Mlaka Maliro lost his Music


I don’t remember the last time McDonald Mlaka Maliro released an album.
Of course ‘Pamudzi Pano’ should be the last before he changed to gospel. The album has an inscription saying 9th edition. Let me play around with the scanty information provided for our musicians. Can I be allowed to assume this perhaps means this was the ninth album to his name?
I held Mlaka’s compact cassette sleeve for this particular album in my hands to search for the year it was released, there is just no indication. This is the commonality with the works of our musicians in this country; it just doesn’t have information.
Let me not digress because I want to talk about Mlaka Maliro. I know of many that have jumped the so called ‘secular’ bandwagon and joined the ‘Gospel’ camp. Evance Meleka fast comes to mind.
I have a case with Mlaka’s joining of the gospel fray, not because I have anything against gospel musicians or the shifting of camps, but I want to speculate on why Mlaka did this and how he should have done better.
Mlaka Maliro is a complete singer but according to some gurus within the music industry, he is a decorated composer and songwriter, and this coming from no lesser person than Tapps Bandawe is something else.
But after his maiden and a follow up album, his other albums like ‘Usalire’, ‘Gologolo’, etc have not done him kind.
The bad sells of subsequent albums after ‘Dzanja Lalemba’ and the all time best selling ‘Maloto’ failed to put him back on his mettle.
But wait a minute! Unlike most that spring into gospel from secular, Mlaka Maliro started with preaching the word of God as he has been involved in evangelism at Cross Life Church in Chilomoni, Blantyre.
And this to me will still not hide the fact that he left it off at the time when he was at his lowest ebb.
Read me right here, because last time I talked about issues bordering on secular and gospel musicians I ruffled a few feathers.
This is more so, because I fail to deny myself temptation to scold at artists like Geoffrey Zigoma who are greed for money that at one time they kept on jumping from secular, to gospel to secular and back to gospel.
Songbird Ethel Kamwendo Banda started from secular terrain before jumping ship to join the gospel fray, she has never changed. One might argue that she found a more comfortable home with gospel music much more than she did with secular and the questions would still be, is this what Mlaka is looking for?
In the first place, secular musicians have ever done spiritual songs – you can call them gospel as well – that are placed neither in the gospel category nor secular one, but are claimed from both divide. The bat enigma, rodent or bird?
What is coming out funny too is that others have classified ‘Dzanja La Lemba’ and that song about Abraham and his son Isaac; I cannot recall the title though, as being gospel.
Mlaka himself acknowledged that despite being secular, his album like ‘Dzanja La Lemba,’ is gospel.
Maliro has been in the music industry for long and some of his previous albums include Maloto and Dzanja Lalemba.
In a newspaper interview Mlaka guessed that people like me would still not take his decision on the chin as he expected the like of us to doubt him and have our own thoughts with regards to his decision, but he declared that this is what his heart has chosen.
I am not sure if Mlaka’s wife is behind his change of his musical heart.
He also hinted that he is working on new gospel songs and also assisting his wife, Bernadette, on her first gospel album.
Plenty theories! But what is clear is that Mlaka has gone to gospel while he had lost steam in the secular sector.
Now what makes him think he will again find his niche in the gospel world, when he had run out of ideas in the other side of the divide is perhaps what calls for the calling on faith, which we are told can move mountains.
But maybe since Mlaka is Mlaka he would find his music panache once he resettles himself in the music world of Gospel.

Feedback: drummingpen@columnist.com

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The Joke that is Central Region Musicians


Trust (or lack of it) seems to be eluding what would have been a tight fabric of an ice solid entity that groups together our local musicians.  

Greed and suspicion, seems to be the substitute and no wonder Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM) and Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA) seems to have been infected by a thawing element called Music Development Organisation (MDO), whatever it means.

My conviction is that when two or more people are deciding to form an organisation that share a common purpose, objective and vision, they do so with a sober mind. Basically because it helps you to draw a plan of what will be the structure of such an organization especially on how it will model its hierarchy and how the components of this hierarchy will work together to achieve its objectives and vision.

This also the time that members decide on how to furnish the empty calendar dates with a work plan; what is supposed where and when and by whom.

But with the Central region scenario, one frustrated musician shared his frustrations with two other musicians, who likewise followed the sharing aspect, unknowingly, the ripple effect reached 35 musicians who were moved and agreed to form an organisation – MDO.

You would expect me to hail such an initiative considering that I have been whiplashing MAM and COSOMA on these same pages, times on end, due to their conduct which I argued was contributing to the retrogression of our music industry. 

But I won’t, because I have been around enough to realise what this is leading to. We have seen it with politicians and the religious groupings too, Robert Nesta Marley easily called it ‘Ism and Schism’.

You do not form an organisation out of frustration, because it will only serve today’s purpose.

You may argue that MDO is on the road to accomplish what others failed to because it has Kendal Kamwendo, Symon Kamlaga, Peter Mlangeni, Boniface Kavalasaza, John Magwira Chisale, Evance Meleka and Sally Nyundo who are themselves accomplished musicians by our standards.

You may argue further that the reason Kamwendo says they formed MDO for “We are coming into this battle not against anyone but to protect our talent” resonates with the feeling of most musicians.

The bottom line is they think COSOMA and MAM have failed to fight piracy and this is a feeling coming after pressing COSOMA to release their royalties.

I have always been arguing why COSOMA takes ages before releasing royalties for musicians and therefore the reaction by the musicians to the delay was justified, but it does not necessitate a breakaway from the two bodies to form an independent one. The same reasons will create more ‘schism’ and out of MDO more will form.

If my memory serves me right, the last time COSOMA gave out royalties was on December 29, 2009, when Lawrence Mbenjere set a new record when he became the first musician to cart home money in excess of over K2.5 million in royalties.

Now what makes MDO a bunch of jesters is when they claim to work independent of COSOMA.

One free lesson to the little knowing 35 musicians is that although COSOMA was established in 1992 it operates with the blessings of Malawi law; the 1989 Copyright Act which protects copyrights and “neighboring” rights in Malawi.

 

Although the Registrar General administers the Patent and Trademarks Act, which protects industrial intellectual property rights in Malawi, COSOMA has a very central role in this aspect.

 

At the moment, rules that govern the World Trade Organisation (WTO) allow Malawi to delay full implementation of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement until 2016, because it is only a less developed country.

 

Government through the Industry and Trade Ministry is working with COSOMA and the Registrar General to align relevant domestic legislation with the WTO TRIPs agreement with technical assistance from the Africa Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO).

 

If therefore musicians are not satisfied with COSOMA they better ensure that it starts serving them, by either replacing the current office holders or changing its policy – albeit with the guidance of the act – but not creating what they think is a body that will roll the functions of COSOMA and MAM into one. This is laughable.

I hear MDO has formed an anti-piracy taskforce which has already pounced on an alleged master pirate Ishmael Maluwa and confiscated CDs and DVDs as well as equipment in Lilongwe’s Area 24.

The news that I have for you musicians is that managing music industry is not about moving around homes of the suspected pirates and confiscating a few computers and CDs and DVDs. There is a whole lot.

Obviously, money is also involved and based on the grounds that the musicians have formed their MDO, chances are it will not survive the heat in the industry and soon, ‘mugawanapo zida’ and the circus will become a vicious cycle.

Feedback: drummingpen@columnist.com

Malawi Tobacco Growers Shunning the Crop


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By Gregory Gondwe

Bad tobacco prices in the consecutive seasons ever since President Bingu wa Mutharika was re-elected in 2009 has left many tobacco growers shunning the crop this season.

Various tobacco farmers interviewed say, they would rather plant beans, paprika or maize due to poor profit margins realized in tobacco farming.

Investing in nothing

Masuzgo Nhlema of Kafukule area in one of Malawi’s major tobacco growing districts of Mzimba said for the past three farming seasons he has been investing in tobacco with the hope that things might change for the better but to no avail.

“I have invested around MK6 million but you will be shocked what I have managed to get back,” said a frustrated Nhlema.

“I am ashamed to tell you how much I have in my account at the moment; not to mention how deep I have sunk in debt, and how I cannot cultivate the crop anymore,” he said.

Nhlema said last year it was worse because he failed to pay over twenty tenants that he engaged due to lack of turn over after the sales.

“All the money that I made just proceeded to off-set the cost of farm in-puts that I was getting over the years,” he said.

He said the tobacco industry in Malawi if all gloom and hopeless and it is no longer an attraction to growers.

Future still bright for Tobacco

Tobacco Control Commission of Malawi (TCC) Chief Executive Officer Dr. Bruce Munthali chose to differ with Nhlema.

“The future is quite bright for Malawi tobacco,” he declared in an exclusive interview.

Estimates indicate that more than 80% of Malawians are directly or indirectly employed by the tobacco industry.

 

He said in any business, a year’s mishap cannot cause distortion. According to him, it is only last year that the prices were bad which is in contrast with views of farmers across the country.

“Indeed price related problems were there, but if you look at the reforms we are putting in place, like the switch form burley to flue cured tobacco this is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Dr. Munthali is however spreading the good news even in the face of fresh orders for Malawi tobacco which show that the demand has gone down by 20 million kilograms from 180 million kilograms last year.

Explained Dr. Munthali: “Our expectation is that since it is a smaller crop in terms of volume we will have better prices; The reduction of volume does not mean much; it all depends on the prices, if we will have depressed prices then the economy might be concerned, but with reduced volume which will be of top quality then we are assured of more money.”

Causes of bad prices

Failure for Malawi tobacco to fetch better prices has sent suggestions that range from tobacco smuggling across the borders where prices are better there than in Malawi to conspiracy by the buyers to deliberately offer lower prices. But Dr. Munthali says all these theories are mere speculations.

“Of course you cannot rule out that there was collusion among buyers based on the way they operate although there is no hard evidence that this indeed do happen,” he said.

He also said there is no proof that same buyers were buying more in Zambia and Mozambique than in Malawi.

“This is also speculation because there is no hard proof. I went to Zambia last year to check the prices. I discovered that burley price there, was even lower than that of Malawi,” he said. He disclosed that he also sent a team to Mozambique which established that prices there were comparable to Malawi.

He said they concluded that what is different is in the way the industry is organized.

In Mozambique for example, the TCC boss said farmers do not shoulder a lot of expenses, since most of such expenses like production and transportation are borne by the buyer unlike in Malawi where everything is borne by the farmer.

“That’s what makes the difference in terms of the net margin or the profit margin for the farmer,” he said.

The tobacco controlling body therefore said as part of reform process they want to regulate transport rates.

“We also intend to shorten the delivery system. We want it to reduce the period where sometimes it could take four months from the time that the bales are picked from the farmers to the time they are sold at the auction floors,” he said.

The other thing is that government and President Mutharika have been interefering with buyers and this explains why the buyers should be suspecting of conspiracy.

“For a long time I’ve been warning these exploitative colonialists to pay fair prices to farmers,” said Mutharika when he expelled four expatriates, who included two chief executives, working for three of the largest tobacco-buying companies in Malawi two years ago.

The minimum prices were introduced for burley and flue-cured tobacco, which the buyers never complied with, attributing their refusal to global economic crisis which made the prices unrealistic.

Re-introducing quota system

Dr. Munthali says they hope to achieve better price regime through reforms that have now been employed to ensure that quality assurance is adhered to.

“Quota regulation has also been introduced so that production is in line with trade requirements,” he said.

Dr. Munthali said this will also ensure that genuine tobacco farmers will grow the crop the way things were in the past.

“Somewhere along the way we went too far with liberalization in production so that also caused problem,” he said, “We experienced negative effects of over production of tobacco in the last season which resulted into poor prices offered.”

Malawi tobacco last season realized about 250 million dollars an equivalent of 40 billion Kwacha representing a 40 percent drop in revenue on comparison to sales same period last season.

Solving the Problem

In order to run away from such eventualities where the control over prices is no longer in their hands, Dr. Munthali said they are closely looking at another element which is value addition.

“We want to venture into manufacturing tobacco into cigarettes, full throttle,” he declared.

He said there are several companies that are coming to put up factories across the country.

“One factory will be in Mzuzu, another in Kasungu and Nsanje Port while in Lilongwe three companies have shown interest,” said Munthali who added: “When you look at these interventions, tobacco has a bright future.”

He however, conceded that tobacco factories are still a pipe dream.

“There are so many things we are currently discussing with these prospective investors. Malawi being a major tobacco producing countries we want to have cigarette manufacturing facilities in most of the places,” he said saying this might be a long term.

While this is being considered he said for a short term, they are also exploring the possibility of increasing number of buyers.

“The last two years we moved from four buyers and now we have seven buyers and we will continue that process in increasing number of buyers so that we have competition,” he said.

Dr. Munthali hopes that the increase of the number of buyers will promote effective competition.

“Sometimes you can have buyers that are just walking through without buying anything on the floors; this is not what we want,” he said.

Decentralizing Tobacco markets

At the moment the Tobacco Control Commission says it is decentralizing its buying system.

The Commission says it is establishing satellites markets that will be brought closer to the farmers to reduce transport cost.

Apart from the Limbe market in the South, another one will be established in Luchenza, while Chitipa will be another one in the northern region apart from the Mzuzu market; likewise Lilongwe will not be the only market in the central region as Chinkhoma in Kasungu has just been constructed.

He said since this year they have reduced production and they are negotiating with the buyers for minimum prices.

“We are still negotiating prices so that the price regime is one that is more rewarding to farmers,” he said adding that this season the volume has been reduced by close to 40 percent.

“We hope leaf will sell better than cutters because they are the ones in demand by the companies abroad,” he said.

It has to take better prices this year, perhaps to change the hearts of growers who have completely lost hope in the crop.

 

 

Where is Malawi’s Roots Radics?


Well, as I said some weeks ago I will constantly be referring to the West Indies Island of Jamaica when it comes to an example of a highly successful music industry. This will be regardless of its third world status although it is achieving a substantial economic growth.
The Caribbean Sea Island nation is the third most populous Anglophone country in America after the US and Canada with a population of 2.8 million.
Nonetheless, most of the population speak an interesting dialect called Patois pronounced Patwah; a mixture of African, Amerindian, English, Spanish and French languages. This dialect has also dominated the Jamaican music industry.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) the music industry in Jamaica grew at a rate of about 5 percent per year between 1991 and 1996 but in 1997, this translated into nearly US$38.1 billion in legitimate sales of sound recordings, mainly comprising LPs and CDs.

In 2000, sound recordings were estimated at US$39.1 billion globally.

However, by 2005, a clear division emerged between recorded music, which accounted for US$33 billion globally, and a much broader music sector from subscription radio to ring tones worth more than US$100 billion globally – well over three times the market for recorded music.

Partly in response to piracy problems, the live performances segment of the industry has also grown dramatically to account for about US$14 billion in 2005.

A Report called ‘The economic Contribution of Copyright-Based Industries in Jamaica’ prepared by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) says copyright-based industries have emerged as an important part of Jamaica’s economy and society, influencing and transforming it as well as traditional sociology and policy.

It says Copyright output, which has both a marketable and non-marketable “tacit” form, is becoming increasingly important both as an intangible capital resource (input) that is not consumed entirely during its use and as a final consumer good or service.1

It says in music, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, international investors began to cooperate with local investors to develop domestic capital and tacit knowledge, transform domestic comparative advantage, and market the product locally and globally on terms that pushed Bob Marley and the Wailers, in particular, and Jamaican reggae and dancehall, in general, to the forefront of global music.

One way of ensuring that the industry is vibrant is where there has been division of labour. When one is an instrument player, he will perfect this aspect, the same way as a music distributor or marketer will perfect this art.
In Jamaica when I am a rhythm guitarist for example, I am going to group with other accomplished instrument players to form a band that can be hired out.
The starting point perhaps would be the Wailers Band that backed Bob Marley. While this was being considered as one unit, it was Gregory Isaacs, the late, who brought to the industry a different definition.
He formed a band called ‘The Roots Radics’ which was a composition of accomplished players of instruments.
Drums: Style Scott; Bass: Flabba Holt; Guitar: Eric Bingy Bunny Lamont; Guitar: Dwight Pinkney; Keyboards: Earl Fitzsimmons; Percussion: Style, Flabba, Bingy, Dwight
Roots Radics started formally in 1978 as a group of well known respected artists, brought together by superstar Gregory Isaacs to back his recording endeavours.
The concept of being a ‘group’ really stuck as they continued to back Gregory Isaacs.
And when they further backed Yellow Man ‘Winston Foster’, Eek-A-Mouse,’Ripton Hilton’, Clint Eastwood &General Saint, The Wailing Souls, Don Carlos, Linval Thompson, Frankie Paul, The Meditations, Sugar Minott, Shine head, Culture, Bunny Wailer, Prince Far-I, Adrian Sherwoods, roots Radics became a band for hire.
The Roots Radics special sound is rootsy, heavy and danceable. They are masters of the cool and deadly ‘one-drop’ sound.
In Dub history the Roots Radics were the musicians on a majority of Scientist’s historic productions. Under the pseudonym ‘The Arabs”, they backed Prince Far-I on his most crucial Dub recordings.
As recording artists, on their own merits, the Roots Radics have released records for RAS, Heartbeat, Taboui and Trojan Records.
They are in hot demand by Jamaican record producers and artists such as Bunny Wailer and Barrington Levy and can be heard on countless Jamaican albums.
In Malawi, just to ensure that the industry has to find room of growth, there is need to create a Roots Radics like grouping of the Peter Likhomos and the Dan Sibales of this Malawi music world so that musicians and vocal groups, like Wailing Souls or Israel Vibrations can hire them for live performances or studio sessions.
In so doing, we will be able to start counting, how much our music industry is contributing to the economy of the country.
Feedback: drummingpen@columnist.com

Japanese firm to end Child Labour in Tobacco Industry


By Gregory Gondwe

JTI Leaf Malawi Ltd, a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies (JT), a leading international tobacco product manufacturer has launched a

Labour Minister Dr. Lucius Kanyumba launching the ARISE Project

multi-year program to help eliminate child labour in two of Malawi’s major tobacco growing districts of Lilongwe and Ntcheu.


The program to be called Achieving Reduction of Child Labor in Support of Education (ARISE) has been developed in partnership with Winrock International and the International Labour Organization (ILO), with the involvement of Malawi government.


Director for JTI Leaf Malawi Ltd Neville Young said the programme has been designed to address the social and economic factors that drive small-scale tobacco farmers to employ children in hazardous work.


The program is designed to promote the access to quality education for children, raise awareness on child labor, improve the livelihoods of the tobacco growing communities where JTI does its business, and address labor practices together with governments.


“Child Labor is an important concern for JTI. By strengthening our relationship with tobacco growers and their communities, we hope to play our role in fighting against child labor,” he said.


“With the expertise of our partners, Winrock International and the ILO, and the support of the government of Malawi, we hope to learn along the way and constantly improve the program,” he said.


Malawi Programmes Director Winrock International Bertha Mkandawire  said child labour results from a number of challenges, including poverty, inaccessible and poor education systems, weak agricultural infrastructure, and unemployment.


“Winrock therefore takes an integrated approach that supports positive change in education, livelihoods, and agricultural development. We are pleased that JTI has fully embraced this integrated approach in an effort to make sustainable reductions in child labour in the tobacco sector of Malawi,” she said.


On their part ILO-IPEC Chief Technical Adviser Hassan Khalid  said through ensuring that the ARISE program is anchored in, and contributes to Malawi’s tripartite National Plan of Action against Child Labor, ILO-IPEC will promote that the changes that the project aims for – children out of child labor and in school, parents with improved livelihoods and decent work, effective laws and policies in place – are country-led and sustainable.


“JTI recognizes the power of such a program to demonstrate that the elimination of child labour in tobacco growing communities is possible, and we look forward to the success of this groundbreaking partnership in Malawi”, he said.

 
JTI’s head of corporate affairs and communications Limbani Kakhome disclosed that the programme has been specifically developed for JTI in the tobacco grower communities where the company purchases its leaf.


At the launch of the program in Lilongwe on February 22, Kakhome said the ARISE campaign touches on an issue that has come to be appreciated as a complex challenge in tobacco growing communities around the world.


“This is the exposure of children to tobacco farms as laborers. It is better known as Child Labour,” he said.


Worldwide, Kakhome says millions of children are involved in tobacco and given that Malawi is one of the leading producers of tobacco, the country has not been spared from the vagaries of hazardous child labour.


“Most of those children who are caught in the Child Labour triangle should normally have been in school,” he said adding that due to various socio-economic circumstances, they are however pushed out of the classroom and forced onto the tobacco fields.


Malawi’s Labour Minister Dr. Lucius Kanyumba who presided over the event said perhaps the program will answer challenges of child labour that the tobacco industry has been haunted with for long.


Through this initiative, JTI has set out to promote access to quality education of children living in tobacco growing communities.


Through ARISE campaign, JTI hopes to foster conducive learning environment at selected community schools across the country where it will help to rehabilitate infrastructure, involve parents to take part in running of schools, and increase the community’s acceptance of the schooling system.
“We will also strive to discourage those cultures that impinge on progressive pursuit of basic education,” declared Kakhome.


At the moment, he disclosed that JTI is already working with about 2,700 facilitated farmers in 15 districts who are reaping the fruits of improved extension services and also receive loans from banks to help with their tobacco farming every marketing season.


While taking a leading role in this initiative, JTI has enlisted the support of a cross-section of relevant collaborating partners in the tobacco sector like the Malawi Government through the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry Education and other departments.


Kakhome said they have chosen to work with Winrock International because of their expertise in designed projects for specific needs like the one for JTI in Malawi.


Winrock is a US-based development organization with vast experience on issues of Child Labour.


JTI has a track record of working with ILO in the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), and when the approached them on the Malawi project they accepted to partner them according to Kakhome.
Kakhome said JTI appreciates that eliminating hazardous Child Labour will not be an easy fight.


“This is why through ARISE, we are taking a holistic approach that takes into account all facets of the problem. We have brought together a cross-section of key stakeholders who have committed their best arsenal in the concerted fight against Child Labour exploitation. Together we shall conquer,” he declared.


Child Labour is still rampant in Malawi, with at least 37 percent of the children between five and 15 years of age reported to have been involved in child labor in 2002. Of these, 53.5 percent worked in agriculture and 42.1 percent in community and personal service sectors.


The rest were divided between other sectors like wholesaling, retailing, quarrying, mining, construction, manufacturing, street work and commercial sexual exploitation.


The Malawi Demographic and Health Survey of 2004 confirmed the situation but the Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey of 2006 showed that the prevalence had actually dropped from 37 percent to 29 percent, a figure that JTI still finds unacceptably high, especially because the tobacco industry commands the largest share of child labour use in the country.


This is not surprising considering that the Malawi economy depends on agriculture, which accounts for about 38 percent of GDP and about 90 percent of the its export earnings.


According to the Reserve Bank of Malawi, tobacco alone makes up 13 percent of GDP and brings into the country more than 50 percent of export earnings, making it the single most important source of income for about 2 million Malawians or 15 percent of the 13 million Malawi population, that is mostly poor.


This is why the project strategy takes a holistic and multi-sectoral approach that combines sensitization, economic empowerment and support to children’s education to achieve ARISE’s goal.


Launching the initiative, JTI Leaf Malawi Limited Managing Director Neville Young said; “The use of child labour can never be justified. We at JTI take the issue of child labour very seriously, and are committed to helping address it within our operating environment, especially in the direct communities where we have facilitated farmers. We believe in the universal right to education for children and through ARISE, our key message is that these children belong to the classroom and not the tobacco field.”


As part of its multi-sector pronged strategy to dealing with Child Labour and its ills, JTI supports the Eliminating of Child Labor in Tobacco-growing (ECLT) Foundation. The foundation is a multi-stakeholder partnership of trade unions, growers and tobacco companies with the ILO as an advisor and financial partner.


It is the ILO which provides funding for field projects and research dedicated to help eliminate child labor in tobacco farming regions across the world.


It is expected that the campaign will reach at least 15 tobacco-growing districts where JTI is working with Facilitated Farmers.


However, Lilongwe and Ntcheu have been appointed as launch nodes for the campaign before it spreads to the rest of the country.


JTI Leaf, the world’s third largest cigarette manufacturer, says the project will also be running in Brazil and it is coming two years after JTI entered Malawi through an outright acquisition of Africaleaf Processors Limited.

Kenya and Ethiopian Airlines Stop trading in Kwacha


By Gregory Gondwe

The tumbling which the Kwacha Malawi currency has been experiencing over the past months, coupled with the absence of forex in the country has forced two top airlines – Kenya Airways and Ethiopia Airlines – to suspend trading in the local currency.

Last month, Ethiopian Airlines started declining purchasing of their air tickets using local currency without any warning, leaving South African Airways as the only international airliner transacting in the local currency in Malawi.

But on Friday last week, at least Kenya Airways issued a circular announcing an indefinite suspension of local sales of their air tickets with effect from Friday March 2.

The two airlines claim to be failing to change the Malawi kwacha into foreign currency which has become a scarce commodity in the past years in Malawi.

The circular is advising Malawians intending to travel by Kenya airways to book their ticket online and pay using credit card or travel to the nearest point of sale outside the country.

The circular addressed to all its country managers, is requesting its officers not to make any bookings or issue tickets in Malawi to be utilized on Kenya Airways flights.

Local Zodiak Radio reported that the move by two the airliners will greatly affect most travel agents and may lead to loss of business and subsequent job cuts, according to some travel agents interviewed.

The airline has also reduced its flights into Malawi to only six per week from daily; as it used to previously operate. There are currently no Ethiopian flights to and From Malawi on Wednesdays.

Ethiopian airline last month confirmed that it has been forced to stop receiving Malawi kwachas as it has accumulated huge sums of the local currency in the banks which it is unable to remit to its headquarters, due to foreign currency problems in the country.

This prompted the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) to come into the matter where they promised to assist the airline remit foreign currency to address the situation.

Ethiopia Airline’s Area Manager for Malawi Jafar Hamit told The Daily Times, at that time that the company has suspended receiving of local currency until the forex issue improves or if there can be any assistance from banks.

“We are not accepting the local currency until further notice,” Hamit was quoted as saying.

He, however, admitted that this might have an effect on the business of the company as there are few customers who can be able to source forex on their own to buy tickets.

Hamit pleaded with authorities and banks to intervene on the matter and enable the airline return to normal operations and flights.

Although he assured Malawians that the airline has no intentions of closing its operations in the country, but the mere action to stop trading using local currency was a slap in the face.

“I have been using these two airlines for my business trips. It is a struggle to get foreign currency in this country to take with me when I am going out to buy goods from outside the country, now I have to start looking for more forex for the air ticket? What has happened to our country?” complained Nia Mzima a business woman in Mzuzu City upon learning the news.

And to add salt to the injury Hamit said should this continue, Ethiopian Airlines might just be forced to reduce flights.

RBM spokesperson Ralph Tseka told the daily that the central bank was aware of the situation at Ethiopian Airlines and was making efforts to assist their airline remit forex to Addis Ababa.

“Of course what we know is that they [Ethiopian] have stopped issuing tickets, not that they are accepting foreign currency payments only. We go this through our travel agents after bookings for some of our officers were rejected. But we will assist them address the problem,” Tseka was quoted as saying.

Many local commentators said this news would not have brought forlorn hope to Malawians had its national airline – Air Malawi operating properly.

The beleaguered national flag carrier has been failing to resuscitate its service in the country as it keeps on hitting the wall every time it tries on different ways to get back to business.

The state owned Air Malawi, is in deep debts and government has even failed to sell it to interested investors due to its state.

Even the announcement that it will resume its Lilongwe- Johannesburg has failed to give any hope as it does not last a return trip every time it tries to start flying its planes.

Air Malawi’s Commercial Director Temwachi Changwa said the airline has leased a Boeing 737-500 Classic aircraft from South Africa for use on the route.

In November last year the airline’s CEO Francis Chilambe told the nation that they have leased new aircraft that was going to be in Malawi before December 1, but this never came to pass.

The company has also tried its hands on a partnership with Kenya’s Jet Link through which the two airlines were to jointly introduce a flight to Nairobi.

However the deal failed to materialize when the two airlines started sending conflicting statement to the media.

While Air Malawi was saying it had leased an aircraft for the Nairobi route only, Jet Link claimed it had partnered with Air Malawi for joint flights on all routes operated by Air Malawi.

Lack of forex in Malawi has been compounded by the discontinuation of Malawi’s Extended Credit Facility (ECF) programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

At the moment there is no immediate hope of resuscitating it in sight as President Bingu wa Mutharika is adamant that he cannot comply with one the IMF’s demand to have the kwacha devalued.

Finance and Development Planning Minister Ken Lipenga says they want to continue negotiations with the Bretton wood institutions.

IMF officially declared the ECF off-track in June last year after Malawi’s failure to devalue the kwacha as agreed in the programme, among other fiscal and monetary policy differences.

Lipenga says they hope to make use of Article IV of IMF’s Articles of Agreement, where the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year.

The decision to engage in Article IV negotiations come at a time when commentators believe it is too late to resuscitate the ECF.

Lipenga admitted that it has taken so long to return to the ECF but expressed optimism that they will still fight for the resuscitation of the ECF, a facility that would unlock several millions of dollars in withheld aid.

Under Article IV a staff team visits a member country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country’s economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff team prepares a report which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the managing director, as chairperson of the board, summarises the views of executive directors, and this summary is transmitted to the country’s authorities.

Lipenga said the presence of the World Bank and other development partners in the negotiations is necessary to help the country with avenues of how to mobilise resources to help address the current economic challenges the country is facing.

Late last year, the IMF accepted Malawi’s request for the institution’s technical assistance (TA) to help Malawi return to ECF.

In a report titled ‘Liberalisation of the Foreign Exchange Regime for Current Account Transactions and Exchange Rate Flexibility’, IMF asked Malawi to loosen its overvalued currency from the current K167 per dollar to between K230 (about $1.37) and K250 ($1.49).

Mutharika has since declined this advise and in February he announced that starting from this month Malawi will take control of the monetary policy and not the IMF.

“Shortly, I will attempt to devise mechanisms on how money issues will progress in the country.

“From March this year, this country will take control of the monetary policy not the IMF. I want to make this clear, because it’s our country,” said Mutharika, adding that shortly, he will give details of how Malawi will seal holes in the forex tin so that forex starts trickling in again.

“If you support me, I can guarantee you that even by December 31 this year forex will start flowing. It is my wish that when I step down in 2014, I should leave my successor a $2 billion forex pot. I can manage that,” said Mutharika.

“I’m asking the IMF and its economists that in 2004 and 2009, I swore and signed my name that in the first place, I will protect my people from all kinds of challenges. So when you devalue the kwacha and the prices of goods escalate, what will we do with the people?

Mzima said the attitude displayed by President Mutharika over these issues is not helping matters and the result is what the airlines are now doing which is impacting negatively not only on them as small entrepreneurs but it could bring down the national economy on its knees.