Rural Malawi’s inaccessibility to oral healthcare

Kids at Circle of Hope  orphanage in Dowa, Malawi show off their toothbrushes, while waiting in line to be screened
Children at Circle of Hope orphanage in Dowa, Malawi show off their toothbrushes, while waiting in line to be screened. Photo by Kara Stevenson. 

By Kara Stevenson

Isaac Muralaudira is 8 years old and has never visited a dentist. He suffers from periodontal disease and tooth decay.

 “His gums are being eaten away. It’s a gum disease. There is bleeding and this is due to the periodontal disease and the decay. His teeth have been dissolved by acid,” said Fred Sambani, the country director for Teethsavers International while using dental equipment to examine Isaac’s mouth.

Isaac experiences toothache but can’t receive the necessary treatment since the dental clinic is too far from his village.

 “If this is untreated, he won't be able to use one side of his mouth to chew,” said Sambani.

 Many children in the rural areas of Malawi have little or no accessibility to oral healthcare.

Teethsavers International is an organization established to promote oral healthcare through education and treatment in the rural areas of Africa. Through songs, visual dialogue and interactive activities, the organization teaches children and parents about the importance of oral hygiene. 

In one week, dental professionals from the organization visited Bright Vision orphanage and Tilerane Orphan Care in Lilongwe, Malawi, and Circle of Hope orphanage in Dowa, Malawi. They provided oral healthcare treatment to those who have cavities, periodontal disease and plaque buildup. 

From the 924 children that were screened at each orphanage, 45 have cases of periodontal scaling and 32 required cavity fillings.

The organization was not able to treat all the children who had oral healthcare problems. The ones with severe cases were referred to a hospital for alternative treatment.

“This is a problem in the rural parts of Malawi. If oral health is not looked after, it usually leads to serious infections and sometimes even fatality,” said Sambani.

He said the major concern with oral healthcare is the lack of awareness.

Teethsavers International hopes that the Malawi government can implement an initiative that will build greater awareness of the issues surrounding oral health.

Enock Phale, the assistant director of clinical services in Malawi’s Ministry of Health department said the government is aware of these issues. He said they are working on programs that will promote oral health care in the rural areas.

“We have to work with the limited resources that we have; in terms of professional workers and supplies,” said Phale.

There are 19 dentists in Malawi; 18 of them are in private practice while one is designated for government personnel’s only. None of which are situated anywhere close to the rural areas.

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.


Exploitation of Malawi’s tobacco tenants

Tobacco workers on a tobacco farm in Salima, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson. 

By Kara Stevenson

Eletina Mwale has worked on several tobacco estates since 1985. Currently, she works on a tobacco farm in Salima, Malawi.

“I have been in several farms from Kasungu to the northern region. We meet a lot of problems. The water is bad, our children do not go to school and we live very far from hospitals,” said Mwale.

The most difficult conditions lie amongst the women who work and live on the farms. Mwale said often women are forced to sleep with the estate owner's for money, food, transport.

“What other choice do we have? We are poor. We have nothing,” she said.

Being exploited and abused, tobacco tenants in central Malawi are grossly underpaid, deprived of medical insurance, and have no choice but to work without contracts under dire working conditions.

With none or little education, money and especially with no other employment, tobacco tenants earn around 200 kwacha ($1.25 CDN) per day. Food and health care are sometimes subtracted from their wages.

In Malawi 200 kwacha can buy vegetables and low-grade fruits. The amount of food a tobacco farmer can afford can hardly sustain their families. Most live with extended families, usually in a small one-room hut made of mud and straw. 

As they salvage whatever income they can find to support their families, these tenants suffer at the hands of the tobacco estate owners – some of whom sit before Malawi’s National Assembly, say activists.

Malawi’s Centre for Social Concern (CFSC) is a non-government organization that has taken part in advocating against the exploitation and abuse of tobacco tenants. 

Father Bill Turnbull, the acting director of CFSC said they have been lobbying for the Tenancy Labor Bill, which was drafted in 1995 to regulate tenancy labour by clarifying the rights and obligations of estate owners and tenants – a solution to demolish the exploitation.

Turnbull said the bill would be beneficial for both tobacco tenants and estate owners.

“For tenants, he or she will have a written contract. Same goes for the estate owners; they will know exactly where they stood with what is going on,” said Turnbull.

It’s been 17 years since the proposal of the bill and it has yet to pass in parliament. The CFSC argues that the delay is most likely caused by the vested interests.

However, the Minister of Labour, Dr. Lucious Kanyumba, denies such interests.

“It was proposed during the United Democratic Front (UDF) regime. I cannot be in a position to answer why it is taking so long to pass the bill, but you have to appreciate that this Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has fought for this Bill to be considered,” said Kanyumba.

Meanwhile, Goodall Gondwe, Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment is known to own a tobacco farm in Lilongwe, Malawi called, Nzanzi Estate. Gondwe claims that living conditions are seemingly better on his estate, and although he said a wage of 171 kwacha ($1.08 CDN) per day is not a sufficient income for a tobacco worker, the laborers on his tobacco estate are, in fact, paid 171 kwacha per day.

In addition, minimum wage in Malawi is 178 kwacha ($1.12 CDN) per day. Gondwe’s workers make under the minimum wage amount.

Many non-government organizations that advocate change remain optimistic that the bill will pass in parliament.

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From music in Malawi, town criers in Liberia and the thrills of navigating through Sierra Leone, the blog Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights trainers on the ground. In addition to creating human rights media, the journalists will be writing about their experiences about the continent.



Victims of Malawi’s bloody protest speak

Bullet wound
Mphatso Banda's shows off the bullet wound he got at a protest in Lumbadzi, Malawi. Photo by Kara Stevenson.

By Kara Stevenson, with files from Emmanuel Chibwana/pf Zodiak Broadcasting Station

July 21, 2011 was an unruly day in Lumbadzi, Malawi – a violent protest paraded through the streets. While some citizens were using the protest to loot shops and pelt stones at police officers, many innocent people were injured.

“I started to run, but I felt numbness in my left foot. I realized that there was a lot of blood and I was told that I was shot,” said 16-year-old Stanley Zacharia, who said he was shot in the foot by police following the demonstration against corrupt governance charges.

The violent protest left 20 people dead and over 200 people injured.

It has been over seven months since the occurrence and families of surviving victims have yet to receive answers, advice or assistance from any organization.

“I rushed to the scene and when I got there I saw my boy was lying in a pool of blood. He couldn’t walk or sit. The blood was oozing so much,” said Albert Zacharia, who described the day when he thought his son, Stanley, was going to die.

Zacharia wasn’t the only 16-year-old to be shot during the July demonstration. Mphatso Banda, who was on the verge to play for Malawi’s national under-17 soccer team, now lives with a bullet in his leg. He was also shot by a police officer. He said he wasn’t a threat to police, but rather he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

 “I was coming back from the trading centre and that’s where I was shot. In fact, I didn’t even know I was shot until someone told me,” said Mphatso.

A lot of money was spent on hospital bills. While Zacharia is left with two broken toes and a wound that may cause infection, Mphatso was told by doctors at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe that resources for his recovery would be readily available at a hospital in South Africa.  However, due to the lack of financial means, he cannot afford to pay for his full recovery.

There has been financial compensation to families who have lost loved ones, but those left with permanent injuries like Stanley and Mphatso have not received any compensation.

During a 2012 New Year’s speech, Malawi police chief Peter Mukhito admitted that the police force did not have adequate equipment to handle July’s demonstration. Rather than using rubber bullets, the police used real bullets.

Davie Chingwalu, the national spokesperson for the Malawi police said cases like Zacharia’s are still being investigated.

The Malawi Human Rights Commission is a government organization that investigates cases in which police may have caused unnecessary injuries. John Kapito, the chairperson of the MHRC said during their investigation, they did discover the injustice on both Stanley’s and Mphatso’s cases. He said their next step is to determine what action should follow.

The human rights activists who organized the July 21 demonstration, among others, have been paying tribute to families of people whose lives were lost during the violent protest. MacDonald Sembereka, the national coordinator of the Human Rights Consultative Committee, was one of the many who organized the demonstration and said there are legal actions that victims can initiate.

“We are looking at legal address for them. We know who shot them and they are liable to sue the government in this circumstance. We want them to take this to court,” said Sembereka.

Albert Zacharia, Stanley’s father, worries about the lack of action taken by these organizations that are forefront of the investigations.

“Who do I blame? Should I blame the government, the civil society, should I blame myself? Should I blame the boy? There are no answers to these questions. At the moment, I need assistance in figuring out what should be the next step,” he said.

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.


Ghanaian women in media

Margaret Adongo is one of few female radio personalities in Tamale, Ghana. Photo by Gwyneth Dunsford.

By Gwyneth Dunsford

Margaret Adongo is a love doctor.

 And not only because the 27-year-old got married two weeks ago.

Adongo is the popular host of Fiila FM's “Real Love” and one of the few female radio personalities in Tamale, Ghana.

Yet, for Adongo it wasn't an easy rise to radio fame.

“Women in the north aren't always being recognized,” says Adongo. “We should be treated equally. Privileges should be given for women to express themselves.”

To succeed in media, women must be confident and able to take criticism, says Adongo.

“I see myself as a man,” says Adongo. “I am too tough ... I don't allow people to sit on my interests. I do what I want to do.”

Adongo is the closest you get to a media celebrity in Tamale. During our conversation at a busy restaurant, she is approached repeatedly by friends and acquaintances. She says her status as an on-air personality sometimes gets her special treatment at Tamale Polytechnic, where she's studying accountancy.

As far as Adongo is concerned, she was destined to be a broadcaster.

“In primary school, when they asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up I said I wanted to be a newsreader,” she says.

After reading announcements for two years at Fiila, Adongo making the jump to newsreader and talk show host. She credits her success to the station's manager,  Akosua Kwartemaa.

“[Margaret] has grown over the years to be a good presenter,” says Kwartemaa. “I helped her so much because she listens. She learns.”

Adongo's show combines an hour with romantic music with an hour talk show, discussing topics like healthy marriages and cheating spouses. “Real Love” airs weekly on Thursday at 10 p.m. until midnight.

Kwartemaa knows the challenges of being a woman working in media. A working mother, Kwartemas's son and daughter obediently sit in Fiila's lobby, as they wait to be taken home.

But, Kwartemaa is confident that women's roles in media are changing for the better.

“Generally in Africa, women are perceived to be relegated to the background,” she says. “Women --- in Africa, in Ghana --- are being very vocal. We feel, what a man can do, we can do and even do it better.”

Kwartemaa recognizes her role in fostering Adongo, saying female role models are important.

“The young ones, they want someone to look up to,” says Kwartemaa. “The girls feel it is a male-dominated job, because most of the presenters are men. At least if [the women] are here, it urges them on.”

Kwartemaa's daughter, Kristiana,3,  plays with her socks in the radio station's lobby. Kwartemaa says if her daughter shows an interest, she'll encourage her to pursue radio.

“I want to encourage women in particular ...” she says. “Be bold and go for it.”

This is the first blog in a series about Ghanaian women in media. Check back soon for the second installment.

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.








Radio waves inspire change in Malawi

DesYouth reporter,Violet Banda, hosting the Radio Timveni program. Photo courtesy of Timveni.

By Desiree Buitenbos

Violet Banda is not your average 21-year-old.

A poised, confident and outspoken child rights activist, Banda personifies the power of radio in Malawi.

Born to a family of five children, Banda is the only female and the only child to have contracted HIV from her mother who succumbed to AIDS when Banda was just three years old.

 “When I found out I was positive, I was in primary school," says Banda, “Whenever I would tell people about my status it happened that I lost all my friends. Some didn’t want to be near me or touch me. They just ran away. “

HIV/AIDs is the leading cause of death in Malawi, and Banda says the stigma she faced growing up is a common reality for the half a million AIDS orphans in the country.

For Banda personally, the discrimination affected her ability to perform at school, as well as her relationship with her family.

“It felt like they should do their own thing, and I should find other friends in the world”

But all of this changed when Banda turned 15, and was invited to speak publicly about her experiences on a children’s radio show run by a local NGO called Timveni.

Phillip Kamwendo is the programs manager at Timveni, a media project which focuses on children’s rights and creates space for children to anonymously tell stories about the issues that affect them.  He recalls the first time Banda came on air.

“Her grandmother could not accept that she was HIV-positive until she came on our radio program,” Kamwendo says, “She told her story and how she feels, and her grandmother was listening. Afterwards, she changed her mindset towards her granddaughter.” 

That wasn’t the only difference in Banda’s life.

Following her radio debut, she became a youth reporter for the project, where she's enjoyed success in highlighting violence and abuse against children. Many of her stories grapple with issues like rape, child labour and forced marriages - and her work has often had a positive and immediate impact on local government policy.

“I once interviewed this girl who was raped by her teacher and had dropped out of school," Banda says. When we brought her on the radio, the ministry of education took action. They fired the teacher and the girl returned to her studies.”

Banda along with her many Timveni colleagues are from humble beginnings. In Malawi, 80 per cent of the population lives in rural settings where electricity, clean water, and money are scarce. One form of entertainment for the rural masses is the radio, particularly so-called “listening clubs” where community members huddle around a battery-powered radio to hear a show of interest.

According to a national survey, 96 per cent of the population uses radio as their primary source of information. With such a large audience, it’s no surprise that organizations across the country are investing in listening clubs because of their influence in even the most marginalized communities.

Similar to Timveni, Story Workshop is a non-profit organization which produces dramatic portrayals of real-life human rights scenarios on-air. They sponsor 60 listening clubs and use the feedback they receive to inspire new content and measure their impact.

In addition, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) recently donated radios to 30 clubs across the country, while smaller NGO’s like Child Rights Information and Documentation Centre (CRIDOC) are hoping to do the same, provided they can get the funds.

For Banda, radio not only improved the quality of her life, but it also opened the doors to experiences she never thought possible. As a child rights activist she has travelled the world, and just last year, she gave a speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway. She maintains that the mass medium is the cheapest, most effective tool for change.

“It is the only key to awareness in Malawi” she says.

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From music in Malawi, town criers in Liberia and the thrills of navigating through Sierra Leone, the blog Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights trainers on the ground. In addition to creating human rights media, the journalists will be writing about their experiences about the continent.

The children of Zion Bata

A young member of the Zion Bata church lies on the floor covering her ears. Photo by Desiree Buitenbos

By Desiree Buitenbos

The children of Kachitsa Village, a small village of 1,000 in the northern outskirts of Lilongwe, Malawi, are adamant about their religious beliefs. Mention God and their shy, soft-spoken demeanor converts to self-assurance and poise.

These children are members of a church called Zion Bata which preaches that prayer is the only effective method for healing the sick.

“Since I was born I have never had any drugs,” says 10-year-old Rezina Emphraim “It would therefore be wrong if I had any vaccination because we made a promise to God that we will never take medicine.”

All members of the Zion Bata church, including 600 children, are forbidden access to modern medical care. Those who do seek treatment for sickness are heavily judged and ultimately kicked out of the  community.

For the children of Kachitsa, their parents' decision to join Zion Bata has influenced every aspect of their lives.

“When a child is born, we give him blessed water first before he takes anything of this world,” says Mrs. Chigona, the community midwife who would only give her last name “He is blessed first and then he can be breastfed.”

Some members of Zion Bata have never spoken to the media before, largely because their beliefs are highly controversial in Malawi.

In 2011, when the Malawian government made the measles vaccination mandatory, health officials visited the village and found not a child in sight. It was later discovered that they ran away to a nearby mountain to avoid any wrongdoing.

“If I took drugs, it would be a sin against God,” says 13-year-old Enelesi Haswel, “It is not right that I should receive any medicine.”

To an outsider, it seems like the strong commitment to the church is governed by a fear of relinquishment. But the leader of church, Inspector Jamieson Ofesi, says that members have free choice to take medicine.

“If a person has little faith, he can use drugs. We do not prevent them from taking drugs. But if they do [take drugs] we excommunicate them because we know that they do not have faith.”

According the World Health Organization, 110 out of every 1,000 children born in Malawi will die before the age of five.  And for every eight that die, one will be the result of a preventable disease such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, or measles. Which prompts the question: Can the children of Katchitsa risk never seeing a doctor?

The physical appearance of the kids in this village is a testimony to the effects of prohibited healthcare.

The majority of them have scars, wounds or ring worms, and sitting in on the Sunday service is like sitting in a hospital waiting room. Young infants have worrying chesty coughs comparable to adults with bronchitis.

Malawian authorities have done little for the children of Zion Bata because the grey area between freedom of religion and the rights of the child is not yet defined.

Malawi practices religious tolerance, but children’s rights are a fairly recent phenomenon. The country only passed its first comprehensive act on child protection in 2010. Known as the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act, Article 80 states that “no person shall subject a child to a social or customary practice that is harmful to the health and general development of the child”.  Those found in breach of the article will land 10 years in prison. 

Nonetheless, no arrests under this act have been made at Zion Bata.

Grace Malera is the executive secretary of the Malawian Human Rights Commission, and she admits to facing difficulties in taking a proactive stance toward investigating whether the children are severely suffering due to their parents' personal choices. 

“A matter like this one needs further and comprehensive research because that kind of research will enable to us to generate evidence which could then in turn inform relevant policy and program interventions.” Says Malera

For child’s rights activists like George Kayange, who is the founder of the Child Rights Information and Documentation Centre, the central focus is the government’s role as a duty-bearer who has ratified the UN convention of the rights of the child.

“Government must take action in terms of ensuring that the best interests of the child - as enshrined in the convention - are being guaranteed," Kayange says.

“It’s unfortunate that in many developing countries people use religion and culture as an excuse for violating other people’s rights, including children.”

With files from Teresa Ndanga

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From music in Malawi, town criers in Liberia and the thrills of navigating through Sierra Leone, the blog Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights trainers on the ground. In addition to creating human rights media, the journalists will be writing about their experiences about the continent.


Deconstructing Joma, Ghana


Clemente stands in front of his neighbour's house. Photo by Danny Kresynak.

By Danny Kresynak

Clemente’s house is one of the few buildings in Joma with a roof. In fact, it’s one of the last structures left standing in the devastated area. From his front porch he can see the smashed bricks and mortar that were once the homes of his friends and neighbours. “Afterward, it looked like a tornado (had) blown through. Ripped and broke everything. You can still see where the foundations were," he said, while surveying the damage in his neighbourhood. But this destruction was no act of nature. In Joma, the catastrophe was man-made.

The village once housed around four-thousand 4,000 people in a river valley just outside of Accra. Clemente lives in the region with his mother, sister and brother and everyday he commutes to work in the capital’s business district. He says they’ve been here six years, but many of the displaced people had lived there their whole lives, “we watch more go everyday. I don’t know where they go. I guess they just have to move on.”

At dawn on Dec. 10, residents were rousted from their homes and told the settlement they’d spent generations building was being torn down. Francis is a fisherman and a single father of eight. His house was destroyed that morning, “I was out on the water in my boat. Didn’t know what was happening until I saw my children on the shore-line calling me to come. They said military men were here breaking down houses.” He says he has received no warnings before demolition and no offers for compensation since. By evening, nearly 500 homes, several businesses and a school had been destroyed.

The disputed territory lies along the banks of the Densu river. The river is a part of the water table feeding the Weija dam reservoir. The Ghana Water Company (GWC) says the Joma settlement is illegal. In an official release, the GWC stated Weija is the critical fresh water source fueling Accra and say they can’t risk the possibility of encroachment contaminating the supply. However, Joma is several kilometers from the dam site and larger settlements exist along the reservoir’s edge.

While military carried out demolitions, many villagers sought refuge at the chief’s palace. Their respite was only temporary as the palace was also destroyed by order of the GWC. Chief Nii Ayittey Mayatse, says he thinks there are other motivations at play. “They tell us we are making the water dirty. We aren’t, we’ve fished here, lived here, died here for centuries. We take care of the river, it gives us life. They don’t want this land for them. They don’t benefit, they want to sell it. How can they? It’s ours,” he says.

Tthe dividing lines between government property and his ancestral territory is clear. “My great-grandfather started the building here," the chief says. "The land was his, the people (villagers) came and buy (it) from him. Now they want to take it and say we are here illegally. We are not.”

A recent court injunction confirmed Mayatse’s account. The decision ordered an immediate halt to the demolitions, but provided no provisions or compensation for repairing the damage.

WIth their homes in pieces, no school to send their children to and no money to rebuild many were forced to leave. The court-order stipulates unoccupied land may be annexed, but many have vowed to remain amidst their rock-piles and broken timber. The hold-outs say they have seen surveyors and trucks bearing the logo of Regimental estates, a real estate developer specializing in pre-fabricated condo complexes, exploring the territory. They also say the have noticed an increase in military and police presence and report regular instances of harassment.

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

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In Malawi when 'Life' gets tough, it gets banned

Lucius banda
Lucius Banda, the first Malawian musician to use his platform to protest government. Submitted photo.

By Karissa Gall

Saturday night in Blantyre and the drinks are flowing at Mustang Sally’s, a fluorescent bar with a swimming pool centerpiece frequented by ex-pats and a new generation of young Malawians who have money.  The laptop DJ plays LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” for the eighth time of the night.

No longer under the strict censuring control of one-party-state president Hastings Kamuza Banda, Malawian airwaves have opened up to music that in the 20th century remained an unknown.  In the years following the country’s first multi-party elections in 1994, the Malawian music industry has diversified, with Malawians artists more free to perform traditional, gospel and reggae-inspired sounds, and some images and styles even being scavenged from sexually provocative, explicitly violent and drug-saturated music on  stations such as  MTV.

Today Malawians can praise any God, they can even party rock, but if you ask Lucius Banda they still can’t protest.

The first musician to sing openly against political oppression in Malawi during the decades of one-party rule, Banda says growing up in absolute poverty and amid systemic social injustice inspired him to “make sure there’s an alternative voice from the government.”

“Coming from a broken family living in absolute poverty, life was difficult,” remembers Banda.  “We had to go to the Catholic mission houses to clean toilets to pay for school fees.  After we’d paid that, we’d go to school, and then if the president was visiting your area you had to raise money to give him as a gift. 

“We couldn’t afford that and so we wouldn’t be allowed in class, maybe for two or three weeks.  It was like getting candy from a grandchild,” he says.  “I don’t forget that.”

In the 1980s Banda began his music career singing gospel songs as part of the Alleluya Band, but eventually branched out on his own to produce music that would “sensitize people to regain their conscience.”

“I didn’t like singing love songs,” he says.  “I talked about injustices, the suffering of the people, that was my main concern.”

In 1993 Banda released his first solo album titled “Makolo”.  The single “Mabala” which means “wounds” was critical of the ruling Kamuzu Banda regime, which he said afflicted pain on those already living in absolute poverty.

In 2001 when then-UDF chairman and President Bakili Muluzi attempted a third term, Banda released the song “How Long.” 

“I did a lot of songs rebuking [Muluzi],” Banda says.  “Why should we have become a friend of Mugabe and others who were clinging to power?”

In 2005 he released the album “Enemy (of the State)” where he criticized current president Bingu wa Mutharika for quitting the UDF party that had ushered him into power to seek re-election as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate instead, and in 2006 and 2008 he released the albums “Survivor” and “Freedom” respectively with messages meant for Mutharika: “We’ll survive you” and “You will see when people realize the truth.”

But in 2011 his latest album of protest music and its title track “Life” attracted negative attention from the Malawi Censorship Board and a ban by the Malawi Broadcasting Company (MBC).  Now that his music is banned from Malawian radio stations, Banda says Section 35 of the Malawi Constitution has failed him and that without free expression the music industry is “harsh” in Malawi.

“You can’t criticize people who are in positions where you put them with your vote,” he says.  “They say, ‘Stay quiet as I’m sitting on your money’ at a time when we don’t have a strong opposition and [Malawians] are weaker than we were in terms of our reactiveness to dictatorship… The Malawians you meet today are not the Malawians of 1994.  In 1994 Malawians were aggressive.  We were patriotic.  The Malawians you meet today I’m sorry to say are desperate, everyone for himself, ‘as long as I get mine it’s OK.’  That’s why we cannot come together and fight one common enemy.”

Though he still believes Malawians who love their country should show that they’re not happy with what is happening, Banda says the MBC ban has hurt his medium.

“Because of the ban, slowly [my] music is dying, people don’t listen to it, youngsters don’t listen to it, so they [government] are succeeding,” he says.

“Today you have to censor yourself so much when an artist is supposed to be free.  If I were going into the industry now, in this environment, I wouldn’t go.”

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

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The road to abolishing Malawi's death row


Malawi's constituion reads that every person has the right to life and no person shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. Photo by Nina Lex.

By Nina Lex

Malawi’s Legal Aid volunteers sift through a pile of files of those on death row. They are doing everything they can to abolish the death penalty in the country and lessen existing prisoners’ sentences.

At least 29 men currently sit on death row in Malawi; however, no one has been executed in the country since 1994. Those sentenced to death are entitled to a mandatory appeal in the Supreme Court.

“Countries like Malawi that have made the transition to democracy increasingly see abolition of the death penalty as a necessary step to signal their commitment to human rights,” said Emile Carreau, an Australian volunteer with Legal Aid.

Judges in Malawi can still sentence offenders to death; they handed down four or five death penalties in 2010 and with only a few murder trials taking place in 2011 no death penalties were given. However, this year more murder trials are expected in the High Court.

Francis Kafantayeni was convicted of murdering his two-year-old stepson in 2002. His lawyers claimed he had been acting in a state of temporary insanity because he smoked marijuana. The judge had no choice but to convict Kafantaneni of the murder and sentenced him to hanging, a mandatory sentence for murder.

After a two year long trial, the High Court ruled that a judge could pass down individual sentences to offenders by taking into account the offender’s background, circumstances of the crime and mental health.

“Before lawyers didn’t bother looking into the person’s background and offense. So I’m going through to see what happen at the time of the offense, what happen in their life and since they have been in prison. Trying to get a sentence of life in prison or less,” said Carreau.

However, a judiciary strike in the country has paralyzed the court system making accessing files impossible for the time being.  

A shortage of legal aid lawyers also makes it difficult to go through all the files in a timely manner. The State Department reported in 2009 that there were only 15 lawyers and seven paralegals working as public defenders throughout Malawi.

“Legal Aid is ridiculously over burdened at the moment with only a handful of lawyers in Blantyre. Not enough, considering the number of people entitled to Legal Aid,” said Carreau.

Another challenge Legal Aid lawyers are facing in Malawi is the public perception of capital punishment.

“Legal Aid is working to get more lenient sentences for those on death row but the public wants higher sentences. When there (has) been a gruesome murder the general public wants capital punishment to be available for the crime,” said Amanda Walker, a volunteer for Legal Aid.

In 2009 the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law developed a report and interviewed death row prisoners about conditions at the prison. The report stated that currently all death row prisoners are kept in a separate section of Zomba’s Maximum Security Prison. Men share small cells and sleep on the floor, generally they receive one meal per day. When the prison suffers from a food shortage the men don’t receive meals and power outages are frequent.  

The report also states, "most lawyers do not visit their clients in prison until shortly before trial, if at all. It is commonplace for lawyers to meet their clients for the first time at trial." 

Although lawyers in Malawi must overcome some major difficulties, they are confident that country is on its way to abolishing the death penalty.

“The abolition of the mandatory death penalty in Kafantayeni and the fact that Malawi has not actually carried out an execution since 1994 has put the country in good stead to abolish the death penalty,” said Carreau.

In recent years some of Malawi's neighbouring countries have abolished the death penalty, like in South Africa and Mozambique.

Nina Lex is from jhr's 2011 summer/fall bloggers program


Questioning press freedom in Ghana

Gifty Lawson
Gifty Lawson, a photogrpaher working for one of Ghana's largest national newspapers, The Daily Guide. Photo by Jonathan Migneault

By Jonathan Migneault

“I will shoot! I will shoot!”

That is what Daily Guide photographer Gifty Lawson says she heard from a man waving a gun during an incident on Jan. 12 that made her a household name in Ghana.

Agents with Ghana’s Bureau of National Investigation (BNI), the country’s equivalent to the FBI, allegedly assaulted Lawson, along with two Daily Guide security guards. Lawson says she was attacked for taking photos of a suspect from a high-profile case outside of a courthouse in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

In Ghana there are no laws preventing journalists from taking photos outside a courthouse.

“They took my trousers from the back and I could feel their hands in between my buttocks,” says Lawson, who has now returned to work at the Daily Guide. “They jacked me up and dragged me, manhandled me. I was exposed. My dress was torn and then they took me to their car.”

Lawson and the two security guards, Michael Awampaga and Anthony Antwi, say the lead up to the alleged attack occurred the day before.

That day Lawson had accompanied ccourt reporter Mary Anane to take some photos of Gifty Mawuenyega Tehoda, Accra’s deputy superintendent of police, who was suspected of stealing cocaine that had come into possession of the police and replacing it with baking soda.

Lawson says some women who were related to the suspect started yelling at her for taking photos outside the courthouse. A man approached her and asked her to delete the photos. She complied but says he then grabbed her camera and damaged the lens in the process.

The next day she returned to cover the case with Awampaga and Antwi, who accompanied her for protection.

This time men who turned out to be BNI agents were blocking the Tehoda, the case’s main suspect, from the cameras as she exited the courthouse.

 Awampaga says a man approached them and attacked, trying to grab Lawson’s camera. He was knocked to the ground and handcuffed. Lawson was allegedly violated and also handcuffed while Antwi, who says he was beaten by the agents’ rifles, eventually managed to escape in the confusion and return to the newspaper's offices.  

“They beat me, they kicked me down and then they stomped on me,” says Awampaga. “My nose was bleeding, my ribs were paining me and my chest was also paining me.”

He and Lawson were brought to the BNI headquarters where they were questioned. After Lawson deleted her photos they were released and brought to a local hospital to tend to their injuries.

The event was immediately covered by the local radio stations and made the front page of most Accra newspapers the next day.

 “At a point in time I couldn’t even come out of my house because they were taking pictures everywhere,” says Lawson. “People were pointing figures at me saying, ‘That’s the girl that BNI assaulted!’ It was very depressing.”

Numerous groups including the National Media Commission, the Ghana Journalists Association and the Human Rights Advocacy Centre have spoken out about the incident and condemned BNI’s actions.

“The media are indispensable to the building of democracy. We therefore wish to appeal to all security agencies to educate their personnel on the need to preserve press freedom and freedom of expression and to restrain their men from carrying out such acts of unwarranted attack and intimidation which undermine democracy,” the Ghana Journalists Association said in a statement.  

The association asked Paul Quaye, Accra’s inspector general of police, to investigate the matter.

Daniel Asare Korang, the Human Rights Advocacy Centre’s programs manager, says there have been reports of similar actions from BNI in the past. He says that journalists in Ghana have a right to information, and that the alleged attack on Lawson infringed on that right.

But Larry Gbevlo-Lartey, Ghana’s national security coordinator, has denied the attack ever took place. In an interview with the radio station Joy FM he said that BNI agents were obstructed from doing their jobs and that "a person accompanying a journalist slapped one of the security personnel."

That person, according to Gbevlo-Lartey, was Awampaga.

“They are telling me I assaulted the BNI guards, but meanwhile I’m sitting in pain,” Awampaga says. “I haven’t done anything. We just took pictures.”

Lawson says she is still traumatized by the event.

“I’m still not comfortable working,” says Lawson, holding back tears. “I’m trying to gather the courage.”

Funding for the jhr bloggers is provided by the Government of Canada’s Youth International Internship Program in Ghana and Malawi, the Canadian International Development Agency in Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development in Liberia.

Meet the jhr bloggers.

Africa Without Maps

  • There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

    Funding for the jhr bloggers is provided by the Government of Canada's Youth International Internship Program.