Citizen led Development

CitizenActivism

The problem with Malawi is everyone wants to be president. Whether this is as a direct result of enduring bad and inefficient government for so many years, under several clowns who somehow managed to lay claim to the crown of public office, or whether this phenomenon is a misinterpretation of what democracy actually is, by a largely closed-minded and ignorant rural population – I do not know for sure.

What I do know, is every noisy little fella (and it’s often a man), with his 2 tambala of broken english wants to be the president. Just buy him a few bottles of Carlsberg and play some Afrobeats tunes, bokobo, doro bucci, skelewu or anything like that and within no time he’ll begin telling you what he’ll do if elected president, even though he’s never held public office let alone been a member of any political party.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against competent people being of service to Malawi. My worry is incompetent people wanting to undertake such service.

I’ve been around many a drunk fella. From the carefree high school days of imbibing on Redds outside the benches of Chichiri shopping mall in Blantyre, admiring the beautiful girls ordering take-aways at Hungry Lion (or was it Wimpy ?) – then catching a minibus to Ndirande in time to get back into school before the 6pm head count; I remember the pub crawling days at Nottingham Uni. – when you’d return at 3 or 4 am to your bed (and the next day fail to remember exactly how you got back, or who the person sleeping next to you was). At that time, you were still expected to be at your lectures at 9am, and yes a register of attendance was taken; I remember the nights at Kwacha in Nottingham, where Malawians would argue with Nigerians over as simple a concept as whether the free movement of people in the SADC region was helpful…trust me I’ve seen many a caroused character.

But strangely, it’s only Malawians who uncover their political ambitions when drunk?? None of the Nigerians, Kenyans, Tanzanians, English, Australian, American or Malaysian nationals I’ve encountered at pubs or drinking places in the past talk of politics when drunk?? Maybe it’s also down to the people I’ve mixed with…?

But still, it makes me wonder: Is the Malawian attitude to politics (if such a thing can be said to exist) part of the problem. That too many of us want to have a crack at steak on the bone, when we have no teeth, and can barely tackle porridge? When, in the proverbial sense, we are but babes.

No wonder then that too many of our politicians have no clue on what running a country entails – as evidenced by bad decision after the next. Because they got into politics for the wrong reasons, they fell into it: As they say in Chichewa, Anangogweramo. They have not studied Public administration, or been working in an official capacity, discharging or administering a public service or function to the public, for any considerable length of time, how on earth are they supposed to know what the business of government is all about? Sadly, many assume that being in power equates to doing anything you like – often with public funds? And funny enough, the people, those being governed (who elect the officials to power), also wrongly assume that ‘boma’ can do pretty much anything they like.

Or  I’m I missing something?

This is the challenge facing Malawi: of ‘rampaging’ public officials drunk with power, abusing their positions in the face of an ignorant, resigned and powerless populace; neglecting their responsibilities in preference to self-enrichment.

All this is happening on the full-watch of toothless Civil Society Organisations, and in the face of the donor community, who it appears are happy to look the other way.

Here, a comment is appropriate. Seeing that donors have refused to resume budgetary aid, because of the corruption and looting of public funds, I wonder what else they can do – to ‘encourage‘ good governance?

Lets speculate for a moment.

Is it conceivable, I wonder, for donor countries who have in the past supported Malawi via budgetary aid, to begin funding entrepreneurs? Not throwing $200 to the guy selling charcoal or tomatoes, or mbewa by the side of the road in Dedza, no, not that entrepreneur – if you can even call him that.

What I mean is why can’t donor countries support the kind of entrepreneurs who can create wealth for hundreds or thousands of people in Malawi? As in the cooperative which is trying to buy a plough and combine harvester to farm 50 acres of land; or the activist who is speaking out to power, demanding good governance, and has a sizeable following… Maybe let me rephrase the question… Why don’t donors begin funding Social entrepreneurs, including ACTIVISTS – if both groups can be assisted to create jobs for other MalawiansWith the understanding, a very clear understanding that their impact should be designed to have a domino effect towards achieving wider developmental outcomes?

Malawi needs everything. From a mental and political transformation (often talked about by many other far better placed commentators), to decent and well resourced hospitals, Malawi needs to improve its security (or a sense thereof), it needs reliable utilities (Water and Power), quality education … better customer service, the whole lot.

But the common denominator that stagnates any prospect of change, in all if not most sectors, and that is in critical shortage, is resources in terms of funding. Instead of looking away, donors should transform the way they work in Malawi and other African countries, and begin providing resources to those people or organisations who truly want to make a difference. I’m not saying its easy or simple. What I’m saying is it is necessary.

Some people may be asking how this is going to work? How practical is this? Well, I think it is practical, because how many other ways can you create self-sustainability that does not involve the government, if not dealing directly with the people?

What they could do is create a portal (which I can create for them by the way) where requests for funds for certain projects can be made online? The donors can then have a team that will vet and review these requests and respond accordingly.

What about those people without access to the internet? Well, what about an application process by post or in person, communicated to unconnected communities for example using radio adverts…or if they want to do more, a mobile awareness campaign using a van such as the one below, which would have a team on board to review face-to-face proposals in the communities they broadcast?

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They could even partner with TNM and Airtel to market such a scheme, and utilise the reliable networks of these telecom companies.

In the past, the usual responses to these kind of questions is we are already funding entrepreneurs. And that’s not our role, usually communicated in sentences that include words such as ‘ambit’ and  ‘mandate’…

If the ultimate goal of donors is to encourage good governance and effect development, then it is within their mandate to help provide resources. It’s all well and good providing funds for food, education and healthcare, but if after you’ve cured peoples diseases,and educated them, they have no job to go to, or no sustainable way of earning a living, what’s the point of giving them aid in the first place? If they then have to struggle to get by. Isn’t this exactly the kind of thing that creates dependency?

A nonprofit that practices social entrepreneurship, on the other hand, relies less heavily on donor funds because it creates social programs that are meant to be self-sustaining. Social entrepreneurs manage donor contributions in an effective manner, investing in social ventures which can then generate their own revenues to sustain themselves. More here

But why does it matter Sangwani, why is it important? Why should anybody care?

Well, firstly as a Malawian it matters when I see so many competent young men and women who are not utilising their full potential because of lack of money. That’s a real concern which I’m sure is shared by thousands if not tens of thousands others.

But it also matters because in a centralised governance system such as that in Malawi – where everyone looks to the president to sort out all their little problems, lack of resources is holding back well-meaning people from acting independently to develop their part of the country. It’s a waste of talent and it’s holding them back from helping plug the shortfall in the different aspects of our economy; especially since the government is not doing many of the things they should be doing.

And this situation is not sustainable because too many capable people are powerless to effect the kind of change Malawi needs – with the result that the country is not moving forward. And come next election, in 2019, the largely ignorant rural population I mentioned earlier will be conned again into voting for another white elephant, and the vicious cycle will repeat itself all over again, worsening the living condItions, and bringing Malawi ever closer towards becoming a poor failed violent state. In the ranks of Somalia and Yemen. Surely, neither donors nor Malawians want this.

Also, there is evidence that successive governments in Malawi have taken advantage of this lack of funding to abuse their positions, and engage in dodgy deals, costing the tax payer. There are too many examples to cite, but two that come to mind are the Jetgate (the alleged sale of a presidential jet by President Joyce Banda – the funds of which were never accounted for), and the recent report that showed that $2 billion had been misappropriated by government officials the last 6 years.  How come none of the CSO’s sued the government on behalf of the public over these major instances of misappropriation of funds? Further, why does it look increasingly likely that many of the perpetrators of such misappropriation will get away with it?

Finally, lack of funding encourages corruption because otherwise decent people are forced to go begging to the government, the presidency or the presiden’s party – because they have no money – instead of them speaking out against bad governance and government’s failures in tackling societal ills.

Study finds major lack of resources for rehab patients in Malawi

Malawi has a population of 16 million, yet, only one inpatient rehabilitation center for individuals with stroke, spinal cord injury, and similar conditions. With just 40 beds, the Kachere Rehabilitation Center in Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city, provides services to the entire country. Because there is little funding for rehabilitation in the country, there is essentially no rehabilitation and follow-up services for patients after they return to their families, homes, and communities.

Leslie B. Glickman, PT, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM), examined how a group of the center’s patients reintegrated back into their community after leaving. She found that patients had moderate to severe difficulties. They faced a range of obstacles, including major physical and environmental barriers, as well as social exclusion, and feelings of sadness. “It was not unusual to find sources of water hundreds of yards from the home, public transportation miles away, uneven and mountainous terrain leading to and around the homes, narrow doorways inside the homes, and rooms too small for wheelchair or walker use,” said Dr. Glickman. The study was published recently in the Journal of Global Health.

More here (medicalxpress.com)

Why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into Education in Malawi

Early this week, many people in Malawi were excited by the news that Roger Federer (ranked world number 2 best tennis player by the Association of Tennis Professionals), had launched a childcare centre at Lundu village, about 10 Kilometres outside Lilongwe, the Capital of Malawi.

While there is good reason to be happy about such news, whereby a big sports star has decided to use his time and resources to help Malawi in this area, a part of me thinks otherwise.

A part of me thinks that Malawi not only needs help in terms of pre-schools and child development centres, but also over the whole educational system – which is archaic, and needs to be revamped.

And here’s why:

Firstly, whats the point of giving children a great pre-school start only to disappoint them later on in primary and secondary education? How so? Well, according to Ripple Africa, a charity with a base in Nkhata Bay district:

… The government of Malawi recognises the importance of pre-school education, and encourages communities to set up their own pre-schools, but does not support pre-schools financially. With no funds to support pre-schools, most of them are run on a voluntary basis and are unregistered. Most teachers work for free, and have no resources to help them teach, lacking the very basics including blackboards and chalk, let alone books and toys which might commonly be associated with pre-school education in the West. It is rare that pre-schools have their own school buildings, and many pre-schools share facilities with local churches or other buildings built for a different purpose

It goes on to say

Although primary education in Malawi is free, students are required to purchase their own school uniform, pens, and notebooks, which many families find difficult. Rates for drop-outs are high, and, according to UNESCO, only 58% of children will complete a full course of primary school, and 20% of children repeat one or more school years, often several times, if they have had to take significant time out of school and have fallen behind. It is very common for children in Malawi to come in and out of school depending on their family situation, employment responsibilities, pregnancy and marriage at a young age, sickness, and more. By the time students leave primary school, many of them are far older than primary age, having repeated several years, and many lose interest and drop out all together.

If you read further, you’ll find the usual problems across the whole education board: poor infrastructure, lack of materials, unpaid untrained teachers even at pre-school level…  the usual.

How can you help children learn if schools have little or no study materials, and teachers are not properly trained? Before you do anything for the children shouldn’t you first make sure that their teachers have the right qualifications, and there are suitable facilities available for them to use in teaching.

So, in addition to improving pre-school education, I think the initiative should go hand in hand with improving the standard of education across the board, and not just in pre-school education.

In any case, we know from reports from employers that many people who come out of form four (or even Universities) in Malawi lack the basic skills needed by most employers. A scenario that probably is a result of dysfunction within Universities themselves. This dysfunction was summarised by The Nation News paper a few years ago:

In some public universities, for example, there is acute shortage of books or even chairs in classrooms, leading to students standing throughout lectures. Some of the faculty members also need to upgrade their qualifications; so, too, do catering and accommodation need improvement, among other facilities.

The above article by Ripple Africa also mentions the lack of buildings.

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image from typicalmalawian.wordpress.com

 

Malawi needs more school buildings, more resources such as desks, black boards and stationery in both primary and secondary education (including properly resourced dormitories in boarding schools). This will cost money, but the government needs to upgrade these facilities across the whole country. It cannot be piecemeal or random, because then it will not be effective. It has to be planned and transformative and must be made a top priority.

This is important because a child who undertakes their pre-school in a well-furnished nursery (complete with chairs and tables) is not going to be assisted if they then have to be downgraded and sit on the floor during primary school.

Never mind early education, primary and secondary school, what about tertiary education? Should the government be doing more to invest in tertiary education?

Recently in June 2015, Grant Shapps, UK International Development Minister, at the announcement that the UK would pump £11.6 million into Malawi education sector said:

“Malawi’s future doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs will help build a nation eventually independent of foreign aid and with our own historic links to Malawi, particularly those of Scotland, this is also in the UK’s interest, because creating a more prosperous world will benefit us all in the long run”

The question is where will they be trained, and who will foot the bill? Is £11.6 million enough to train doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs for a country with a population of 13 million people? Adequate training that will help Malawi compete on the global stage…? And not only provide Doctors and Nurses for Europe…?

There are other factors other than pre-school education that must be addressed if the education sector in Malawi is to be improved.

tfac-teacher-stats

Factors such as the effect H.I.V has on teachers. These need to be looked at, in collaboration with charities such as Theatre for a Change. It’s important that resources are dedicated to address them.

Aside from the education front, the other question politicians and stakeholders should be asking is after these children become young adults who have been ‘educated’, where will they work? No point training them when at the end of it all, you have no jobs to give them. A youth unemployment crisis which many western countries including the UK, Spain, Portugal and Greece are currently facing. Does Malawi have enough jobs and an economy that can support its young people of working age? How can the country create more jobs and assist its citizens to be resourceful?

Looking at the statistics of youth unemployment across Malawi, I can tell you that the country definitely doesn’t have enough good jobs, and this is a situation which could become a crisis if not addressed urgently.

Furthermore, Malawians must not rely solely on donors or foreign companies who have their own interests to come into Malawi and create jobs. This also extends to our educational system.

We must stop relying on foreigners to come in and sort out our problems.

When for example will Malawian corporations emerge that are owned by Malawian nationals, and employ thousands of Malawians?

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I’ll end with a personal story. A few months ago, a cousin-nephew who lives in the city of Blantyre in Malawi told me he wanted to study IT, in particular he wanted to work in Software or web related technologies. I told him to learn programming, and referred him to the City Library in Blantyre to find a book on the ‘C programming language’ which he could use as a starting point, since being trained as an Electronic and communications engineer I know that my education in programming began with C programming (as has been for many other people working in software and IT). So I was keen to get him down a similar path in this sense.

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A few days later he told me he had gone to the library but was told that they didn’t have any book on C programming. Further, he doesn’t have a computer, so even if he did have a book, there’s no where to practice how to code. Also he wasn’t sure whether he could install educational software on some of the public computers he has used in Internet Cafe’s. I wondered how it was possible for a library of a major city of a country to not even have a single book on C Programming, let alone computers for the public to use…In this digital era.

If things are like this outside the classroom, in a city, in 2015, I could see how easy it was for teachers to be frustrated.
Today, my thoughts are punctuated by an article I remembered, written by Steve Sharra titled Malawi at fifty One: the education legacies of Malawi’s presidents hitherto in which he argues that the failure to utilise the higher educational system to improve the quality of teaching and the teaching professions has negatively affected the country’s developmental process. In the article, Sharra writes :

However at primary and secondary school levels the problem of teacher morale, the most significant of the problems afflicting Malawi’s education system is getting worse. Today, anger amongst Malawian teachers has become so pervasive it severely corrodes the education system. In the first of 2015, salary delays took a turn for the worse. With communication from the ministry not forthcoming, teachers resorted to asking fellow teachers on Facebook groups for updates. It is frightening to imagine how these angry, bitter, frustrated and demoralised teachers are treating children under their care.

So here I am seated in a central city library in Nottingham (East Midlands), which has recent issues of magazines published in India, several copies of Der Spiegel, (including a May 2015 copy), and even an East Midlands Polish publication, let alone books on computer coding;

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I’m surrounded by both young and older people – all oblivious of my observations, getting on with their lives ; and I’m thinking how I can send a netbook with a compiler pre-installed on it, and a book on C programming to Malawi. I’m also thinking about all those young people who want to study IT related subjects across Africa(some of whom are being taught under trees), who greatly desire to tap into similar knowledge as is scripted in the pages of these books on the shelves next to me, but who can’t find a book anywhere to help them … who don’t have anyone to send a computer to them.

That is why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into pre-school Education in Malawi

Why motorcycles could help Malawi’s Police

Many years ago, when I was still a child, one of my earliest memories was seeing my mother on a motorcycle. I can’t remember what make /type of motorcycle it was, but I remember that it was small. That was nearly 30 years ago.

Today, in some Asian countries like Vietnam and China, motorcycles (or scooters) play a pivotal role in transportation, and to support trade. In Vietnam, motorcycles are the most common means of transport, in that out of a population of 90 million people, 37 million motorbikes have been registered, against only 2 million cars.

Further, there are many reasons (see others here) that support the view that motorcycles are better over cars, not least that they are cheaper to buy, run and maintain.

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A courier waits to take samples from a facility in rural Malawi to the main district lab. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Riders for Health

So, while there are health workers in Malawi who deliver care using motorcycles, it came as a surprise when a relative told me of an encounter between a family friend and the police in Blantyre, Malawi : – It seems the family friend had been involved in an accident, sometime last week, and as happens in such things, they rang the police. Predictably, the police didn’t have any transportation to get to the scene of the accident, so they asked the family friend to go and pick them up ??!!!? And that was when the least damaged car, belonging to the man this family friend struck, went off to the police station, and after returned with the police to the accident scene. The Police took a statement, then asked to be dropped back to the station???!!!?? So again, while a recovery vehicle towed the car below, the 4 x 4 it struck took the police back to the police station.

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It left me wondering, what if everyone had been injured seriously they couldn’t move? What if there were no passer-by to report or help the people injured? Like if the accident happened at night in a remote or rural part of the city. Why is policing still below elementary in Malawi, 50 years + from independence?

Also, why can’t the government buy motorcycles to help with peacekeeping and such like. I’m not talking about high-end all singing all dancing a thousand mile range motorbikes. Something like this

boston-copsNo, that’s not what I’m talking about. If motor sports can use bicycles such as these:

motorcycle-1I’d imagine it shouldnt be very difficult to solicit phased out or second-hand models that although not top of the range, are still very much functional, and could help police get around a city like Blantyre. But even if it was expensive to source such, why can’t the government appeal to development partners for such an important donation that is material to keeping peace and order? Surely if charities can donate motorbikes to help in re H.I.V care, it should be possible to organise the donation of say 90 motorcycles or so for the police forces of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu?

What if they get stolen? Well, why can’t you put trackers on them? To monitor wherever they go, and ensure they are not misused. Also, when was the last time the Blantyre or Lilongwe police department got broken into?

There would be added advantages, for example lesser fuel expenses compared to if the police were using cars. It would create employment for a few mechanics. And at least you wouldn’t get such unbelievable encounters where the police ask victims of a burglary or members of the public to come and pick them up!

Heroes 2013: Life of Jim Harrison and how he helps transform lives

Improving care in the NHS, as well as Africa Cure International hospitals such as the one in Blantyre, Malawi, not only transform locals’ lives – they also afford British medics invaluable experience.

Hit-and-run victims, children with catastrophic burns, a train crash that saw 40 passengers brought into A&E – life for Jim Harrison as a registrar in Blantyre, Malawi, in 1999 sounds like a particularly intense episode of ER.

Read more here ‘Heroes 2013: Life of Jim Harrison and how he helps transform lives’  via dnaindia.com