At 11:52 a.m. there was a knock at the office door. It was the students informing me that they were ready to begin. On Wednesday, September 1, 2010 a group of classmates gathered together for the first ever jhr chapter elections at the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ).
Eight minutes early—an unusual feat for Malawian students who often abide by “Africa time.”
I hopped out of my chair, encouraged by their excitement and walked across the hall with voter ballots in my hand.
Of course, we didn’t end up starting until a few minutes after noon. We waited for the stragglers to trickle in. Some had still been in class while others were practicing their speeches on the steps outside.
As approximately 30 students took their seats, a quiet buzz in the room turned into a boisterous chatter—making it sound more like there were 60 students present—and soon enough it was difficult to speak two words without being interrupted.
Shouting over the students’ voices, I described the process for the election: first speeches, then voting and the results would be posted the following day.
During our jhr information session the previous week, everyone wrote their names on a sign-up sheet and stated their position of interest, of which each person indicated they would run for a spot. But only half decided to follow through.
Nineteen people ran for nine positions. Secretary went to Iness Chilangwe; the lovely Olivia Mlelemba took Treasurer; VP Events went to the outspoken Triza Chikwawa; VP Promotions was appointed to Chance Mwai Mfune; Nandie Mambucha beat two others for VP Outreach; VP Communications was taken by the inspirational Stephina Gwetsa; Maggie Wingolo took VP Finance in a landslide; and Vice President was appointed to Geoff Justice Kawanga—the only candidate for the position.
Shockingly enough, in a male-dominated school, of the 19 people that ran for executive positions, 11 of them are female. And seven of the nine elected positions are female. Gender deliverable for CIDA—check!
The speeches began with the secretary position and dramatically worked their way up the presidential race. Some of the speakers gave short, timid speeches while others rambled along until they were clapped off the podium.
One student named Allan Nyasulu, who ran for VP Outreach, started his speech by saying, “I am not a politician, but allow me to speak as a politician for a moment.” He continued on for a couple of minutes and finished by explaining that although “Malawians don’t know their rights,” he has the ability to reach out.
Maggie Wingolo, approached the stage with confidence and addressed the audience with one line: “I am a business lady so I know how to keep money safe.” It took 13 words to secure her votes for VP Finance.
The noon-hour was coming to a close, and after the only candidate secured his position as Vice President we moved on to the four presidential speeches.
One candidate didn’t receive a single vote. It was down to Elizabeth Muapasa, Sahiba R. Kour and Archibald Kasakura.
Muapasa spoke first. She also shouted over her peers’ voices. Although she seemed to have the most captivated audience (which is tough to say with such an animated crowd), Muapasa’s speech about being open-minded only locked her into second place in the presidential race.
Next up was Sahiba R. Kour, who had approached me a couple of times before the election to get more information about jhr and the chapter. I sent her off with my best wishes and a USB key full of information. She was prepared. Speech scribbled on a piece of paper, Kour mentioned numerous qualities of a good leader.
“Active, enthusiastic and passionate…available for anyone at any time…[and a] respectable public persona,” were a few traits Kour self-identified with. Further, she has also worked with Amnesty International.
“Ooooh, really?” some of the students asked. “Yep,” she replied assuredly.
Last but not least, with his vest flung over his right shoulder, Archibald Kasakura walked slowly to the front of the room. He asked the rowdy students for permission to speak. The room hushed for a moment.
“I am not here to tell you what leaders do but I do have a couple other things to say,” Kasakura mentioned coolly as the noise started to pick up again.
He described himself as “established, organized…[and] a natural-born leader.” Kasakura closed by telling the newest group of jhr-lovers, “in my heart, there is human rights.” His regular human rights freelance pieces to The Daily Times puts truth to his words.
Luckily, as mediator, I couldn’t vote. It would have been a tough call.
As voted by the first jhr student chapter at MIJ, Sahiba R. Kour has acquired the position of President. With her knowledge and respect from her peers, Kour is well-equipped for the job.
Kasakura’s response to the outcome is one of honour: “I will do whatever I can to help out in any way that I can.”