Having just returned from a short visit to Malawi, it is almost impossible not to write about the general sense of optimism the country is awash in especially in the cities, among the middle class. The one thing that no one fails to mention is the strength of the economy, which has been rising since the current president, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, was elected in May 2004. The maize crop is promising a very high yield, and tobacco, Malawi’s biggest foreign exchange earner to date, is fetching good prices at the auction floors. President wa Mutharika’s biggest project so far has been the Shire-Zambezi Waterway, seen as a way to open up the land-locked country through the Shire River which flows into the mighty Zambezi River. The plan is to create a direct sea route to the Indian Ocean. In the last two weeks a memorandum of understanding has been signed amongst the countries involved in the project: Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi herself.
The Shire-Zambezi Water-way, bumper harvests and press freedom
It will therefore be of no surprise that Malawian blogs are also in on the feel-good factor. The blog Anti-Bakili Muluzi captures this sense of hope with a comment on the signing of the Shire-Zambezi Waterway memorandum of understanding:
At first when I heard President Bingu wa Mutharika pronouncing his dream about the Shire-Zambezi waterway, I thought it was one of the jokes presidents make when addressing mass rallies. When I heard it for the second time, I really believed the power of dreaming in colour.
It was last week when I saw this dream slowly coming to light with the signing in ceremony of the memorandum of association for the implementation of the project. No wonder, the President's dream is really in colour. Thumbs up not only to the President but also to the people of Malawi. Congratulations to Malawi's development.
Cryton Chikoko adds to the atmosphere of hope in Malawi, observing that the good maize crop harvest is coming after severe droughts in recent years that caused starvation among many ordinary Malawians:
It cannot be disputed that Malawi is going through a period of change. I am talking about economic change. In the next 5 years, if everything accelerates along the same way, we are going to see significant changes in the country – the social life our people will improve.
It is encouraging to see remarkable attempts by donors to stop the vicious circle of debt repayments being stopped by the cancellation of our debts.
What with the grace of God who has given us enough rains for our agriculture-based economy. We have experienced a good harvest for our staple food maize in the past two years. This has assured us, for the first time after a long time of starvation for most of our people, of enough food. This is a great development for most of our people who starving has been part of their lives.
Chikoko ends his post with remarks on rumours that Malawi is now bartering its surplus maize with sugar from Zimbabwe, to help Zimbabwe, which is suffering from acute shortages of maize. The Malawian newspaper, The Daily Times quotes the Malawian Minister of Finance, Goodall Gondwe, as denying the rumor, saying that Zimbabwe is going to pay in cash, not in sugar.
And the sense of optimism is not restricted to the economy and food security only; it is also extended to press freedom, as Victor Kaonga, Global Voices Author, writes in a post to commemorate Press Freedom Day on May 3:
Honestly speaking, I find Malawi to be much better now than it was years ago. It is also much better than some countries which claim to have the press freedom for ages. But as the fight for more freedom rages on, we cannot keep quiet but fight on and ensure that our audiences and readers get the best information we can possibly manage to provide.
Elsewhere, I salute those who have suffered for the freedom. Many have also died. This is how risky our job can be. My parents had to warn me against being a journalist because as I was growing up in primary school, journalists were taken to be ‘spies.’ And you know the risk a spy faces!
Interview with the Vampire; Sugar profits
Be that as it may, it will be false to end there and leave the impression that every single Malawian is full, fat and happy. Malawi is still experiencing problems, one of which has always been human safety. Hastings Maloya writes about rumors of a vampire that is said to be going about Ndirande and other Blantyre townships, terrorizing people. Maloya also lists other problems that have wrought terror into the hearts of Malawians, including the defilement of young girls:
Just come to think of it; a 57-year old man defiles a six-month old baby. A seven-year old girl is defiled by her own teacher, let alone a headmaster. And a woman has her arms chopped by her husband or has her private parts disfigured by someone who was supposed to be her lover.
How about issues of well-dressed men caught with private parts in their bags. Talk of news of unknown assailants removing women’s breasts and gouging their eyes. Then there is the-now famous Ndirande vampire who has the audacity of changing locations in Blantyre and targeting innocent women at will. The stories are endless and they do not make good reading. Each passing day we realize that Malawi is not as safe a place to live in as it was supposed to be especially for women and children.
Maloya ends by commending President Mutharika for suggesting that there be detention camps to incarcerate people convicted of these horrendous crimes. Maloya is not the only Malawian blogger to comment on the illusive vampire; Joe Mlenga writes about being visited by the vampire in his dream, and writes about the strange claims that have been made about it:
The beast/apparition/spiritual being has been terrorising people for the past year and two women have been killed and several other people have been left injured.
People say the culprit is a tall man with a mask who goes about in white underwear. The clergy says it is a spiritual being, while some herbalists say the police are in the know because they haven't allowed the traditional leaders to attack the ‘ghost’ with their charms!! Some local chiefs in Ndirande were last month arrested allegedly for being behind the monster. And there have been many other interesting claims over ‘ownership’ of this supernatural entity.
For blogger Austin Madinga, the news of economic success in Malawi comes with a hidden side. He comments on how the sugar company Illovo is reported to have made billions of profit, but notes that inside that success story is the possibility that the company is ripping off Malawians:
Recently in the news, Illovo Sugar Malawi reported that it had made K6.8 billion pre-tax profit. After tax profit was K4.8 billion up from K2.8 billion in the previous year. It is reported elsewhere that Illovo Malawi contributed the most to Illovo Groups profits ahead of all the others (South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Swaziland).
Now someone tell me that local Malawians are not being riped off by Illovo! In the next few months, I bet, Illovo will increase their sugar prices ‘due to rising production costs’ yet they are making such obscene profits on the backs of the poor. Shame!
TV on your computer: Joost
It is rare for the Malawian blogosphere to go for even a week without news of technological innovations. Clement Nyirenda writes about Joost, an application that lets people watch TV on their computers:
Today, I received a Joost invite, courtesy of Adi wong. Joost is a new way of watching TV on the internet. It gives you all the things you love about TV, including a high-quality full-screen picture, hundreds of full-length shows and easy channel-flipping. With Joost, you are in complete control-no need of schedules, you watch what you like at anytime. Besides that, Joost combines the TV experience with your traditional online activities such as chat, instant messaging, search etc. Joost is completely free, and works with most modern PCs and Intel Mac-based computers with a broadband connection.
Clement closes his post by mentioning that so far Joost is by invitation only. He welcomes requests for invitations by dropping him a line on his blog.
Paudah Paf writes about the ICT Association of Malawi, ICTAM, and announces that the executive committee of the association met recently with the cabinet minister responsible for ICT, who has booked for them an appearance on national TV:
The association has been registered in Malawi and our Executive committee met the the Minister responsible for ICT and hse [sic] booked us an appointment with the National TV carrier, Television Malawi!
We'll have a stand at an upcoming IT fair to espouse our vision and more people join everyday.
As we build up to the inaugural General conference I feel this tremendous sense of belonging…Truly the pioneering spirit is an arduous but very rewarding one.
Journalist quits national radio station
And finally, after months of silent battles with his bosses at the national broadcaster, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Malawian journalist and blogger Joe Mlenga announces on his blog God is Good that he has finally resigned from the radio station, and will soon be heading to South Africa:
It's like taking a plunge into an unknown abyss when one resigns from a job that they have been at for nine years. Talk about leaving a comfort zone.
I quit MBC three weeks ago and it was a stressing moment. My superiors said I should change my mind because the broadcaster has big plans for me. Considering how I have been pushed around for the past six months or so, I fail to see what these plans are because I felt my input was no longer appreciated, and I had to jump or be pushed overboard.