Karonga Water Project: Falling Short of Resolving Old Problems

By Vitus-Gregory Gondwe

A multi-million kwacha water project in Karonga, otherwise known as Garnet Halliday Karonga Water Supply Project is quite unbelievable. Unbelievable because for a project that boasts uniqueness and has consumed K1.2billion, it looks like it has not extensively resolved other water accessibility problems in the district.

Paladin Africa Limited which is mining uranium in the district at a place called Kayelekera has committed to do a number of projects in the district and one of which is the provision of a modern water supply scheme.

Initially, the company announced it would provide a new water treatment plant and rehabilitate the old system by increasing booster points and replacing the piping system so that even those residents that live in hilly places can access the water without much ado.

However, on March 24, 2010 when Irrigation and Water Development Minister Mr. Richie Muheya made an advance visit to the district to appreciate the development surrounding the project before President Bingu wa Mutharika comes to officially commission it, only one thing was complete.

This is a state-of-art treatment plant system which apart from South Africa it is only found here in Malawi and not even in the Capital City Lilongwe, but in a poorly developed district of Karonga.

The technology used in this plant is what is known as the filter membrane system.

“This is the first of its kind in Malawi to be used in a normal domestic water supply system and also in SADC Region apart from South Africa,” acknowledged Muheya.

Paladin Africa Limited General Manager responsible for construction Mr. Jim Morgan said the water supply system can manage to provide 355 cubic meters of water per hour.

What this means, according to Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) engineers, is that 40,000-Karonga-population can easily be provided with water at anytime of the year without facing any low supplies.

The drawback to this lucrative project is the usage of the old distribution system.

The old system had distribution problem that was coming in two folds, one where the river from where the source was could not manage the demand and another where the old distribution system needed booster points that would ensure that everyone in the district could easily access water at any point of need.

However, for the project to be meaningful there is need for a complete overhaul for its distribution system.

The board’s engineers confided in Zodiak Online that the current system is like buying a truck engine and fitting it into body of a rundown pickup.

Perhaps government can take it up from where Paladin has stopped?

Mr. Muheya said although indeed government can do this, it will have to explore existing opportunities first. He says government will go back to Paladin to assist in the remaining phase.

“They have only been here for a year we hope this is not the last part of the assistance that they are giving and if ministry can talk to paladin and ask if they can assist us on other existing infrastructure like the water supply system, then this could work,” he said.

NRWB has been working in collaboration with Paladin during construction of the facility and will be managing the system.

NRWB Chief Executive Officer Mr.Titus Mtegha explained to Zodiak Online that the planning of the project was guided by a budget and jointly the community, paladin and board officials sat done to find the priorities.

“It transpired that the priority number one was to provide an intake, a pipeline, a treatment facility and a tank at Nyanja,” he said.

Mtegha explained that from this agreement Paladin was to provide these facilities and by the end of the project they were supposed to review and establish the resources remaining and then let the community decided what was needed next.

He however, played down the danger of coming up with such a state-of-art water plant that will be completely under utilised to failure to rehabilitate the distribution system.

“With the current system the water supply will still have enough water for the lower zone which is the zone supplying from Bwiba and also the high zone which supplied from Nyanja hill where we have tanks,” he said.

He however said if constraints will arise in terms of reaching out to people then as a board they will take that as a priority from their own resources to get water to even the highest points.

Paladin Africa Limited General Manager Responsible for construction Mr. Jim Morgan insisted that the money reserved for the project has been depleted and the responsibility to complete the project does not solely lay in their hands now.
“The project was built around a sum of money and we agreed with the community that the scope of the project was to fit within the available resources. As we worked through the project, the project was designed for the future and currently we no longer have any other resources left,” he said.

While everyone was jubilant on the prospects of having such a lucrative project, other people within the district were against some of the choices that were made in implementing the project.

Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Mzuzu Diocese told Zodiak Online then, that according to views from the people the intake choice would expose people to possible infections.

CCJP Social worker who is called an animator in their operation parlance Mr. Gift Malema said the choice of intake was at first the same one the board was using to supply water to the district but was abandoned because during flooding coffins would be seen floating closer to the source.

“We are totally against the lack of consultation employed by those implementing the project because we are against the intake point,” he was quoted as saying at the time.

Board Chair for the NRWB Mr. Wayson Mkochi remembered this reservation from CCJP and now he claims the project has proven them wrong.

“All the allegations can now be dismissed,” he challenged.

He said Paladin has put the intake a kilometre right inside the lake and the pipes have gone 6 metres deep and therefore Karonga will have the best water ever. In fact as certified this will be one of the cleanest water in the country,” he declared.

Well said indeed, however when nothing about the distribution aspect will be done then the project will prove meaningless to those who are supposed to benefit from it.

But since government and board have said they are watching the situation, it will be foolhardy to hope to work on the challenge on when constraints in accessing the best quality water in the country will be experienced.


Ironic Contrast in Mining Uranium and Coal in Malawi

By Gregory Gondwe
There is a big contrast between Malawi’s newly established Kayelekera Uranium Mine in Karonga and 30-year-old Mchenga Coal Mine. In a run of the mill, the two cannot compare because the other one is into expensive product, uranium, while the other one is just excavating ‘coal’.
These realities came into comparison when Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Mr. Yunus Mussa wanted to appreciate the working conditions of miners in the two mines and visited them.
On Monday the 15th March 2010, the Minister was speechless upon visiting Kayelekera Uranium Mine in Karonga describing the working conditions at the place as something of outside this world, what with good salary package, hotel standard diet and proper lodging places.
However, come the following day on 16th March 2010 at Mchenga Coal Mine, the minister was baffled with the inhuman conditions workers were encountering at the mine in Rumphi.
Workers at Mchenga get hurt regularly since there are so many accidents and yet even when most of them end up being injured, they are not being compensated.
“Their working conditions are hard because workers work between 6AM and 2PM without breaking for meals and worst still, without protective clothing,” said Mussa.
“I will be meeting the owners of Mchenga Coal Mine so that they improve the conditions at this mine or it risks closure,” warned Mussa.
Perhaps the background and the current standing of the two mines explain more of why the mines seem to be in such a big contrast.
Kayelekera Uranium Mining Project in Karonga which recently begun production and exportation of Uranium is owned by Paladin Africa Limited, which is jointly owned by an Australian company, Paladin Energy Limited and Malawi Government which holds 15% shares.
On the other hand, Mchenga Coal Mine was initially wholly owned by Malawi government before it was privatised in 1999 and it was known as Coal Products limited.
A Jamaican investor and Malawian investor Mr. Rafik Gaffar who is the managing director now jointly own it.
Mr. Gaffar says the initial capital injected in the mine was US$450,000 although the total investment now stands at US$7 million.
The Mchenga Coal Mine is located in the 90 square KM Livingstonia Coal Field which has probable reserves of 25 million tons
Kayelekera’s first export of Uranium Oxide took place in August of 2009 and is making towards its full potential of shipping out 1,500 metric tons per year, which translates to around 125 metric tons a month. Mchenga Coal Mine is the only coal mining company in Malawi, which ordinarily is supposed to manage a production target of 6000 tonnes a month.
The coal company supplies to the country’s big companies such as Southern Bottlers, Carlsberg Malawi, Chibuku Products, Ethanol and Unilever East Africa, it also exports to Mbeya in Tanzania.
Kayelekera is however, the first major investment in Malawi to be supported by a package of international bank lending according to Finance Minster Mr. Ken Kandodo Banda.
This has enabled it to complete on time and close to its original budget should make it easier for other projects in the country to secure support from international capital markets.
The Minister said Kayelekera is designed to process 1.5 million tons of ore, and produce 3.3 million pounds of uranium oxide per year.
“It is expected that the maximum production level will be attained during 2010. The uranium oxide is exported overseas where it is then subjected to an enrichment process so that it can be used in the generation of nuclear power,” said Kandodo in parliament last year.
He said the project has also helped boost employment for Malawians.
During the construction phase, the project saw as many as 2 000 people being employed and out of this work force, more than 75% were Malawian.
Now that the mine has commissioned production, around 225 people are employed directly by Paladin, with more than 70% being Malawian. As of the end of September, there were over 650 other employees on the site employed by various sub-contractors.
The fiscal regime under which the Kayelekera Mining Project is operating is one that has four main components, namely – royalty, company tax, Government equity in the project, and specified benefits to the local community to be provided by Paladin.
Well, while the minister was full of appreciation with what he saw at Kayelekera Uranium Mine his failure to understand the plight workers at Mchenga Coal Mine are experiencing forced the minister to start looking for what could be the cause of the situation.
According to the minister, the main culprit is the Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU), which he said, is failing workers in the country.
“The ministry of labour is now in the forefront fighting for workers’ rights while MCTU is only benefiting from union membership fees without doing something for it,” he said.
Mr. Mussa said he was very disappointed with MCTU.
“Instead of visiting various work places and civic educating their union members MCTU seems like they are not aware that this is their role,” he charged.
“Our ministry has started working as if it is a unionists grouping,” said Mussa “Please MCTU officials get out of your offices and visit workers.”
MCTU Secretary General Mr. Robert Mkwezalamba said since they are just an umbrella body with 22 affiliated unions Construction, civil Engineering and allied workers Union CCAU is the one that has mines as one area of operations.
Secretary General for the CCAU Mr. John Obongo Mwafulirwa said what the minster had said is not correct.
“As a union we went to Mchenga Coal Mine in January last year where we found lots problems at the place as a workplace,” he said.
Mr. Mwafulirwa said the housing system at the place is inhuman, while over K6million of money deducted from workers for SACCO purposes was never remitted and was instead misappropriated by the company’s former management team.
He said besides the sticking SACCO issue, there are also issues to deal workers pensions.
“Government created some of these problems when it owned the company before it underwent privatisation,” said Mwafulirwa.
He said all the issues related to Mchenga Coal Mine are in the hands of ministry labour and all the Union can do is to force the ministry to help the workers…
Nonetheless, the minister said government would be meeting directors of the mine to discuss about the conditions and the need to improve them.
Meanwhile the naked contrasts between the two mines ironically challenge each other begging for more than just ministerial words.

Dodging Impediments to Wrestle Maternal Mortality

By Gregory Gondwe
Nyuma Harawa, 35 thought she would never go to a hospital again to deliver when she had her second pregnancy.
In 1995 when she had visited Mzuzu Central Hospital while in labour, nurses insulted her for failing to deliver in time when she had entered the delivery room.
“Don’t waste my time; I have other pregnant women equally in need of my attention, please do not irritate me as if it is me who impregnated you,” shouted a female nursing officer at the time.
After delivering, Nyaharawa as Nyuma is traditionally called, vowed never again to deliver at any hospital facility because the nursing officer who shouted at her was a fellow woman and she could therefore not understand why she insulted her in the way she did.
The experiences exemplified above is one typical case that talks more on the attitude of some health personnel which scares away pregnant women from health facilities. This is but one of such factors that have contributed to the maternal mortality.
Malawi government committed pen to paper to satisfy all the requirements to reach United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The MDGs are the world’s time-bound and quantified eight targets for reducing poverty by 2015. Goal number five compels countries to reduce maternal mortality by half.
The Health Ministry in collaboration with the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP) is implementing a performance and Quality Improvement (PQI) initiative in Reproductive Health (RH) Services as an effort to improve its quality countrywide.
Although Government has gone flat out in an effort to reduce the number of women dying because of child bearing, the country’s efforts have been met with a number of shortfalls.
In order to deal with some of such shortfalls, the United States government through its agency for international development (USAID) is taking a central role in the programme through its assistance to an organisation called JHPIEGO.
Mrs. Tambudzai Rashidi is JHPIEGO’s chief of party and explains that the role her organisation takes to help hospitals achieve this feat was first started when the ministry of health requested her organisation to help them in the area of performance quality improvement to develop the quality of services.
“Back in 2002 we worked with the ministry of health in the area of infection prevention and as you are aware to date 13 hospitals have received recognition for quality improvement in infections prevention,” explained Rashidi.
She further explained that in 2004 the ministry again requested USAID and her organisation’s technical support in the area of reproductive health.
“We believe that it’s not an individual donor who can overcome all the challenges in the health sector especially quality improvement,” she observed.
In order to achieve success collectively therefore she said JHPIEGO work with the hospitals, the directors of the hospitals, management team and a group of health workers who they call quality assurance coaches who are like the facilitators of the whole process.
“My organisation, JHPIEGO, with funding from USAID, was involved in teaching these individuals as well as the managers on the standards that they need to adhere to. Once they get back to the hospital they then teach everybody in the hospital, the health workers up to the level of the cleaners for them to know the standards that they need to use to improve quality of service,” she explained.
This kind of mentoring from the organisation paid dividends in August last year when Mchinji District Hospital won an award for excellence performance in reproductive health services.
On 24 February 2010, Mzuzu Central Hospital scooped the award and Deputy Health Minister Mrs. Theresa Mwale handed over a shield to the hospital to signify the health facility’s excellence performance in reproductive health services.
“It is indeed an honour for me to preside over this special occasion where we have gathered to witness and commend the distinguished work of Mzuzu Central Hospital,” said Mwale “the Hospital is being recognised… for its excellent performance in the implementation of reproductive health standards.”
She said this is one of the strategies put in place by the ministry of health to ensure delivery and access to quality maternal and neonatal health care.
“As we all know that the ministry and its development partners in the health sector designed an Essential Health Package in 2004 to be the core part of the SWAP Program of work, whose purpose is to improve Malawi’s health indicators. One area where Malawi has consistently recorded unacceptable levels of morbidity and mortality is in maternal and neonatal health,” explained the deputy minister.
Currently Malawi’s maternal mortality rate is at 807 per 100,000 live births, while neonatal mortality is at 31 per 1000 live births.
She said these are some of the poor indicators, which the ministry of Health and its partners need to work on especially as the world draw near to the date of 2015 when achievement of millennium development Goals will be measured.
“Reduction of maternal and child mortality will be one aspect which will be used to measure performance of Malawi with regard to health services delivery,” she said.
For Malawi to achieve this, Mrs. Mwale said the ministry of health in collaboration with JHPIEGO/Access program introduced the Reproductive Health Standards as part of the Quality Assurance Program in the country.
“Implementation of these standards is currently in a phased approach to allow for close supervision and monitoring by our team of experts,” she disclosed.
To date four central hospitals, 16 district hospitals and 12 health centres across the country are implementing Performance Quality Improvement in Reproductive Health using standard based management and recognition approach.
Since 2006, when the initiative was started it took 3 years before any hospital satisfied the requirements until Mchinji district hospital qualified for recognition by achieving satisfactory performance in all the 12 areas of practice last year.
The areas that are gauged include antenatal care; labour and delivery; postnatal care; cervical cancer; management of sexually transmitted illnesses as well as support areas of management and client education.
“We are therefore here to award Mzuzu Central Hospital that has attained excellence in all practice areas with an average score of 89 %,” she said, describing the success as no mean achievement.
“As I have been advised by the chairperson of the Quality Assurance Technical Working Group that the criteria for each practice area covers all aspects of care while external assessment for validating level of performance is also rigorous and pays detail to adherence of practitioners to prescribe protocols of carer as well as satisfaction of patients,” she explained.
The deputy minister has hope that Malawi can do it because according to the national mortality, figures, which Malawi started with at the time the MDGs were set and the level of decline recorded so far, Malawi could be on track.
Malawi’s maternal mortality rate was at 1120 per 100,000 live births in 2000, and by 2006 was at 807, showing a decline of 28%.
“If the trend continues, it is projected that by 2015, Malawi’s maternal mortality rate will be below 200 and the country will have achieved MDG 5, as we would have reduced by half the 1990 figures,” she said.
While government through the eyes of deputy health minister hopes to achieve the requirements set by the Millennium Development Goal number 5, the challenges that are rocking health facilities suggest otherwise.
Mzuzu Central Hospital for example, braved a number challenges to become the first facility in Malawi to be recognised for its best practices in Infections Prevention before becoming the second institution in the country to receive the award for achieving excellence in standards based management in Reproductive health.
“We are exceptional because we have done it in the shortest period of time than any other health facility in Malawi. This is a clear demonstration of our support and contribution to government in working towards achieving millennium development goal number 5 which has to reduce maternal mortality ratio,” said the Hospital Director Mrs. Rose Nyirenda.
She said the hospital first shared its vision and mission to all members of staff and this was used as their guide towards improvements in implementing reproductive health standards from a baseline assessment of 50% in January 2009 to 89% on external verification in December 2009.
“The path to attain this achievement has not been easy,” acknowledged Mrs. Nyirenda.
She said although the hospital was constructed in year 2000 it was opened while it still had multiple infrastructural challenges.
“The major challenges have been lack of a proper sewer system and poor electrical wiring among others,” she said.
She said with the limited ORT funded to the health facility, they have managed to repair roof leakages, replaced toilets, created short-term sewer systems in critical areas, and replaced electricity poles.
“We have also managed to replace major diagnostic equipment in the laboratory and X-ray departments,” she said.
Evidence that Mzuzu Central Hospital achieved award of excellence in its performance quality initiative amidst many challenges are abound.
It had to contend with difficulties with internal communication due to failure of the switchboard and wiring system and this was on the back of inadequate spaces for provision of maternal health services, integrated outpatient maternal health services, high-risk antenatal, postnatal care, delivery rooms and kangaroo mother care ward.
Like all other health facilities, it has also not been spared from inadequate human resources especially clinicians and midwives.
“We rely on locum to ensure coverage for maternal services and meet increasing demand for services such as cervical cancer screening,” said the Hospital Director.
As if not all these problems were enough it also suffered inadequate funding for drugs as what it used to get was cut off more than 50% during the past two years and yet drug prices continue to increase.
“Shortages continue at CMS [Central Medical Stores] making us rely on private suppliers for both essential and specialised drugs and pharmaceuticals including procurement of sutures and laboratory reagents,” she said.
For the two hospitals to continue dodging impediments that could make them fail wrestle the seemingly run-away maternal mortality and sustain the excellence performance achieved in reproductive health Mrs. Nyirenda suggested a number of required support from central level in a number of areas.
She said there is need for continued deployment of clinicians and midwives, increasing in the drug budget to ensure continued supply of reproductive health drugs and supplies and increased ORT to accommodate major routine servicing and repair of key laboratory equipment.
The hospital director also said there is need for government to invest in infrastructure.
“We need extra wards for High Risk Antenatal and postnatal and additional infrastructure for integrated outpatients reproductive health services,” she said.
Only if government will indeed fulfil these requirements, on one hand, pregnant patients like Nyuma Harawa will be attracted to deliver at Mzuzu Central Hospital while on the other hand Malawi as a country will indeed achieve Millennium Goal Number 5 by 2015, as it would have reduced maternal deaths.

Planting 65 Million Seedlings to Stop Deforestation

By Gregory Gondwe

Malawi is grappling with deforestation, which is going at a faster rate than expected.

Malawi’s President Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika observed when he launched the 2009 – 2010 National Tree Planting Season on December 15, 2009 in Chiradzulu that the country is losing its forests mainly due to the energy needs coming in forms of firewood and charcoal.

President Mutharika planted two seedlings of M’bawa and Nthete to mark the launch of the National Forestry Season before issuing a directive that the Department of Forestry provide tree seedlings to everyone wishing to open woodlots and plant along rivers and streams at no charge.

“This will ensure that more trees are planted during this year’s forestry season,” he said.

When Dr. Mutharika planted the seedlings along Namitembe river near Traditional Authority Nkalo’s headquarters he kick started this year’s National Forestry Season (NFS) which runs from the 15th of December to the 15th of April, 2010 under the theme ‘Conserve Forests and Trees Mitigate Climate Change’.

“It is my wish to see that all the bare land especially on hills, slopes and along rivers and streams is forested throughout Malawi,” declared Mutharika.

He then called on all Malawians to try restoring the environment, which used to be there in the past.

“There used to be different forestry products in this area which I enjoyed during my childhood days,” reminisced Dr. Mutharika, “Long time ago we were able to predict that our first rains would fall around late November… and it used to happen. This is no longer the case today.”

Ever since President Mutharika came to power in 2004, he has tried all the initiatives in the book to try to arrest the run-away deforestation problem by trying different approaches to the tree planting solution.

Initially, there only used to be national tree planting day started by the first President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, which was continued by his successor Dr. Bakili Muluzi.

Mutharika first started with national forestry week, and then the following year it was national forestry month before he finally settled for the national forestry season.

Unlike in the other seasons, this season there are going to be a number of launches, starting with the one he kick-started called national launch, before other launches to take place at regional, district, constituency, area and village levels.

“My government has intensified the afforestation programme, hence the introduction of the forestry season to enable more individuals, institutions and organizations to plant as many trees as possible,” he said.

At the moment, regional and district tree-planting season launch have been carried out.

National forestry season northern region launch took place at Valamani Full Primary School in Bulukutu Village Traditional Authority Timbiri in Nkhatabay on January 30, 2010.

Gender, Child and Community Development Minister Patricia Kaliati who represented Dr. Mutharika at the ceremony challenged the department of forestry to clean up its house if the war against deforestation is to be won.

This was a reiteration of what Dr. Mutharika had said during the national launch where he had cautioned those benefiting from the free seedlings provision not to abuse the government’s good gesture by selling them

However, Kaliati said on top of abusing the facility, forestry officials allegedly collude with other people in timber and charcoal business to destroy forests, which they are supposed to protect.

“Greed is also defeating all our efforts to afforestate our bare river banks and hills,” she said.

Her cabinet colleague who represented President Mutharika at a national forestry season Rumphi district launch, Deputy Health Minister Theresa Mwale, equally echoed on what Dr Mutharika had said when he appealed to all traditional leaders in the country to join hands with government in encouraging the Malawian population to plant more trees.

Mwale said government has approached the tree-planting season this year in a unique; way as it has also extended the exercise to schools.

“Tree planting is a very important exercise because it is clear that the situation is getting worse as hills continue getting bare,” she said.

Mwale bemoaned that although rainy season allows rivers to hold water but this is not the case at the moment because due to excessive tree cutting, rivers are already dry even when this is rainy season.

Rumphi District Commissioner Rodrick Mateauma said they invited the chiefs around because they have realized that government cannot achieve anything if they try to combat effects of climate change without the involvement of the traditional leadership.

“As a district we have already organised communities in Rumphi who will go flat out planting trees now that it has been launched in the district,” he said.

Since starting from the President, down to the ministers, the involvement of traditional leadership seem to be taking the central emphasis, Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe acknowledged their role on behalf of all the traditional leaders of his district.
He said as leaders, they are aware that rainfall pattern is all indicative of climate change calling for concerted efforts to fight all the negative effects of climate change.

“At the moment you find that there is over dependence on fertiliser when cultivating crops, this has come about because soil erosion that has been caused due climate change as soil nutrients has been swept away,” he said.

Although Mutharika disclosed that his government is exploring other alternatives for energy such as the use of small hydro power stations to ensure that electricity is available in all areas within the affordable means for most Malawians, this looks like not part of solution in the interim.

As things stand, the National Statistical Office (NSO) says out of the country’s 13 million plus population, about 10 per 100 households have electricity.

“Low access to electricity in Malawi is contributing to wanton cutting down of the already few remaining trees for firewood and charcoal processing for energy and these are also increasing deforestation and environmental degradation,” observed Mutharika during the launch.

Mutharika believes that planting trees is the best available option at the moment although there is also a general problem to do with caring for them.

“After planting the trees take care for them and I promise that I will give a reward a community that will plant and care for more trees than others,” says Mutharika.

Natural Resources, Energy and Environment Deputy Minister Ephraim Munthali says conserving our forests and managing them in a sustainable manner therefore, is one way of making Malawi better adapt to these adverse effects and mitigate climate change.

According to the Forestry Department, Malawi is losing 160 million trees against 60 million planted per year (or losing 100 million trees per year).

It is clear therefore that while Malawi has to endure the deforestation headache, it also has to ensure that its re-planting efforts have all the attention needed to ensure that her forests are back with a thick vegetative cover.

Who can inherit Malawi Music?

Looking at the headline above one could be led to believe that what I am saying is that Malawian music is bereft. While I can or not compare it to a child who has parents that are either very poor, dead or careless to take care of it, I still have the conviction that somebody has to inherit our music.
What has brought these thoughts to me is how France adopted music of the Democratic Republic of Congo formerly Zaire and put it to stardom.
Congolese music has been given a big boost by the French showbiz companies or personnel who have promoted groups or individual Congolese musicians thereby creating a special seat amongst the elites in as far as the world music summit is concerned.
By extension, several countries have their media, completely dedicating airtime or space to DRC music and musicians.
Take for example the programme called ‘Ambiance Congo’ which is a radio programme entirely devoting it’s time to such music on WRIR 97.3 FM in Richmond, Virginia, USA. Even the US National Public Radio (NPR), which runs Top 10 African Music albums of the year, has the dominant sound coming from the Congolese music.
Mbokamosika is a French blog that only talks about Congolese Music including loading music from old and famous Congolese artists like the all time great Leon Bukusa while other blogs like the Matsuli Music has Franco Luambo Makiadi revered as the King of Congolese Rhumba dictating terms.
Now most Congolese musicians have become rich because they have been well managed by their French managers and their music professionally distributed leading to a steady income or hitting instant gold depending on the attractiveness of their wares.
They also have international visibility which as a singing nation ourselves, [or should it be a musical nation] we badly need.
But since their success in music is traced down to their colonial masters, maybe we have all the reasons to blame the British for having failed us in this respect.
In the first place, the French assimilation policy in all the countries they colonised to an extent helped such countries in all aspects of life including arts especially music.
While the British were busy being nauseated with how we were as a people, since they were busy hiding from our African odour from their fastidious noses they missed our artistic talents and therefore they could not promote it in any way.
The French realised this and they came to open the French Cultural Centre, which to an extent has helped our musicians. MP Aaron Sangala and Sally Nyundo have at least benefited from this arrangement.
However, looking at how still backward we are as musical nation, can please someone adopt us and manage our music? We seem not to have the capacity to do it ourselves.

Skeffa Chimoto Philosophises over his Flopped album

By Vitus-Gregory Gondwe
One of Malawi’s top musicians Skeffa Chimoto reached the scaling height on the ladders of the musical artists that matter in Malawi with his album ‘Nabola Moyo’ that took the country by storm and earned him a place amongst the counted.
It is not as if Chimoto had never graced the corridors where musicians strut; long before the famous ‘Nabola Moyo’, Skeffa had tried his hands on an album called ‘Wekha’, which did not make any mark at all. The fame that ‘Nabola Moyo’ had spawned provided the first album some form of visibility.
While enjoying the rollercoaster ride that ‘Nabola Moyo’ had provided, Chimoto was all intent to show Malawians that he did not become a musician by mistake. The best way to send this message across was to put together another album, which he titled ‘Tisawanyodze’.
Ask anyone to comment about the album, all they will tell you about this album; this latest album is that it is a flop. Some that ZBS online talked to, even say they did not know that Skeffa’s name had tried to add to his accolades more credit.
ZBS online took Skeffa to task. Why did he produce an album ‘Nabola Moyo’ that is a household name and only to release another one ‘Tisawanyodze’ which is discrediting his previous decorated work?
Chimoto says when an album is called a flop; usually it has nothing to do with lowering standards of the production but it sometimes could be a matter of tastes.
“What happens is that when you are recording an album without any previous work, there is nowhere or nothing to compare you with, no one is expecting you and know what you can offer so you record without any problems,” he says.
He says when you are, however, recording another album, the biggest problem that you face is that there is a continuous development-taking place in music consumers as well as in musicians and this is always happening at different levels.
He philosophises that musicians can change, depending on new things that they have understood and learnt and they can up the gear by changing the kind of music listeners know and associate with the musicians.
“Somehow, when a musician develops at a faster rate than consumers, then they stop understanding what the musician is playing and they stop patronising his or her music,” he said.
“They do not know where you are taking them to, because based on your earlier works, they expect that you will take them to a familiar direction; may be there could be change of the music tempo, style and approach to your lyrical arrangement,” he said.
Chimoto says somehow a musician is influenced by a kind of music that you are listening to which helps you to grow musically and in this growth you leave behind your fans.
He was aware though of the dangers of following your heart as a musician and not meeting the demand from consumers.
“Consumers have their right; they have their money and judgement to go for the kind of music that is pleasant to their ears at a particular time,” Chimoto intones.
“One other thing is that consumers have is the freedom to chose what kind of music they want to listen to and sometimes they can ignore your music and opt for something else which even upon your assessment with your work you discover that your music is far much better than what the consumers rush for,” he says.
He also has lessons on the failure that his latest album has encountered compared to the success that his second album achieved.
“The poor showing that my latest album has demonstrated has taught me a lesson; it is a drawback that I took positively as it helped me to chart the way forward because I have to suit the tastes of consumers,” he says.
Skeffa says, musicians live by the money of consumers and besides his growth in music he still has to tow the consumer line. “My music career survives on the love and patronisation of consumers,” he says.
Chimoto also has to manage his time effectively because he is a member of the Ministry of Health band besides owning his own band called ‘Real Sounds’. He has recently married and at the same time, he has to ensure his presence at home.
But he says since in the Health Band they work in weekdays, it is easy for him to work with his band over the weekends.
“Sometimes when there are activities for the ministry of health say here in Mzuzu then I bring the band along because whatever the case, activities for the health ministry are always conducted during the day so we utilise the night time with the band,” he said.
Time spent with his wife is not necessarily enough but he says it is suitable.
“Marriages do not come by accident; you take your time before you engage into a married life, I believe my wife is aware that this is my job and I started doing this long before we fell in love. She has a better understanding which is far ahead of anyone else knows where we get our daily bread,” he says.
Chimoto says his wife understands his situation although truly there is very little time that he spends at home.
“But well, these are some of the realities of life,” he philosophises again.

The Video Handiwork of Tionge Hango

Wanangwa Msowoya is one-person Malawians would easily pass as a footballer. There has been a Wanangwa in soccer and so is Msowoya and therefore all and sundry will still be convinced that he is a soccer star.
May the soul of Vic Kasinja rest in peace; I strongly believe there is no Malawian who has read newspapers for as long as the newspapers have been available who can say they do not know this name. If this name will have been frozen somewhere in the psyche, then at least the cartoon strips of Joza and Taxina will not miss out.
Now Wanangwa Msowoya and Vic Kasinja have been in collaboration in different projects the Late Vic Kasinja was carrying out for UNICEF. However, his death was not only premature in every word but it also denied Malawians a chance to sample Joza Animated Cartoon strips, which was on its way to join the Tom and Jerry fray.
The person who was behind the creation of the Joza animated Cartoon Strips was Wanangwa Msowoya. But if we missed the chance to appreciate how talented Wanangwa Msowoya is since the failure of the Joza project due to the death of Kasinja, then there is Tiwonge Hango’s music DVD which is something all music videos in the country should emulate.
The ingenuity Wanangwa Msowoya displayed in the production of not one song or ten but just five that makes up the Tiwonge Hango DVD with Afro Music is beyond words by not only Malawian standards but also any other standards that appreciate innovations in good work.
Tiwonge Hango is that lad whose musical group Tikhu Vibrations was Malawi’s first to beat the SADC region in the Music Crossroads Competition 2002 and toured Europe. Upon completion of the tour though, the band whose name was a fusion of the first two letters of his name and that of his brother Khumbo never survived to enjoy spotlight in the musical world.
However, the talent of the two lads did not did not die with the demise of the band. Khumbo went on his way and has to his name a solo album while Tiwonge superseded the elderly brother in not only going solo but formed a band called ‘Bafipa’ a Tumbuka word for the black people and the brother was roped in as a band member. He also underwent a Diploma course
He released Chinyengo Album, which had a glamorous launch in the country’s cities.
The release of the DVD version of the album has not only separated Tionge from the group of boys into that of men but has made a statement that Wanangwa Msowoya as director of music videos and hands behind its final production has set a league. Anyone wishing to join this league requires an entry fee, which has to be bagfuls of flair and inventiveness.
Take one Track ‘Maria’ whose graphics is out of the schoolboys videos we have seen around. There are scenes depicting snow and yet he only created it with maize flour, not to mention how big cities like New York and London were depicted. There is also construction of a grand piano and how it played a role.
Then there is a true portrayal of African in all the videos ‘Mama Africa’, ‘Mutuvwa Waka’, ‘Ndamusaniya’, ‘Pachiswe’.
The video like Ndamusaniya has an illustration of a city as well as a village scene. The city scene is so innovative as well, where there is a police chase the musician who finds himself into his village setting.
The project took some years although the longest video track does not exceed 6 minutes. This patience displayed in the production is what we need to emulate. It is also the involvement of experts in their fields; names of people like TVM’s Lapken Chauluka and Hastings Khomo on handling Camera and Malemba Malipenga group and Chindozwa Chilimika group of Nkhatabay makes a good fusion for the videos.
The problems with the production are minimal and now dwelling on them will steal the thunder that is potent in the DVD.