The future 2

college-cultural-immersion-african-dance2963174995It is a fact that power in Malawi is shared very unequally. The political class places itself above the law, and loots and Cashgates as their heart desires. Sometimes a few are caught and used as an example of the rule of law. These unfortunate criminals are the exception. The large majority, the well connected, they go scot free. There is some infighting how the cake is shared. Who gets the bigger share of the loot and who will have to do with smaller pieces?

thom-khanjeThen there is a small middle class that is trying to instigate some rule of law. The newspapers and to a smaller extend the radio news are trying to get some politicians accountable. This reached a peak during the reign of His Excellency, the State President, Ngwazi, Professor, Doctor Bingu wa Mutharika (Woyee), who tried to rule like a cold war era dictator like Hasting Kamuzu Banda. This was only possible in that time because of the support of foreign powers, and Bingu failed. He got the biggest demonstrations in democratic Malawi against him and reacted with disdain (‘public lecture”) and armed violence (20 deaths).

However this was a fight between the political class and the urban middle class. The large majority of the malawi-007population are left out. The small holder farmer (approximately 85 % of the population) do get no representation at all. They have no effective ways of furthering their interests, and this means democracy is not functioning. Even with elections they can only vote for the political class, which do not represent the interests of the population, but the interests of the political class. It appears impossible for representatives of the small holder farmers to penetrate the ivory Tower of Power, due to all kinds of legal and financial constraints, put there by the political class, keeping the reins of power in their own group.

Untitled-1How can we get the majority to learn of their own power? In a democracy the majority should have the power. The problem is a lack of consciousness, or knowing their rights, of learning their options. But these things cannot be learned from above in the traditional middle class education setting. That setting was developed in Europe of the middle class, by the middle class, for the middle class. The model of a teacher (knowing) disseminating knowledge (pre-determined by the teacher and other knowing “educationalists”) into the (unknowing) learners is not conducive for the development of consciousness. What we need is a model that problematises the build-up of Untitled-1society, and stimulates creative thinking, rather than the reproduction of pre conceived texts. This type of education, where the inventiveness of the learner is promoted, where the learner is made conscious of his/her own knowledge, where the learner is seen as an equal by the teacher, and where the teacher learns from the learner, like the learner learns from the teacher, that is an interactive model. This means we should speak of a teacher-learner, and a learner-teacher with interchanging roles. The situation as it is should be investigated by the learner-teacher, at the suggestion of the teacher-learner. The teacher-learner should find out what the issues are, and create open learning materials that question the situation, and ask for answers and creativity from the learner.

To make this concrete:

Mathematics: the learner goes into society to find out how much land different people have. How much input do they need?

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How much yield do they get? How much can they eat? How much do they sell? How much can they spend? How much of the money realized from tobacco growing goes where? How much work does everyone in the value chain put into the equation?

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Compare the different people in the village. Compare this with the cost of the 4×4 that the “Leader of the Opposition” gets from the tax payer (= tobacco grower).

 

Why is this so? Is this the best way to organize our society? What can we do?

This type of example can be applied to any and all of the subjects in school.

A lot of this has been applied in South America, and they are way more developed than we are. Think of leaders like Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, Lulla da Silva or Che Guevara.

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This is a time intensive task, but it is the only way to get the population to the point where they are capable of realizing the situation and the things they can do to improve the country.

The genius plan for Malawi’s health care (but it will not do anything for the population)

His Excellency the State President Arthur Peter Mutharika came up with an idea in Malta during the Commonwealth head of state conference. He invited the private sector to get involved in health care in Malawi. But the ideas were far from clear. The private sector, as we all know is organized in a capitalist way. This means, as the successful capitalist Gordon Gekko said in the film Wall Street:

“It’s all about the bucks, Arthur. The rest is conversation.”

But that aspect, which is what the private sector revolves around like no other subject, remained in the dark: where is the money going to come from?

The private sector invests, to get more money out of the project in the future. That is the whole crux of capitalism. There is no such thing as a free lunch with the capitalists. Who is going to pay that money? We all know government is too cash strapped to even hire the nurses for which we as tax payers paid the education. Now they have used donor funds for the salaries, and again it is the donor who, in a zero-aid budget, have to come to our rescue and ensure some level of quality in the health sector. Our elected representatives do not do that for us. Government is also to poor to pay the opening of the beautiful Nkhata Bay Hospital that we all paid tax for. So they cannot afford to pay for the (no doubt) expensive services in the cancer centres that Mutharika proposed. He invited them to come in with health insurance schemes. We have them now, more competition may be nice. But that is not going to be affordable for the majority of Malawians who now rely on government hospitals.

So what is the idea here? If you get more private sector in health care, you get more inequality. Those who can pay get good services, those who cannot are left behind.

Again this government is, contrary to its election manifesto from only 2014, going the neo-liberal way. People with money are served, people with no money are not. Health care takes one more step in the direction of privatisation. Health care is less seen as a human right for all, and more as a commodity for the private sector (both national and international) to make money off the sick Malawian. Less rights for the poor, more rights for the (partly foreign) capitalist. More inequality, more deaths among the poor. That is the policy of this DPP government. What is the position of the opposition?

The future

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We need to look critically at our education system: only less than 10% of Malawian children finish primary education. And most of them are (functionally) illiterate. And that is only primary, secondary is less graduates. Let alone tertiary. It is clear our system does not do what we can expect to stay relevant in the 21st century, when all the world is getting more and more educated.15968566543_c6d0a5d191_o1

I am not just talking of more teachers (hire every one of those graduated teachers, who are now jobless, please!). And more textbooks (think of the trick that Sam Mpasu pulled on our learners). I am proposing to rethink the way we teach. What we do is pre 1964 English education. The whole world has developed their systems. In developed countries you do not see a teacher in front of the class writing on a blackboard (or a whiteboard) very much (and never under a tree!). There is a lot of project work, where learners learn to cooperate and work independently. There are projects outside the classroom, and a lot of interactive stuff.

FEED THE CHILDREN ADDRESSING COMMUNITY NEEDS IN MALAWIThe method of taking a group of learners outside the community in a specially designed place to be taught by someone dispensing knowledge like a product is very unMalawian (and unAfrican by the way) The African way of learning was in the community, on the job. Someone would show a younger or less educated person how to perform a certain task. At night by the fireside traditional stories would pass on the traditional culture. And the stories would be adapted to the current situation. Dances would show the right ways of a certain people. Problems would be solved communally: a group would get together and decide. (The headman would facilitate, but a headman who did not pay attention to the needs of others could be removed.) This way new knowledge would be generated in a communal way.

Hold on, I am not proposing to overthrow the whole curriculum again. We did that (Unicef did that!) recently, and we cannot keep pushing our teachers around all the time. But we can look at other teaching-learning situations. Like NICE, like adult education. Remember: adult education is for those people who did not finish the regular education, so these are mostly people with different needs than the traditional teaching method we took from our colonial masters (who since then moved on while we stagnated!)

06694e9dfdb24dafc2_f5m6bhrp2We should look at more than the traditional English classroom method for our school learners and students, but most of all, we need more interactive projects with communities to develop the right knowledge for the right situation.

Pass the Bills

The behavior of the President shows us how much we need the new bills. Not only lying to the population, but also overstepping his constitutional privileges.
He illegally appoints the wrong clerk of Parliament. This is a affront. But it also shows we need the new information bill in its original form which curbs Presidential authority to appoint, for instance the head of MACRA and the head of MBC. This is crucial for the population to exercise our constitutional rights to information and the constitutional right to freedom of the press. WE see that this President does not know how to deal with a free press. First he tries to bribe the press, which constituted a Public Relations disaster of the first kind. Then he starts yelling at the press (while banging his fist on the table) : “This nonsense has to stop” when the press reports, which is its mandate and its duty. So if the President can appoint two key positions in the information flow of the public, it will severely impede our constitutional rights. And that we need to stop.
Curb the presidential powers, and do it quickly.

Disappointed soldier

malawian-musician-lucius-bandaLucius Banda does not want to release another protest song, even if his fans request it. Artistic choice. Fine. But one begins to wonder when he says: I am a disappointed soldier. I am not supported by the people I stand up for. He does not elaborate. What should his fans do to support him. Buy his records? Sure, piracy is theft, and Banda is hit hard by the illegal copying of his work. As a Parliamentarian he could stand up for artists’ rights. The illegal copying shops are all over the place and operating openly. This can easily be made much more difficult. A simple police action like cleaning the streets off vendors.

But that appears not to be the real issue. Banda says: “What are the people doing with what I have sung before? Have we not inspired them enough to stand up and act?”

Is the responsibility not the other way around? Are not the people asking for someone to rally around? For someone to provide the structure for them to be effective in thei77576876-98a8-4b0c-a30d-9e98d0a24ffc_mw1024_s_nr response to unsatisfactory governance? The masses appear to have a growing action preparedness, but uneducated villagers and township dwellers need someone to provide the platform for them to speak. Apparently they are asking Banda to do that for them.

atupele-maliBanda: “In the past the youth would act without looking at one’s party affiliation.”

But what about Banda’s own UDF party affiliation with their party leader Muluzi in a ministerial position. Coincidence?285490_203884786327207_100001170609533_520714_5094116_n

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No Donors, no development

It is clear that the Arthur Peter Mutharika administration has given up on budget support from donors. This was confirmed by his Excellency the President Arthur Peter Mutharika in Mangochi last Saturday. He also said that the opposition should practice politics of reconciliation because otherwise donors might misunderstand the process for political instability. This he combined with threats and comparing himself to Jesus, and the opposition to Pharizees. The logic is incomprehensible: how are the opposition Pharizees? How does giving up on donors combine with asking the opposition to woo dwonors? How do threats go with a call for reconciliation?

Giving up on budget support is setting the government up for very serious budget deficits even on fixed costs. That means there is no way that the government can initiate development projects; that will be left to NGOs, CSOs and such, with donor support (a significant part of the budget support is now rechannelled into project support). Government is giving up the control it had over development.

All this while on the same Saturday, donors declared in a clear interview what it would take to unfreeze budget support: close the leaking basket that is the national treasury. But here government has been stalling: they have been in power for more than 18 months now and they have not even ordered the necessary software for setting up a (reasonably) water tight financial system (IFMIS). This can only mean one thing: closing the leaks does not have high priority for this government. Is it that it is politically necessary to create opportunities for influential supporters to steal our tax money? Is it that the President is not in control, but he has to appease the thieves of our national treasury? Or what else can it be that stops our government from closing the leaks and keeping our hard paid tax money safe from thieves?

Your guess is as good as mine.

SDGs set for failure

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seem like a nice project: improve the whole world with a number of specific goals. They are the successor of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which finish this year with mixed success. Here in Malawi we missed half of them which cannot be seen as a great achievement. The project of the SDGs, as with the MDGs, is lead by economist Jeffrey Sachs. He comes from the neo-liberal school of economics, which sees a small role for the state and a big role for corporations as the way to go. He has for many years specialized in aid, but has never severed himself from neo-liberal economics.

The Millennium Development Goals were a limited set of 8 goals, that set priorities. The SDGs on the other hand have 17 Goals, and 169 targets. This is a huge wish-list, which cannot in any way be achieved. Sachs is setting his project up for failure.

He wants to eliminate severe poverty (defined as living under US 1.25 per day, which is very low according to several recent studies) by 2030. But he also wants to create a sustainable world, with care for eco-systems. At the same time he does not address inequality in the world at large, or the financial systems of capitalism. Capitalism lives by economic growth (measured usually in GDP). But with economic growth continuing enough to eliminate severe poverty without addressing the distribution of income, the growth will be so big that it will destroy the ecology (the natural environment). If we want to eliminate severe poverty, and live in a sustainable world, then we need to address both the growth needed by the capitalist system, and the distribution of income, and first of all we need a revision of the financial systems that are enhancing poverty in poor countries by extracting money there. Sachs is trying to avoid politics to solve a deeply political problem. And that can never work (like his “Millennium Development Villages did not work).

Clueless President

President Mutharika showed a hopeless lack of political thinking and lack of ideology when he asked the ECAMA members to come up with solutions to the country’s economic problems. This shows a simplistic and clueless type of thinking that treats economic measures as technocratic solutions to technical problems. But they are not!

Economic choices are at the heart of the direction that our leaders are taking the country. Mutharika is supposed to have known this before elections so we could know what we are voting for or against. But we seem to be left in the dark, guessing what each political party and political leader stands for.

Do we want to follow the “Washington Consensus” as promoted by IMF and such? (This is a neo-liberal type of thinking coming from Washington, not Africa, and it is a consensus between neo liberal institutions in Washington: the IMF, World Bank and WTO, not a consensus with Africans) This would mean ending Malata subsidy, FISP and protectionism and opening the borders for flash capital that comes in and out, and wooing international investors with Export Processing Zones and such. The neo liberal idea is that this will grow the economy and thus the income of everyone. This is debatable, but in South Africa similar policies by Thabo Mbeki (first term) have not worked. They failed to bring the economic growth hoped for, and he left them behind in his second term.

Or do we want to sail our own course?

Do we want more regional integration with our neighbor countries?

Do we want subsidies for the poor or do we want market based pricing?

All these are deeply political choices that are not to be left to economic technocrats. Without knowing the issues, and while treating every challenge as a technical problem we miss the larger structures, and we go in no particular direction of our own. We let ourselves be pushed by outside forces like IMF, instead of deciding our own fate. Which is what we elect our politicians for. We need an interconnected government strategy on socio economic issues. For this we should decide where we want Malawi to be in – say – 50 years, and then with every measure decide whether it takes us in the right direction or the wrong one.

Justice for us

At this point in time the international political economy is dominated by the rich guys: the neo-liberals (of the Washington Consensus ideas, a new name for SAP like conditionalities on loans) and the even worse neo conservatives, who advocate for American dominance using military power as a threat and for war (like in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine). But there are alternatives, and as a small country with no prevalence on the agenda of the Big Bullies of the global right we can try to find our own way. The coalition of alternative visions of the world these days is called Global Justice Movement.

The Global Justice Movement is a very interesting “Movement of Movements”: a loose coalition of all kinds of alternative groups with their own specialties. They vary from Fair Trade (the capitalist mode of Global Justice) which in Malawi has approved Satemwa Estate. The conditionalities for this are opposite the IMF/Wolrd Bank/WTO conditionalities: for Fair Trade certification a product needs to be made in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. The small holders and laborers get a (more or less) reasonable wage or price. In developed countries products with Fair Trade certification fetch higher prices than traditional products.

There is Via Campesina (the way of the small holder farmer) that is advocating for better conditions for small holder farmers. At the SADC summit in Lilongwe in 2013 Via Campesina was represented by over 100 small holder farmers who advocated for seed sovereignty, which means that we own our own seeds, and are not threatened by the trans-national seed companies like Monsanto. These are patenting the rights to plant varieties like maize, and then charge us to use the seeds. Also they advocated for food sovereignty, which means that we should have the right to protect our markets from the trans-national capitalists who try to flood our markets with cheap imports, so our farmers cannot get a reasonable price for their products. Our government has the tendency of signing up to the policies dictated by Big Business, shored up by IMF, World Bank and WTO. These organizations always push for the One-Size-Fits-All of opening the borders, lowering tariffs and other barriers, so Big Business gets unhindered opportunity to make money of the ordinary citizen. This protest was organized in cooperation with the NASFAM. (National Smallholder Farmers Association in Malawi)

There is the World Social Forum, where the loose coordination of the Movement is taking place, the latest one in March in Tunisia.

Malawi has a world to win and nothing to lose from looking in this direction and growing its participation in the Movement.

SEX!

We read a lot about girls leaving school because of pregnancy. Young girls get pregnant before they are ready, before they finish school and are mature enough emotionally, physically and financially to start a family. The discourse is always about men preying on young girls. But what we are missing is the story of the girls’ own sexuality.

In all countries around the world people get sexually active around 17 years old (unless they are forcibly introduced to sex through harmful traditional practices or otherwise). Some earlier, some later. In our fast changing society, it is not desirable to start a family at that age, they should get a chance to finish their education and settle. So for some years, they will be sexually active, but not ready to start a family. They need to get through those years safely. That means they need information. About safe sex, about their bodies and emotions, and about family planning (contraception). Family planning starts before the family the family starts or the child will be there prematurely. We need to introduce sexual education including family planning in the school curriculum. Our sons and daughters need to information BEFORE they become sexually active. Since it is no exception to start sexual activities at 14 for early starters, they need the information at 13 years old. Unfortunately in Malawi school going does not start at a uniform age, and repetition of classes is not uncommon, so the age group in one class can be quite diverse. We need to start early, and include the information in the science curriculum. Samples of family planning methods need to be passed around in class so our daughters are familiar with them when they need them. And we need a sex positive approach: sex is beautiful when practiced between consenting people, who are ready for it, and informed about it. A hostile attitude to sex  (“Abstinence Only” or withholding of information) does not help. Those countries with comprehensive sex education in their school curriculum like Denmark and Netherlands have very low rates of abortion, teenage pregnancy and defilement of school girls. We need that too.