Tag Archives: development

Mentoring media managers in South Sudan: starting conversations, finding solutions

By: Ron Waksman

Six days is just long enough to absorb the initial shock of arriving in Africa, an experience that is an all-out assault on all of your senses. My 22-hour journey ended when my Ethiopian Airlines Q400 bounced hard then settled on a crumbling runway that would likely be closed to air traffic anywhere else in the world. I stepped off the Bombardier-made plane that delivered me from Addis Ababa and inhaled a breath of 41 degree Celsius air. Exhausted and completely out of my element, I did what most of the passengers on my flight did, blindly follow other people who seemed to know their way across the chaotic ramp.

Jets at Juba Airport (Ron Waksman/JHR)

In Juba, the planes are parked like they used to be parked on game nights in the lot across from Maple Leaf Gardens, no one leaves until the guy blocking you decides to leave. I confess to being an aviation geek. If they made an air freshener or a cologne that smelled like jet fuel I’d buy it. Which is why I almost got whiplash on my way to the terminal after I spotted a dozen or so incredible Soviet-era heavy-lift cargo aircraft that I’ve only ever seen in pictures on the internet. They only fly in Africa where the climate helps preserve them and emissions standards are well, shall we say, more relaxed.

I was warned weeks before I left that people in South Sudan don’t like having their picture taken. That apparently goes double for soldiers and security officials. As I stared at these cold war era relics, I reflexively raised my camera and pointed it in the direction of the nearest Ilyushin-76. All I could think about was showing the pictures to my eldest son who is in training to become a commercial pilot.

Six days is one of JHR’s shorter ‘missions’ to Africa, but after clicking the shutter just a couple of times I came this close to becoming the first JHR trainer to arrive and be deported in under four minutes.  A 7-foot tall security officer came up behind me and yanked me backward by the camera strap so hard I almost fell to the ground. In broken English, with angrily contorted facial expressions and a death grip on my camera strap he fully intended to take my camera away. The journalist in me took over as I regained my footing and got into a tug of war with the security giant as he barked demands to know who gave me permission to take pictures. I muttered something about being an aviation enthusiast just trying to take pictures of rare Russian aircraft. For some reason that was lost on him.

Just then, the jet lag, oppressive heat and adrenaline released control of my senses long enough for me to have an ‘aha’ moment. It occurred to me that not every one of these vintage Russian cargo jets was toting powdered milk and flour, some of them, without registrations, were likely hauling weapons. In South Sudan everyone has access to an AK-47, including traffic cops.

Lucky for me, a U.N. peacekeeper from Uganda came to my rescue. The Ugandans are responsible for perimeter security at the airport. The soldier defused the situation by telling the South Sudanese security officer that I would happily erase all the images I shot, so there was no need to take the camera away. At least I think that’s what he said, because just then the security officer released his grip on the camera strap. DSLR cameras have electronic menus you call up on the LED screen in back of the camera. I brought up the menu for erasing images and showed the security officer that I had put the cursor right over the ‘erase all images’ function. Funny thing about DSLR cameras, it’s not enough to move the cursor, you also have to press enter. Thankfully, I was able to capture at least a couple of the rare Soviet aircraft to show to my son when I got home.

After I got past security on the ramp, my next stop was the Ebola testing table where I waited for 15 minutes to fill out a declaration that I didn’t come into contact with Ebola on my way from Toronto. It’s a funny thing, if you wait in the blazing hot sun for 15-20 minutes just about everyone will register a fever when they stick a thermometer in your ear.

I was met at the airport by Grant McDonald, the JHR rep on the ground in Juba. Grant is the right guy for the job. Cool as a cucumber and connected to everyone, he greeted me and arranged for a driver to meet us outside the terminal. I was so relieved that my bags actually made it from Toronto through Addis Ababa and to Juba that I didn’t mind the 30 minute wait for the driver. Grant understood what arriving in Juba must feel like to a white middle-aged guy from suburban Toronto. He put me at ease right away handing me a local cell phone so I could call home and let my family know that I hadn’t been eaten by a hyena. For many people, going to see The Lion King is the extent of their African experience. I was no different.

Everyone in Juba knows and respects Grant, from the Canadian ambassador to the local stringers and NGO representatives. Grant organized the two-day JHR event and I believe almost everyone showed up as a result of the great work he’s been doing there. I couldn’t have asked for a better host, organizer and fixer. He even arranged for some sightseeing, with very little photography, and made sure I brought home some real African souvenirs. BTW, you can transport tribal spears in your checked baggage.

Challenging roads in Juba, South Sudan. (Robin Pierro/JHR)

South Sudan – the world’s newest country – lags far behind most of Africa in economic development, human rights, the establishment of legitimate government institutions, a transparent judiciary and the emergence of a free press. Infrastructure is almost non-existent. The roads were among the most challenging dirt tracks I had ever seen. Very few are paved and the ones that are have to be evacuated when the President drives by.  Most roads in Juba are just reddish brown dust with embedded rocks, boulders or potholes holes that require drivers to move over to the other side of the street to get by or drive carefully over the obstacles. Vehicle suspensions need to be replaced often.

There is no power grid, you either have a diesel generator or you have no power. There are periods when the generators are shut down, like over the lunch hour. There is no system of delivering drinking water to the citizens. That’s why one of the first things you notice when you move around Juba, the capital city, is that the country is literally knee deep in light blue plastic water bottles. This is by no means an exaggeration, they are everywhere. Think of Tim Horton’s cups and other fast food litter multiplied a thousand times. Bottled water is the only water people have to drink unless they collect rainwater in rooftop tanks.

Diesel exhaust hangs heavy in the air, a situation exacerbated by the generators, large trucks and thousands of three seat mini-bikes that weave and dodge their way through traffic. On my final morning in Juba I was visiting a radio station for a couple of hours, when my driver didn’t show up to take me back to Logali House where I was staying. I was so afraid of missing my flight that I suspended all good sense and accepted a ride on one of these crazy motor bikes driven by a complete stranger. It was 5 minutes of sheer terror and easily one of the dumbest things I have ever done.

There is something in South Sudan that makes all the other conditions I’ve described tolerable, and that is the warmth and optimism of the South Sudanese people.

Ron Waksman in Juba. (Grant McDonald/JHR)

Ron Waksman at the Juba Telegraph. (Grant McDonald/JHR)

In South Sudan everyone shakes hands, a common and polite greeting everywhere in the world. But you notice almost immediately that handshakes in Juba linger just a couple of seconds longer than the North American or European comfort zones allow. In South Sudan, a handshake is not just a formality when people greet each other for the first time. Even people who know each other shake hands warmly when they meet again. The handshake is always accompanied by a welcoming smile and eye contact that engages you. After a couple of days in Juba, I also started to linger when I shook hands. People are genuinely interested in who you are and where you come from.

My JHR mission was different in a number of ways. Instead of the great work JHR staff do in training local journalists to do their jobs more effectively through various techniques and strategies, I was in South Sudan to work specifically with more senior media managers including publishers and managing editors. This was the first time senior media managers were assembled by JHR for this kind of training. Based on the discussions and ideas that came out of the two-day sessions, I hope JHR will continue along this path if for no other reason than to get all these senior people into one room on a regular basis to discuss solutions to common issues.

There are a multitude of seminars and training programs offered by media agencies from around the world in South Sudan. My focus on day-one was to reinforce important journalistic principles that are absolutely necessary for the development of democratic institutions and good governance. We spent some time discussing who in society journalists are supposed to represent. The concept of reporting news in the ‘public interest’ has not really taken hold yet in a country where most citizens don’t give much thought to a free press that is supposed to represent their views and hold those in power accountable. There is even a segment of society in South Sudan that takes the government’s position that any criticism at all of ministers and officials is tantamount to treason and not in the interest of peace. It’s almost as if the media exists to defend public interest, without the public really being aware of it.

Ron Waksman teaching media managers seminar, Juba - photo credit Grant McDonald

Ron Waksman teaching the media managers seminar in Juba. (Grant McDonald/JHR)

I’m very fond of saying that a journalistic principle is not really a principle unless it’s tested every so often. As a basis for discussion, I provided all the media managers with copies of the Global News Journalistic Principles and Practices. I wanted to be very careful about coming across as the ‘Great White Hunter’, there to teach ‘primitive’ South Sudanese journalists about how we do things in Canada.

I learned that while western nations occasionally invoke journalistic standards to address ethical problems, my South Sudanese colleagues live these challenges daily. For them, journalistic independence isn’t an intellectual exercise, it means successfully making it through another broadcast day or publishing another edition of the paper. Instead of lecturing, I felt it was my place to moderate a discussion whereby all the media managers felt assured they were in a safe place where they could honestly express their feelings and frustrations.

Those frustrations had to do with the dedication and commitment of their own journalists, suppression by the government and the sometimes overbearing ideologies of the aid agencies and NGOs that fund them. For much of the discussion the group talked to each other, sharing their experiences and offering solutions. Sometimes there just weren’t any solutions to be had and members of the group just appreciated the opportunity to vent. In listening to their back and forth discussions, it became apparent that for the most part each media outlet was fighting the same battles on their own. The discussion turned to the need for a ‘college’ of journalists that would represent the media industry as whole on common issues. This college would govern journalists in South Sudan by requiring educational/training standards to become a journalist, bestowing official press credentials and serve as a dispute resolution body to handle complaints from the public and government officials. An umbrella organization could also offer ‘safety in numbers’ so that individual media organizations would feel empowered and supported when the government threatened them with reprisals.

Media Managers Seminar, Juba. (Ron Waksman/JHR)

This college of journalists could also be helpful in setting out a new strategy to shift the funding model from individual journalism projects to the overall sustainability of the media industry in South Sudan. In two days of seminars we also looked at whether current media models that operate in South Sudan are sustainable over the long term. One of my observations early on was that the dozens of individual media projects underway in South Sudan may be hurting the industry there as a whole by fragmenting available funding. There are, in my opinion, too many individual journalism projects operating in South Sudan funded by the good intentions of aid and non-governmental organizations. There are too many newspapers, radio stations and TV stations operating in South Sudan as individual journalism projects. These outlets have little autonomy, unable to determine how funding dollars are spent, especially when the money originates with ideologically-driven aid agencies and NGOs. These ideals, and in some cases political agendas, do not necessarily support the goal of overall media sustainability for the future.

One of the important issues I addressed with media managers was whether they would like to have a greater say in determining where and how to invest funding dollars in their own organizations to build them as sustainable businesses. The obvious question was what happens when funding dollars for individual projects run out? Difficult decisions will have to be made in South Sudan about which projects and media outlets have a reasonable chance at succeeding as stand-alone businesses if and when funding dries up, which it inevitably does. That’s why more self-determination in where to invest available funding is so important. It was clear early on that advertising is not likely to be a sustainable model for media in South Sudan. The primary advertiser currently is the government, not commercial businesses. In a country where the government has shut down radio stations for even mild criticism, giving the same officials more economic leverage creates a clear conflict.

South Sudanese medi managers with Ron Waksman (center) after the training workshop. (Grant McDonald/JHR)

One of the strategies we discussed was a ‘media tax’ that would be levied on any and all communications companies licensed to operate in South Sudan. This would include wireless operators, who could also be required to provide push notification and text messaging services as another channel for reaching the audience with news and information. The ‘media tax’ remains an unlikely scenario because there is little motivation for the government to levy such a tax to assist media organizations critical of government services and ministers, more reason to reassess whether the funding given to individual media projects would be better spent on improving the overall sustainability of the media industry.

I thought that one of the most interesting ideas to come from our discussions was the importance of media training, not just for journalists but for government officials.

Ron Waksman and Ambassador Nick Coghlan in Juba. (Grant McDonald/JHR)

Ron Waksman and Nick Coghlan, Canadian Ambassador to South Sudan, in Juba. (Grant McDonald/JHR)

In South Sudan, Ministers often contradict each other and even the president because there is no consistent messaging. This creates confusion among the population as to who is in charge and leads to policy decisions that create chaos. Government officials would benefit from media training that would teach them why it’s in their best interest to speak with the media instead of avoiding them entirely or retaliating when they are criticized.

If the government had a more sophisticated communications apparatus the flow of information to the public would vastly improve and create more engagement in the political and democratic process. JHR could play a very useful role in educating and training the government on proper communications practice.

Thanks JHR for a life-changing experience. It was an honour and a privilege to work with Grant and the rest of the journalists and managers who attended our seminars.

Ron Waksman is the Director, Online News & Current Affairs, Editorial Standards & Practices at Global News. He travelled to JHR’s program in South Sudan as part of a partnership between JHR and  Global News, with support from Shaw Media.

JHR’s program in South Sudan is generously supported by the United Nations Democracy Fund

 

Mamas know best: an organization in Ghana profits with fair trade

Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

Gloria Amanful of Global Mamas working on an order. Ashley Terry, Global News

Gloria Amanful of Global Mamas working on an order. Ashley Terry, Global News

ACCRA & CAPE COAST, Ghana – The Bangladesh factory collapse has forced Canadians to look at their closets a little more closely.

The discovery of Joe Fresh garments in the rubble has also brought renewed calls from NGOs and labour groups to improve conditions for garment workers in the developing world.

Currently, there is no existing fair trade certification program in North America for apparel, only for commodities.

“It started with coffee, then chocolate, sugar… But it’s so expensive for businesses to go through certification so it falls on the producer’s shoulders,” said Carrie Hawthorne, former board member of the Fair Trade Federation, a non-profit based in Washington, DC.

Fair trade screening does exist for apparel, but is entirely voluntary. Expenses to remain “fair trade” increase production costs, putting companies at a competitive disadvantage to those not operating at the same standards.

The only incentive is to appeal to the small market of fair trade consumers. This incentive isn’t enough, for most.

“Can you really keep up with Walmart?” asks Hawthorne, who is now working for a fair trade organization in Ghana called Global Mamas.

This organization might be an exception to the rule. It is a Ghanaian-based clothing company with a formula to trade fairly and make a profit.

“The model that Global Mamas is setting up is to be large scale,” says Hawthorne.

The women involved essentially own their own businesses – each “Mama” is responsible for managing her own finances and hiring help if needed.

This approach means the company is dealing one-on-one with Ghanaian entrepreneurs rather than a company in Bangladesh, for example.

Women are employed in seven different locations in Ghana. The organization provides raw materials and orders for batiking, sewing, bead-making, assembling, weaving and soap-making.

Gloria Amanful, a seamstress in Cape Coast, has been working with Global Mamas for the past nine months. She is saving money to buy land, and is now thinking of buying a knitting machine to expand her business.

Amanful says she is gaining confidence in herself through her work. “Global Mamas has helped me by giving me something for my children and my family,” she said.

It’s something that Global Mamas co-founder Renae Adam said is an advantage of working with women.

“You can be assured they’re going to invest their money in their family,” she said. “Women are definitely the best investment for the betterment of an entire community.”

“They even start employing other women,” said Adam.

Mary Koomson is proof: since she started taking on contracts with the organization, she’s been able to purchase her own plot of land, pay for her niece and nephews to attend school, hired two workers and one apprentice, and is now thinking of expanding her business.

“I want to open a store to make my new things in,” she said.

 

Koomson batiking an order for Global Mamas. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Koomson batiking an order for Global Mamas. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

 

Koomson lives in Cape Coast, and has been working with Global Mamas for five years. She does “batiking,” an ancient process of stamping and dyeing fabric that has been practiced in Ghana for generations.

She said she has benefited from training provided by Global Mamas on fair trade, how to manage your business and how to save money.

The organization was founded in 2003 with six apparel producers in Ghana. It now has over 600 producers and is building a fair trade campus in Ashaiman, just outside of Accra.

Global Mamas hit the $1-million sales mark for the first time in 2012. Adam said that the organization is getting requests from all over the world to establish organizations there, but that Global Mamas will stay in Ghana until, she said, “we’ve helped Ghana to its extent.”

But the Global Mamas model is proving to be a success, according to Adam, in more ways than numbers.

“I think [the fair trade] approach is so amazing to be able to empower people in the workplace. It’s the opposite of what you read about China and other parts of the world.”

Obruni Chief

Rod McLaren, also known as Nana Akwasi Amoako Agyemen, is dressed in traditional regalia for a funeral. After moving from Canada to Ghana, he was given the esteemed title Nkosuohene. Picture supplied by Rod LcLaren.

Ghana is full of people who came to the country, fell in love with it and its people, and ended up staying.

Rod McLaren’s story is a little different. Like many others, his journey took him back and forth between Saskatchewan, Canada and Ghana, but he’s also received a distinctive accolade – Nkosuohene. He is now a chief in charge of the progress of roughly 200 villages.

After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with an English degree in 1971, a 23 year-old McLaren went to Ghana on a two-year teaching contract with the then Canadian University Service Overseas, a Canadian development organization.

“When I was nearing the end of my degree I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and the idea of working overseas appealed to me. I had no idea where I wanted to go, so when the posting came up for Ghana I just took it,” he said.

He finished his contract and headed back to Canada, but returned to Ghana for a couple weeks in 1976 to pick up his future wife and take her back to Canada. They soon were married and had three children while McLaren worked for First Nation’s communities, farmed, and even opened a hardware store.

In 2001 they sold their business and moved back to Ghana to open the African Rainbow Resort in Busua, on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea in southern Ghana.

Three years later, an old friend and Asante chief approached McLaren to offer him the title of Nkosuohene. It is a relatively new position in the ancient tradition of the Akan Chieftaincy – the long-established power structure of the various Akan people that populate the area around Ghana and Ivory Coast.

The Chieftaincy is a pre-colonial institution of governance with judicial, legislative, and executive powers. “The chief of a village or a town was the leader, politically, spiritually, militarily, judicially. He spoke for his people, led them in battle, and heard the cases of his people,” explained McLaren.

Although the traditional chieftaincy is active only in history books in other countries, it exists alongside the presidential system as a parallel political structure in Ghana.

Its survival can be linked to the fact that while the neighboring countries were French colonies or protectorates, Ghana, then the Gold Coast, was British. Because of the British colonial system of “Indirect Rule,” they relied on chiefs and elders to help govern the Gold Coast and the chieftaincy survived.

When the Republic of Ghana was founded in 1957, because of the Chieftaincy’s historical and cultural significance, it was agreed that the chieftaincy system should be respected. Its relevance was again guaranteed in the 1992 constitution.

The chiefs work with sub-chiefs and elders to aid the development of their areas, making provisions for water, education, roads and other infrastructure. It is an especially important role in the more rural areas where the other government has less of a presence. Once a chief dies, the elders select a successor from the region’s old families. Although their role has somewhat diminished, chiefs remain hugely important and powerful people.

“The chief is assumed to be the embodiment of the ancestors. He embodies all his people and all the spirits of the people who have gone before,” explained McLaren.

The position of Nkosuohene was the brainchild of the Asantehene, the king of the Ghanaian Asante people, a sort of chief of chiefs. The Nkosuohene is a “sub-chief” responsible for the development of the region. The title was created to honour someone who does not have to be member of a royal family and is meant to bring in people from outside the area who have a different education and new ideas.

“He [the Asantehene] was trying to incorporate people who were not necessarily members of the royal but whose education and experience who could help the people develop,” said McLaren.

It is a lifetime appointment that comes with prestige but responsibility. Along with the title, McLaren was given the name “Nana Akwasi Amoako Agyemen.” He is charged with overseeing development in the Edubiase Traditional Area, an area comprised of about 200 villages in the Asante Region.

“There’s quite a difference in the expectations on the chiefs in the Asante Region opposed to others. The Asante take the position a lot more seriously and don’t give it out haphazardly,” he said.

The position has been challenging; there was a steep learning curve that he was responsible for overcoming on his own.

“I really thought I’d have a vigorous training and orientation, but I ended up doing almost everything myself,” he said.

He took an active role for the first five years after the appointment, appearing at various functions, attending funerals, meeting every 40 days, and applying for countless grants.

“I tried my best to find them funding, but the proposals have never really gone that far,” he said. “I don’t know if I deserved to get the position at all. Although I’ve worked hard at doing things, I’m not sure I can show any results that can justify the hope that people have had for me.”

However, there have been successes. He says the accomplishment he is most proud of was the successful establishment of a daycare.

Currently, he divides his time between Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Busua, Ghana.

Lucius Dimiano of Kafupa Village.  Roughly translated, "kafupa" means "hard as bone".  Photo by Karissa Gall.

“Mind the gap” – The crippling impact of HIV/AIDS on family composition and elderly Malawians

The old “respect your elders” adage has customarily been an important part of Malawian culture, with the elderly able to depend on the social and economic support of their children and the community.  However, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a crippling impact on family composition and tradition.

While the 2012 Malawi Country AIDS Response Progress Report found that from the start of the epidemic the number of deaths per annum had been reduced from nearly 100,000 to approximately 48,000 in 2010, the report also found that the number of children orphaned by AIDS has been on the rise.

Antenatal Clinic sero-surveys (surveys of blood serum) found that the number of children orphaned by AIDS increased from 576,458 in 2010 to 612,908 in 2011.  And with over half of orphans being cared for by their grandparents, men like Lucius Dimiano of Kafupa Village will be celebrating their 70th birthday before that of their retirement.

At 68-years-old, Dimiano is still working three jobs to support six grandchildren orphaned by AIDS.  He works as a guard from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. at a nearby church, goes to the garden to get maize for his family, weaves baskets to sell at the market and then, does it all over again.

“I cannot sleep, so it’s hard,” Dimiano said.  “As a night guard, I need to always be awake because sometimes there are thieves in the dark.

Still working three jobs at 68-years-old to support six grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, Lucius Dimiano of Kafupa Village demonstrates panga knife techniques he uses as a night guard. Photo by Karissa Gall.

“When I knock off in the morning I go to the garden, when I knock off in the garden I eat and then I start making baskets so I can make more money, but it’s still not enough to care for all six grandchildren.”

In the same township of Chigumula, 55-year-old Mrs. Kandikole has also lost children to AIDS; her oldest daughter passed away in 2005 orphaning one grandchild, and her second oldest daughter passed away in 2010 orphaning three grandchildren.

“I’m the one who’s left looking out for them,” she said.  “And not only those four; I have other grandchildren at my home who have only a mother but not a father.

“It’s very difficult for me to look after these children because I’m very old.  I’m not working,” she continued.  “Things are very expensive here in Malawi.  Food is very expensive.  I cannot manage to buy clothes for them.  It is very difficult for me to take them to the hospital.  To get good medicine, one needs to pay money at private hospitals, but I can’t manage to do all those things.”

Kandikole said she had been working at a nursery school, but had to quit when her daughters died because “(her) grandchildren were alone, so (she) had to look after these children all by (herself).”

She said her husband, 57, is still working as a telephone operator but “he makes very little money.”

“I don’t think he will be able to continue working much longer because he is now 57 years old and his body is very weak.  He is very sick,” she said, adding that they both suffer from chronic bouts of malaria.  “Before, we could manage to do all those things, but not now.”

Without the proper means or support, Kandikole said she “couldn’t manage to send (her) grandchildren to school, because when you want to send a child to school these days, even a government school, you need to buy a uniform, pencils, exercise books and the child needs to eat porridge.”

She said her grandchildren “were just staying at home” until they were accepted at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Limbe, a free primary and secondary school in Malawi providing education and daily meals to orphans.

“If we did not have Jacaranda, these children would just be doing nothing at home,” she said.  “They go to school without taking anything.  If Jacaranda didn’t provide porridge I don’t know what we could do.  Before, I thought my children would go to school up to college and help their children by themselves.  But their deaths brought everything down.”

The late Nelley Daniel M’maligeni of Che Mboma Village suffered in the same way.

Deaf and blind, M’maligeni struggled to care for herself yet alone her grandson, Vincent, who was orphaned by AIDS.  In March, at the age of 105, M’maligeni passed away and Vincent lost another primary caretaker.

The late Nelley Daniel M’maligeni of Che Mboma Village waits with her daughter-in-law for her grandson Vincent to return from school. Photo by Karissa Gall.

According to M’maligeni’s daughter-in-law, M’maligeni and Vincent had been sleeping in a small hut.

M’maligeni’s daughter-in-law said her family was able to give extra food to M’maligeni and Vincent once a week, but “sometimes it (was) hard because there (was) not enough money.  Sometimes M’maligeni (could) not eat.

“Sometimes we just (bought) panado, because panado is cheap,” she said.

Dimiano, Kandikole and M’maligeni are each representative of the ways that elderly Malawians are struggling to survive in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  According to the Catholic University of Malawi’s December 2010 report “Impact of HIV and AIDS on the elderly: a case study of Chiladzulu district,” 59 percent of the enrolled elderly people had difficulty sourcing money for school uniforms, food and hospital bills for orphaned grandchildren; 55 percent were affected through the sickness and death of their children; and 22 percent had to halt their own development to take care of orphaned grandchildren, spending their reserved resources to make the lives of their grandchildren better while impoverishing themselves in the process.

When asked if there can be greater relief for elderly Malawians struggling to care for themselves and their orphaned grandchildren than panado, an over-the-counter pain medication, Finance Minister Ken Lipenga said that government has put in place safety net programmes that target both the elderly and other vulnerable people in the 2012/13 National Budget.

“These programmes are aimed at assisting the poorest in our communities to cope with life,” he said, adding that during the 2012/13 fiscal year  programmes will be scaled up to capture those that may have fallen below the poverty line due to devaluation.

“A total of K27.5 billion has been provided for four programmes, mainly the Intensive Public Works Programme, the School Feeding Programme targeted towards 980,000 pupils in primary schools, the Schools Bursaries Programme targeting 16,480 needy students, and the Social Cash Transfer Programme which will reach over 30,000 households across the country.”

Lucius Dimiano of Kafupa Village. Roughly translated, "kafupa" means "hard as bone". Photo by Karissa Gall.

But until social cash transfers can be expanded to cover the whole country or non-contributory pensions can be provided to ensure income security for the majority of elderly Malawians who have never worked in the formal sector, government will continue to miss men and women like Dimiano and Kandikole who are fighting for the survival of their family and against the intergenerational transmission of poverty, often without sufficient resources or physical strength to do so.

As Dimiano put it: “If I still had children that could help me, I could have just stayed home, but there is no one to help me, I’m only working because of my grandchildren.

“The only ones who can decide if I stop working are my grandchildren.  Maybe they will see that we are very old and cannot work anymore and they will help us.  But maybe they will finish school and go away.

“At the moment, I do not know.”

 

With files from Richard Chirombo.

When beggars should be choosers – How the promise of remuneration is heading off freedom of movement and free choice of employment in Malawi

Not long after cutting their teeth, North American children are encouraged to call forward their dreams and consider the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The kindergartners’ query is not a foreign concept in Malawi – in fact, up to December 2010 Blantyre Newspapers Limited’s (BNL) Saturday paper Malawi News regularly ran a “When I Grow Up” piece encouraging parents to help their children picture and pledge their ambition for the future.

At the same time the query is not yet ubiquitous – as a country that ranks in the lowest group on the Human Development Index (171 out of 187 countries in 2011), problems such as poverty and underdevelopment mean that for many, filling their stomach is difficult enough to do without considering the most fulfilling way to do it.  And for 21-year-old Alinafe Phiri and her friends at the Nkhata Bay boma, it means that when you ask what they want, they simply tell you how it is instead.

According to Phiri, it isn’t uncommon for girls to be taken from their homes in Nkhata Bay to “faraway places” where they work as house girls.  Others are taken from their homes to work in bars.

“This is considered normal because they are paid something at the end of the day,” she said.  “Isn’t it normal for someone to be taken from their homes for work in faraway areas?  What about those that leave their villages and work elsewhere in cities or otherwise?”

No mention is made of the use of force implicated in being taken to faraway places for work – a form of human trafficking – or of unrealized universal human rights to free movement and free choice of employment.

On May 16 Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) held a public discussion at the Nkhata Bay Conference Centre to discuss where and why human trafficking occurs in Malawi. Photo by Karissa Gall.

To raise awareness of such rights abuses, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) held a public discussion at the Nkhata Bay Conference Centre on May 16.  Three panellists were on hand: Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) District Manager for Nkhata Bay Wezzie Mtonga, Nkhata Bay Police Station Community Policing Coordinator Brown Ngalu and NCA Programme Coordinator for Human Trafficking Habiba Osman.

During the discussion, Mtonga said that the area is a “hotspot of instances of human trafficking” for the purposes of labour, sexual exploitation, organ removal, or domestic servitude, and that Malawian women like Phiri are the most vulnerable to being victimised “because of their vulnerability when it comes to economic issues.”

“One of the reasons people fall victim to human trafficking is they are looking for greener pastures, and when they go there, things are different,” she said.  “Malawians are vulnerable and they don’t have access to (anti-trafficking) laws.”

Osman, one of the commissioners involved in the drafting of an anti-trafficking bill in 2007, took the opportunity to stress that “the bill is ready, cabinet approved it, so what we need is parliamentarians to discuss it and pass it into law to give us a framework on what should be done and who should be doing what.”

Norwegian Church Aid Programme Coordinator for Human Trafficking Habiba Osman. Photo by Karen Msiska.

“The problem is huge, it is diverse,” she said.  “We need awareness, we need a lot of capacity building not only for the police but other service providers, and we also do need proper data collecting mechanisms.

“We do not have people coming to report on cases of human trafficking because they have been not been trained to collect data, they have not been trained to identify the victims; they have not been trained to identify the traffickers,” she continued.  “Even our parliamentarians also need training on these issues.

“A new cabinet means that new people are in place.  We need to put pressure on them to tackle these issues.”

In the interim, Osman cited Section 27 of the Malawi Constitution, which prohibits slavery, as a standing protection against human trafficking or “modern-day slavery.”  She also cited the Employment Act, the Penal Code, the Corrupt Practices Act, Immigrations policies and the Corrupt Practices Act as statutes that criminalise certain transactions appearing in the various forms of trafficking.

***

Despite Malawi having adopted the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons in 2005 and making progress towards the guarantee of protections for children with the launch of a universal and compulsory birth registration process this March, the International Trade Union Confederation 2011 report for the World Trade Organization on Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards in Malawi found that, “Trafficking is a problem and is conducted mainly for the purposes of forced labour for males and commercial sexual exploitation for females, as well as child trafficking which has also been steadily rising.”

“Typically the traffickers deceive their victims by offering them false promises of employment or education in the country of destination.  In Malawi there are also estimated to be between 500 and 1500 women and children who are victims of internal trafficking,” reads the report.

“In 2009 the authorities arrested and prosecuted child traffickers who intended to deliver boys to cattle herders.  Other usual destinations of internally trafficked persons are the tobacco plantations, domestic servitude, and small businesses.”

The United States Department of State 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report for Malawi further found that while government “is making significant efforts” the country still “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

“Adults in forced prostitution or forced labour and children exploited in domestic service and prostitution still did not receive adequate attention and the government prosecuted no such offences during the reporting period,” reads the report.

“While one trafficking offender received a short prison sentence, most convictions resulted in sentences of fines or out-of-court settlements with compensation to victims, both of which failed to provide an adequate deterrent.”

While comprehensive anti-trafficking law enforcement statistics were unavailable, the report found that some individual districts provided data on their actions, totalling 18 prosecutions, 11 of which concluded with convictions.

“Although the government prosecuted and convicted offenders using existing legislation, only one of nine convicted offenders served jail time and sentences varied widely across district courts,” the report continues.  “Additionally, labour inspectors and child protection officers were trained to seek remuneration for workers in labour dispute cases – including forced labour – rather than to refer to law enforcement for prosecution.”

According to the report, “the government’s continued failure to seek criminal prosecution of forced labour offenses with significant prison sentences hinders an effective response to Malawi’s trafficking problem.”

In Malawi, the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Human Trafficking, led by the Ministry of Gender, Child Development and Community Development; the National Steering Committee on Orphans and Vulnerable Children; and the National Steering Committee on Child Labour have responsibility for trafficking issues.

***

Individuals who are aware of any incident of human trafficking in Malawi can contact the YONECO anonymous National Help Line for assistance by calling 8000-1234.  YONECO encourages victims of human trafficking to call the help line as the centre will mobilise to free them and provide counselling and support.

***

With files from BNL-Mzuzu Bureau Chief Karen Msiska

Clemente stands in front of his neighbour's house

Who Owns the Land?: Deconstructing Joma

Clemente stands in front of his neighbour's house

Clemente’s house is one of the few buildings in Joma with a roof. In fact, it’s one of the last structures still standing in the devastated area. From his front porch he can see the smashed bricks and mortar that were once the homes of his friends and neighbours. “Afterward, it looked like a tornado (had) blown through. Ripped and broke everything. You can still see where the foundations were.” He said, while surveying the damage in his neighborhood. But this destruction was no act of nature, weather or plate tectonics. In Joma, the catastrophe was man-made.

The village was once home to nearly four-thousand people and sits in a river valley just outside of Accra. Clemente lives in the pristine region with his mother, sister and brother. Everyday he commutes to work in the Capital’s business district. He says they’ve been here six years, but many of the displaced people had lived and fished along the riverbank their whole lives, “we watch more go everyday. I don’t know where they go. I guess they just have to move on.”

Francis and family outside their house

At dawn on December 10th, residents were rousted from their homes and told the settlement they’d spent generations building was being torn down. Francis is a fisherman and a single father of eight. His house was destroyed that morning, “I was out on the water in my boat. Didn’t know what was happening until I saw my children on the shore-line calling me to come. They said military men were here breaking down houses.” He says he has received no warnings before demolition and no offers for compensation since. By evening, nearly 500 homes, several businesses and a school had been destroyed.

The disputed territory lies along the banks of the Densu river. The river is a part of the water table feeding the Weija dam reservoir. The Ghana Water Company (GWC) says the Joma settlement is illegal. In an official release, the GWC stated Weija is the critical fresh water source fueling Accra and say they can’t risk the possibility of encroachment contaminating the supply. However, Joma is several kilometers from the dam site and larger settlements exist along the reservoir’s edge.

While military carried out demolitions, many villagers sought refuge at the Chief’s palace. Their respite was only temporary as the palace was also destroyed by order of the GWC. Chief Nii Ayittey Mayatse, says he thinks there are other motivations at play. “They tell us we are making the water dirty. We aren’t, we’ve fished here, lived here, died here for centuries. We take care of the river, it gives us life. They don’t want this land for them. They don’t benefit, they want to sell it. How can they? It’s our’s,” he says the dividing lines between government property and his ancestral territory is clear. “My Great-Grandfather started the building here. The land was his, the people (villagers) came and buy (it) from him. Now they want to take it and say we are here illegally. We are not.” A recent court injunction confirmed Chief Mayatse’s account. The decision ordered an immediate halt to the demolitions, but provided no provisions or compensation for repairing the damage.

WIth their homes in pieces, no school to send their children to and no money to rebuild many were forced to leave. The court-order stipulates un-occupied land may be annexed, but many have vowed to remain amidst their rock-piles and broken timber. The hold-outs say they have seen surveyors and trucks bearing the logo of Regimental estates, a real-estate developer specializing in pre-fabricated condo complexes, exploring the territory. They also say the have noticed an increase in military and police presence and report regular instances of harassment.

Their school was knocked down.

The cynic in me gets a slap in the face

Every once and awhile the generosity of strangers can floor you.

The community of Fishula is a 15-minute drive outside the bustling regional capital of Tamale. Despite the nearby streetlights, restaurants, colleges and swimming pools in Tamale, Fishula’s water comes from a dirty well, there is no electricity and worst of all, an entire generation has not received any formal education.

An elder in Fishula shows Diamond FM's Maxwell Suuk the well they use for drinking water

Politicians in Ghana will often use distance as an excuse for depriving rural villages of basic services but clearly that wouldn’t fly in this case. I travelled to Fishula with a district assembly member and Maxwell Suuk, a reporter at Diamond FM.

When visiting any rural village in Northern Region it is customary to go and visit the chief to pay your respects. He usually lives in one of the larger mud huts and if he is Dagomba – the majority of chiefs in this region are – you enter, squat and clap your hands quickly and gently and say “naa…naa…naa” over and over again.

You inevitably are asked to offer kola. In the not-too-distant past, this actually meant a kola nut exchanged as a symbolic gesture, but with the influx of NGO’s to Northern Ghana and as modern comforts slowly seep their way into villages it usually means cash, especially if you are visibly Western.

I sat quietly on a goatskin waiting to be asked for kola. I huffed and puffed internally – at times I felt like a walking ATM. Pleasantries were exchanged in Dagbani for what seemed like an eternity and as Max tried to wrap things up I could sense he was anticipating the same thing as me.

Suddenly a procession of men entered carrying a heaping bowl of groundnuts, a bag of guinea fowl eggs and a huge duck.  It was a knobby, red, ugly duck that screeched and flapped as it tried to scramble lose from the man’s sturdy grip. I stared in disbelief at Max as it became clear the chief of this incredibly poor community wanted to offer us gifts for coming to hear their plight.

I put up my hands to protest. The district assembly member mumbled under his breath to me:  “you cannot refuse, you will insult him.”

My mind began racing wondering how I was going to carry the struggling duck as effortlessly as this man from Fishula. I couldn’t smile at Max, fearing one of us would burst into laughter.

We thanked him for the gifts and asked the man to carry the duck to our Tamale-bound taxi and stuff it in the hatchback. It squawked and kicked as we laughed the whole way home. I called my Ghanaian host family to tell them I was bringing home a surprise.

The following day my grandmother yelled for me to come outside. She wanted me to come see how well she had roasted my poor friend – here in Ghana animals are rarely recipients of generous treatment.

Monkey business in Northern Ghana

I snapped photos of the setting sun over Ghana’s Mole National Park, not wanting the day to end.  As I turned around I realized I was not alone.   About ten feet away on the path leading to my chalet sat a female baboon staring expectantly at me.  I let out a piercing scream and began pounding on the door.

Irrational reaction?  Maybe.  Conventional wisdom says I should have shown-no-fear and charged, but if you had seen those teeth…

As the sun sets, a baboon relaxes at Mole National Park.

We had spent the day touring what the Bradt Ghana guide calls the “linchpin” of Northern Ghana’s tourist circuit.  Mole National Park is known as one of the cheapest ways in Africa to go on safari, but also an example of failure on the part of government and local communities to capitalize on tourism potential.

The park is served by a bumpy dirt road that takes hours to travel by an unreliable twice-daily bus service from Tamale, the regional capital where I live.  Many locals have lamented to me that if only the government paved the road, more people from the wealthier, more populated South would visit the park.

The only accommodation available is the Mole Motel, built in 1961.  Lack of competition has allowed the motel to charge almost double the standard Ghanaian prices for meals, drinks and rooms despite the basic décor and only periodic running water.  These drawbacks are compensated by a viewing platform metres from the swimming pool that overlooks two popular waterholes often frequented by elephants.

Perhaps most frustrating is that the 4, 480 square kilometre park can only be visited by walking a small area around the hotel or driving along 40 kilometres of road, providing a mere peek at the landscape and its wildlife which includes elephants, hippo, buffalo, primates and several species of antelope and birds.  The lack of surveillance has also created a haven for poachers – during our short time we heard the sound of gunfire come from the park.

That’s not to say we had no encounters with the animals nor that our time was a waste.  Our foot safari had barely left the information centre that morning when we witnessed four male elephants gracefully lope within a few feet of us as if we weren’t even there.

The baboons, however, were very much aware of our presence.   We were warned not to carry the black plastic bags used to carry food in Ghana and that “they don’t like girls.”

Back at my chalet my gender status crossed my mind as I looked at my camera case – black bag.  Half-asleep, my boyfriend opened the door to the darkened hotel room and I charged past him.  The baboon was slamming against the door and turning the handle, trying to get in.  I felt something brushing against my leg and let out a blood-curdling scream.

“What are you screaming like that for?!”

I realized he had won the fight with the baboon over the door handle and it was my camera case strap I had felt.

Later on in the hotel restaurant we heard several similar stories. One man woke up from a nap to find a baboon in his bed. A fighting match ensued and he had bruises to prove it.   We witnessed another German man get  mugged by a baboon for the black bag he was using to carry a towel. Mixed feelings of humour, anger and fear prevailed – we were being ambushed.

The sole fearless warrior among us was Joshua, a seven-year-old who lunged at the baboons with fire in his eyes, whipping a stick on the ground and fiercely whispering nonsensical threats.  His hotel room was next to mine so we tasked him with escorting me to and from my door.

If there’s anything I noticed about Mole, it is the solidarity among tourists who sit bouncing and jolting along that road through Northern Region to be overcharged and under-serviced.   We all agree – the chance to walk among and in some cases clash with the animals makes it all well worth it.

Building Homegrown Health Care, Brick by Brick

MP Moses Kunkuyu (centre) molding bricks with his constituency's villagers.

Thousands of freshly molded reddish-brown bricks lie baking under the hot Malawian sun.

“Self-help project! Self-help project!” one young boy declares to me proudly. He holds a wet brick high over his head, smiling broadly from under the dripping mud. “We need to build here for medicine!”

He’s one of hundreds of children, women and men that have gathered to mold bricks for a health centre in Blantyre’s Manase township. Residents of Manase, like too many other villages in Malawi, have seen members of their communities die while travelling to faraway medical clinics. But the Manase residents are determined to see themselves into better health, even if it means building their own hospital from scratch.

Malawi’s population is 85 per cent rural and poor access to medical care is all too common among villagers far removed from hospitals. According to the Ministry of Health, Blantyre’s fares better than most districts with 18 public health centres. By contrast, Phalombe, a community of 300,000 about an hour outside of Blantyre, has none. Districts were put in charge of hospitals when Malawi embraced decentralization along with a multiparty system in 1994. But critics say they are often left without the funds from the top to respond to the needs on the ground—the most basic of which is access.

Martha Kwataine, Director of the Malawi Equity Health Network (MEHN) characterizes the coordination between the District Assembly and the Ministry of Health as “there, but quite weak.”

“Some health facilities have been constructed but up until now they have not been used because according the ministry, they were not held to the required standards,” she warns. “Some communities have been helped, some are left along the way.”

The first step for a future hospital in Manase.

Blantyre City South MP Moses Kunkuyu refuses to let that happen in his community. The self-described “Manase boy” already knew his annual allotted K3 million ($20,477.15 CAD) budget wouldn’t be enough for a health centre. When he took the project on less than a year into office, he showed an incredible amount of faith in the system.

“We have the bricks but we haven’t identified any funds. We just have the need and we just have the desire to see the thing take shape,” he says. “We’re going to use whatever possible funds we have.”

Kunkuyu says he has consulted the district and has the go-ahead from ministry officials. But in the interests of time, he says he had to pursue other avenues. Instead of waiting for help, he enlisted community members to help build.

“We are two weeks into molding bricks and they are almost done…if we had waited for someone to come and help us, we would have waited for years,” he says.

Group Village Headman in a nearby village, Kampala, says the villages can’t afford to wait. The journey to the nearest health centre has for years been a challenge at best. With no money for transport, it’s a two-hour walk. Some who have braved the hike at night have fallen prey to attackers, injury, or even death. “We were suffering a long time to find a hospital,” says Kunkuyu.

The villagers that surround us murmur in agreement.

On a trip to Zomba earlier in the month, residents in a rural fishing village said it is commonplace for their elected MPs to be voted in, and then never return to field concerns of the people.

Harriet Stima runs a grocery in Zomba-Likangala, and says she hasn’t seen her MP since his campaign.

“In terms of development, there is nothing he has done,” she says. “I’m not surprised at his behaviour, it’s typical of MPs.”

Kunkuyu refuses to fall into that categorization. Instead, he demonstrates the power of personalized politics. The drawbacks to decentralization have shown just how necessary the persistence of local players is to ensure basic services at the grassroots level.

“There is always something that we can do,” he says. “We can evolve ourselves.”

Creating a Sustainable Childhood

“I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid”- does this jingle ring a bell? Sadly, for most children in Malawi, the opportunity to play with Barbie dolls, G.I. Joes and remote-control cars is not a widespread reality. Instead, due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has swept the country, many children have been left to deal with the loss of a parent, or worse, have been orphaned by the rampant disease.

It’s this harsh reality that prompted Scottish university student Caroline Dickson to take action. Her love for children and the ‘warm heart of Africa,’ as Malawi is fondly referred to, began during her gap year. Starting in 2005, she volunteered at a local orphanage on the outskirts of Blantyre and was immediately enveloped by the unfortunate plight facing many Malawian children.

While I was engrossed in my university sports career, cramming for exams and worrying about which shirt looked better with my new pair of skinny jeans, Dickson, her father Garry and her close friend Abigail Higgins were busy starting a charity.

Basically, all it took to hook me to the cause was a Scottish accent, a green and orange Lance Armstrong look-alike bracelet and the words ‘orphans’ and ‘sustainability.’

Kenyawi Kids, as the founders have called their charity, is a Scottish-based charity designed to create self-sustainable orphan care in Kenya and Malawi.

One of the most recent projects started by Kenyawi Kids deals with sustainable farming. The charity purchased some farmland and a few chickens so the orphans could produce and sell their own products. Kenyawi-kids’ new trustee, David Macdonald, says “rather than looking for money from donors, as there’s a lot less money floating about due to the recession,” their mandate is to provide orphans with tools and skills for the future.

Over the last 10 years, Malawi has seen a 75 percent increase in adult deaths according to the 2002 National AIDS Commission statistics. These AIDS-deaths have orphaned 1.2 Malawian children. The severity of the issue is crystal clear and that’s why Kenyawi Kids focuses on providing “children with life skills that will help them become self-sufficient when they leave the orphanages.”

As most charities can probably attest, there are always challenges faced when doing development work and Africa is no exception. “Things seem to happen very slow [in Malawi and Kenya], whereas back home, if you want something done, you go out and get it done,” says Macdonald. In addition to that, “there’s also this idea of African corruption, so we’re always trying to make sure that the money goes to the right place and trying to be as transparent as we can, [as well as with] the organizations that we work with.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child preamble states, “in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance.” Furthermore, it outlines that “the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.”

Unfortunately, unlike most North American households, children in developing countries are often deprived of the basic human rights of education, shelter and proper nutrition. Many are malnourished, underdeveloped and dependent on themselves for survival in a world often unforgiving to those who lack one of the basic support systems – a family.

“The ideal situation would be that every orphan in Malawi in Kenya is properly fed and cared for,” Macdonald says. “But we’re such a small organization, so obviously that is a lofty goal.” For now, he’s back on Scottish soil with the rest of the team, tirelessly juggling university studies with Kenyawi Kids’ future sustainable initiatives.