Road or a Radio play or TV soap by Winiko and Manganya. Its the individual that makes the decision about sex and collective decisions add to what we end having as a problem. So if the individual is equiped, we are building a better Malawi. Statisticians have primary sampling units to get data about issues.........these units are the individual persons.

This is how I see it. What do you reckon?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Public Health on Alcohol and Smoking

There is an interesting story that happened in 2001. The Minister of Finance (Mathews Chikaonda)in his budget speech just announced that surtax on beer was reduced and this resulted in ereduced beer prices. Amongst gazzlers, Chikaonda was the best minister. Well his decision was a sucessful lobby by Carlsberg Brewery who said that they were to fire 700 people because of a poor economic climate. The only way to protect those jobs was through reduced taxes on beer.

The issue I raise now is the role of public health in sensitising our society about the dangers of alcohol and smoking. I think those mandated to lead us in public health have always given us a raw deal. The dangers of alchol and smoking are many but somehow we have turned a blind eye.

Most public health officials believe that their job is to tell people to wash hands before they eat something, wash hands after going to the toilet, or to encourage vaccinations. This is a good thing to do but I believe much has to be done to sensitise communities especially our young people on the dangers of alcohol.

I would want public health officials talk about complications to the liver and the brain that arise due to use of alcohol. I would want them to talk about how families break down due to alchol. I would want a public campaign about deaths from accident induced by alcohol. I would want them to talk about starving children in families due to alcohol expenses by the head of the family. I would want public health consider how people have lost their jobs due to alcohol. I would want public health highlight the dangers of alchol use to the mental ability to unborn children. That they talk something that a child born to alcholic mother is mentally challenged and may have lots of health problems than children born to non-drinking mothers. I would want our public health go falt out and highlight the dangers of smoking and how it leads into lung cancer. I would them talk about implications smoking and alchol has on people with conditions such as diabates and high blood pressure. These need be part of the menu besides the seasonal cholera song.

Similary, faith groups need to highlight the social consquences of alchol use in preaching. The practice with our religious leaders has been to threaten people with hell but this need be the point. Much as they are various doctrines and religions have different views, I would want faith leaders incorporate the social costs that alchol brings to the family. The love that is usually lost as children rarely see the father, inability to take care of the family as a result of money bing spent on entertaining beer friends. The chucrh should move in thos this one. Given techonlogioes like radio and telvision, it allows them to reach out to many a people that are not necessarily members of their flock.

So, all I can say is that we have a social and health problem in alcohol and smoking that is not being addressed as a public health issue. We must act as soon as we can and fight this!

Nepotism, croynism and Malawi job market

The Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) has moved so swiftly to invalidate results of interviews for Accounts Assistants to work in the Accountant General's Department. It has also dissolved the Appointments and Disciplinary Committee in the Department. This is a very bold step that governmnet has taken and I wish they could move even further to various departments that draw resources from tax payer funds.

This thing of recruiting your children, girlfriends, relatives, comrades and home boys has become so rampant in our public services. It appears to be the first qualification to get a public job followed by one's papers. I would rather let OPC take even more punitive steps and the rules of public service apply to curtail such a malpractice. The same applies applies to how people are promoted in the civil service. One can simmply attest to the high staff turnovers in the public service due to unfairness in the way staff are rewarded. All these cancers must be put to a stop if this country is going to move an inch forward. Such practices belong to the uncivilised and mediaval candevers and have no place in 21st Century Malawi.

The main cost of nepotism in its various forms, is that it rewards mediocrity and condemns ability. It smacks unfairness because eligible Malawians are denied a job opportunity or a promotion because they dont have a relative or some other rousy connection in the system. The civil service is not a family business but for all of us as Malawians and no pig headed fool must think they own it. Rewarding mediocrity by recruting or giving favours to cronies affects productivity through staff morale, unquestioned absenteesim and more important depriving the public service of more qualified and technically sharp brains.

Just like the Daiy Times notes in its comment, organisations like the Police, Army and Prisons are family organisations. You would rarely get into these insitutions if a family member has never worked in them. This is what we must stop and it is happening in almost all civil service organisations. People manadated to do the recruitment have never declared interests. This must apply just as it does in the Public Finance Management Act and Procurement Laws. It must be halted.

As a country we need to move forward and become so open to talk about these malpractices. We need to blow whistles where ever we can. The main winner if such practices are put to a stop is a prosperous Malawi for our children and grand children as they will have the incentive to work hard in class.

This practice is also very rampant in the privatr sector and civil society organisations. The costs to our country are too great to be ignored.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Who is failing the HIV Fight?

Ever heard of HIV? Kachirombo? Kachibundu? Magawagawa? Well if you dont undrstand any of Malawian langauges dont worry. Its the virus called HIV and leads into full blown AIDS. It has killed lots of our people and its scale can only be linked to the 1912 flu pandemic. Simple facts, in Malawi official estimates show 14.4% of our pouplation is infected. In the whole of Sub Saharan Africa, according to UNAIDS, 25.6 million of the people are infected......we in Sub Saharan Africa account for 10% of the world population but we have the highest HIV prevalance at 65%.

Now let me present my own crude statistics manufactured in my kitchen. Prove me wrong if you can but I have no doubt that I am correct. In Malawi we are all affected by HIV. If you are not HIV positive for sure you have lost a relation, friend due an HIV related complication. Is this not correct? Well effectively, I am just trying to expose how acute the problem has become and see who is failing the fight.

Now I start my story. The first case was diagnosed in 1985. I remmber as an 9 year old boy listening on my father's Mitsushita radio at Ngerenge in Karonga that there is new disease called magawagawa...and I said what the heck this was all about. Just like many kids I used to be so inquisitive but parents just brush off.

Well, this is how io heard about disease and came to know more about it as i grew. Twenty three years gone and one has become a million plus..what a trigeomtric explosion of a killer disease. Very sad as we loose oiur lives. But who is failing us in the fight against HIV? What should we do?

These are very questions with simple answers to a yet killer disease. We know that over 90% of the cases are through sexual transmission..with other cases of blood transfusion, needles as well as mother to child transimission.....but the culprit is sexual transimission. We all know it.

There has been what i call the "condom solutio". The rationale has been that if you cannot resist a sexual encounter then trust a piece of rubber...for which you have no idea of who manufatured it..let alone the quality standards. Still the cases have risen just showing that the condom solution is another fail. It is time it was abandoned. Men of God hav had their ideas often conflicting and have not helped. Use of ARVs, well good idea but this after the virus has been contracted. Nevirapine therapy, well it works tp protect th unborn child from an infected mother.

I am just trying to see who should we blame. Not the Malawi government of course. Not churches of course. Civil organisations not. Even consipirators who think HIV was manufactured in lab to wipe balck people. Not even the Congo chimp.

In Malawi behavioural change is key to fighting HIV. If we are not changing our sexual behaviour, we is true of course, then we bare the blame as individuals. This is because the decision to engage in a sexual encounter is conceived by an individual mind and it leads into those acts that lead to HIV contraction. Why have we failed to remain faithful to our partners? Ask yourself, how many times have i cheated on my wife,husband or partner? Maybe we have not valued our lives and those that love us like children and family. The core values of family life is disintrigating by our engagement in illicit sex......with a our corrupt minds that a piece of rubber called a condom is a shield? Maybe it is time to think twice. Is it worthy to cheat and expect a recyled plastic can protect us?

All I can say is that sexual fantasy courrupts the mind and it dangerous. Its time to get serious with life by avoinding risky behaviours. We all bare the blame in our indiividual decisions.