Tag Archives: Governance

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

Chiefs struggle to find role in Malawi’s democracy

A row of senior chiefs line up to greet President Bingu wa Mutharika

Chiefs in Malawi have a lot of sway.

In rural areas, they solve customary disputes and are the connection for residents to governing district assemblies. They were outlined in the country’s 1967 Chiefs Act as gatekeepers of their residents and champions for local development. They are paid an honorarium by government, but are also expected to be separate from party politics.

In practice however, the lines between heads of state and heads of village aren’t nearly as clear. Malawi’s late dictator Kamuzu Banda was known for using chiefs to assert his power all the way down to the local level, and the tendency has carried through to multi-party democracy today.

Unandi Banda, executive director for local NGO National Elections Systems Trust (NEST) says the chiefs’ partisanship is tantamount to helping the ruling party rig the vote.

“The chiefs are influencing the thinking of their people to only consider the ruling party,” says Banda. “That kind of public talk has a bearing even on local election results.”

Although the Chiefs Act was put in place after Malawi broke from colonial rule in 1966, many of the same control mechanisms that saw much of the chiefs’ financial and decision-making autonomy removed, carried through.

It’s been 16 years since Malawi voted democracy in and yet village votes continue to be swayed with fertilizer subsidy coupons or free chitenjes (local garments) offered up by aspiring political candidates.

Whether chiefs will have a place in a functioning local government is yet to be seen, but in the meantime they are standing in the way of encouraging the open dialogue necessary for Malawi’s long-awaited local governments to take hold.

Spokesperson for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Hetherwick Ntaba has said there is no problem in the chiefs publicly endorsing a candidate—they are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression.

But Christopher Naphiyo, civic education officer for the National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE), thinks otherwise.

“It all comes down to the issue of misunderstanding of what it means to serve the government of the day,” he says, “and that ignorance is abused by the politicians.”

He says chiefs are receiving mixed messages from the government, which has at times failed to respect chiefs’ neutrality.

“We have had cases where certain powerful politicians have bribed some of the chiefs to say we don’t want any other candidate to come in this particular area,” he says.

When more than 200 chiefs met in Malawi before the long-awaited launch of the Nsanje Port last month, the event turned into a political endorsement for a brother to the current president Peter Mutharika. The Daily Times reported everyone from paramount chiefs (the country’s highest traditional position) on down to village headmen took turns to voice their support for the DPP frontrunner.

One chief reportedly said, “Let the DPP reign. As chiefs, we are here to be told ‘this is our candidate.’ And since the DPP has chosen Peter Mutharika, we accept it warmly.”

Accepting the party of the day has been a long-standing tradition for chiefs in Malawi. But still struggling to find their place between the arm of the executive and being grassroots representatives, chiefs must realize a free and fair local election could very well define their roles and see Malawi into its next stage of democracy.

Valuable life lessons often come from unlikely sources


Valuable life lessons often come from unlikely sources

It’s 9am on a Thursday at the African University College of Communication. I’m sitting at my desk on the third floor, in complete darkness and complete silence. Three hundred some odd students are away, presumably studying for exams, and we’re experiencing yet another power outage.

I’m thinking about a conversation I had earlier in the morning, with Kwame, the young, dread-locked cabbie who drove me to work. I usually try to save cedis (the local currency) by taking the tro-tro, which is the cheap minibus, frequently packed with commuters like sardines in a rusted tin. However, on this fateful morning, a lengthy flirtation with my snooze button led me to a taxi stand and the following words of wisdom from my driver: “My sista, all we need is love.”

Kwame’s words instantly broke my hypnotic trance. I’ve often found that some of the most interesting conversations, in any city, come courtesy of taxi drivers. After all, who knows a city more than the people who make their living chauffeuring characters from all walks of life around it? It was the unsolicited depth of Kwame’s comment, about 10 minutes into a rather silent ride that intrigued me and prompted my equally deep reply: “Ah.…What?”

Well, deep for 8 a.m.

“Sista,” says Kwame, as he shifted his glance from the side window to the windshield, “things are not working well. It’s a backwards country. You can even hear it on the radio.”

Proof came shortly thereafter, in the form of a fired-up caller on a radio show that I suddenly realized had been on the entire time. Funny, how you can tune things out when you don’t understand the language. The topic on Peace FM, a station known for sympathizing with the opposition, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), was the mismanagement of Ghana’s economy by the ruling New Democratic Congress (NDC).

Conversations like this take place on a daily basis in the press here in Ghana, whether it be on the radio, TV or in print. Political appetites are high and the Ghanaian media’s main bread and butter for their front page is politics, or “politricks,” as it’s referred to by my coworkers around the office.

Media houses often align themselves squarely on one side of the political fence–blatantly so, in fact. Libel-esque mudslinging is common and though Ghanaians may be somewhat divided politically, most can agree that their government should be held accountable for their nation’s progress, or lack thereof. Political apathy is not an option here. Everyone has an opinion.

Cabbie Kwame was no exception.

“I drive around all day,” says Kwame pointing out the windshield. “The streets are not even clean. The youth are frustrated in the city. There are no jobs for them so they turn to crime. The institutions are not working and the politicians,” adds Kwame, pausing to make a scoffing sound,  “they lie.”

“So what’s the solution?” I ask, offering a curious ear, as the notebook I pulled out a moment earlier overflowed with all the cab confessions I could immortalize in ink.

“We must forget NPP and NDC,” says Kwame. “Even amongst ourselves, we are divided. This nation belongs to all of us. We must work together, my sista. One love.”

Around 9:10, as I thought about Kwame’s words on love and politricks one more time, the lights finally went on in my office.

Goals for Ghana and other exciting moments.

As I write this, I am sitting outside of my room at the Presby guesthouse in Kumasi, Ghana. July falls during the rainy season here, so after leaving the extremely humid weather of Accra (stepping off the plane felt like stepping out of an icebox into a state-sized sauna) the Kumasi weather has been cooler at times than I expected. The West African weather has been tolerable at the worst of times, but mostly it’s been delightfully warm.  Everyone here gets up very early, often before 6 a.m., to start their day in the cool of the morning. It’s not that anyone really has a choice – the roosters will wake you up by brute audio force if you fail to do so on your own accord.

This is our first Saturday in Kumasi.  After our first week of chasing NGO representatives to get some leads for our CIDA reporting, meeting with a radio host about how to improve her weekly segment on youth issues and assisting the Kapital Radio news journalists both in the field and in the newsroom, we’ve decided to call it an early night.  In lieu of an evening out, I’ve been reading some new Canadian fiction in an issue of The Walrus that I stuffed into my suitcase before I left Toronto.  This has put our Canadian culture and the rich Ghanaian culture into sharp relief.  Up to this point, we’ve been so saturated by the vibrant colours, sounds and smells of the Ghanaian cityscapes that I’ve barely paused to consider the two in comparison.  Ironically, all the mentioning of Queen Street, Montreal cafés and snow within these short stories makes me think of the drumming circles, kente cloth, and banku (a maize food staple) that surround us here in Ghana – realizing just how distant the everyday experiences of Canada really are makes it easier to recognize and appreciate the cultural riches here that have taken their place.  I’m super excited about a festival that’s happening later in the summer.  The name, roughly translated to “The Big Sunday,” refers to one day when drummers, dancers and merchants representing many traditional Ghanaian tribes gather on the grounds of the Ashanti king’s palace.  

This woman danced across my camera after the Black Stars won their first match.

Everywhere we go, there seems to be a rhythmic pulse in Ghana.  Every morning, there are children singing outside of our windows at the school beside the guesthouse.  The harmonies multiply on Sunday when traditional praise songs can be heard pouring into the streets of Kumasi until well into the afternoon.  And of course, with the World Cup going on, the energy in the streets is heightened.  We were lucky enough to watch the first match of the Black Stars before leaving Accra.  Seemingly, the entire city was outside on Oxford Street (a main drag in the bustling neighbourhood of Osu) watching the game on large television screens. During commercial breaks and after Ghana’s brilliant win against Serbia, everyone was dancing, turning Accra into one giant street party.  I used to think the spirit of Montrealers was impressive when the Habs were in the playoffs, but we’ve got nothing on Ghanaian Black Star fans.

We visited the Asawasi region Community Centre earlier today where voter registration was taking place.  The place was bustling with people in both Western and traditional dress, and the amount of women present was astounding. According to Amanita Ibrahim, regional coordinator for Amnesty International and a director for the Empowerment Centre for Women and Children) women vote in overwhelmingly higher numbers than men, but very rarely do they run for political office.  Even so, it’s a very exciting election coming up, particularly regarding the participation of women.  In speaking with Alhajid Mohammed, a regional party coordinator, he told me that more women than ever are running in the district assembly elections in August.  He credits this to the fact that a woman, Nana Konadu, is currently running to lead the NDC (the New Democratic Congress) into the national presidential elections of 2012.

Women attending a meeting at the Empowerment Centre for Women and Children.

I managed to talk with one female voter about why she feels the need to vote.  For her, it is an opportunity to make a difference in issues she cares about, particularly youth issues.  I’d love to speak to more women to find out what their impetus is to participate in politics, but few at the voter registration spoke English.

Though English is the official language, the dominant language on the streets of Ghana is Twi.  Almost 40 other languages and dialects circulate in the country. For now, we’re sticking to picking up some Twi phrases like ete sen (how are you?) and meda ase (thank you).  Stay tuned next week for an update on our time at Kapital Radio and the progression of our feature articles, but for now… da yie (goodnight).