Author Archives: Kara Stevenson

About Kara Stevenson

Kara has always dreamt of working as a journalist while overseas. She was overjoyed to be chosen as the Radio Rights Trainer at Zodiac Radio in Lilongwe, Malawi so that she could finally combine her passions for travelling and journalism. Although this is not her first visit to the African continent, it will be the first time she has been to Malawi. In 2009, Kara graduated with a B.A. (Hons.) in Communication Studies and Sociology from York University, and a Diploma in Journalism Broadcasting from Seneca College. She has worked at CFRE 91.9FM “Next Level Radio” as a co-host, 680News Radio in Toronto as a Web Journalist and Reporter, and at Rogers Television as a Reporter where she produced her own stories for a lifestyle program.

Picture Caption: Comfort Chitseko on the front page of the BNL Times (Malawi newspaper) in October 2011 -- accused of being an activist. / Photo by: Comfort Chitseko

Revamping the Malawi Police Service

Comfort Chitseko on the front page of the BNL Times (Malawi newspaper) in October 2011 -- accused of being an activist. / Photo by: Comfort Chitseko

“I was detained, in jail for 7 days for no reason,” said Comfort Chitseko, who was arrested by Malawi police in October for allegedly conducting demonstration without authority consent and seditious act (according to Malawi police).

“I was having lunch with my cousin before I was arrested. They put me in the local jail cell and then they eventually transferred me to Maula Prison. I did absolutely nothing wrong,” he said.

During the time of Comfort’s arrest, the country was in chaos. The July 2011 protests caused tension across the nation.

Comfort now awaits a court hearing for the false accusations. He is not the only one who has experienced the flagrant abuse of power by the police.

“Time and time we experience that the society is saying that we mishandle suspects,” says Commissioner Nelson Bophani from Malawi’s Police Service in Lilongwe’s central region.

Since the infamous July 20, 2011, protests, the Malawi Police Service has yet to recover from their unjust and violent reputation.

Many police authorities recognize Malawians’ criticisms of police’s arbitrary arrest and even brutality. The Police Service understands that kindling a relationship with the public is what the nation needs.

“The public is expecting a lot from us,” said Detective Lucy Mkute from Kanengo Police Service.

She feels that changes are already being made within the Police Service. “We are respecting human rights and the rule of law,” she said.

Many changes have been made in government administration since the leadership of Honorable Joyce Banda, including the replacement of the Inspector-General of the Malawi Police Service.

Since being appointed, the new Inspector-General, Commissioner Loti Dzonzi has initiated an ‘Investigative Interviewing Skills’ workshop for all investigators and prosecutors in the Police Service.

“It is the desire of the inspector-general that we change the image of the Police Service,” said Commissioner Bophani. “His intention is to do it by imparting skills to all investigators and prosecutors.”

Commissioner Bophani stated the Inspector-General believes that implementing a course in Investigative Interviewing Skills may also help reduce police violations.

“The Police Service needs to avoid using torture and violence – instead we should use our skills. It’s what Malawi needs.”

Malawi recognizes World Malaria Day

It’s April 25 and 12 year old Blessings Phiri traveled, by foot for hours from his village to sit in the waiting room of Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi. This time around, malaria has hit him hard.

Blessings experiences the typical symptoms – nausea, headache, high fevers, periodic chills and sweats, muscle aches and a loss in appetite.

“I think that dying is sometimes better than going through this,” said Phiri.

Malawi’s Ministry of Health reports that malaria remains to be one of the key health problems facing the nation. Currently, up to 325 people in every 1,000 Malawian suffer from the illness every year according to last year’s figures.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” said Phiri, who sits with his hands covering his face.

Coincidentally enough, April 25 was World Malaria Day. It marked the height of global efforts to build awareness of the mosquito-borne parasitic disease. During this day, the Ministry of Health specifically emphasized to Malawian on the need of using insecticide treated nets to prevent being bitten by malaria-laden mosquitoes.

“I don’t have a mosquito net for my bed. No one in my family does,” said Phiri.

According to UNICEF, many children do not sleep under insecticide-treated nets. If malaria is recognized early, it can be cured, however, UNICEF stated that many Malawians are not able to access treatment within 24 hours of onset of symptoms.

Although malaria is both preventable and treatable, many people in Malawi cannot afford the treatments due to poverty.

The Ministry of Health said that support from development-partners remains a significant resource to ensure access to life-saving and cost-effective malaria interventions.

“Continued investment in malaria control will propel Malawi, a malaria-endemic country along the path to achieve the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, especially those relating to improving child survival, maternal health, eradicating extreme poverty and expanding access to education,” according to the press statement released April 25 by the Ministry of Health.

Millions of lives depend on the strong support and the Ministry of Health is optimistic that living a malaria-free life is an attainable goal.

Children at Circle of Hope orphanage in Dowa, Malawi show off their toothbrushes, while waiting in line to be screened.

Rural Malawi’s inaccessibility to oral healthcare

Children at Circle of Hope orphanage in Dowa, Malawi show off their toothbrushes, while waiting in line to be screened.

Isaac Muralaudira is 8 years old and has never visited a dentist. He suffers from periodontal disease and tooth decay.

“His gums are being eaten away. It’s a gum disease. There is bleeding and this is due to the periodontal disease and the decay. His teeth have been dissolved by acid,” said Fred Sambani, the country director for Teethsavers International while using dental equipment to examine Isaac’s mouth.

Isaac experiences toothache but can’t receive the necessary treatment since the dental clinic is too far from his village.

“If this is untreated, he won’t be able to use one side of his mouth to chew,” said Sambani.

Many children in the rural areas of Malawi have little or no accessibility to oral healthcare.

Teethsavers International is an organization established to promote oral healthcare through education and treatment in the rural areas of Africa. Through songs, visual dialogue and interactive activities, the organization teaches children and parents about the importance of oral hygiene.

In one week, dental professionals from the organization visited Bright Vision orphanage and Tilerane Orphan Care in Lilongwe, Malawi, and Circle of Hope orphanage in Dowa, Malawi. They provided oral healthcare treatment to those who have cavities, periodontal disease and plaque buildup.

From the 924 children that were screened at each orphanage, 45 have cases of periodontal scaling and 32 required cavity fillings.

The organization was not able to treat all the children who had oral healthcare problems. The ones with severe cases were referred to a hospital for alternative treatment.

“This is a problem in the rural parts of Malawi. If oral health is not looked after, it usually leads to serious infections and sometimes even fatality,” said Sambani.

He said the major concern with oral healthcare is the lack of awareness.

Teethsavers International hopes that the Malawi government can implement an initiative that will build greater awareness of the issues surrounding oral health.

Enock Phale, the assistant director of clinical services in Malawi’s Ministry of Health department said the government is aware of these issues. He said they are working on programs that will promote oral health care in the rural areas.

“We have to work with the limited resources that we have; in terms of professional workers and supplies,” said Phale.

There are 19 dentists in Malawi; 18 of them are in private practice while one is designated for government personnel’s only. None of which are situated anywhere close to the rural areas.

Female tobacco workers on a tobacco farm in Salima, Malawi.  Photo by Kara Stevenson.

Exploitation of Malawi’s tobacco tenants

Children tobacco workers on a tobacco farm in Salima, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

Eletina Mwale has worked on several tobacco estates since 1985. Currently, she works on a tobacco farm in Salima, Malawi.

“I have been in several farms from Kasungu to the northern region. We meet a lot of problems. The water is bad, our children do not go to school and we live very far from hospitals,” said Mwale.

The most difficult conditions lie amongst the women who work and live on the farms. Mwale said often women are forced to sleep with the estate owner’s for money, food, transport.

“What other choice do we have? We are poor. We have nothing,” she said.

Being exploited and abused, tobacco tenants in central Malawi are grossly underpaid, deprived of medical insurance, and have no choice but to work without contracts under dire working conditions.

With none or little education, money and especially with no other employment, tobacco tenants earn around 200 kwacha ($1.25 CDN) per day. Food and health care are sometimes subtracted from their wages.

In Malawi 200 kwacha can buy vegetables and low-grade fruits. The amount of food a tobacco farmer can afford can hardly sustain their families. Most live with extended families, usually in a small one-room hut made of mud and straw.

As they salvage whatever income they can find to support their families, these tenants suffer at the hands of the tobacco estate owners – some of whom sit before Malawi’s National Assembly, say activists.

Malawi’s Centre for Social Concern (CFSC) is a non-government organization that has taken part in advocating against the exploitation and abuse of tobacco tenants.

Female tobacco workers on a tobacco farm in Salima, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

Father Bill Turnbull, the acting director of CFSC said they have been lobbying for the Tenancy Labor Bill, which was drafted in 1995 to regulate tenancy labour by clarifying the rights and obligations of estate owners and tenants – a solution to demolish the exploitation.

Turnbull said the bill would be beneficial for both tobacco tenants and estate owners.

“For tenants, he or she will have a written contract. Same goes for the estate owners; they will know exactly where they stood with what is going on,” said Turnbull.

It’s been 17 years since the proposal of the bill and it has yet to pass in parliament. The CFSC argues that the delay is most likely caused by the vested interests.

However, the Minister of Labour, Dr. Lucious Kanyumba, denies such interests.

“It was proposed during the United Democratic Front (UDF) regime. I cannot be in a position to answer why it is taking so long to pass the bill, but you have to appreciate that this Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has fought for this Bill to be considered,” said Kanyumba.

Meanwhile, Goodall Gondwe, Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment is known to own a tobacco farm in Lilongwe, Malawi called, Nzanzi Estate. Gondwe claims that living conditions are seemingly better on his estate, and although he said a wage of 171 kwacha ($1.08 CDN) per day is not a sufficient income for a tobacco worker, the laborers on his tobacco estate are, in fact, paid 171 kwacha per day.

In addition, minimum wage in Malawi is 178 kwacha ($1.12 CDN) per day. Gondwe’s workers make under the minimum wage amount.

Many non-government organizations that advocate change remain optimistic that the bill will pass in parliament.

Mphatso Banda's shows off the bullet wound he got at a protest in Lumbadzi, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

Victims of Malawi’s bloody protest speak

July 21, 2011 was an unruly day in Lumbadzi, Malawi – a violent protest paraded through the streets. While some citizens were using the protest to loot shops and pelt stones at police officers, many innocent people were injured.

“I started to run, but I felt numbness in my left foot. I realized that there was a lot of blood and I was told that I was shot,” said 16-year-old Stanley Zacharia, who said he was shot in the foot by police following the demonstration against corrupt governance charges.

The violent protest left 20 people dead and over 200 people injured.

It has been over seven months since the occurrence and families of surviving victims have yet to receive answers, advice or assistance from any organization.

Mphatso Banda's shows off the bullet wound he got at a protest in Lumbadzi, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

“I rushed to the scene and when I got there I saw my boy was lying in a pool of blood. He couldn’t walk or sit. The blood was oozing so much,” said Albert Zacharia, who described the day when he thought his son, Stanley, was going to die.

Zacharia wasn’t the only 16-year-old to be shot during the July demonstration. Mphatso Banda, who was on the verge to play for Malawi’s national under-17 soccer team, now lives with a bullet in his leg. He was also shot by a police officer. He said he wasn’t a threat to police, but rather he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I was coming back from the trading centre and that’s where I was shot. In fact, I didn’t even know I was shot until someone told me,” said Mphatso.

A lot of money was spent on hospital bills. While Zacharia is left with two broken toes and a wound that may cause infection, Mphatso was told by doctors at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe that resources for his recovery would be readily available at a hospital in South Africa. However, due to the lack of financial means, he cannot afford to pay for his full recovery.

There has been financial compensation to families who have lost loved ones, but those left with permanent injuries like Stanley and Mphatso have not received any compensation.

During a 2012 New Year’s speech, Malawi police chief Peter Mukhito admitted that the police force did not have adequate equipment to handle July’s demonstration. Rather than using rubber bullets, the police used real bullets.

Davie Chingwalu, the national spokesperson for the Malawi police said cases like Zacharia’s are still being investigated.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission is a government organization that investigates cases in which police may have caused unnecessary injuries. John Kapito, the chairperson of the MHRC said during their investigation, they did discover the injustice on both Stanley’s and Mphatso’s cases. He said their next step is to determine what action should follow.

The human rights activists who organized the July 21 demonstration, among others, have been paying tribute to families of people whose lives were lost during the violent protest. MacDonald Sembereka, the national coordinator of the Human Rights Consultative Committee, was one of the many who organized the demonstration and said there are legal actions that victims can initiate.

“We are looking at legal address for them. We know who shot them and they are liable to sue the government in this circumstance. We want them to take this to court,” said Sembereka.

Albert Zacharia, Stanley’s father, worries about the lack of action taken by these organizations that are forefront of the investigations.

“Who do I blame? Should I blame the government, the civil society, should I blame myself? Should I blame the boy? There are no answers to these questions. At the moment, I need assistance in figuring out what should be the next step,” he said.

Teachers in over crowded schools on strike for unpaid ‘double-shift’ wages

LILONGWE, Malawi – Primary schools in Lilongwe are over their capacity. There are not enough classrooms to seat 8,000 or more students per school, and students are forced to sit outside.

In fact, schools in the area lack funding and government support.

It an attempt to accommodate all students with an education while optimizing the use of limited classrooms, the government in 2010 implemented ‘double-shift’ teaching. Teachers could be asked to work all day and receive additional pay. While some students are taught during the morning, the others are taught in the afternoon.

“The double-shift allowance was rolled out in all of the primary schools in the country,” said Dennis Kalekeni, the general-secretary for the Teacher’s Union of Malawi. Teachers granted the double-shift allowance were paid for working a morning shift, and again for working an afternoon shift.

In spite of the overly crowded classrooms, lack of teachers and many other issues that double shifting has created, most primary school students still enjoy going to school. The enforced double-shift means for them an opportunity for an education.

From May 2010 to July 2010, teachers from Mdzobwe educational district were paid accordingly. However, after July 2010, they were no longer given their entitled double-shift allowance.

As a result, 41 teachers from the 4 primary schools in Mdzobwe Zone are now on strike. “They promised us our money since 2010. They promised but they lied,” said Issac Chibwana, the spokesperson for the striking teachers.

The teachers object to the injustice asserting that they have been deprived of their entitlement to remuneration for far too long.

“I tried to have a meeting with the director of the Ministry of Education, only to find out he went to Rwanda,” said Kalekeni.

“They do not have concrete information to provide to the teachers, as to when they will get paid.”

On the other hand, the district education manager from the Ministry of Education stated that he had informed the teachers that their double-shift allowance would be incorporated in a supplementary budget (to be discussed sometime in February).

However, 17 months of unpaid double-shift wages leave teachers frustrated and angry. They are doubtful of the promise.

Meanwhile, 65,000 Lilongwe primary school students have been out of school since January 13. “They are running around with nothing to do,” said Chibwana. “They would rather be in school learning.”

Steven Malunga, chairperson of the Vendors Association for Tsoka Market

The street vendor’s motto: “Freedom is bought by blood”

Lilongwe street vendors have been headlining Malawi media for quite some time and it doesn’t look like their name will be out of the news anytime soon.

There have been a few battles between street vendors and riot police, creating chaos in the city. Since moving their business onto the streets of Lilongwe, street vendors have been confronted by city council officials and police, advising them to vacate the streets and return to their original selling spots in the markets.

This week, Lilongwe will have to prepare for another showdown.

It all started after the recent attacks on some Malawian women who were not wearing long skirts. Street vendors in Lilongwe said their name was tarnished from being accused of such acts.

“We love women and we protect our women. We would never hurt them,” said Steven Malunga, the chairperson of the Vendors Association for Tsoka Market.

“After the women boycotted us because they heard we were the ones attacking them, business has not been the same and now street vendors left their spots in the market to sell their merchandise on the streets.”

Malunga said he wants to put an end to what he considers defamation of character to all street vendors by using a seven-day campaign.

“The campaign is a method to disassociate the street vendors from thugs who are the real culprits of the attacks,” said Malunga.

He said thugs selling their merchandise on the same streets were posing as street vendors. Street vendors and thugs were being categorized under one title – vendors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Steven Malunga, chairperson of the Vendors Association for Tsoka Market (Photo by Kara Stevenson)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A joint operation with police authorities, the Vendors Association and city council members decided to use the seven-day campaign to get street vendors who are selling their merchandise on the streets, back into the market. This way authorities are able to differentiate who are the real street vendors and who are not.

“We are looking for the original vendors. Not the fake vendors. I want the original vendors to go back to the market to trade their business,” said Malunga.

Justin, a street vendor selling his merchandise on the street said he heard about the seven-day campaign and said he does not intend to move back into the market.

“Business on the street has increased sale profits. Also, there is no space to accommodate all vendors in the market,” said Justin.

Malunga said if street vendors are not situated back into their designated posts, anything could happen. He used this example: “If a child doesn’t listen, what happens to them? They get punished.”

Justin and many other street vendors challenge to face any officials after the seven-day campaign is over.

“We will deal with them when the time comes,” said Justin.

The seven-day campaign will officially end this Monday. According to a message (written in Chichewa) that was posted on several trees in Old Town, the street vendors stand strong; they will not be moved!

A DEAD PERSON IS NOT YET KNOWN!

A message from Lilongwe street vendors (Photo by Patrick Maulidi/ZBS Journalist)

WE, STREET VENDORS,
LABORERS, GOODS-CARRIERS AND
MINIBUS TOOTERS,
WE HAVE AGREED NEVER TO VACATE
NOR LEAVE OUR WORK BECAUSE
THAT’S WHERE WE FIND OUR DAILY FOOD

WE ARE WARNING ALL THOSE THAT
HAVE BEEN PAID TO BETRAY US
AND ARE BEING LED BY MR. STEVEN MALUNGA.
WE ARE SAYING MR. MALUNGA IS NOT OUR VENDORS CHAIRMAN
BUT FOR DPP PARTY.

WE DON’T WANT TO CONFRONT ANYONE
BUT IF YOU START CONFRONTING US, MAKE SURE YOU STAND FIRM AND FINISH WHAT YOU HAVE STARTED.
BECAUSE IF YOU RETREAT, WE WILL FOLLOW YOU TO YOUR RESPECTIVE HOMES.

WE WILL DIE FOR OUR COUNTRY LIKE GADAFI
WHO ONCE SAID
FREEDOM IS BOUGHT BY BLOOD

Developing energy-saving lights and solar lights to improve standard of living in Malawi’s cities and rural areas

“The lights are back on? Lets celebrate!” It’s become the common expression for us after moving to Malawi a couple of weeks ago.

There are times where my fellow jhr co-workers and I are left to sit in the dark for hours in our Lilongwe home. Moving to Malawi has conditioned us to adapt to the frequent power outages.

But just like us, Malawians living in the cities have become reliant on electricity. No electricity can mean no water, cooking, television, telephones, air conditioning, heating, security, sufficient hospital care and much more.

The electricity system in Malawi lacks sustainability. Power outages in Malawi happen as a common occurrence because the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) is the only source that provides the country with power, and struggles in doing so.

However, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment implemented the Energy Efficient Lighting Project (EELP). Their mission is to distribute 2-million energy saver light blubs to Escom residential consumers for free.

The project is aimed at reducing the evening peak demand for electricity and energy-saver light blubs will subsequently reduce the load off Escom.

Meanwhile, majority of the population do not even rely on Escom as an energy source. 80 per cent of Malawi’s population live in rural areas and most of that population depends on non-electric sources for lighting – kerosene being one.

Kerosene is used frequently in rural areas, is an expensive light source and can result in negative health implications. “You have to keep buying lamps, just like diesel or gas. You have to keep buying the fuel to keep lighting the house,” said John Keane of SolarAid.

SolarAid was established in 2006 as a charity to create international awareness and access to solar energy. “The mission is to eradicate the kerosene lamp from the continent by the end of this decade,” said Keane.

“If you breathe in kerosene every night, it harms your lungs and it’s dangerous set aflame.”

In January, Keane went to one of Malawi’s major cities, Muzuzu, to discover ways to capitalize the market for small solar lights in hopes to improve quality of life for Malawians.

“We are trying to do it through the private sector, a social enterprise called SunnyMoney,” said Keane.

“SunnyMoney is our microfranchise brand which uses a pioneering technique called microsolar to bring light to the poor whilst creating jobs and offering an alternative to costly and polluting kerosene lighting. Local entrepreneurs receive marketing and commerce training to enable effective distribution of portable solar-powered lighting systems and to ensure the lasting success of their new business. With SunnyMoney, everyone is a winner: the franchisees, their families, their communities and the environment.”solar-aid.org

Energy-saving lights and solar power infrastructures are still a work in progress; however the developments aim to provide a “brighter” future for Malawi.