Malawi: Wedding of Year, Flag Changes and Media Suppression

In what some describe as the wedding of the year, Malawi’s President Dr Bingu wa Mutharika wed his former cabinet minister Callista Chapola Chimombo Saturday April 17, 2010. The officiation took place at Civo Stadium, an open place contrary to Roman Catholic procedure. Over 20 heads of states and governments were among the 4,500 delegates to the ceremony.

Among many, Her Majesty Queen Victoria and the Duke of Edinburg have wished the first couple all the best.

Blogger Malawi Digest gives the background to the big day:

President Ngwazi Dr Bingu wa Mutharika is a 76-year-old widower following the death of his beloved wife, Madam Ethel Mutharika on 28th May, 2007. Following her death, a month-long mourning period was declared in this southern African country and the deceased First Lady was laid to rest on June 9th, 2007 at the Mutharikas privately owned property, Ndata Farm in the State President’s home village district of Thyolo, southern Malawi.

Callista Chapola Chimombo is also a widow and between 2004 and 2009 served as Member of Parliament for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party as well as the country’s Tourism and Wildlife Minister. She hails from Zomba.

President Ngwazi Dr Bingu wa Mutharika’s marriage to Chimombo comes a few months after another high level presidential wedding in December 2009. In December, Dr Mutharika’s last born daughter Duwa got happily married to Zimbabwean Tonderai Mubaira.

The budget is yet to be known but expected to be in hundreds of millions of Malawi Kwacha as several companies, individuals and the first couple designate have donated some amounts already.

Suppression of Press Freedom

While Malawi’s president has received several awards and lately been chosen African Union Chairman, things are not that rosy at home given his government’s alleged ban of The Nation Publications Limited (NPL). The NPL is a publisher of four titles (The Nation-which is daily, Weekend Nation, Nation on Sunday and newly introduced vernacular one Fuko). The ban has been condemned both locally and internationally as suppression of press freedoms.

Journalist Kondwani Munthali examines the implications of such a ban:

Government or someone in Government decided in their own wisdom, that Nation Publications Limited has exercised free expression too far, according to theories of political patronage, and that Malawians- who includes employees of NPL and pay tax, should not get adverts through the papers.
The tactic used is not a strange one, in the late 1997 or thereabout, the UDF administration were incensed with Malawi News, then a firebrand of investigative journalism, and consequently banned advertising in all Blantyre Newspapers products….The first victim of a stifled press and some irrational decisions are the public. The price is too high to be quantified as NPL might be able to do to its revenue after a period.

He discusses the social value of the vernacular language paper Fuko:

Take adverts that are running in a local and weekly daily, warning the public of measles, FUKO, a latest free paper from NPL would be the right forum as it is targeting rural areas and the affected districts such as Mangochi, Mzimba, Blantyre and Lilongwe would have easy access to information if all forms of media were used.

The NPL was founded by veteran politician now late Aleke Banda who died Friday 9th April 2010 after a four year battle with cancer. Ironically while government is alleged to have banned advertising with NPL, he was accorded state funeral. Here is Munthali's eulogy for Banda.

Flag Changes

Hot debate continues as government has proposed changes to the Malawi national flag arguing that the flag deserves some modifications to reflect socio-economic development Malawi has experienced since 1964. However the proposal sees to fall on deaf ears as some Malawians argue that this is a non-starter. Blantyre-based blogger Joe Mlenga says that the proponents of the change are merely dragging the traditional leaders to their advantage:

It is clear the majority of people in the country do not want the version being touted by the government, but the authorities seem to have found a way of by-passing that through using of chiefs. The advocates of the new standard claim chiefs represent Malawians and their views. Wow! I haven't met chief Somba in whose domain I am (in Blantyre) and neither have I seen him or his ‘aides’ holding consultations with villagers or subjects on the new flag. So, the traditional leaders are only representing their views. In any case which chief can stand up and say no to the new flag?

Ndagha agrees with Joe Mlenga and cries foul over government strategy to win support for the flag change:

Many of these chiefs are coached to speak in favour of government's proposal on some of these things which for sure does not reflect their real wishes and of their people.

One has to watch or listen to the public (so called claimed state) broadcasters to notice the lame position these chiefs are taking on some of these issues. I understand that the state broadcasters go to the extent properly editing the views of the chiefs so that everything is presented in favour of government’s position.

Government assigned the Ministry of Information and Civic Education to consult Malawians at various levels on the proposed flag changes. Among others Malawians have argued through published reports that the desired change is not justified as the country has not yet a stage to deserve the proposed changes on the national flag.

Media Developments-Internet

A relatively new blogger Vincent Kumwenda updates us on the recent media developments in Malawi. In his post titled Malawian Media and the Internet Update, he highlights three media companies which have turned to internet as an added delivery platform for their services:

Zodiak Broadcasting Radio has improved their website and this year Malawians had a rare opportunity of finding the examination results on the internet. The country’s examining body, Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB), does not have a website (or is it that I don’t know about it?) so Zodiak published the results on their site. It was the same with the 2010 University of Malawi Entrance Exams.

The award winning publishing house, Blantyre Newspapers Limited, is now operating a new website which covers all of its publications, The Daily Times, Sunday Times and Malawi News. Even though at times it is updated a bit late; the BNL Times website is becoming popular among people who need to know what is happening in Malawi. The site is well designed and is interactive and easy to navigate.

Another Malawi online news site was launched recently. The Maravi Post is an improvement of blog called Malawi Politics. It now focuses on a broader picture of what is happening in Malawi than concentrating on politics alone.

In spite of several new ICT developments, online presence and internet penetration in Malawi remains low compared to neighbouring countries of Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.

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