Friday, May 30, 2014

Update from Malawi Election 2014 - Time to end the power vacuum?

Friends in Malawi. Election Update!

Seven out of ten members of the MEC have refused to ratify the vote count despite the High Court Ruling ordering the release of result today - in order to meet the 8 day legal obligation for the release of results. The stand off continues!

The seven MEC officials are basically blocking Peter Mutharika from taking up the Presidency. Love him or hate him and his party it is clear that he has won the election. The Constitution and rule of law are more important than the individuals involved. The PVT and the Afrobarometre opinion poll clearly support the initial MEC results and it appears Mutharika has 42% of the vote. In a first past the post system that is a mandate to govern. You may question the legitimacy of FPTP and of the electoral process in Malawi but those are questions for the future. 

As it stand now Peter Mutharika must be inaugurated as President of the Republic of Malawi for the sake of democracy.

Disclaimer: I have know political allegiance in Malawi. This will be evident to anyone who follows me on Twitter. @Thembinkosi 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Malawi - A Beacon of Democracy in Africa?

South Africa held a General Election on 7th May 2014. The election saw Jacob Zuma re-elected as President and the ANC maintain overwhelming majorities in the National Assembly and the new Provisional Legislatures. There were no surprises. The ANC vote was diminished slightly, perhaps due to the emergence of the EFF, but otherwise the status quo was maintained. This was the 5th General Election in the democratic Republic of South Africa held since the end of the apartheid era and the ANC has dominated all five of these elections. Elections were unquestionably “free and fair” and the rightly winners were returned to office. This too many is an example of multi party democracy exemplified.
On 20th May 2014 the people of the Republic of Malawi went to the polls to in the first tripartite elections the country has held. In contrast to the South African election there have been reports of chaos and failure of democracy in Malawi. The political intrigue is fascinating and as I have said before akin to the drama of House of Cards. Never the less I would like to argue that the 2014 Malawian election could potentially do more for African democracy than any election in the post colonial era.
Malawi is maturing as a democracy that cannot be doubted. There may be elements of subterfuge and at least political maneuvering by ultimately the rule of law and the Constitution has been protected by the High Court. In the past week Malawi has exemplified a model of restraint. Even in the midst of Joyce Banda trying to illegally nullify the election the courts stood firm and insisted that the MEC continued with the vote count in accordance with the Constitution. Thanks to the intervention of the High Court it now seems likely that a victor will emerge as the new President of Malawi. This is likely to be the nemesis of Mrs Banda, Peter Mutharika. The electoral process to my mind has shown real signs of political maturity. There have been many, far too many hiccups, by ultimately the Constitution is being upheld and it has emerged that Separation of Powers genuinely exists in Malawi. The High Court has acted independently from the Executive and has remained staunchly committed to upholding the Constitution rather than bowing to illegal proclamations from the incumbent.
There have been claims that Mutharika’s DPP party has rigged the election in his favour. Such reports are seemingly spurious. Firstly, one must question how it would be possible for an opposition party to fix an election against an incumbent and furthermore one recognizes that all the facts point towards a Mutharika victory. The PVT indicates that the MEC count is accurate and the results being declared are very much in line with the pre-election forecasts from Afrobarometer. Opinion polls are often maligned in African elections and often justifiably so. A culture of accurate psephology is only just beginning to emerge and the advanced scientific methodology of Afrobarometer has taken many in the region by surprise. Social Scientists now have the means, it seems, to predict election results based upon their surveys. Perhaps a new political landscape will emerge across the continent and in future psephologists will be more widely utilized by candidates in African elections. Perhaps in this respect Malawi 2014 will be heralded as a new dawn in African politics? It can only be good for democracy!
The role of the military and in particular the army should also be celebrated. The military have been deployed on the streets of urban centres frequently over the past week but have acted with great restraint and professionalism. In less developed democracies the military may have stepped into the perceived power vacuum in order to rule for the “common good” or to impose its favoured candidate on a nation. This has not happened in Malawi and again I argue that this is a sign of a country that is maturing as a democracy.
During the electoral process information has been freely available and local and international media have been able, it seems to me, to report without restrictions. I have read many differing political perspectives on the election process – in support of each of the candidates – this is refreshing. Of course media outlets and people using social networks have their own views and opinions but by and large the information emerging from Malawi has been balanced. There have been enough sources emerging to allow an observer to make judgments on the changing politic scene in the country. A free and fair media should not be taken for granted.
I started my article with reference to South Africa – a country that saw an election take place with little fuss and very few logistical difficulties. Results were published quickly and the process took place very smoothly culminating with the much-vaulted inauguration of Jacob Zuma. Some might say Malawi’s election exemplified the very opposite to South Africa and criticize the country for that fact. What with long queues, polling running into a second day, counting systems failing and results taking days to be declared amid claims of rigging and malpractice. I can’t disagree that the logistics of the election of been shambolic at times but I am compelled to celebrate the positives. Four candidates entered the electoral fray with some chance of being elected President in Malawi whereas in South Africa it was a foregone conclusion that the party of Government would be re-elected overwhelmingly. Malawi is potentially developing into a multi party democracy! In South Africa only the ANC can win. Similarly in Botswana, another country celebrated in the west as a model of African democracy, only the BDP ever win! Even in the USA it’s either Republicans or Democrats (with nothing to chose between them ideologically!) or the UK Labour or Conservative in the UK!
There is so much opportunity that can arise for Malawi as the new President takes over office. The country is demonstrating enhanced political maturity, Separation of Powers is a reality, the Constitution has been respected and despite a protracted process it seems the will of the people will be adhered to. Structurally things are sound. Much now depends upon those coming into government. A genuinely hung Parliament holding the Executive to account is crucial. Some may dismiss me as naïve or overly optimistic but if the incoming President can work with Parliament and not adopt the “Big Man” posture then hope is in the air. Similarly it’s essential that newly elected MPs do not seek to cross the floor in order to enhance their careers. A new era of consensus politics could see Malawi as a beacon of African democracy.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Malawian Elections 2014 - My Thoughts!

Malawi held it’s first ever-tripartite election on Tuesday 20th May 2014. Of course most of the attention is focused upon the race for the Presidency. As voting began opinion polls suggested that the election was too close to call. The most thorough poll (from Afrobarometer) suggested that Peter Mutharika (DPP) was ahead but would face stiff competition from Pastor-come-Politician Lazarus Chakwera (MCP) and to a lesser extent from the incumbent Joyce Banda (PP) and the son of the late former President Bakali Muluzi; Atuple Muluzi (UDF).

The election itself has been dramatic to say the least. It’s script keeps unfolding with more twists and turns than House of Cards. For an outsider looking in it is enthralling. For the people of Malawi there is uncertainty and tension mount as they await official results from the MEC. The unelected incumbent, Joyce Banda, the darling of the west, has cried foul play and alleges that the DPP have rigged the election for Peter Mutharika. Such a claim seems ludicrous given that as the incumbent Mrs Banda controls the machinery of government but as been reported verbatim as if fact by the BBC and the Guardian in the UK. The fact is that President Banda lost credibility in Malawi following the Cashgate scandal that happened on her watch and that as a result she is distrusted by the majority of Malawians. There is very little evidence of wide spread electoral fraud at presence. It is possible that evidence may emerge let’s not forget that the African Union and European Union observers have stated that the election was free and fair.

Despite such allegations of malpractice and vote rigging one feels compelled with admiration for the people of Malawi and it is my belief that this election could be a watershed for Malawian democracy and beyond. The election was conducted peacefully. Despite some sensationalistic journalists trying to paint a picture of chaos the reality is that other than a few skirmishes in Ndirande (a renowned township of Blantyre) and a couple of incidents the elections took place in peace. EU observers and the African Union have confirmed this. The culture of western based journalists stirring up trouble couldn’t be better exemplified than by the early messages on Twitter from a journalist from the Washington Post “Monkey Cage” blog Kim Yi Dionne who claimed that illegal roadblocks and rioting were marring the election. Miss Yi Dionne is clearly a capable writer (the Monkey Blog article is excellent!) but is clearly a better blogger from behind a comfy desk in the Northampon, MA, than when in the heated environment of an election day in Malawi! The problem with such journalists who parachute in to a country they may never have lived in is that they have no idea of the societal norms. Young men with their shirts off running through the streets of Ndirande are guilty of anti social behavior and it reflects badly on their locality but they are not rioting nor having any drastic impact on the outcome of an otherwise peaceful electoral process. I have observed far worse images of anti social behavior after soccer matches in Malawi than those from the Election Day. It is not that I seek to condone anti social exuberance but believe it must be seen in the right context. Similarly such amateur journalists sensationalized the military presence on the streets of Blantyre and Lilongwe. The army being on the streets is common sight in Malawi. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge the army did not have to take punitive action against citizens in order to quell disturbances but carried out their role in a relatively unobtrusive manner. Such scenes may be shocking to an assistant professor from the USA but are not too many who understand the nature of Malawian life.

The MEC has faced bitter criticism from many in Malawi. Such criticisms as the EU observers allude to are justified in the operational process of the election. Polling Stations opened late, voting ran into a second day in some cases and the electronic system of counting votes broke down. However, even against a back drop of pressure from the People’s Party of Joyce Banda, elements of the media and many concerned Malawian citizenships understandably anxious to hear results, the MEC stood firm and insisted on only reporting results when votes had been counted. The MEC gave regular news conferences and has been remarkably transparent and professional. The conduct of the MEC in difficult circumstances has been admirable and in many ways as been a model for African democracy and beyond. They have refused to be hurried into declaring early results and have shown a determination to focus on accuracy rather than speed. The job of an electoral commission is always crucial but no more so than when results are so tight. For the first time Malawi is electing MPs to Parliament as well as local elections and that has put tremendous strain on the system. Whatever the outcome the MEC should be saluted for carrying out it’s role with integrity.

It’s hard to speculate too much while awaiting the outcome but I suggest that the 2014 elections in Malawi will be a watershed for democracy. The newly elected President will be sworn into office knowing that 70% of the people have voted against him/her in all likelihood and will have to work with a hung Parliament but the optimist part of me sees how this might be positive. The 2014 Presidential election cries out for a run offor a system of transferable vote. A run off would ensure that the newly elected President had a strong mandate and the consent of the people. Now might be the ideal time for the hierarchy within Malawian politics to consider constitutional review vis-à-vis the election of the President? First past thePost might suit a two party system like the USA but does not suit a multi party democracy like Malawi. The model for electing the president in France might be one worth considering in Malawi?

So what for the future? One suspects that after her initial disappointment Mrs Banda will land of her feet and secure many a top job on the world stage. She will remain the darling of the West and will potentially become an excellent ambassador for her country. Atupele has now tested the water. He will be back and the UDF stronger. He was a contender and is still young. He will learn from the experience of contesting the Presidency and may well still be President of Malawi one day. As for what happens to Lazarus Chakwera and Peter Mutharika – that will be determined by which of the two is declared President of Malawi.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What can be done about alcoholism in Zambia?

My last Blog post focused on the problem of alcohol abuse in Zambia:

Zambia's problem with alcohol abuse

In the post I concentrated primarily on the problems facing the country but did little by way of offering solutions. In my follow up articles I will consider some of the positive steps that Zambia might consider in reducing the drinking epidemic.

First and foremost it is essential that young people are educated about the dangers of alcohol. Education is arguably more important in Zambia than in any other country in the world given the fact that approximately half of all living Zambians are under the age of eighteen. Unfortunately many young Zambians are not exposed to good role models as many of their parents and relatives may be heavy drinkers. In most societies, where women drinking to the excess that Zambian women do is taboo, a mother is usually a model of sobriety for her children. Given that 42% of Zambian women are likely to drink to excess at least once a week, according to the WHO, it is likely that many young Zambians lack the guidance of even one sober parent. Bear in mind also that the statistics from the World Health Organization do not highlight the frequency with which Zambian women drink each week. Casual observation would suggest that for many of these women drinking is part of their daily routine and that drunkenness is the norm. Not a great environment for the education of the young given that the first educators of any child is the parents and actions most certainly speak louder than words.

Aside from the family the next group of people to have a real influence on youths and children is their teachers. Given that most young people are first tempted by alcohol in their teens it is important that their teachers in Secondary school are excellent role models. This is imperative especially in the circumstance where heavy drinking is the norm in the home. Most teachers in Zambia are professional and are serious in their duties. It is only a minority who fail to report for work or are drunk whilst on duty. However, even if a teacher is an excellent role model in school their responsibility does not end there. A teacher has a duty to uphold good moral standards at all times when their students may be of witness. Thus it can never be appropriate for a teacher to drink heavily in front of his/her students. Should a teacher wish to drink of an evening or a weekend - which is their right - they should be cautious of their audience. Drinking in the same bars as their students is most certainly inappropriate but one might argue that being seen intoxicated by the young people they educate and guide is also morally wrong. There are of course grey areas in this aspect of the debate but in the majority of cases a teacher should be a beacon of moral virtue for his/her students.

It is not helpful to demonize alcohol or those people that enjoy a few drinks. Drinking in moderation is socially acceptable in most parts of the world. My personal experience of life in Zambia is that I made many great friends over a few Mosi's or Castle's after finishing work. It is important that the consumption of alcohol does not become one's raison d'etre and that the individual is always in control of their relationship with alcohol. Once alcohol gains the upper hand it becomes a dagerous drug that destroys productivity, families and communities. In this respect it is important that Churches speak out and offer guidance but this should not be to condemn alcohol or those who drink.  After all Scripture only criticizes drunkenness and not the consumption of alcohol per se. Churches condemning all those who enjoy are a few beers or ciders are not helping the situation in Zambia. Abstinence is not the only answer! Christians should remember that Jesus' first miracle was to turn water into wine and that there was wine present at his Last Supper. Let's not be selective when quoting scripture if that's a justification for the condemnation of alcohol one seeks. Instead Churches must support those with alcohol problems and their families. Pastoral care and Christian love should be shown to those with alcohol dependency and never rejection. After all Jesus came to save the sinner!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Zambia's problems with alcohol abuse

Zambian's the world biggest drinkers

WHO evidence shows that Zambian women are the biggest consumers of alcohol in the world. The horrible reality is that alcohol destroys lives in Zambia. 

The survey shows that Zambia as a nation has the worst problem with alcohol that any other country in the world with men and women consuming enormous amounts of alcohol. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the statistics presented by the World Health Organization is that the problem is worst among Zambian women with the evidence suggesting that 42% of Zambian women drink to excess at least once a week. The statistics unfortunately do not lie as wherever and whenever one travels in Zambia one will witness drunkenness. The statistics only partly reflect the reality as well as it is commonplace to see men, women and children drunk to an extreme one might consider impossible at all times of day and night. I have seen elderly women barely able to walk due to intoxication in the middle of an afternoon and have witnessed teenage girls taking drinks from much older men in bars across Zambia. Many teenage girls fall into dependency upon alcohol and often will take drinks from men in return for sex. Alcohol abuse in Zambia is explicitly linked to prostitution and subsequently to the spread of HIV/Aids, teenage pregnancy and other associated social evils. The situation is out of control across the country.

The situation isn't confined to cities either - alcoholism extends into the compounds and villages. Cheap alcohol is readily available across the country. Some is sold legally in shops where other brews are made in homes and sold to unlicensed shebeens for sale within communities. One can buy alcohol at any time of day or night from markets that trade all night. Although such trade is illegal the law is not enforced by the authorities.

The problem permeates across the whole of society but as always those who suffer most are those living in poverty and tragically the biggest victims are often children. The most tragic aspect which the statistics do not reflect is the level of drunkenness and alcoholism among children. It is no wonder children turn to alcohol. After all what sort of example are they set by their parents, uncles and aunts and even grandparents? One of the busiest nights of the year in Zambia is when Grade 12 children complete their exams. Children flood into bars and nightclubs and often subsequently in to a life dominated by alcohol abuse.

 I only hope that the Zambian government is now stirred into action and legislates to reduce access to alcohol in the country. President Ian Khama in Botswana adopted hardline measures to reduce alcohol abuse in his country and I would suggest it's time that President Sata adopted similar measures to his neighbours. The banning of “Tujili jili” in 2012 showed the political will to address the issue of alcoholism in the nation but unfortunately little has happened since and traders have now circumnavigated the legislation but repackaging cheap alcohol for sale to the Zambian public.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Death on the Roads - A humanitarian crisis for Zambia

Many people with limited knowledge of Africa probably think of Poverty, Malaria and HIV/Aids as the major causes of death in countries like Zambia and other parts of Sub Saharan Africa but add to the list Road Traffic Accidents.

 35 people killed in Easter Weekend Accidents

This is horrendous news but it barely ruffles any feathers in Zambia because death on the roads is so frequent. First and foremost drivers must start taking responsibility for their actions as most "accidents" (I prefer the term collisions as accidents implies a lack of accountability to any party!) are caused by recklessness. Such recklessness is often due to driving under in influence of alcohol. In many countries driving under the influence of alcohol is stigmatized. There is little sympathy from the public or court when a driver causes an "accident" while drunk.

Meanwhile in Zambia it is commonplace to drive from bar to bar during all day drinking sessions and even to drink while driving! This is where individual responsibility is essential. Obviously the driver is blameworthy but I would argue so are all of his/her passengers if they are aware of the amount of alcohol he has consumed. Moreover, I would also apportion blame to the bar/pub that allowed him/her to drink when inebriated and in charge of a motor vehicle.

Individual responsibility should also be applied to those who knowingly drive vehicles that are unfit for use upon a public highway. Zambia's roads is full of such unfit vehicles and these are often the cause of fatalities. Major highways are strewn with broken down trucks (that have passed through weighbridges and roadblocks!) and countless cars can be spotted without headlights.

In each of the above scenarios though the accountability lies not only with the individual but also with authorities. Government must take the lead and ensure that credible education programs are implemented. Police must enforce high standards of road-worthiness upon vehicles and investigate how clearly unfit vehicles came to be granted "fitness certificates." Everyone knows it is because of "back-handers" and corruption but little is ever done to deter RTSA (Road Traffic Safety Agency) employees from issuing such certificates in return for bribes. Government and RTSA also have a role to play in ensuring that the quality of roads are improved in Zambia and that less "accidents" are caused by potholes and roads which are not fit for purpose.

Over the Easter weekend the Zambian Police Force issued a statement reinforcing a police presence over the holiday period. This included the setting up of roadblocks to promote road safety. Unfortunately reality of a roadblock is a license to make money by the Police Officers on duty. Drivers will often be fined for minor indiscretions in order for the officers to raise some capital for Mosi, Castle and Hunters Dry (for the side-dish!) so that they can enjoy the weekend festivities too.  Such dereliction of duty is a crime and a crime committed by those entrusted to uphold the law!

The tragedy is that similar events occur every day in Zambia. Every day mothers bury their children and people grieve over "accidents" that could have been avoided. May the souls of those who passed away this past weekend rest in peace.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

ZambezI International Green School - January 2014 Update

The Zambezi International Green School is now two years old. We celebrated our second anniversary at the beginning of the 2014 academic year. The school is now flourishing and full of the vibrancy of children learning

We have had our ups and downs since our opening and it would be true to say that establishing financial stability has been one of the major challenges. The school opened at a time when the Zambian economy was in sharp decline and thus many of our parents have had problems in paying school fees on time. The knock on effect for the school has been a period of financial challenge but we are optimistic that we are through the hardest times and our outlook for the future is one of optimism.

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ZIGS Zambia

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Monday, January 02, 2012

The latest news from ZIGS

2011 has been an exciting and eventful year for all of us connected with the Zambezi International Green School especially as we are now a tangible reality having opened our doors to our first pupils in September. We now look forward to the New Year and hope and pray that we grow from strength to strength.

It was in July that we found the perfect building for the first stage of our project. Within six weeks we transformed the building from an empty shell to a vibrant centre of learning. This was largely due to the hard work and dedication of our amazing staff.

We opened at a difficult time given that September sees the start of the third term in Zambian schools and many parents are reluctant to move their children to a new school at such a time in the academic year. However, despite this we managed to recruit sixteen pupils into our Early Childhood Learning Centre. From small acorns grow great oak trees and even in its one term of operation Zambezi International Green School has established itself as the beacon school across the City of Livingstone.

Despite the tremendous success of our Early Years Learning Centre 2011 ended on a sad note with the untimely passing of Mr David Khomonyane - the Headman we have worked so closely with over the past few years. Mr Khomonyane left behind a widow and six children. We hope that the success of our school and especially the Kazungula campus will be a fitting memorial to our friend and colleague.

As 2012 begins our focus is very much on growth and development. We are currently recruiting pupils for our Early Learning Centre and Grades 1, 2, 3 and 4 at our Flamboyant Lane campus whilst actively seeking an additional building in order to provide for students in Grades 5, 6, 7 and 8 from this time next year. This strategy enables us to continue to grow as a centre of educational excellence and to generate income to invest in the future vision for ZIGS which as our purpose built green school on the banks of the Zambezi.

With our student numbers growing we are in a position to bring on board new members of our team. Depending upon the exact number of pupils enrolling for the new academic year we hope to employ four or five new members of the teaching staff. This will ensure that we meet our promise to parents that all classes will be small with an excellent teacher : pupil ratio. Furthermore, everyone working as a teacher at ZIGS will be qualified as a teacher. Unlike many other private schools in Zambia we will not employ non qualified staff to work in classrooms alongside teachers. We are committed to exemplary standards. One our new teachers’ joining us in January is Mr Aqeel Ahmad – a Mathematics specialist from Pakistan. Aqeel has won prizes for the teaching of Maths in his own country and will be a wonderful addition to the ZIGS increasingly international team of staff and students!

Happy New Year from all at ZIGS!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Zambezi International Green School - Opening Soon!!!

Great news from Zambia! We are close to opening the first phase of our green school here in Zambia. In order to kick start the project we have agreed to rent a building in Livingstone where we are going to open a per-school and nursery section. We have been working with various partners over the past few weeks and things are looking good right now!

Of course our aim is to build our own school on the banks of the Zambezi and we also have good news on that front. After much delay we are now (hopefully) near to securing the title deeds for the land. This is a vital aspect of our project - Madonna's schools project in Malawi collapsed as she failed to gain land rights! All being well we will be opening our secondary section in Sept 2012/Jan 2013 on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River!

Right now we are looking for volunteers to work with us on various aspects of the project. Firstly we are looking for Early Years Learning/ Pre School teachers to work with us at our ZIGS, Livingstone. Qualified teachers looking for a fresh challenge or anyone who fancies a gap year or internship should get in touch. We are not in a postion to pay more than an allowance but can offer the chance to work for a project that will really make a difference in children's lives!

For our purpose built secondary school we seek an archetect with genuine green credentials to work with us in designing the school. It is an exciting opportunity as we can offer the right person a carte blanche in the resepct of design in a genuine wilderness setting. If you know such a person ask them to contact us!!!

Soon we will be recruiting teachers and an array of support staff for ZIGS. Please consider what you might be able to do to help us with this amazing project or pass on this e mail to friends!!!

Thanks for all your support!!!

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Phone: 00260 973312390 (Adrian) 00260 978626719 (Betty)