Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becomes the first African and first woman to lead the WTO

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has confirmed Nigerian Economist and International Development Expert Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as its new Director General. Okonjo-Iweala becomes the first African and first woman to lead the organisation.

More information about the appointment can be found here, on the Financial Times website.

Why Donors should halt all COVID-19 Aid to the government of Malawi until there is full accountability regarding the usage of funds

COVID-19 statistics for Malawi as of 12th February 2021. Source: PHIM
  • US$1 = MWK 780.22  – Source: xe.com (13th Feb 2021)
  • Officials in Malawi, including people at the Department of Disaster Management Affairs(DODMA), have misappropriated the majority of K6.2 Billion (US$7.948 million) of Government funds which were earmarked for fighting Covid-19 and issued to government appointed Covid-19 Cluster committees- which are made up of civil servants.
  • According to credible reports from several sources, in one instance out of K85 Million ($109,000) earmarked for the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment(PPE) for Blantyre district, only K10 million was used for PPE, with K59 million being used for allowances. In Machinga, K30 million was spent on allowances with nothing on PPE. In Chitipa K22 million was spent on allowances, and nothing on PPE. In Chikwawa district for example K16 million was spent on allowances, with a meagre K4 million being spent on PPE.
  • There were several instances where significantly more money was spent on fuel than on PPE.

If you were looking for the perfect excuse not to waste your country’s citizens’ taxes to help the citizens of some poor country in East Afriica, one where officials have the nerve to steal COVID19 funds, now you have the perfect excuse.

Officials in Malawi have been accused of misappropriating a significant chunk of K6.2 billion meant for fighting Covid-19. The scandal now informally named COVIDGATE has revealed just how rampant, insensitive and endemic corruption continues to be in Malawi, and how little accountability there is in Government spending.

Despite the rhetoric from the Tonse Alliance government that they are serious about fighting corruption, or “clearing the rubble” to use President Lazarus Chakwera’s own words, the scandal has revealed just how little in practical terms the government has actually achieved towards that end. And how a lot more needs to be done.

Commenting regarding the scandal, one Malawian I talked to noted:

“If they can steal billions while Malawians are dying of COVID19 every day in our hospitals, while the hospitals are ill-equipped and overwhelmed and struggling to cope, while we have an acute shortage of PPE, what else won’t they do? What does that tell you about the kind of rot that we have in the civil service in this country? I understand poverty but these people are heartless, their brothers and sisters are dying everyday and they’re still stealing?!! They don’t deserve any mercy. Every single one of them needs to be fired!”

These people are heartless they don’t deserve any mercy

One Malawian commenting about the K6.2 Billion scandal.

Another commenter said: “If you donate to the government, your donation will end up into a politician’s stomach.”

Malawians on social media are equally enraged:

Meanwhile the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Lilongwe has ordered the Inspector General of Malawi Police Service to commence criminal investigations into the scandal. How long that process will take remains to be seen. However, historically such type of corruption or embezzlement cases in Malawi tend to take a long time. And in previous adminstrations, there were allegations that the lack of urgency and speed in prosecuting people who have embezzled Government funds pointed to a lack of political will.

The leader of opposition in Malawi’s p
Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa MP

The leader of opposition in parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa MP has called for a forensic audit to ascertain weather DODMA and other Government officials misappropriated the funds.

However, until all the culprits are brought to book, and until there is total transparency regarding expenditure of Government funds, and until allowances on matters such as healthcare emergency spending are banned (all of which may take some time), I believe donors and international agencies working in Malawi should with immediate effect route all COVID19 aid funds either via charities and NGOs or via the COVID19 Private Citizens Response initiative (which so far has had an excellent record of transparency and of accounting for each and every single penny that has been donated).

Such a drastic action will focus minds within the Government of Malawi to do something decisive and to do so urgently against the scourge of corruption in Malawi.

Malawians are tired of being abused and taken advantage of like this. They want to know who was responsible for the embezzlement, how much was stolen by each official, and to see those people not only prosecuted and jailed, but also named and shamed, and forced to return the stolen funds back to the Government. And if they can’t return the misappropriated funds, then assets of each guilty person equivalent to the misappropriated funds should be confiscated. There has to be a very strong deterrent to stop this kind of thing happening over and over again.

The Governments of Britain, Germany France, the US and the EU should take note of this sad case of embezzlement, and be firm with officials in Malawi. This is an opportunity to force through much needed accountability and transparency in public service.

President Chakwera has on numerous occasions said he wants his leadership style to be a servant leadership style. This wanton embezzlement of emergency healthcare funds unfortunately frustrates such noble sentiments, and must be met with a tough response.

Nkhalidwe wonunkha kwambiri uwu. This behaviour must end now.

Why many people I know are not that keen on the COVID-19 vaccine

A petri dish, pills, a mask and a syringe

Throughtout my life I have received all the vaccines which I was told I needed. My children too are fully vaccinated, and I am perfectly at ease with that. I continue to be supportive of vaccination as a proven and effective way of achieving immunity against certain illnesses. And I intend to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to me, so that I am protected agains the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

But many of my friends and some family members are not that keen on the COVID-19 vaccine. Here I outline some of the reasons why.

But first a couple of disclaimers:

This article is not about Anti-vaxxers or people who for some scientifically illiterate reason are opposed to vaccinations.

Also, I’m not a Virologist, Biomedical scientist or an Epidemiologist. I’m not a healthcare professional, have never undertaken vaccine research and my background and specialisation lie primarily in Electronic & Software Engineering. So some of the notation in this article may neither be precise nor depict accurate terminology. More importantly, I’m not writing this article to endorse, support, defend or otherwise give credence to any medical stance, let alone the numerous views, sentiments and feelings of some of the people I know or is acquainted with.

World Health Organization. Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines. WHO https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/draft-landscape-of-covid-19-candidate-vaccines (2020).

Our traditional medicines are useful.The fruit trees that we have outside our houses, avocado, blue gum, their leaves are good and help a lot. We should encourage everyone to use our trees as herbal remedies. We should also ask our leaders to learn from Tanzania and Madagascar. Their leaders have shown leadership. We need to stand against the threat of the COVID19 vaccine.

However at a time of so much uncertainty and a multiplicity of views, I think their perspectives, questions, fears, hesitancy and concerns are valid and matter. They must not be dismissed but must instead be heard as legitimate concerns in a global debate, irrespective of what people sitting on the other side of the table think about such “fringe” views.

I have paraphrased some of the questions and concerns for clarity and to shield the respective identities of the people whose views I seek to replicate. I have also substituted some statements with similar views expressed online by other people I do not know but whose views more coherently mirror the original statements of the people I know.

Finally, it is encouraging to note that some people who previously expressed concern or feared taking a COVID-19 vaccine have since agreed to receive it, after considering in-depth information on the science behind the different vaccine candidates and how they are manufactured.

Watching this transformation from skeptic to convert happen has been delightful.

1. How effective will this vaccine really be?

“For How long will the vaccine protect me from the virus once I have received it?”

“I don’t like needles so don’t want to be receiving a vaccine for this virus every year or every few years.”

“When I was young, I had the BCG vaccine for TB, I’ve never needed another vaccine for TB, so why the hell I’m I being asked to be vaccinated twice for COVID?”

“What guarantees are there that when I receive this vaccine it will protect me against COVID-19? I know people are dying but if my body can produce an immunity response and protect me from further infection, how does what my body can naturally do differ from what the vaccine will be able to do? Give it to the old people with poor immunity, I’d rather let my body protect me naturally than having more chemicals injected into me”

Nigeria eyes domestic vaccine production to tackle COVID-19 (AFRICA BRIEFING)

2. Why do I feel like this vaccine is different from other “normal” vaccines?

A Campaign from NYC Health + Hospitals encouraging people to receive the vaccine.

There is a feeling among some people that the COVID-19 vaccine is different from other vaccines.

I know that there are several vaccines (and vaccine candidates) being rolled out, being researched or being trialed, and that they use different approches or incorporate different techniques to target the virus. However, several people have told me that they feel that these COVID-19 vaccines are not normal. Sentiments here range from those who believe the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine will alter their DNA, to those who think the speed of development should be met with alarm or at least extreme caution.

“Let us agree to disagree that change through COVID has come therefore let us embrace the change and live with the virus. One thing I don’t understand is how come COVID does not have a direct cure, but people recover like the way we recover from Malaria. That doesn’t happen with Polio??Or with HIV?? It’s not all of us who recover of diseases with cures but I think this virus is confusing and different, so we need to know more, otherwise let’s treat it like any other infectious disease.”

“This vaccine is preventing people getting the virus, it doesn’t cure COVID-19. There is the need for civic education about vaccines, which historically can sometimes be a gamble “

Professor Dale Godfrey…told newsGP the idea of whether two month represents an adequate period is not a straightforward answer as things are more likely to go wrong earlier in the renting phase that was the end

Matt Woodley, News GP, Is two months long enough to monitor for vaccine safety concerns?

“I work in the healthcare sector. I have been involved in discussions at the Mosque with lots of people and while the Imans are saying we should go talk to our GPs and are recommending taking the vaccine, some people in my community think we don’t yet know if this vaccine is safe, so I’m on the fence for now.”

“Bruv, is this shit real? Had them vaccines, all of them since i was a kid I’ve had, masteni ndi madala made sure I got them, but this Covid shit lame.”

Forgive me if this is a mistake, but remember they say ‘having little knowledge is more dangerous than having no-knowledge at all’ so i need to ask: As a way of ruling out all skepticism and mistrust, can’t there be an initiative of engaging our local experts to certify or rule otherwise if there’s something wrong with the vaccine? We have Malawi Bureau of Standards which certifies products manufactured either locally or imported. They inform the citizenry whether a product is worthy of consumption or not. Isn’t there a board that deals with medical products, medicines and poisons too? Whatever it is, why can’t we ask them about these vaccines and let them issue a statement on the safety of each vaccine? By the way, they are funded by taxpayers money 🤷

3. Is it normal for a Pharmaceutical company to seek advance government protection from legal action in the event that the vaccine harms some people?

As mentioned in the introduction, EU officials have informed Reuters that product liability is one of the biggest contentious issues in European efforts to secure a vaccine. AstraZeneca have reportedly come to a deal with Europe, although the commission has not yet commented on the details of liability. According to a Reuters report on the 26th August, the EU commission would only offer partial protection to manufacturers against liability, ‘hampering deals in contrast to US policy.’ The administration of the vaccine therefore lays in the balance of political, economic and sociological interests.”

– By Wouter PorsEvelyn Tjon-En-Fa, Flora Peel, A vaccine for COVID-19: risks and liabilities from an international perspective (Bird & Bird)

Why is AstraZeneca applying for protection from prosecution from national governments and the likes of the EU, in the event that their vaccines cause adverse effects, which could include death? Although any brief research will show that this is not entirely unheard of, especially for vaccines that have not completed Phase 3 trials, some people think it is not normal.

Sangs, if I come to you and say: I’m selling this car, but its only 66% safe for use and can’t guarantee that it won’t develop a fault that causes an accident while you are on the motorway, so if you buy it, and it causes an accident and you die, I can’t be held responsible.

Will you buy that car amwene?

No, you won’t voluntarily take such a risk. Your better senses, your intuition, will prevent you from taking that step, even if the car happens to be your dream car.

So, why are we being asked to take a vaccine where the maker of that vaccine is requesting protection from prosecution and won’t guarantee its safety and won’t be held responsible if it fucks us up?

Za chamba eti”

“My family and I have decided not to take this vaccine. If Malawi makes it compulsory, we will move and live in Tanzania. If Tanzania also makes it compulsory, we’ll go somewhere else. We need independent tests and full transparency on what’s going on first. “

4. Will the vaccine cause an adverse reaction when I come into contact with coronavirus?

Pathogenic Priming.

Here’s a nifty medical term I didn’t previously know about until recently. Much like “Furlough“, which I also only first encountered last year.

Another word related to pathogenic priming, which you may never have heard of before is Antibody-dependent Enhancement (ADE) or Immune Enhancement. This phenomenon according to several sources is when your body’s immune system reacts badly to the virus AFTER you have already been vaccinated.

Anyway, there are some people who believe the vaccine could cause an adverse reaction in some people, when they come into contact with the virus. The basis of this concern appears to be in the well chronicled Pharmaceutical blunders of the past. I’ll let the experts explain what the term actually means:

ADE is one form of immune enhancement, a poorly understood group of phenomena occurring when components of our immune system that usually protect against viral infections somehow end up backfiring. It’s a concern in situations when people are continuously re-infected with particular pathogens, and with vaccines that work by injecting snippets of virus to mimic a first infection. Some immunizations, such as those against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), have been observed in the past to make disease worse when vaccinated individuals contract the virus.

Katarina Zimmer, COVID-19 Vaccine Researchers Mindful of Immune Enhancement (The Scientist)

“My husband was sick for a whole week after getting the flu jab last year. They were offering it via his workplace and he said ok why not. He was in bed for a week, had splitting headaches, yellow mucus coming out of his nose, a fever, lost appetite and was a wreck. I know COVID is not a flu, but I’m not having the COVID-19 vaccine! I’ve told him if you want you go receive it yourself, me – no! “

5. Will I still be able to have kids after I receive the vaccine?

A pregnancy test

How will the vaccine affect fertility in say 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? Is there credible information on this, I’ve been asked a couple of times.

“I want to have kids, but not ready to have kids now. How will the vaccine affect my fertility later on down the line?”

– a 20 year old daughter of a cousin

“There’s no evidence antibodies against any coronavirus cause infertility. If coronavirus spike proteins did lead the immune system to attack the placenta, we’d see widespread infertility after common cold seasons, which are caused by a range of viruses, including coronaviruses.”

Archa Fox, Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow, University of Western Australia, Not sure about the Pfizer vaccine, now it’s been approved in Australia? You can scratch these 4 concerns straight off your list (The Conversation)

But what about Male fertility? Does anyone know the effects of a COVID-19 vaccine on male fertility in 4 years? 10 years? In one article, an opinion of one medical journalist that suggested freezing sperm got some people worried:

Study investigates effects of COVID-19 vaccine on male fertility

6. How will the vaccine affect my other organs in the long term?

Not just the effect on my lungs and the respiratory system, but on my kidneys, my heart, my eyes, my brain, my liver, my digestive system and so on.

“What research has been done to find out the effects of the various vaccines on different organs in the long term? I’m going to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but I think it’s only right that before we ask everyone to receive the vaccine we have to show them some conclusive evidence that it won’t affect other organs in their body in the long term, and if we can’t do that then it shouldn’t be mandatory to receive the vaccine, until after we have that evidence”

“What I know is that pregnant mothers receive a vaccine before a baby is born. And also when the baby is born the baby is vaccinated, and so while I don’t see anything wrong with the COVID-19 vaccine, maybe we should be told what happens in the long term.”

7. Will the COVID-19 vaccine contain nano robots?

This one is rare but there have been at least two occasions when an ordinary conversation with a friend veered into the less heard of but nevertheless real subject of nano robots?

For those not familiar with the term, Nano robots are nanodevices at the molecular level and are a known healthcare innovation within nanotechnology and nanomedicine.

One proposed use of nano robots is in Smart Drug Delivery System and some people are wondering whether the COVID-19 vaccine contains nano robots.

This concern was a lot more pronounced at the beginning of the pandemic, when the internet was awash with bizarre and nonsensical conspiracy theories about the links between COVID-19 and 5G.

8. My Faith in God will protect me from COVID-19

A post on a social media page.

Pretty much every crisis that the world has faced has at some point been met by these types of religious (or pseudo-religious) claims. And often there is little thought as to how such a stance affects other people, which itself may be a verdict on the lack of empathy of the person holding such views. In any case, no one lives in a vaccuum, and our actions, whether good or bad, often impact other people around us.

Considering all of the above views and concerns, it is clear that national governments everywhere have a tough job on their hands. Never mind sensitisation and countering of false information, if a significant percentage of society is opposed to the COVID-19 vaccines and are not willing to be vaccinated, for whatever reasons, it may ultimately defeat the whole global vaccination effort. This is because new viruses (against which the current vaccines have little or no effect) which will inevitably mutate in unvaccinated ‘pockets’ of the population will in no time be transmitted back into the vaccinated population(s) across the world – triggering a whole new pandemic!

Mzuzu University is introducing a Part-time Degree in Data Science – way to go!

University students

Mzuzu University, one of the public Universities in Malawi, will this year be introducing a part-time Degree in Data Science.

This is welcomed news and minimally shows how progressive the learning institution has become, in that in less than 25 years since its founding it is now already emulating what some established Universities and learning institutions internationally have done, who in recent years have led the way in offering such data science courses, sometimes doing so online.

An excerpt from the University’s course details page reads thus:

The Bachelor of Science (Data Science) programme aims at providing students with scientific knowledge, analytical and interpretational skills, values and attitudes required for them to competently apply data science concepts in solving real life problems in this big data era.’

For more information, please refer to the links below:

http://ict.mzuni.ac.mw/?p=3126

http://ict.mzuni.ac.mw/?page_id=3124

It will be interesting to see what the full course content includes and the modules students will be studying. Further, it will also be interesting to see what graduates of the course go on to do, since one measure of the effectiveness or value of a degree qualification is the extent to which such is able to prepare or empower a student for the life of work or for other related pursuits thereafter.

We wish the University and all the students who enroll all the best in this endeavour!

The closing date for enrollment is 26th February 2021.

**Update(1.2.21): An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the course as an online course.

Malawi needs a full lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19

Last week two cabinet ministers in Malawi died of COVID-19. Yes, you read that right. Two ministers in Lazarus Chakwera’s government died of COVID-19 in a single day…

So far 396 Malawians that have been lost to the pandemic, out of 16,049 confirmed cases. The deaths include two other high ranking government officials.

All deaths to COVID-19 represent a sad premature loss of life. And given that sombre picture, it’s easy for Malawians to be fearful, panic, or lose hope. In any case, if government officials who are viewed to have access to the best medical care (some with access to pricey private medical care) in the country are ‘perishing to the virus‘, to quote a friend, what hope is there for the poor masses?

But going forward requires decisive action because inaction is not an option. If we’re to deliver the kinds of results necessary to stem the spread of the virus, then certain painful measures need to be put in place.

President Lazarus Chakwera, in his press conference last week declared a state of national disaster, and appealed to the international community, UN Agencies, NGOs and the private sector for more assistance and contributions to meet the challenge of the pandemic. Chakwera also called for an emergency meeting of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to explore additional measures to combat the pandemic. He also instructed several of his ministries (Health, Homeland Security, Education, Civic Education, Local Government, Justice and Information) to work together with the Vice President to review Malwi’s COVID-19 guidelines for curbing the spread of the virus, and recommend to the Taskforce any amendments to be made to those guidelines, and enforcement of those guidelines.

All well and good. However, depending on what Chakwera means by ‘additional measures‘, and depending on what additional amendments the ministries will recommend, I believe a full lockdown is the only way to resolutely stop the spread of this virus in Malawi.

The reason that’s the only sure-fire way is because if you look at countries that have successfully managed to control the spread of the virus, especially those with minimal fatalities, a full lockdown was one of the most important key measures taken.

NEW ZEALAND

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives a coronavirus media update at the New Zealand Parliament. Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images

The Australasian country of New Zealand has had a total of 2,267 COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths. 2,178 people in New Zealand have recovered from COVID-19 as of today. The success of New Zealand lies in early decisive action the country took, declaring a stringent lockdown as early as March 26, 2020 and taking an approach designed to “flatten the curve” of infections. The entire country (apart from essential workers & essential businesses) was required to self-quarantine at home, and after 5 weeks the lockdown was lifted. During this time, most workplaces, schools and public meetings were closed. Contact Tracing and Quarantine for visitors was put in place, introducing border restrictions to Non-citizens/ non-permanent residents, with all arrivals (regardless of where they came from or their symptomology) being made to go into managed isolation or quarantine facilities (mainly repurposed hotels) for 14 days. Those in quarantine where required to take Covid-19 tests on day 3 and day 12 of their time in quarantine.

Scientists’ modeling showing the effectiveness of the lockdown in New Zealand. Photo: Te Pūnaha Matatini

Public events were cancelled, and by May community transmission had been stopped, and in early June the Pandemic had been declared over in New Zealand. Following a further outbreak New Zealand brought in another lockdown in August 2020.

TAIWAN

Lessons from Taiwan (Atlantic Council)

Taiwan which has so far only recorded 7 deaths from COVID-19 from a total of 881 cases. After suffering from the SARS epidemic in 2003, the Taiwanese Centre for Disease Control very early in the pandemic begun screening all passengers arriving from Wuhan, and in collaboration with the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC – a body created to manage outbreaks, who in 2004 helped create a national health insurance smart card for each citizen, linking health records to travel history) ensured that each citizen had access to masks, and helped hospitals to be aware of potential COVID-19 cases in real time. The screening was soon extended to all arrivals from high-risk countries. Taiwan also created a digital quarantine system, whereby those who arrived from abroad were sent to a “quarantine hotel” – a hotel that has been repurposed for the pandemic – and were not allowed to leave their rooms for two weeks. This was supplemented by a track and trace system of in-person checks.

People who lived in a flat with their own bathroom were allowed to quarantine at home. Critically, those who were quarantining – be it in a hotel or at home – were monitored by a “digital fence” using their smartphones, cell towers and mobile phone carrier data. Anyone who ventured out of their area, was immediately contacted by text, and the health authorities informed – who would immediately send someone. If your phone run out of battery, a health officer would show up at your door.

The start of the new semester for schools was delayed for 2 weeks and by march there was a ban on large gatherings of 100 if indoors and 500 if outdoors.

In addition, citizens were paid monetary incentives, including £27 a day for staying in their room. Breaking the quarantines resulted in very high fines, as high as £27,000!

Taiwan also used the media to rebut false information, with press releases, viral memes and texts, encouraging wearing masks and importance of washing hands and using hand sanitizer. CoFacts, a collaborative fact checking service enabled those using chat apps to send something they suspected to be misinformation, to be fact checked.

LIBERIA

Photo: Flickr

Liberia, which so far has recorded only 84 deaths from COVID-19, has had only 1,901 cases. Several lessons underscore Liberia’s Response to COVID-19

Strong Leadership — President George Weah took decisive action against COVID-19 in that after the first confirmed case on March 16, all travel was suspended if the countries of origin had more than 200 cases. In addition, Weah declared a national state of emergency as well as a 14 day stay-at-home order. Citizens were ordered to stay at home unless if going out shopping or to get supplies. Wearing masks in public was made mandatory.

Community Response — The Active Case Finders and Awareness (ACFA) Team, who had been instrumental in fighting Ebola, were instructed to fight against COVID-19 using many of the same tactics developed during Ebola, including recruiting and training contact tracers, setting up hand-washing stations as well as convincing businesses not to serve those not wearing masks.

Respect for Local Cultural Beliefs and Perspectives — To stem the spread of misinformation, the ACFA began to go door-to-door, while observing the social distancing guidance of 6 feet away from people, to follow contact traces as well as inform the community about facts of COVID-19, and to dispel myths.

Last Sunday, Chakwera said his government had released additional funding for use by various clusters of  the Presidential Taskforce. He also outlined his priority in managing the recent surge of hospitalisation and providing emergency care to the critically sick, employing an additional 1,000 healthcare staff, among several measures.

But considering what the above countries have done, and contrasting that with the President’s measures, and looking at the rate of spread of the virus, I find that the measures announced on Sunday fall well short of what the country actually needs to stop the spread of the virus.

This is because the measures Chakwera has announced do little to stop community transmission, and do not prevent People coming into the country from abroad from breaking the self-isolation guidelines.

Also, since Pandemic fatigue has set in as wet weather makes going outdoor less inviting even in a country known for good climate, some people are still meeting friends (or people of different households) indoors, including in religious establishments like churches. This coupled with the open borders, in particular travel from South Africa and a large essential workforce, including people who have to go out every day for their sustenance (with many such people living in crowded or dense housing), has created a confluence of suitable conditions for the pandemic to flourish.


Prototyping & Product Development


And Malawi is not alone. Countries like Brazil, India and the UK have all experienced something similar as some people burdened by months of lockdowns and stringent restrictions have let their guard down.

Many of us relaxed our vigilance against the virus and now we are paying the price

Lazarus Chakwera, in a radio address on Sunday 10th January 2021

The rise in home remedies

Watch this video on YouTube here https://youtu.be/2ZoBb-ngk5k

The video above shows the many home remedies that have been suggested as preventative, alleviating or managing some of the effects of COVID-19. And while with the exception of only a few studies there doesn’t appear to be any  consensus from health authorities across the world as to the efficacy of such remedies, there are indications from anecdotal evidence that some such remedies are effective.

I think health services in countries which do not have as many resources to procure medical equipment lose nothing prescribing some such sound home remedies, be they blue gum leaves or anything else, especially when there is some evidence as to their efficacy, and the remedy itself is undertaken while observing strict health and safety measures. To qualify this point, you may remember that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made mistakes, in that in January 2019, while some of us were advocating that everyone must begin wearing masks in all public places, the WHO said there was no evidence that masks are effective in stemming the spread of COVID-19?! Poor advice which even the British government fell for??! A few months later the WHO began recommending that everyone should wear masks…?!

Pioneering procedures

Similar to the issue of home remedies, I am of the persuasion that certain pioneering procedures for the treatment of COVID-19 need to be further investigated by our Medical Agencies in Malawi. And the above video shows one such example, trialed in this case by Dr Emmanuel Taban in South Africa.

Epidemiologists and Surgeons at College of Medicine in Malawi need to take note and begin seriously looking into this procedure, and the use of IVERMECTIN(see video above) and others that have been flagged, for example the testimony of Dr Pierre Kory below- which advocates using anti-inflammatory steroids in critical care.

Preventing Infection transmission

And while the numerous fundraising efforts are commendable and very much necessary considering the circumstances, preventing the spread of the virus means stopping the infection transmission from one person to another.

It means proactive measures beyond mere reactionary fire-fighting in epidemic response and virus containment efforts.

This includes stopping any and all gatherings of people anywhere in the country, from State House all the way to the Tavern. It means borders must be closed again as was the case last year, preventing visitors entering the country, and restricting domestic and international travel to only necessary travel by residents/returnees returning home, and goods vehicles bringing in medicines, fuel and supplies. It means everyone who comes into the country must be quarantined in state run isolation facilities for a period of at least 14 days. Such measures will create the conditions that make infection transmission difficult.

In any case, a busload of people from South Africa will probably carry a much higher risk of bringing and spreading further infections into the country, than goods vehicles drivers traveling alone or in pairs. Further, it’s probably easier to test, quarantine and trace a handful of drivers passing through border entry points every now and again, than quarantining busloads of passengers who are expected to self-isolate- even when the authorities know very well that such people would either go on to live with relatives (spreading the virus to them) or wouldn’t be able to stay indoors for 14 days, as they’d need to go out to buy food or to work.

This issue is important in light of recent figures which showed that migrants returning from South Africa accounted for 40% of Malawi’s COVID-19 cases.

Malawi is a deeply religious country and President Lazarus Chakwera appears to be doing his best. His conviction and Christian faith are treasured leadership qualities which Malawians should cherish in terms of not only bringing people together, inspiring hope in the ‘divine intervention’, but also in the pursuit of collective resilience when faced with a killer disease.

But beyond subservience to a divine power and coalescence of people’s resolve, Chakwera’s government will need actions that can be quickly implemented beyond words. The type of action that has delivered positive results elsewhere!

This is important because some Malawians are already voicing concerns regarding Chakwera’s lack of decisive action.

There are also allegations that the request for funds which the president put out doesn’t make sense when his “bloated” cabinet is costing the tax payers nearly K1.6 Billion.

But that aside, only the most effective measures will reassure Malawians that the Tonse Alliance government is up to the task. And in my view, those measures must include a full lockdown.

Vaccine

India has donated 1 million vaccine doses to Nepal

Malawi needs to procure thousands of emergency vaccine doses for healthcare workers. This is important so that those at the forefront and in frequent contact with the sick are protected from the virus. Appeals to Indian, Chinese, European & American Pharmaceutical companies should be made as a matter of urgency to procure vaccines first for healthcare workers, followed by doses for high risk groups.

But because getting a vaccine could take time, then a lockdown is one of the drastic actions which the government can take right now, to stem the spread, especially in light of the recent “South African strain” which some health experts are saying is easily spread, and which appears to be more deadly.

Who will pay for it?

I’m not suggesting that a lockdown is an easy step, but I strongly believe it is necessary to stop the spread of the virus. In any case, if you prevent the spread of the virus, people will not be getting sick, thus will not be needing to be hospitalised. Thus, in the absence of a vaccine, a lockdown is a measure that tackles the root cause, as opposed to tackling symptoms.

In terms of funding, some of the COVID19 funds that so far have been set aside by government or which Malawi is receiving from donors need to be diverted into community support, to help those who are most vulnerable with food and supplies. Here, US$50 million needs to be set aside for a huge logistical and food aid operation that involves teams of tested healthcare workers going around buying food locally and distributing such food to communities, so that these people can stay at home for 2 or 3 months. Such an operation should be repeated several times as more funds become available.

Further, if such healthcare teams could receive the vaccine before such an exercise, it would improve the efficacy of the exercise.

Otherwise, the K72 Million which Chakwera said had so far been spent on protections and social support cluster to sensitize the public on the increased risks and evils of gender-based violence during the pandemic as well as to support victims and their families with materials and cash transfer, is in my view not enough. A lot more needs to be done.

Why President Lazarus Chakwera shouldn’t have visited former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika

The Christmas holiday season is a strange time. One where friends, families, acquaintances and others who don’t fall into any of these categories meet to catch up, for food, celebration, for worship and generally for festivities. Suddenly, far removed from the ordinary day to day preoccupations most of us are usually accustomed to the other 11 months of the year, the petty-dislikes, by December many of us begin to plan for Christmas. Where we’ll spend the day, with whom, and for how long: we begin buying presents, buying gifts for the children, close friends and family, our choice of Christmas cards (even for those who we’re only obligated to do so), we begin planning the feast that is the Christmas meal/dinner, complete with all manner of indulgences from expensive drinks we don’t usually buy to calorie-rich desserts that do no justice to our health. It happens everywhere, even in countries where Christianity is not a big deal

President Lazarus Chakwera & the first lady meeting the former president and former first lady.

And so it was no great surprise seeing President Lazarus Chakwera and the first lady stop by Mangochi to visit the former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika and his wife.

However, Malawian are divided as to whether the visit was a smart move, and there has been a lot of harsh words on social media as to whether the visit should even have taken place. There are some hailing the visit as a sign of leadership and of building unity. But others think in terms of preserving the integrity of the presidency and giving out the right messages, the visit wasn’t a smart move.

As a private person, Lazarus Chakwera has the right to visit who he likes, when he likes, and at a place of his choice. But as the President of Malawi, I believe those personal liberties are constricted by the office of the presidency, and need to be exercised a lot more cautiously.

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The above picture is a beautiful picture of two leaders spending some time together, but I think the concern for most Malawians is that any interactions between Lazarus Chakwera and Peter Mutharika should not influence due legal process, or give the wrong signals to those in charge of discharging that due legal process.

There is also the idea that a President who won the country’s support on the back of the noble and overdue anti-corruption ideal “of cleaning up the rubble” to quote Chakwera’s own words should not associate with a former president who is either facing an impending investigation, or whose very close associates are facing corruption / embezzlement charges. And refusing to associate with a former leader whose colleagues are under investigation is not tantamount to punishment. Instead it’s saying that the Presidency should be above disrepute, and so any associations that can potentially tarnish that Office must be avoided.

That’s the reason why some of us were very angry with what some South Africans were suggesting regarding who smuggled the controversial self-proclaimed ‘prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri out of South Africa.

In any case, now you have a man of integrity in President Lazarus Chakwera – by any measure an honest and conscientious leader. But what happens the day Malawi somehow gets a dishonest and rogue leader; a tinkerer who after such a visit to a former president starts insinuating without proof that the former leader is in fact innocent? Or starts casting doubts or throwing aspersions on the legal process, or interfering in any impending investigation? What happens if at a different time and in different circumstances a Malawian leader indulges in behaviour – much like what the outgoing US president Donald Trump has often done in the US – to try to undermine Malawi’s institutions and legal process?

That’s when Malawians will realise that it’s not a great idea for a sitting president to be chummy with someone who has a grey cloud over their head, or in Mutharika’s case – someone who presided over the monumental racketeering of state resources, embezzlement of government funds and wholesale corruption like never seen before in Malawi.

This is the main reason Malawi wants to be friends with Somaliland

Somaliland’s Parliament Building

If you were presented with a picture of the rather unassuming building of Somaliland’s Parliament for the very first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the place was in fact the site of Prakash Patel’s Tandoori Curry Bazaar in downtown Limbe.

Yes, looks are not everything, but the building is reminiscent of a glorified third-rate Bengali restaurant in a dusty part of town than the bonafide parliament building that it actually is. It looks more like one of those places where families go to after a sweaty day in Church, for Sunday dinner – complete with Biryanis, Chicken Kormas and Lamb Vindaloos.

So, what on earth is Malawi looking for in Somaliland?

Shouldn’t we instead be cosying up to the Singapores and South Koreas of this world? The glitzy success stories whose ‘breadcrumbs’ can catapult our tiny economy into the 21st century….no?

I mean, if we are serious about implementing a tried and tested formula of economic development which other countries have been using to develop their economies for decades then surely an official trip to New Delhi or Jakarta sounds more like it?

There’s been quite a bit of speculation as to the real reasons why Malawi is interested in Somaliland, and I won’t tire you by rehearsing those reasons here.

The adminstration of Somaliland has put out what to me sounds like regurgitated diplomat-speak.  A cut-and-paste statement that is too generic to be meaningful or taken seriously. The government of Malawi too hasn’t provided a convincing reason for its interest in Somaliland. In any case if the issue was truly about Somaliland seeking support from Malawi for it’s national recognition on the world stage, then surely it should have been officials from Somaliland visiting Malawi, and not the other way round. As the Chichewa proverb goes, phiri siliyendera nyani koma nyani ndi amene amayendera phiri (A mountain doesn’t follow the monkey, it’s the monkey that follows the mountain)

What’s surprised me from the commentary about the visit in Malawian publications is to see almost no one pick out the most probable reason why Eisenhower Mkaka (Malawi’s Foreign Minister) visited Hargeisa – the capital city of Somaliland, which I’m quite sure most Malawians hadn’t previously heard of before Mkaka’s visit.

I think the real reason Lazarus Chakwera’s government is looking to befriend Somaliland is to do with Oil. Yes, it’s all about Petroleum. Why this is the most likely reason is because in recent years, there’s been quite a lot of talk about investment into Somaliland. Only last year, the London headquartered Genel Energy announced it had increased his stake in the SL10B13 block in Somaliland to 100% , after acquiring a 25% state that had been previously held by East African Resources Group. That block alone is said to comprise several interests each containing at least 200 million barrels of crude oil, with some analysts estimating that there’s at least 1 Billion barrels of oil underneath that one block. That means Somaliland as a whole could have significant petroleum reserves, possibly of the size comparable to those found in several of the neighbouring countries.

And that’s a big deal.

Further, when friends are hard to come by as has been the experience of Somaliland (which is still regarded as an autonomous region within Somalia, and hasn’t been officially recognised by any country) any sort of trade can make a significant difference. As other marginalized states (including sanction-laden states such as Venezuela & Iran) will tell you, any takers of your output including oil in circumstances where other countries are afraid of the consequences of trading with you can be a lifesaver.

In addition, Somaliland in 2016 signed a 30 year contract with the United Arab Emirates’s DP World, the third largest port operator in the world, to manage and expand its Berbera Port. Last year, a US$400 million road project connecting Ethiopias border town of Togochale to Berbera was launched, a route which some analysts say will be an alternative transit point for imports and exports out of Ethiopia. There’s been several other significant and notable investments…

But if the oil quantities are as significant as some think, its only a matter of time before a refinery is constructed. Already in the south Ethiopia is looking at building it’s first oil refinery. This follows the shelving of a Blackstone Group LP-backed fuel pipeline project 2 years ago. Thus, given the frosty nature of diplomatic relations between Somalia and Ethiopia, it’s not inconceivable for Petroleum from Somaliland being refined in Ethiopia in the near future, before being sent back to be shipped from Berbera to destinations across the world.

Malawi needs oil at as cheap a price as can be found. Thus if you can sign contracts with ‘friends’ who are relatively new to the oil game to sell you oil at ‘friendly prices’ (as opposed to Market rates) in exchange for support regarding the friend’s sovereignty, then theoretically everyone stands to benefit. Malawi gets its relatively cheap oil at prices it can afford without having to deal with the baggage of the likes of Nigeria, Somaliland gets some Forex, and a measure of the international recognition it very much craves, there’s a boost to intra-African trade. Everyone’s a winner!

This is how I would deal with the Tony Blair issue

If you didn’t already know, Tony Blair (like him or not) is back in town.

The former British Prime Minister is going to be working with the government of Lazarus Chakwera to …. do something? According to the website of Blair’s Institute for Global Change, Blair and his people will be ‘ …looking to set up a new project to support the govt of Malawi to strengthen its delivery and implementation mechanisms. This is likely to include a delivery function in State House, but also support other parts of the Presidency e.g. communications, international affairs…‘ and ‘…to strengthening delivery in the Presidency, the Project will seek to strengthen connections with other key ministries such as Energy, Agriculture, Industry and Trade, and the Ministries covering infrastructure‘.

But already, some Malawians are up in arms about the news. They are not happy with what suspiciously looks like a useless intervention. Among the protestations is the allegation that when Tony Blair came to Malawi to assist Joyce Banda in 2012, when she was President of Malawi, there wasn’t much that was achieved back then, and Malawians have never been given solid evidence that his involvement at that time was beneficial to the country, despite the significant cost his involvement incurred.

There has also been the allegation that considering the long-term effects of Britain’s foreign policy when Blair was British PM – which saw the UK support the US led illegal invasion of Iraq, among other misguided military campaigns, associating with Blair now apparently tarnishes Lazarus Chakwera’s near-perfect image, and is a regression of the very idea of a new corrupt-free Malawi. The architects of this accusation essentially say that some people will be asking “Why is that small poor African nation paying a fortune to a war criminal?” to quote just one twitter user, who no doubt is not a fan of Blair.

Finally, there are those who are resentful that the West including Tony Blair did not speak up or help Malawians when the former president Peter Mutharika, to quote one complainant, “tried to rape the constitution” in stealing the 2019 election (which was over-turned because of widespread irregularities). They say it was only when Lazarus Chakwera won this year’s Election re-run and ascended to power “that they came running” to quote the same complainant.

The government of Malawi in defending the collaboration with Blair has said that those who are against his involvement are xenophobic, which if you ask me, is about as lazy a response as any tired press officer could muster in his sleep.

But putting aside the unhelpful bickering, is Blair’s version 2 foray into Malawi worth the time and money?

This is how I would deal with the issue, if it were up to me:

I think some people who are opposed to the idea of Tony Blair’s services to the government of Malawi are getting the wrong end of the stick on two distinct but important things.

Firstly, they wrongly think that Tony Blair’s involvement is an admission that we don’t have any capable Malawians able enough to to sell Malawi to the world, which ofcourse we do. This criticism says that by employing Blair we are failing to recognise or advance the talent of hundreds of Malawians who can do pretty much the same thing just as competently – which is not true. The second fallacy in all this is that advice as to developmental issues should be free, or paid for by someone else other than the country that stands to benefit from such advice. This thinking too is misguided, and if you can excuse my Chichewa: ndi maganizo wa anthu ozolowela ku vencha.

Let me explain why.

The real question here should be what is a fair price for a poor country to pay for High Level access and investment due diligence?

The reason answering that question matters, or should matter, is because there are “doors” (figuratively maybe ‘corporate doors’ is more accurate here) out there which a Finance minister/ Business Development official of Lazarus Chakwera won’t be able to open on their own, but which with just one phone call from an influential person such as Tony Blair will land a face to face meeting.

Let me give you an example: Would Felix Mlusu (Malawi’s Finance Minister) or Eisenhower Mkaka (Malawi’s Foreign Minister) be able to easily land a meeting with the head of Citigroup Michael Corbat? Or the CEO of Tesla Elon Musk? Or of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, or say, Berkshire Hathaway’s CEO Warren Buffet, or the Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline Emma Walmsley, or the Chairman of Dyson Technology Sir James Dyson, or Richard Lutz the Chief Executive of Deutsche Bahn – the largest European railway operator, and second-largest transport company in the world… I could go on and on, but all these meetings being for investment talks into Malawi?

I doubt such would be as easy or straightforward for any of the ministers or trade officials in Chakwera’s government.

But I can bet you that Tony Blair probably has the direct line of at least one of these executives in his mobile phone right this very moment. I am also certain that if he doesnt have their number, he personally knows someone in his network who has their direct phone number. And that even if he didn’t personally know the executive, the mere mention that Tony Blair is on the line to any of the executives would ensure that phone call is put through.

And it would be such a simple and straightforward exercise to arrange high-level meetings between a development team from Malawi, and senior executives of those companies.

That kind of access is valuable, and it’s high time Malawians learn this undeniable fact.

Thus, I think the questions Malawians should be asking should instead be (1) What is the Return on Investment (ROI) on using the services of people like Tony Blair; and (2) Can Malawi afford it?

I think someone has to sit down and talk to Blair’s people, crunch some numbers, and then explain to the Malawian people in detail the benefit of what they (or the so called “well-wishers”) will actually be paying for, so that there is less misunderstanding regarding these kinds of issues.

Of course we need to learn the lessons from 2012, but working with Blair ought to be a case of having a solid and strong contract between Tony Blair’s Institute For Global Change and the Government of Malawi, listing 11 or 12 targets or deliverables, an execution time period, and a non-performance clause:

  1. We want a joint-venture between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – the large British Pharmaceutical with revenues of £33.75 Billion (2019)- and the government of Malawi, to manufacturer drugs locally in Malawi, in which the Malawian government owns 51% of the joint venture, assuming GSK invests £200 million of hard cash into the facility and the development of the local area, development of downstream industries that supply big pharma, and to employ hundreds of Malawians.
  2. We want Citigroup to open a state of the art Investment & FinTech hub in Lilongwe to lure other financial industry heavyweights, and to help our FinTech entrepreneurs and local Finance sector companies tap into international capital markets. We would like them to invest at least £80 million into the facility and make it their East Africa headquarters, giving finance jobs and training to at least 200 Malawians.
  3. We want Amazon to open an East African Headquarters in Blantyre, Malawi, and regional Logistics Hub (Warehouses and fulfilment centres) for East Africa. We would like them to commit to investing $250 million into the venture, and to employ 400 young Malawians.
  4. We want Dyson Technology to build and open a state of the art Engineering University like the one they have in the UK, to train and equip hundreds of Malawian young people with practical engineering skills.
  5. We would like Tesla to invest $1 Billion in an electric car assembly factory and automotive battery manufacturing plant that will give jobs and technical skills to hundreds of Malawians.
  6. We would like to invite Berkshire Hathaway to invest between $1 Billion and $3 Billion in two large Solar farms to be built in Malawi, with assistance from one of the companies in their investment portfolio (Berkshire Hathaway has invested at least $16 Billion in Solar and Wind, and is looking to invest more in the sectors), in a 50:50 joint venture with the Government of Malawi, so that we can solve our energy deficiency challenges.
  7. We would like two Supermarket chains from Walmart/ Sainsbury’s/ Marks & Spencers/ Cooperative Group Food Limited to partner with another two local Malawian supermarkets in a 30:30:20:20 Joint Venture to open 10 brand new supermarkets across the country and invest at least $400 million in infrastructure, job creation for hundreds of people and adoption of best practices gleaned in other markets.
  8. Can Tony Blair persuade the leaders of the construction behemoths Laing O’rourke (£2.75 Billion -2019 revenues), Kier Group (£3.42 Billion – 2019) and Balfour Beatty (£8.4 Billion -2019) to join two carefully selected African construction companies in forming a Malawian Consortium whose members collectively invest a $500 million loan into the building and fitting of a new state of the art Public Hospital in Mzuzu, the loan being repayable over 15 years at a fixed interest rate of 20%.
  9. We would like to do deals with four world-renown hotel developers / chains with a good track record, including sound employment practices, to each help build and establish a 4-star / 5 -star hotel / golf resort along the lake, one in Monkey Bay, another in Salima, a third in Nkhatabay and a final one in Karonga, all being near the lake, with the government owning 35% of each hotel/golf resort , and a veto on major decisions.
  10. Can Tony Blair’s organisation convince Heathrow Airport Holdings and the SmithGroup (who helped design Hartsfield -Jackson Atlanta International Airport – the world’s busiest airport by passenger travel since 1998), to partner with the Department of Civil Aviation to upgrade the country’s airports and invest $1 Billion for a 40% stake in Lilongwe International Airport and Chileka Airport.
  11. Similarly, we would like to do a joint venture with DHL, UPS and ParcelForce for an Air Cargo company operating weekly cargo flights from JFK International Airport, Manchester Airport, Dubai International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport directly to Lilongwe International Airport, to help Malawians to cheaply import things, with the government of Malawi owning not less than 25% of the joint venture.
  12. …. Some other important investment imperatives you can think of…

if Tony Blair’s team can deliver on some all of these important investment commitments, and see through the signed contracts with these corporations, I wouldn’t have any qualms for the government of Malawi to even pay Tony Blair and his associates £5 million a year for the duration of their contract, so long as the projects above actually happen and there is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) associated with them coming into Malawi, and clear, quantifiable, independently verifiable and unmistakable value to Malawi’s economy, as a result of Blair’s intervention.

Failing that, I would have a clause in the contract with the Institute saying that if for whatever reason the deliverables have not materialised within 10 years from commencement of the contract, then the Institute should repay Malawians 100% the full cost of the consultancy fees plus interest.

Development – even to a poor country, does not come cheaply, so let’s be pragmatic and accept the reality.

Also, let’s make another thing very clear: Just because you have dealings with a former world leader whose politics is far from palatable doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with each and every aspect of their foreign policy.

For the longest time, Malawi had dealings with all manner of dodgy regimes like Apartheid South Africa, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) and the People’s Republic of China (PROC), let alone the Mugabe’s and the Gaddafi’s of this world. These days, we are cosying up to Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s MBS – who are far from faultless. But we didn’t (and don’t) necessarily endorse or agree with any of the controversial or plain wrong things which those leaders and their regimes did/do. Our alliances with them is purely business.

The Government of Malawi has introduced licence fees for the cultivation of medicinal/ industrial Cannabis, but some Malawians are unhappy

If there is one example of a country whose people are so engaged in it’s Political and Democratic process, but also so easily enraged that at the slightest whim they’ll publicly criticise any decision from their government – when such is deemed wrong or unfair, look no further than Malawi.

Recently the Tonse Alliance government of Lazarus Chakwera gazzeted cannabis licence fees for the cultivation of industrial or medicinal hemp (cultivation, storage, distribution & selling), as part of it’s commitment to implement the legalization of cannabis cultivation and processing (following a bill which Malawi’s parliament passed in February 2020), and take advantage of the huge opportunities that exist within the sector.

However the decision has sparked a huge national debate, with some Malawians complaining angrily that the fees are too high and unaffordable for the average Malawian farmer, whereas others disagree with this complaint and are saying that the fees present an opportunity for groups of farmers to work together in cooperatives, managing larger and more efficient commercial farms, instead of the archetypical small subsistence farms common in Malawi.

Among the complaints being made is also the assertion that since the fees are beyond the affordability of ordinary Malawian farmers, it will in fact be those with deep pockets and foreign investor companies who will ultimately come to dominate the market, creating another monopoly that is controlled by a select few, and which is beyond the reach of ordinary Malawians.

The government has missed an opportunity to empower farmers in the villages – some of whom have been cultivating cannabis illegally in hidden farms for years, who would have otherwise been legitimised had the licence fees been affordable.

The government has missed an opportunity to empower farmers in the villages – some of whom have been cultivating cannabis illegally in hidden farms for years, who would have otherwise been legitimised had the licence fees been affordable. – one person told me.

Sameer Suleman, chairperson of the Parliamentary committee on Agriculture, described the cannabis licence fees as a deliberate move to prevent Malawians from benefiting from hemp farming.

A Malawian tobacco farmer

It’s unfortunate that many Malawians cannot afford the licence fees for the cultivation of medicinal / herbal cannabis, but it is not surprising seeing Malawi’s weak economic standing on the global stage. It is also true that several large industries in Malawi (Rubber, Coffee, Tobacco & Sugar to name a few examples) have come to be dominated by deep-pocketed individuals or well-resourced foreign companies, some of whom demand cheap labour and low tariffs on the raw materials they export. For this reason, my sympathies lie squarely with those who are calling on the government to do more to help Malawian farmers, the great majority of whom would struggle to raise $10,000.

One way of achieving this would be a Cannabis Cultivation & Processing Loan Scheme that would be extended to a group of farmers, say a minimum of 3 farmers who get together to collectively cultivate the crop. The way it would work is that a ‘Commune‘ of 3 or more farmers would get together and register their interest for a licence with the Cannabis Regulatory Authority, including providing details of the size of the land that is to be used, it’s location(s) and what crop(s) are normally grown on it.

The government would then record these details and after a verification / inspection process, would issue the licence, stipulating that the licence cannot be transferred / sold to a party other than those to whom it has been issued; that only the farmers named in the commune can use that licence.

The farmers would then be assisted with technical know-how, training, equipment (Fencing, solar panels, irrigation equipment, etc.), or other essential inputs that are required for the optimal cultivation of the crop. All this would be part of the loan. A small collateral would probably be required, although such would need to be means-tested, in that poorer farmers should be exempt.

A Cattle auction

Once the crop is ready, an Auction House or stock exchange operating under the auspices of the Cannabis Regulatory Authority could be established that deals with marketing various grades of the crop to buyers, both local and international, both physically and online. The licensing fees (or a part thereof) for the licence issued to each commune, and other capital costs, would then be deducted at this stage, or over several years.

I believe such an approach would lessen the financial burden of raising the licence fees, and capital costs, on impoverished farmers, and would ensure that Malawians are not unfairly prejudiced by their economic circumstances.

I think this would be a better model of taking advantage of the opportunities in the sector, while not excluding Malawian farmers, however, an alternative approach could be the use of public private partnerships.

But to be fair on the government of Malawi, this sector is being seen as one way which can help them balance the country’s books. When Tobacco sales (Malawi’s largest source of export revenues) have been declining (they were down 31% recently) and the country’s economy has been negatively impacted by COVID-19, a fresh in-demand crop with established international markets presents a rare opportunity.

Our view as regulator is that if we get honest investors, the hemp industry can supplement export revenues from tobacco, and in some cases, surpass it. But it will not immediately replace tobacco” said one Boniface Kadzamira, the Board chair of the Cannabis Regulatory Authority.

So I don’t necessarily think the licence fees should be slashed by too much. As a compromise, maybe an explicit distinction needs to be made between “Private applicants” and “Corporate applicants”? Done this way, the licence fees for corporate applicants can actually be increased to say $25,000, helping subsidize the private applicants.

Malawi among other things is also famed for its recreational Cannabis sativa strain known as “Malawi Gold” , which is extremely hardy, and according to a World Bank report is among “the best and finest” marijuana strains in the world.