Save Lake Malawi (and the chambo!)

The involvement of well-known fraudster Wavisanga Silungwe[1] in the activism against the oil exploration in Lake Malawi should not deter us from the real danger of this exploration.black2

Oil is the commodity that has caused the most resource curse of all. In fact, in all African countries with oil exploitation it has negatively impacted on the quality of life. Most famously in Nigeria, where the whole Niger Delta is polluted with oil, and the profits are diverted to the top politicians in Abuja. The Niger Delta has its freedom fighters, or terrorists (depending on whose definition you follow) of MEND, who are in continuous battle with government forces (who are indistinguishable from organized crime, according to the famous photojournalist Ed Kashi) making life in the Niger Delta a living hell. (Incidentally, the prominent activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was murdered by the Nigerian justice system for standing up for the rights of the people in the Niger Delta).

In Angola, Chad, South Sudan and other oil exporting countries the bigger picture is the same: untold riches for a small minority, and misery for the large section of the population. Oil and other mineral resources are a gold mine (excuse the pun) for rent seeking corruptionists. Only in countries with exceptionally good governance like Norway, has oil contributed to the quality of life for the population.

In Africa there is only one country where mineral resources have improved living conditions: Botswana, which is famous worldwide for its good governance. In all other African countries, mineral resources have caused misery.

On top of that, oil exploration under water is infamous for causing large scale pollution. Even in the USA, which has many times better implementation of its safety and environmental regulations than Malawi, the Deep Water Horizon has caused immeasurable damage through a colossal oil spill. The same goes for the Exxon Valdez. Both disasters caused massive death among the fish, and gigantic losses of livelihood in fishing communities.

Oil is depleted in a few years or decades at the most, while fish, being a renewable resource, will be there forever. Fish breed, oil does not.  if we explore the oil we have resources only for a short time, while we kill the fish that can be there forever if we refrain from pumping oil.

In Malawi, with much laxer enforcement of regulations, we know the pollution will happen, like it does with horrible regularity in Nigeria.

In Malawi we have a precedent for large scale exploration of mineral resources: the Karonga uranium mine of Palladin (the Australian company that is banned from uranium mining in its home country because of its environmental pollution record). What has the population benefitted from this mine? The promised job opportunities  have never materialized, the business opportunities just the same, and some unexplained earth quakes have been blamed on the mine even though government has failed to investigate properly. A tax holiday for Palladin has made sure that the Malawian tax payer has not benefited from our own uranium resources. So in short: nothing.

Until Malawi’s governance has improved to standards comparable with the Norwegians, we cannot expect to benefit from oil exploration in Lake Malawi, but we can expect large scale misery and pollution.

OIL EXPLORATION IN THE LAKE?

N O !

[1] Wavisanga Silungwe is best known for running the fraudulent “Karonga Polytechnic”, which advertises as a distance education school, but is in fact a non-existent entity. It collects study fees from unsuspecting would-be students and then fails to deliver. Its recognition from the famous UNISA was withdrawn years ago, but Silungwe keeps advertising with it. Silungwe is also known for fraudulently claiming to represent the Karonga business community, while the legitimate business community in Karonga will have nothing to do with him because of his fraudulent activities and overdrawn imaginative claims about himself.
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Nsanje Sex Case

Nsanje first grade magistrate Anderson Masanjala has a weird and discomforting view of his profession. He recused himself from the case of hyena Eric Aniva on the grounds of wanting to remain neutral on the issue, and because of “different comments on the case from the media”.

hynaA magistrate is supposed to be neutral in every case he/she presides over, so that is no issue here. It is weird that a magistrate would cite this reason. Does this mean he has never been neutral in any case he presided over? Very scary, especially if you are on the receiving end of his verdict.

But the case becomes totally bizarre when we view the next reason cited: “different comments on the case in the media”. A magistrate is supposed to be 100% immune from any comment in any media. The magistrate appears unaware of the whole reason of his/her position: to neutrally apply the law. Media comments have nothing to do with any of the work of a magistrate (or a judge for that matter).

One begins to wonder how the profession of magistrate is administered, and why this particular magistrate has not been fired yet. Even more worrying is: what type of education do candidate-magistrates get, when one of them utters these bizarre reasons for recusing him/herself from the case, and we get no comments from anyone in the profession on top of that! If this is the way our magistrates are trained, in effect the role of the (supposedly neutral) magistrature is in performed by the media, who have not been trained in the legal profession and who have a totally different role in a democracy.

Just imagine: the magistrate cannot sit over the case because of the “different comments on the case from the media”. This would mean that in all previous cases the magistrate simply has followed the media, and he/she intends to keep doing so. This means that a suspect can be sentenced by the media, who have not been appointed to the judiciary system according the constitution, who have not been trained according to our systems, and who may not have any legal expertise at all. Just some journalist getting on your case may be enough to land you in gaol when your case is presided over by magistrate Anderson Masanjala. A scary thought, and another example of a lack of rule of law in our beautiful country. God save us…

The poor are victimized, the rich go scot-free.

Policy instability gets criticism from CSOs and others. But it seems nobody goes to the roots of the problem. Where do these instabilities come from?

The government needs to implement austerity because of a failing economy (caused by government policies among others). Austerity is always a hot potato: nobody likes to be on the receiving end. It is clear from an ethical point of view, that the poor, who are already at the limits of their wits’ ends cannot carry the brunt of the austerity, so it should be directed at those better positioned to carry the burden. The crux is: these are also the more powerful people, who have the means to divert austerity elsewhere, while the poor have little influence on government policies if any. So if austerity is implemented without courage of the President and Cabinet, then the brunt of the measures will hurt the poor. Our President did not show the courage and foresight, or does not even have the power, to direct the unpopular policies where they belong: at the rich. These are too powerful to let themselves be affected by the poor state of the country. So the austerity flows down the hill like water, and it ends up with those who have the least power (and money!) to begin with.

The poor students, many of whom live in very poor conditions, are on the receiving end of a government of which the President has claimed to be a “champion of higher education”. The already underfunded ministry of education was shortchanged in the budget with draconian budget cuts, and these drip down from the already underpaid staff to the students. Then the President, who appears to want to do the right thing, for a small part of the devastating fee increase, reverses the measure. The outcome is that the budget deficit grows, which affects our economy, and the students are left with unaffordable fees, and consequently many will drop out with only partly completed education. These partly completed students do not have the skills to develop the country, so we are in a vicious cycle of underdevelopment. And the rich and powerful remain where they are: in their ivory tower.

The same we see with the salaries of the civil servants: the budget approved (rightly) a salary increase for the lower scales, where a modest increase means a lot in terms of quality of life. But the higher, better paid, more powerful civil servants simply pushed government to also increase their salaries, which places an unreasonable burden on the tax payer.

Then the powerful MPs are capable of raising their community development fund instead of passing an unadultered ATI bill, just to mention one example with which they could serve the country and their constituents.

What should be done is: the President should have the foresight and the courage to lay the heaviest burden on those who can afford it: the rich and powerful. He should not let himself be placed in a position where he is faced with the choice between injustice (raising university fees with draconian percentages) and an unacceptable budget deficit rise. (Where he, in his well known indecisive style, chooses to cut a little off the injustice, but mainly keeps it intact, by funding more to the university, which raises the budget deficit again. He creates both evils when he faces one challenge.)

The government should push for strong anti-corruption practices. That means an unadultered ATI law. It means a change in the labour law that makes corruption of any scale a reason for instant dismissal (in government as well as private sector and NGO sector). It means tightly and legally defining the rights of any client of any government organization, a sensitization campaign for these rights, and an incorruptible complaints procedure.

Also government must revitalize the public service reform, and allow the vice-President Saulos Chilima to again follow up in his well know hyper-active style. So that our tax money is put to good use, and our government finally starts delivering services to us again.

And it means to not turn the budget deficit caused by corruption on the shoulders of the weak and powerless.

His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika

peter-1When the President announced that he would submit a new bill to curb harmful traditional practices, the whole Nation was surprised: there was an incident, or systematic practice in Nsanje revealed by the BBC. This may have caused embarrassment to the President. But the suspect was arrested. This was only possible in case there was a law against his practices in place already. His Excellency used to be a law professor, so he is supposed to know this. Even I as a journalist with much less experience know. And we all know there are several laws in place that make harmful traditional practices illegal. Now a number of NGOs have come out, and made clear that the problem is not the legal framework, but the implementation. As in many other cases. We need a directive from the Minister of Justice, that will instruct the police to take cases of harmful traditional practices very serious, to make sure that victims and others who will report are treated with respect, and that all are treated according to the rules of the Victim Support Unit. And on top of that we need a real action plan, with actionable recommendations, to be implemented. This plan obviously needs to be a combination of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) on one hand and repression with the judicial system on the other. Always the interests of the victim need to be priority number one. These interests are not always repression, sometimes, especially when the offender is the provider for the family, other approaches like social work are more appropriate to be in line with the interests of the victim.

Another issue with this President is his step by step descend into dictatorship with the accompanying secrecy: he replaces the Army Commander and demotes him, shortly before his pension. This is his legal prerogative. But any democratically minded leader would give a clear and complete explanation to the People, who after all are His employer. Democracy means People’s Rule. The People rule over the President, and the President is temporarily responsible for the running of the Nation under command of the People. He needs to report to his employer. Now he refuses to do so, all kinds of peculiar conspiracy theories are furthered on web based publications and social media, like: the National Intelligence Bureau has convinced His Excellency that the opposition politicians who were illegally detained in connection with an illegally tapped WattsApp conversation were planning a coup with the army. Another one is that the Army Commander refused to go along with a lucrative corruption scandal. Of course both could also be true. However, the President owes us an explanation!