The Massacre of Malawi’s Multi-million Kwacha Chikangawa Forest


By Gregory Gondwe

Since the late 1940s, Viphya Plantations commonly known as Chikangawa Forestry has been developing as a forestry reserve until independence in 1964 when the First head of State of Malawi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda had other ideas.

Dr. Banda got unspecified amount of money from the British Government in form of a loan, which later turned into a grant to develop what he called Viphya Plantations project that will be the backbone of his proposed pulp and paper making company. Several other resources were sought and pumped into the plantation.

Within that period to 1988, 53 thousand hectares of trees had been planted across the designated area; however, things turned sour when political influence and global financial recession of the 1980s saw no potential investor coming in to take advantage of the forest and start the project.

While 20,000 hectares of this forestry is now under the concessionary arrangement with Raiply, a company that replaced state run Viphya Plywood and Allied Industries VIPLY, through Privatisation, 33,000 hectares has been left in the hands of government to avail to Malawians who can harvest it.



In this write up, I am looking at a seemingly unabated deforestation of this part of forest and millions of money that are being made as a result and ponders its future by seeking out government position and those that are benefiting from it.




It looks like the Gold that was Chikangawa Forestry, at one time one of the world’s biggest manmade forests, is being eaten away and there seem no solution in sight to save it from extinction, I am trying to explore solutions that could help return the glory and aspirations within which Viphya Plantations were established.




The Beginning



There is a joke that makes round the northern region, associated with both the First Head of State of Malawi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, now late and the Viphya Plantations, commonly known as Chikangawa Forest.



The joke asserts that the former President Dr. Kamuzu Banda, asked people of Malawi’s three regions to tell him what their developmental needs were, while the Southern and Central Regions asked for the improvement of their cities, the north asked for a forest; and indeed Dr. Banda gave the region Chikangawa forest.

While this joke seems to have taken roots in some, Deputy Director of Forestry Responsible for the Viphya Plantations John Ngalande has a very different story on how it all began.

Recalls Ngalande: “The Viphya plantations started in the late 1940s early 1950s with small plantings in Luwawa, Chikangawa, Champhoyo up to Lusangadzi; the objective of the plantings at that time was to supply construction timber to the growing towns of Mzimba and Mzuzu”.

But in 1964 when about 3,000 hectares had been planted, soon after independence, indeed the First Head of State of Malawi Dr. Banda decided that Malawi invest in a pulp and paper making industry.

With this, between 1965 and in the late 1970s Viphya plateau experienced extensive planting before it was temporary halted in the 1979 after a feasibility study showed that this was not a viable venture.

A year later, another study proved to the contrary the findings of the first study and government scaled up the plantation of trees again up to 1985 and at this time 53,000 hectares of various species of pines had been planted.

This however faced another hurdle.

“In the 80s we had this global recession we had soaring prices of fuel oil. All prices for other commodities went up so we didn’t find an investor who was interested to come and put money in a pulp mill so the idea died,” Ngalande recalls.

Finding Purpose of the Trees



However, since government had put up an entity called Viphya Pulp and Paper Corporation (VIPCO) to look at investment in the Viphya, it was asked to look at alternative uses of the plantation and several studies were carried out. The first one was a study of making pine charcoal from pine waste to be used in the tea and tobacco industry.

But for the two industries to take up the soft charcoal and use it in its powdered form they needed to redesign their furnaces and this turned out to be unviable as well and VIPCO turned to something else.

“We also did studies on the production of resin, this is sap that comes out of the trees; we have a particular tree species called ‘pinus litae’ which produces good resin which is used in making of confectionaries and soaps,” explains Ngalande.

He further says quality of the resin was found to be sufficient but the altitude of the place brought bad tidings as it affected the quantities.

“So the altitude actually lowers the temperature and because we experience a lot of rain that also depressed the amount of resin that was produced, so that too did not work out,” he explained.

VIPCO never gave up and its endeavours saw the birth of Viphya Plywood and Allied Industries VIPLY, a parastatal that was formed in 1988 to run a mill but unfortunately, it underperformed due to bad designs throughout its life since it operated below 50% of the mill’s capacity.

Enter the Privatisation Commission of Malawi…



This is now where the Privatisation Commission came in and sold the mill to the Rai family of Kenya and became Raiply who also had a concession 20,000 hectares of the forestry while the remaining 33,000 has seen government issuing short term harvesting rights to some Malawians.

With the 20,000 hectares that Raiply has been using up, it looks like it has been rosy ever since the company took over in March 1999.

Raiply Malawi Limited Finance Director Thomas Oommen says they are utilising government forest by converting the timber into value additions and Chikangawa resources are enough to provide for the company’s raw materials.

“Basically we have four divisions in the factory,” explains Oommen.

One division called ply mill its where ply woods, shutter ply and block boards for interior and exterior grades, from 4 mm to 36 mm thicknesses are manufactured.

While the second division is called lumber division where the company sells the timber of various qualities like air-dry timber, cured dry timber, specially impregnated timbers for various constructions and other industrial users.

The third division of the factory is called value addition furniture where all types of furniture for schools, offices and other users is made while the fourth division is where they manufacture tanned machine poles used by the Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi (ESCOM).

Just to illustrate how much the country is benefiting from the venture, the company is now significantly contributing towards the country’s annual exports as this last year alone it accrued to over K700 million and has prospects of a bright future.

Explains Oommen: “About 50 percent of our products, we are exporting to neighbouring African countries like South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. We are contributing much to the economic growth for this country by bringing more forex to the country by exporting the good, it’s coming up to about K700m per year, the rest we are selling in the local market.”

According to Oommen Raiply has employed 2000 people and doing a number of social responsibility for the country it has built schools both secondary and primary schools as well as a health clinic which it provides with other infrastructures, it also runs an HIV/AIDS clinic stocked with ARVS. They are also sponsoring sports for schools in the region as well as supporting the Northern Region Football league worth half a million.

It has done road signs across the country, besides construction of one of the courts in the district, has built an office for the police at Jenda Road block and has now built a structure where the NBS bank will be renting and provide banking services.

The company has more plans including new investments.

Oommen says Raiply is now putting up a new factory with a tune of US$20m to be opened by middle of next year 2010.

“And the work is going on, so we are converting this timber into value added products, which called is medium certified board, which is more popular all over the world. This product will bring more forex and 80 to 90 percent of this product we are aiming to export outside Malawi; within Africa and Middle East…,”he says

Re-plantation and Failure thereof



Re-plantation is a primary objective of the company and since it started, it has replanted 4,000 hectares; this year it is replanting 500 hectares. Per year, the company harvests 200 hectares and with a new company coming in Raiply will be harvesting between 400 and 500 hectares per year.

However, while the song of Raiply and its 20,000 hectares concession sounds merry, the one for the 33,000 hectares is not pleasing to the ear.

Since the idea of giving out concessions has been put on hold as government is considering a Public Private Partnership Policy, in the interim Government decided to offer the public rights since most of the trees are over mature; 45 to 50 % of the trees are dead and to avoid wastage that why these people have come in.

“It is not an ideal situation; it’s difficult to manage. Sometimes the numbers fluctuate and becomes difficult to control and because we are few on the ground with very little resources in terms of transportation to offer proper supervision we have some illegal harvesting taking place and unfortunately by the time we find out, the damage has already happened,” explains Ngalande.

One other hurdle is that Malawians take these licences on behalf of foreigners while others steal the trees and due to capacity, the plantation cannot check on them and many resources being lost.

This year alone, there are 70 licence holders that are harvesting trees and with each is employing over fifty people to check on them is not easy.

While life in the forestry by those that are milling timber is stoical, their discipline to brave the cold weather and poor diet in the forestry means greater damage to the forest.

Chikumbutso Mulli works for Mulli Brothers Limited, which has a short term harvesting licence trading as Flatland Timbers.

“We saw more than 900 pieces of wood that is if we are using all our three cutting machines because our each of our machines can lumber about 300 wood timbers; depending on how successful we have been in that particular day we send about two or a single truckload of timber,” explains Mulli

Right in the deep of the forest, I run into Derrick Nyasulu who works for Blocken Msuku Timbers he says their employer has 76 of them working for him.

“At least per day we cut over 100 wood pieces depending on the required sizes,” he says.

This means that on a good day they do 150 planks of different sizes, which are around 80 to 90 trees.

Susan Bondo has been in the timber selling business for the last 8 years at the plantation’s major market outlet of ironically called Matabwa Market in the city Mzuzu. She says with K100, 000 a person can start ordering planks from the plantation and this generates a profit of over 150%.

There are over 150 timber traders at the Matabwa Market and 75 of them are women, some widowed and they are concerned that they could find themselves out of business due to lack of replanting the forest as Bondo is saying:

“This business is profitable at the time when it is our traditional trading season which commences as soon as the Tobacco Auction floors has been opened…Of course reforestation is ongoing at a very minimal scale, my advice is that reforestation should not stop.”

She also says most of their biggest customers are foreigners from Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia.

The Invasion of Foreigners



“We have heard of foreigners infiltrating. These things happen when you grant a licence to a Malawian who will have indicated that they have capital but in the process of doing the business they find that they have no money, so sometimes they collude with foreigners,” says Ngalande.

He says repeatedly they have stopped this business to clear out such things.

Ngalande says when people cut their timber; they are free to sell it locally while some of them actually export.

“But we also found some weaknesses in the export market that what was happening initially in the sawing has now been moved to the exportation that some Malawians will seen to be taking their own timber outside the country especially the northern corridors Tanzania, Kenya but in the process they will also be assisting these foreigners,” explains Ngalande.

An immigration source at the Malawi and Tanzania Songwe border told ZBS that they see between 20 to 30 truckloads of timber from Chikangawa exiting Malawi on a daily basis.

However, the department is now gearing up to join hands with the Malawi Revenue Authority, Ministry of Industry and Trade, Export Promotion council and see how the situation can be improved, failure to do so will force the manager to stop issuing out licences…

The plantation only gets K15 million budgetary allocation when it needs about K80 million to replant a thousand hectares of trees. This is against the background that it makes about K170million annually, which is sent to the coffers of the central government.

The Forest as a Source of Water



While things are at this, Viphya Plantation is the designated water source for the Northern Region Water Board, which has identified two rivers Lambilambi and Licheremo that will be used as sources of dams that will supply water to Mzuzu City and the surrounding areas in the next 70 years.

Titus Mtegha is the northern Region Water Board General Manager and says the project will cost K15.4 billion

“The government of Malawi through the ministry of irrigation and water development hired a consultant to do some feasibility studies for the future water source for Mzuzu,” he says.

The studies that have been done so far by the consultant came up with recommendations that the two potential sites that need to be developed for the Northern Region Water Board is Lambilambi and Licheremo.

“His recommendations is that initially we should develop Lambilambi which much higher than Mzuzu and has enough capacity to supply water for the next 30 years, so we that we should be able to gravitate water to Mzuzu which is a very big advantage to Mzuzu in terms of costs of supplying water,” said Mtegha.

He added that once they develop the first site, the study recommended that they should already put in conservation measures for the second site, which is Licheremo and has the capacity to supply Mzuzu for the next 40 years.

Conclusion



Looking at the way the damage has been rampaging across the plantation, government engaged experts who have just completed a study on the Private sector involvement in Forestry under some international institutions facility and through the Forestry Governance Learning Group, which was looking the value chain analysis of the Chikangawa gold.

This, plus many other efforts will perhaps save the golden forest from total disappearance.

Anybody’s prayer is that government which started the project for beneficial reasons should still keep up its good purpose for starting the plantation by ensuring that the people of the region who per the joke asked the first President for the forest benefit from its resources which being a national asset also benefits all the Malawians .



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Father was the Family Supreme Court


By Gregory Gondwe

It is strange to imagine that my father has over the years turned from a very strict disciplinarian to a very good friend and influential mentor.

I intend to equate how I view the kind of parenting that I underwent to the judicial system.

This is because in the course of growing up, my siblings and I committed lot of offences within the household, which necessitated that we be taken to book within the house.

So, my family was its own judicature because this is how I reminiscent how my father and mother raised the seven of us; four sons, three daughters as well as our cousins, numerous aunts and uncles who we rightly regard as our sisters and brothers or ‘young fathers’ or ‘young mothers’ in respect to our extended family tradition.

The justice system was funny. I remember that when we were below the age of 12 our father never used to chastise us much every time we went off the mark.

Our mother was the one who used to act like a juvenile court where she could whip the senses back into us every time she judged that we had lost some of it.

Without sounding cynical on the abilities of women, I discovered a shift of ‘judicial authority’ in the house the time we had hit adolescence.

This was mainly because we could stand shoulder to shoulder with our mum by sometimes holding on to the cane she intended to use on us, thus disabling her administration of justice.

Because of the defiance, our case shifted to a higher court-, no offence intended to my lovely mum.

From their on, there was something which we dreadfully resented; we used to call it ‘rubber’. It was fulfilling the Biblical warning ‘Spare the cane spoil the child’.

Our father used to whip us with this ‘rubber’, which was a special coiling cord, which had no any other purpose in the house apart from that.

The offences that could make one face this rubber included absconding from classes, petty thieving like helping ourselves to a pot of relish, using abusive words, which we had newly acquired from peers, refusing to perform chores like farming, cooking and drawing water. Sometimes a brother or sister could seek redress when wronged by a family member.

The law in the house was that there was no boy or girl and therefore the chores were supposed to be performed equally.

We used to travel long distances sometimes to draw water, which together with the sisters we could balance pails full of water on our heads on our way home. There was also rote timetable, which used to say whose turn it was to wash the dishes.

 

The time for administering justice was the same; when it was bedtime. Our father could summon whoever had committed the offence that particular day and first ask why she or he had decided to disobey the law of the house.

“I hear this is the second day that you have not been going to school, why are you doing this?” that would be the entry question.

We rarely answered defensively as the ‘rubber’ would be placed in front of you and therefore reduce any skills to defend yourself beyond reasonable doubt.

If the answers were unconvincing then father would tell you that he was going to whip you for a specified number of times so that the pain should remain a constant reminder of what to expect next time an inkling to abscond classes offers it self again.

This kind of justice nurtured into something else when we had reached a secondary going age.

There was no longer corporal punishment; our father now started using the power of words to guide us to become responsible children. Whatever offence one could commit there could be a face-to-face meeting with him.

At such meetings, father and child would reason together and establish a better way of how the mistake should be avoided next time. Sometimes during such meetings, our father would say ‘sorry’ if it were established that he was in the wrong. He still does this.

When I was in form three, I was involved in a misdemeanour that forced the school to expel me. Knowing how justice was being administered in our family, it was so hard heading home. However, I decided to take chances and went home hoping to face the music.

My father patiently listened to my lies on why I had been expelled and never said a word until a year later when I went back to him to ask if there was no longer education for me.

His response was that he was glad that the year that I had spent outside school, at home, had taught me something. “I hope when you go back to school you will realise why you are there, ” he had said and I still consider this as one of the most painful punishment ever meted out on me.

Looking at this judicial system where at one time we thought our father was a cruel supreme court, we appreciate that it shaped us into some responsible members of the family and the society.

There is no doubt that our father stamped his influence on all of us from tender age. One interesting aspect is that since his names are Vivian Remigious William Gondwe, which we fondly called ‘VRW’, he decided to name all of us by starting our names with the letter V.

The first-born was a set of twins he named Venetius and Vibian; both now deceased. He called the second set of twins Virginia and Vincent. Then I followed as Vitus-Gregory, then my young brother Valentine was followed by kid sister Victoria before our last-born Victor.

If he left no impression on us I don’t think any of us his sons would have continued what we now call the ‘Vs’ legacy where we have called our children names like Vita, Vinjeru, Vikilirani, Virginia, Viweme and Vinandi.

Mutharika’s Features of Muluzi and Kamuzu


President Bingu wa Mutharika is unfortunate to be the country’s third occupant of the State House. There is bound to be comparisons between his rule and that of his two predecessors whether or not this inference is his cup of tea.
However, since he keeps on declaring that he wants to take after the first President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, there has been some conspicuous gaps in as far as his trying to carry out his emulation of Kamuzu is concerned.
It would also be interesting to know that Mutharika is a product of the warmth of the United Democratic Front (UDF) where the benefactor of this heat was no one else other than former President Bakili Muluzi.
Therefore, although Mutharika tries to try to be like Kamuzu, there are certain aspects within his style of leadership that are purely the Muluzi fashion of headship.
To start with, Mutharika has been unfortunate to inherit a country, which has a wholesale-liberalised market force that even when he tried to dictate tobacco prices for the buyers in our auction floors the reverberation has been adverse to the farmers instead.
Then there is a question of appeasing the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). For wrong moral reasons I assume, Bakili Muluzi spent K3 million taxpayers’ money to print the MCP cloth, which was a dominating factor at its convention at the Natural Resources College at one time.
I am timidly saying Mutharika has followed suit. Why? One may ask. My contention is without complex. The cloth, which The Guardian newspaper has reported to have cost tax payers K3 million also is an appeasement because what is outstanding on the cloth are pointers that are unmistakably MCP.
Others like me have argued that the cloth would have been something else. Something like a colt of arms going together with the face of Kamuzu, just to make it more nationalised than the party slant it took. Not all, of course, can view good things from a shared perspective, so they say.
One other feature that Mutharika is trying to emulate Kamuzu is that of making our cities look clean. At the height of Kamuzu rule, Blantyre won big prizes as one of the world’s cleanest cities.
However, there Mutharika has been slighted a bit by sticking to one Donton Mkandawire.
During the Muluzi rule all the city assembly officials, workers and what have you, never wanted the services of one Professor Donton Mkandawire. Muluzi stuck to the Professor. What Muluzi did then is what is now being practised by Mutharika; he is sticking to Mkandawire.
The result is that despite chasing the vendors from the streets, dirt is now the commonest of all eye sores in the streets and the hope to achieve what Kamuzu did remains a pipe dream.
The other similarity of Mutharika and Kamuzu would perhaps be the fear of arrest that hovers above our heads; but this is not more than the stance that he has taken though; Mutharika is bold when he executes his pronouncements etc.
While Mutharika is not much into the globe trotting as was characterised by the Muluzi rule he also has his share and unlike Kamuzu who was a lucid planner he seems to be driven by his whims as I always insist.
Take the crop inspection tour for example, Kamuzu used to plan the itinerary of it. But one day in Mutharika’s rule he just decided to do it the Kamuzu crop inspection way. The fact that puts to the clear that he was just jerked by his whims is at the time he said he will start the tours; it was in the middle of the growing season and he never visited all the areas proposed as was the case with Kamuzu.
To imagine that each trip the President makes costs K30 million plus one can really see how costly his impromptu imitation of Kamuzu is costing the country.
It is an open fact that Kamuzu was a dictator and Mutharika has also declared that in order to emulate Kamuzu by the letter he is ready to be called a dictator as well.
The way he has conducted himself of late has in fact exposed this dictatorial trait and really given chance he might really turn himself into a worst dictator.
He is very unfortunate though, because this is a democratic environment and for the Kamuzu system to work there was a suitable environment that nourished its growth.
The difference again was that Kamuzu was the country’s life President and hence was assured of his tomorrow without being threatened by the polls.
Reverend Dr Sausten Mfune, President of Seventh Adventist Church during a prayer during the unveiling ceremony of Kamuzu’s mausoleum mentioned something to this effect.
Mfune said politicians think of the next elections while statesmen think of the next generation and that Kamuzu was a statesman. He was short of mentioning though that this was possible because he made sure that he became life president.
Mutharika declared during the opening of the Mugabe road that he can not be threatened to execute decisions he so desires because people are saying they will punish him through the ballot box. He challenged that who said he was going to look for their votes come 2009 any way?
All this point to one thing that Mutharika must neither be Kamuzu nor Muluzi after all he is the first Bingu wa Mutharika not the second Kamuzu. So he has to live and rule by his own terms otherwise he won’t manage any borrowed terms.
THANKS MR PRESIDENT…
I would like to thank you sir for reading and understanding my last piece in the previous week’s issue and you indeed used that Constitution provision I reminded you about and fired one Ralph Kasambara…

Look Beyond Tobacco Price Fixing


As I declared in my previous columns, I have no qualms with tobacco price fixing as directed by President Bingu wa Mutharika. I know this is in sharp contrast to Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President the Rt. Hon JZU Tembo who has problems with this system.
The reasons that I registered then were, among others, that the buyers were trying to exploit our poor farmers and a few rich farmers as well, we will discuss how.
Now something more serious has glared its head up in the Northern Region, I am not sure what the situation is in other regions, but there is a life-size exploiter in the north, milking the tobacco farmers of their ‘golden chloroform’ dry.
What is happening up there is perhaps to attest that Malawian people are not only warm-hearted but they are purely lukewarm. Therefore, it is wrong to surmise that Malawi is the warm heart of Africa based on this.
When Malawi was hit by drought, other local traders decided to try their chances across the border in Tanzania but because Tanzanians are exceptionally patriotic, they never allowed any single Malawian to buy their maize. Instead they were bringing the commodity into the country and offered it at an exorbitant price.
In addition, it really breaks my heart to imagine that the Tanzanians with the help of Malawians bought the maize in the country.
My heart is now bleeding profusely with the discovery that the Tanzanians are back in the North and are going around our villages buying tobacco from the farmers at meagre prices, thus between K20 and K50 per kilogram.
This is a repetition of what exactly happened last year. Worse still, some unpatriotic Malawians help them carry out the ruse and as if this is not enough, they also sell or hire registration numbers to use at our Auction Floors.
Once they earn the ‘free dollars’, they go back to their country and leave the farmer poorer than before. Any surprise that there are very successful business people across the border then?
The problem might be considered not serious enough as it is concentrated in just a corner of a less populated part of the country and therefore does not warrant any government action.
However, to an extent, several factors come to bear, one of them being economical of course, but here I want us to discuss how these foreigners find it easy to cross our border and even operate these kinds of businesses in the country at the expense of our poor country folks.
One aspect to look at is on entry. There is more work for the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) if we are to take into consideration how foreigners bribe their way into the country. Most of the laxity displayed by our Immigration Department is as a result of palm greasing, take it or leave it.
I have on several occasions left a foreigner at the Songwe border for failing to produce proper travelling documents, only to meet the same person hours later in Mzuzu. How they get as far as that, is left in your good guess.
The same situation also exists with foreign commercial sex workers that have infiltrated all over the Northern Region. There are some sinister businesses that both the police in the road blocks and the immigration officers conduct with these ladies of the world’s oldest trade in order to grant them passage. No wonder we have lost most of our officers to the HIV/AIDS scourge.
Usually, what happens is that we have the foreigners buying tobacco in the villages and foreign women selling sex in social joints. When a patriotic Malawian reports to the nearest police of the illegal immigration status, the Police say that they are not immigration officers.
I was told by police officers in the North that the Police can only come in if and when the so called illegal immigrants commit or are suspected of committing a crime.
I would therefore like to know if there is any need at all to have immigration officers in districts because seriously speaking, I believe that every Malawian should be both the police and the immigration officer.
Now, Mutharika has declared that he wants to emulate the good things that Kamuzu did. I suggest that he should look back at the security elements Kamuzu employed to make sure that our villagers were not infiltrated with strangers some of whom reap us off.
Since the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) paramilitary wing, the Malawi Young Pioneers was disbanded, we have known no peace in our villages. Of course I will be wasting time to expound on the ills that the paramilitary wing committed because that is what has been covered extensively by all and sundry.
To avoid all this, the country badly needs a replacement of the MYP that should be professionally trained and well equipped to guarantee law and order for villagers who now feel more vulnerable and insecure than before.

Blantyre Charcoal Sellers Poorer than their Lilongwe Counterparts


Those who have ever stayed in both Blantyre and Lilongwe will endorse my observations that Blantyre charcoal sellers are much poorer than their colleagues in Lilongwe.

Every other morning, locations in the two major cities of Malawi are chock-a-block with charcoal sellers either shouting on top of their voices, notifying any would be interested buyers that they have the ware on the offer, or silently moving around locations to be seen and called by the buyers.

One distinctive feature that comes to one’s notice is the way and manner these two groups of sellers parade their charcoal merchandise to the buyers.

In Lilongwe, one cannot become a charcoal seller if he (women are yet to exercise gender equality in this area) has no enough capital. In Blantyre all you need is your energy. You will only need to go into the mountains, fell some trees, chop them into pieces, burn them and burry it under the ground before going back home to let it cool down.

Upon return you would only need to dig the charcoal out, put them into bags and you are ready and done for the market in towns. The case is different in Lilongwe because before you venture into charcoal business you have to identify funds for purchasing a bicycle.

It therefore explains the level of wealth of the two groups of sellers. While in Blantyre the sellers will be walking carrying their stuff on their heads their colleagues in the Capital ride with a mountain charcoal bags that dwarfs them and astounds everyone they meet how they manage to control the bicycles.

The issue here though, is not to brag that I buy charcoal from economically well-off sellers since I am a resident of Lilongwe as compared to the Blantyre residents, but to demonstrate my concern over lack of action from the authorities concerned to stop the on going butchering of our environment.

Whether or not the Blantyre sellers are poorer than their Lilongwe colleagues is of little relevance, the only accepted fact though, is that they are all committing an injustice to the environment and we need to explore ways of stopping them.

When we read Government policies on environment and convincing talk from the forestry department officials armed with its forest regulations one is made to believe that the problem would be solved.

When President Bingu wa Mutharika was addressing parliament last Tuesday he sang the same song that ‘Government has intensified efforts to ensure sustainable forest management and rehabilitation of the degraded lands’.

He went further to say he personally launched the National Tree Planting season to replace the National tree planting week and in so doing they have replanted and rehabilitated the Ndirande Mountain and Viphya Plantation where 1.2 million seedlings have been raised for the purpose.

Mutharika says his government will enforce the forest regulations and also closely monitoring the progress on the planting season.

Good words you would say, but looking at what is happening in the locations you really wonder if there is any enforcement-taking place.

Last week I wanted to buy charcoal and as always I stood by the roadside closer to the place of my abode. I waited for more than half an hour but no charcoal seller turned up and it was very unusual.

Although I had my fears of what might follow if I don’t get the charcoal, I started thinking that may the forestry department had finally grown teeth. But when I descended further down to the market I was tempted to ask one of the charcoal sellers at the market, which also dampened my earlier hope that Forestry had started working.

One thing that I was told by one of the sellers at the market was that now that there is plenty of green matured maize in the gardens, that are now going together with pumpkins and cucumbers, charcoals sellers are no longer in a hurry to go into towns to sell their merchandise.

One thing that came out clearly was that it was between poverty and food shortage are the main contributing factors plunging those that engage into the business to be involved in the environmental degradation.

Government says it is rehabilitating the degraded land, but I am not really sure what happens with the land that is right now being degraded or the one that is under the threat of degradation.

The other common practice by the forestry department is by confiscating bags of charcoal from sellers which is of little impact as what happens is in two detrimental folds; on one hand the charcoal burners will go back to the forest and this time cause more damage to compensate for the confiscated stuff while on the other hand the forestry officers will find market for the confiscated charcoal and pocket the money.

Here one clear thing is that the country keeps losing kilometres and hectares of trees. And my suggestion is not to develop and depend on this reactive approach but instead devise a proactive approach by assisting the burners and sellers alike to end their poverty in a manner which is environmental friendly.

The Presidency Must Stop Embarrassing the Nation


I am not supposed to be talking to President Bingu wa Mutharika himself but I have chosen to pick on the whole presidency for reasons you will appreciate as we discuss the matter at hand later.
I must say that in the past weeks, the presidency has ridiculed the nation and if we do not act, then we, as a nation, shall fail our duties together.
Some of the actions by the president, which have been classified under the ‘intentional controversial issues’, should have been avoided.
Take for instance what the President did last Monday at the Auction Floors and last Tuesday during the opening ceremony of the First National Constitutional Review Conference. Before this, his office wrote a letter whose target was Vice President Cassim Chilumpha.
Let me start with the Auction Floors speech. Mutharika was clearly angry and for him to say that he was not, as he claimed there, is deceit. The tough talk he gave the buyers was quite moving to Malawians like me because we feel the buyers were cheating us and we cannot accept a raw deal.
But the president should learn to give directives without losing his losing his head because when he does so, he injures his character. We all know that the president has to be bold on matters of national importance, for instance issues concerning tobacco prices but he should do so diplomatically.
I hear the buyers have now conspired to buy the best quality tobacco for not more than $1.10, contrary to what the president demanded.
On the other hand, I feel these so called tobacco buyers astound me because this shows that they are playing double face. They offer as high as $3:50 for the very same tobacco when it is smuggled across the boarder, which is strange, isn’t it?
The other thing is that it is absurd for them to sulk after the President talked tough as if they are our benefactors when, in fact they are the most beneficiaries in this tobacco trade. I really hate their beguilement.
While we are still on this dishonest proclivity, what is this that I hear is giving the president enough clout to play hardball with the buyers? Is it true that he has set his sight to markets in Zimbabwe and Japan and he is not worried even if the buyers decide never to visit our floors again? Why can’t it just come out in the open? Zimbabwe and Malawi, I wonder what the two countries intend to become.
The opening of Constitutional Conference where the president irritatingly claimed he was not angry when he made the outburst that Section 65, which is threatening his ‘co-opted’ DPP MPs, be scrapped off from the statutes because it contradicts with sections 32 is a display another outrageous behaviour.
One tends to wonder if the Attorney General, who used to be sharp in private practice, has lost his high legal acumen or he is bent at embarrassing the President who made a brilliant speech save for the imposition he made on the conference, which stole the glamour, he had accorded it.
I have another biggest problem than the ones earlier expressed. This is concerning letters coming from the presidency.
There is a man from the OPC press office whose write-ups when he was working for newspapers were good. Now it is a different story altogether.
Surely, he needs to demand his terms of reference and job description. I don’t think the taxpayers money can be wasted on someone whose job is to refute allegations using a kind of language that can tear us a part as a nation. There are many ways to make the bosses appreciate that you are working hard even without injuring others in order to please them; but to embarrass them.
When I sat in the conference hall during the constitutional review last week, one person whose presence and contribution to the process I missed highly was that of the State Vice President.
The Vice President could not come because another letter writer, this time not from OPC, but from the state residences warned him against attending public meetings because his security is not guaranteed.
As I declared in one of our past discussion, I really do not want to take sides on the standoff that exists between Mutharika and Chilumpha, which I believe is being fuelled by such kind of letters.
I don’t know what happened to our manners. I wonder if there is no means of communication between the state residences and Chilumpha other than the so called press releases or media releases.
By the way, did you read a feature by Mzati Nkolokosa in The Nation newspaper analysing how inconsistent Chilumpha’s actions have been lately? Please look out for that issue that came out a day before the State House release that warned Chilumpha.
If you succeed in finding that feature story, then look for the State House press release, which also came out in the papers. Believe you me, you will not doubt that either Nkolokosa is de facto press release writer for the State House or someone is plagiarising at the state residences.
Aren’t these reasons enough to declare that the presidency is embarrassing the nation?