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Inside the Malawi Parliament. – Barwani Msiska

LAST WEEK’S entry, More women, more problems…solved attracted insightful responses from readers. It would be amiss for me not to share, in detail, the feedback received. It is, after all, the whole point of this space, to critically think about our country and engage in conversations that can help build Malawi for better and forever. Here goes:

“The Parliamentary Women’s Caucus (PWC) needs to be ready to invest in the mentorship of young women into politics. And I say ‘ready’ because the mentorship should go beyond hotel ‘career talk’ meetings or events. At present, PWC does not appear ‘attractive’ to most young women There’s need for more young blood in the PWC.

“These interventions need to start with young women at a very, very young age. Again, the readiness of PWC is vital in this regard. For sustainability, it (mentorship programme for young women in politics) needs to be long term. This raises the important question of how all of this will be funded and supported.

“Whatever model of support is adopted, we must know that we, as Malawians, cannot leave such interventions to the donors’ hands alone and accept our fate. This something country we need to invest in as a country.”

The above was received from Umba Zalira, a young Malawian activist passionate about girls and women’s rights. She is a co-founder of Growing Ambitions, an initiative aimed at building the capacity of young Malawian girls.

This best describes the initiative: “The passion to build the capacity of girls from rural and peri-urban areas to take full charge of their lives in all areas is at the centre of our work at Growing Ambitions. We have embarked on a journey to provide a safe space for girls and young women by providing mentorship to our sisters as they embark on setting their lives goals and thriving to achieve them. We are here to cheer them on, to learn and to walk the journey with them.”

More feedback:

“Good piece. On women’s representation in parliament, Rwanda leads the pack with 63.8% followed by Bolivia and Cuba at 53.1% and 48.9%, way above the 50-50 targets. In 2003 Rwanda enacted a new constitution that provides for 30% of seats in Parliament to be reserved for women. It is interesting to note though that the countries that are always preaching women empowerment to the Africa and other third world regions are nowhere in the top 3 or top 10 (a topic for another piece?).

“The United Kingdom (UK), for example is at number 49 in the world with 29.6%. Our homeland stands at 113 with 16.7%. The challenge, with Malawi, in my opinion, is we talk and talk about numbers and focus more on achieving the numbers but not on how to maintain and retain the numbers gained. We seem to be stuck in a trial and error mode. Retention of women in Parliament in Malawi has been a serious challenge which no one seems to be addressing.

“In 2009 we were at 21.8% but dropped to 16.7% in 2014 despite the 50-50 campaign. Most women who have made it to Parliament are out after their first term and only two women have managed to retain their seats for more than two terms – Honourables Patricia Kaliati and Anna Kachikho.

“The question we should be asking is why do women fail to retain their seats and stay in power? Is it a question of not understanding their role, not having the requisite experience and therefore failing to perform? But then how many men in Parliament understand their role and perform to the satisfaction of the electorate? Is it a question of not having enough economic power to deliver their promises and therefore falling out of favour with the electorate? I could ask a dozen questions.

“I have often found myself standing alone when I have argued that yes we want and need more women in Parliament and other decision-making positions but we don’t want just any woman simply to satisfy the numbers. We need women who can come into positions, perform and retain that position because they are the right and qualified persons for it. I would take fewer women any day who come into Parliament knowing their role and agenda, who deliver the mandate for the electorate, build the confidence of the electorate in women’s ability to lead and let that be the tool by which the electorate gets more women into Parliament and decision-making positions.

“In my opinion, that is how we can retain the numbers and increase them. Whether these capable women come in through affirmative action like in the case of Rwanda or through competitive action as is the current position in Malawi is neither here nor there, as long as we get women who can perform and clear the road for the young girls out there who also dream of becoming champions for their communities through Parliament but are held back by society’s perception that women cannot deliver.”

On your part, dear reader, what are you doing to clear the road for those who will inherit this country long after we are gone?

There was also feedback that directed attention to pioneer organisers and influencers such as Rose Chibambo. These are women we can all learn from and their stories can be used to nurture aspirations of young girls in Malawi. In 2016, Malawi has no excuse to preach women development but engender practices that prevent the very same women from meaningfully participating key national processes.

Let’s keep the conversation running.

LEVI KABWATO 

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A woman sells groundnuts as an entrepreneurial means to support her familly. Blantyre, May 2015. – Thoko Chikondi

THREE WEEKS before my third birthday, in 1987, then Burkina Faso leader, Captain Thomas Sankara delivered a speech on the occasion of International Women’s Day. Several thousands of women from all walks of Burkinabe life gathered to listen to the speech and many more accessed it across various media. As a man himself, the irony of the occasion was not lost to Sankara.

“It is not an everyday occurrence for a man to speak to so many women at once,” he began by saying, adding: “Nor does it happen every day that a man suggests to so many women new battles to be joined.”

It is in a similar context of thinking that I frame this entry this week. “A man,” Sankara further says, “experiences his first bashfulness the minute he becomes conscious he is looking at a woman. So, sisters, you will understand that despite the joy and pleasure it gives me to be speaking to you, I still remain a man who sees in every one of you a mother, a sister, or a wife.” Read More

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These boards were laid across the capital city, Lilongwe, to commemorate the 52nd Independence anniversary. The mediocrity on display could not anger many Malawians who accepted them without question. 

OF LATE, it has been disheartening to interact with people from the homeland. The sadness punctuating every sentence spoken and the weight of hope at the end of every conversation often becomes too difficult to bear. It is yet another legacy added to the catalogue of failures Malawi is bestowing on her people.

The national soul has been repeatedly violated and tortured by a governance system which always conspires to undermine the confidence of the people it’s meant to serve. This repeated assault on the national soul, occurring over many years and streamlined through our shallow politics, has frighteningly dislodged our sense of alertness as a people.

As a painful result, most Malawians have ended up without any kind of expectation, idea and intimate association with their citizenship. What does it mean to be Malawian? What duty do we have, the whole lot of us, towards negotiating our scarred past, an utterly confused present and an uncertain future?

There are many things that should, in normal circumstances, make us angry and be able to voice that anger until substantive positive action is taken. But nothing ever appears sufficiently wrong for us to rise up and demand that those responsible for the systematic oppression and deliberate under-development in Malawi are taken to task. Read More

Whenever I think about the young people in Malawi, two incidents that mirror the state of Malawian youths come to mind. Both are not pretty. One is the killing of Epiphania Bonjesi and the other is how, during election periods, young people drench themselves in paint, to reflect their political choices.

In 2004, nine year-old Epiphania was killed by – so we are made to believe – a stray bullet during a police altercation with protesters following the announcement of election results. Over the years, the memory of this girl has been relegated to the dustbin, never to be remembered again.

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The Malawi flag at Independence. Is the sun rising on the young people who are in majority?

Epiphania had a dream. She would have been twenty-one this year and only God knows what sort of girl she would have turned out to be and what sort of dreams she would have nurtured along the way. Yet, that dream went down with that bullet, violently shattering her hopes, dreams and aspirations. That this was caused by men and women who swore to protect and serve her is, perhaps, much more painful than the bullet itself.

More significantly, Epiphania would have had the opportunity to vote – for the very first time in her life – in the 2014 tripartite elections. To think of what opportunities have been lost to this girl, and to her family is heart-breaking. Hers is a death that could have been avoided, it’s a loss that was unnecessary and it is something that this country should be ashamed of having witnessed. Read More

AS YET another conference confirmed what we already know about the state of young people in Malawi, yet another girl, aged below 16, was reportedly raped by her schoolteacher. In a normal society, a schoolteacher is a trusted citizen, a custodian of the values we seek to impart on our children and the embodiment of uprightness and integrity.

Children scavenge for maize floor at a maize mill in the hunger stricken southern district of Chikwawa.

Children scavenge for maize floor at a maize mill in the hunger stricken southern district of Chikwawa. What does the future hold for them? pic: Thoko Chikondi 

In Malawi, however, we have successfully normalised the abnormal. We are long past the stage at which, even in the midst of fierce contradictions, we can claim some semblance of normalcy. We are an abnormal country, with abnormal people, abnormal attitudes and quite frankly, abnormal citizenship.

In 2016, the rape of a minor is casually reported as normal occurrence. In the same year, the abnormality of public service delivery – unprecedented electricity and water cuts – is accepted without question, government excesses are cheered at and mediocrity (a national pastime and identity) is celebrated.

The said conference, on National Population and Development, ended on a very sobering note last Thursday in Lilongwe, exposing the extent to which we have normalised the abnormal. In short, unless something is done URGENTLY, the free-fall this country is in will take generations, if not centuries to arrest and centuries more to restore Malawi on a path of genuine progress. Restoration assumes, of course, that there has previously been a time in which Malawi was on the path of progress. Read More

Rhythmic Revolution: Captain Sankara on his guitar, one of the few things he owned

Rhythmic Revolution: Captain Sankara on his guitar, one of the few things he owned

EARLIER THIS month, the people of Burkina Faso celebrated the anniversary of the August 4 Revolution that brought Captain Thomas Sankara into power. Given recent developments in the country – the ouster of long-ruling president, Blaise Compaore – and subsequent attempts at destabilising the transition government, the occasion was marked with great reflection.

The memory of Sankara is not only for the Burkinabe to hold. As a committed pan-African, Sankara’s contributions towards the shaping of African consciousness are not only enormous, but they have also stood the test of time. From renaming Upper Volta to Burkina Faso – Land of the Upright People – to challenging practices of post-colonial States in relation to the colonising presence, Sankara set a solid and futuristic framework for thinking about governance and development. And, he was not just about the talk!

“We must make every effort to see that our actions live up to our words and be vigilant with regards to our social behaviour so as not to lay ourselves open to attack by counter-revolutionaries lying in wait. If we always keep in mind that the interests of the masses take precedence over our personal interests, then we will avoid going off course,” once thundered Sankara. Read More

This is an odd column to write in 2016. It should be obvious, not so, that women and youth are a critical mass in developing nations? But here I am, making a case for the inclusion of women and youth in the development of Malawi and our attempt at consolidating democracy. Why?

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A lady sells groundnuts as an entrepreneurial means to support her familly. Blantyre, May 2015. PHOTO CREDIT: THOKO CHIKONDI.

A lot of it has to do with a brutal system of patriarchy that is commonplace around the world. This system engenders the superiority of men more than it does women and other sexes. Here in Malawi, we still suffer the same complex and the results have meant women are continuously marginalised, routinely pushed aside and excluded from contributing in the development of this country. Read More