It has been announced that Bangui mayor Catherine Samba-Panza has been appointed the Interim President of the near anarchic Central African Republic.
Her ascension couldn’t come at a better time. The Central African Republic, fragile even in the best of times, has been slowly sinking into chaos. No one really knows how many people have been killed in the fighting between Christian and Muslim militias (though this shouldn’t be read as a religious conflict), but reports last year pegged more than 1000 civilian deaths within a two day span. Experts have started using the g-word.
From the NYT:
The interim president selected on Monday at a raucous, five-hour session of a “national transition council” of rebels, rivals and politicians was Catherine Samba-Panza, a French-educated lawyer with a reputation for integrity and no ties either to the Muslim rebels or the Christian militia. Her selection was greeted with cheers in the assembly hall and dancing outside. That she is a woman — the third female head of state in post-colonial Africa — was especially welcomed by many people who felt that men had done nothing but lead the country on its vicious downward spiral.
Though encouraging, it’s too early to tell if Ms. Samba-Panza will be able to contain the bloodshed in the CAR. Certainly, Liberia gained much under the leadership of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but it’s hard to say whether there’s been a great transformation in Malawi under Joyce Banda. Rwanda’s female majority Parliament is vastly preferable to Kenya’s (or the United States’) overpaid and corrupt boy’s club, however.
The conflagration in the CAR has been troubling for a number of reasons. First, it represents a general pattern of instability just below the Sahara. Neighboring South Sudan, which just recently obtained independence, is now facing a conflict ridden humanitarian crisis.
Second, the conflicts in South Sudan, the CAR, Northern Nigeria, Mali and Somalia rage on compromise the positive narrative of a newly prosperous and economically viable Africa. The 80′s and 90′s were a stain on the continent. Though I don’t foresee a return to the extended civil wars of Angola and Mozambique (for example), general regional instability compromises the ability to sustain development over the entire continent.
Third, even if the CAR manages to suppress the violence, there are few viable options for the long term economic future of this landlocked and historically marginalized country. Without a long term economic plan chances are high that tensions will flare up once more, setting the country back again.
Third day in TZ. Now that I don’t feel like n octogenarian, I might be able to put together a few comprehensible sentences.
Flew into Dar on Saturday after a grueling flight. Had the pleasure though of sitting next to a group of jolly Hungarian engineers. They were being chaperoned by two Catholic priests who proceeded to repeatedly order whiskey shots for everyone in the vicinity. Catholicism has its finer points.
Dar is bustling. A port town, it is the main point of entry and exit for all goofs bought and sold in TZ. Not nearly as walkable as Blantyre, and not neatly as dangerous as Nairobi. It’s q good mix, plus there’s great Indian food for cheap. TZ has some great seafood.
Left Sunday to make the 20 plus hour trip to Rukwa. Odd seeing zebras and elephants from the highway, but frightening to see the remains of multiple highway accidents. Still, the roads here are far superior to that of Malawi, and the vehicles acceptable.
Road construction is happening at a breakneck pace here , even in the far reaches of nowhere. Trucks line the highways bumper to bumper signaling a rapidly growing economy. Almost everything is available everywhere and it’s only getting better.
Western TZ is gorgeous. Just saw a sign for Malawi. Only a few hours apart but worlds apart economically.
That’s all for now…
Malawi’s President Bingu, or as he was officially known “His Excellency the President Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika” died last Thursday.
His death has left a power vacuum in Malawi. Joyce Banda, the current Vice President constitutionally is expected to take power, but members of Bingu’s Democratic Progressive Party are seeking to block her appointment. Banda, though chosen as a running mate by Bingu himself, increasingly found herself at odds with Bingu’s increasingly autocratic Presidency and ultimately left the DPP to form her own political party. Bingu sought to cancel her vice presidential seat unsuccessfully. The Malawian Supreme Court ruled that she was still entitled to the seat.
Both groups within and outside of Malawi are calling for a swift transfer of power to Banda, including the United States.
Malawi could do worse than Banda. A former educator, Banda has sponsored numerous initiatives to expand educational opportunities for children and to increase female empowerment within Malawi. Since 1990, Banda’s National Association of Business Women has provided support and training for female entrepreneurs, reaching a wide network of approximately 30,000 people. She has sponsored health initiatives in Malawi and won numerous international awards. Most impressive, she quietly sponsored a task force to determine the extent of HIV in MSM populations, a dangerous undertaking in conservative Malawi. Forbes magazine listed Banda as the third most powerful woman in Africa. In short, Banda could be the breath of fresh air that Malawi requires.
Mutharika’s Presidency, though initially lauded due to his successful seed voucher program, which he boldly implemented against the advice of the World Bank and the IMF, fell into disgrace due to widespread fuel shortages and a dearth of foreign exchange. The increasingly dire situation led to mass protests all over Malawi, a state crackdown, and the deaths of 19 people. It is questionable though, as to whether Banda can solve these problems, much of which is due to international market forces out of the control of the domestic Presidency.
Of interest to me were the circumstances of Bingu’s death. Bingu collapsed on Thursday night and was rushed immediately to Kamuzu Central Hospital, a public facility. Upon presentation at the Kamuzu, workers realized that they were lacking epinephrine and had to run to a facility run by University of North Carolina to procure it. Bingu likely died because of problems of drug stocking in Malawian facilities and substandard levels of health delivery. Bingu died due to a problem endemic to all of Malawi. Ironically, the opulent President of Malawi died needlessly like that of even the poorest of Malawians.
What were originally intended as peaceful demonstrations, however, have quickly turned to violent riots. Bingu’s Democratic Progressive Party have dispatched trucks filled with machete waving thugs. Police and military, at the behest of the current government, have been reported to have been witnessed beating protesters.
A reporter for Capital Radio Malawi has been beaten by police in Zomba. Deaths and injuries are already being reported.
Worse yet, the chaos has allowed looters to break into store fronts, including the Bata Shoe Store in downtown Blantyre, which now sits empty. Women have ben spotted carting off groceries and household items from local stores.
Protesters have set fire to DPP vehicles, and a police station in Chirimba sits in flames, even as I write this.
The situation is quickly spiralling out of control, though news and pictures are proving difficult to come by. I can imagine that as night falls (very soon) things will only get worse.
DPP thugs are out in full force. The Nyasatimes reports:
The gang of machete-wielding youths took to the streets in DPP branded vehicles and stopped at several points, got out their vehicles and sharpened their pangas.
“It’s scary. They have literally blocked the main road and are sharpening their knives right on the tarmac and threatening
everyone,” a bank executive, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.
Bingu’s Young cadets wileding machetes
Eye witness report said they chanted the now familiar DPP war-cry in Malawi’s lingua franca, Chichewa: “Onyoza boma sagona, timpweteka! (“Those opposing government will not sleep, we will deal with them!”)
They also savagely attacked a Mandasi seller who appeared to have made“rude” remarks against the threats.
Update: Capital Radio reports: “The world is on Malawi, CNN, BBC, Aljazera, CCTV and more. Riots in Ndirande, Chitawira, Zingwangwa. Ndirande is a WAR ZONE.”
Update: 12:07 pm EST RT @ianchakhaza: The volatile township of Ndirande in Blantyre is erupting with reports of police using live ammunition there #July20 #Malawi 20 are reported dead.
(These photos came from Capital Radio Malawi)
Update: 12:21 pm Chirimba, across from teh Queens Hospital is in flames and people are still stoning the police
I first met Harold on my last trip to Malawi. I was shooting footage for a documentary project of mine on atheism in Malawi, as was referred to him as a member of the Malawi Association of Secular Humanists. In fact, he was the vice president of this very small but vocal group. I went to meet him at the Blantyre Sun Bird Hotel on a Monday afternoon. Not knowing what he looked like, I entered the courtyard looking for a Malawian. Instead, a middle aged white man called me over and introduced himself as Harold Williams.
Harold first went to Malawi in the 1950′s to work as a policeman for the Colonial government in Zomba. He instantly fell in love with the country (as everyone does). He met and married a Malawian woman, and signed on to stay after Malawi attained independence in 1963. I asked him why he stayed where many went back to England. He wished to help Malawi create a viable, independent government and help create a brighter future for this struggling country.
Harold eventually attained Malawian citizenship, raised children in Malawi, and created a life for himself in Malawi. He led a life very integrated with the people around him, spoke the language(s) fluently, and became one of Malawi’s most active and vocal advocates. Harold’s citizenship and dedication to Malawi called the very idea of what it is to be a “Malawian” into question, and larger ideas of “citizenship” that all states in the 21st century must face. Harold would enthusiastically discuss these broad but important questions in a manner usually reserved for sequestered academics.
Harold was deeply involved in the political life of Malawi. He participated actively in demonstrations, once even leading a protest against President Muluzi’s efforts to remain in office beyond the number of terms allotted to him in the Constitution, and found himself strong-armed by members of the Malawian military. Harold worked tirelessly for the right of free speech and protest in Malawi, which faces the same sorts of questions of protest and democracy that have recently been the focus of news reports on Egypt, Iran and Libya. Malawi’s small size and lack of resources keep it out of the world news, but its political concerns are really no different nor any less important than that of other, larger states.Harold ran the Malawi Concern Blog, which publicly addressed the problems of the present administration under Bingu, found himself on a watch list of potential political enemies, and even had his blog blocked and suppressed recently. Harold was a vocal critic of Bingu’s Presidency, and regularly called him out on his habit of playing ethnic politics with Malawi, wide human rights abuses and his unapologetic flouting of Malawi’s secular Constitution.
Of course, Harold’s role as an advocate of secular humanism and secular government cannot be forgotten. Harold was an avowed secularist, and perceived fanatical religious belief to be a threat to the peace and welfare of Malawi. Particularly, he fought alongside other Malawi secular humanists to provide advocacy for persons accused of witchcraft related crimes and the economy surrounding it, battled the inclusion of Christianity into government policy, and publicly resisted the widespread and dangerous phenomena of religious opportunists in Malawi. Among other activities, Harold ran the official blog for the group.
Harold was a great guy. If I end up being half the person that Harold was by the time I am his age, I will consider this a life worth having lived. In writing this short, pseudo-obit, I feel as though I am leaving much out, but I think this speaks loads to what kind of person Harold was as a political activist, a human rights advocate and as a human being.
I miss Harold and am so very sorry that I will never have the opportunity to meet him again.
For those not in the know, George is the head of the Malawi Association of Secular Humanists. He works tirelessly as an advocate for people who have been accused (some are even jailed) of withcraft related crimes and as a spokesman for human rights, rationality, atheism and secular government in Malawi.
George’s story is almost unbelievable, but disturbingly real. Please consider donating to help George’s cause. Even the smallest amount of money goes a long way to help pay for legal fees and to provide support for those imprisoned under some of the most horrific conditions imaginable. There is a donation button on the right corner of this page.
WITCH HUNT IN CHINOKO VILLAGE, LILONGWE –STOPPED, CHIEFS ARRESTED. CHIEFS DETAIN AND CHARGE THINDWA, PAYS THE MK 5000 FINE AND RELEASED
On 1st June, I went to deliver N. Kamphata, the oldest elderly woman prisoner at her village at T/A Chumutu, Dowa who was released on witchcraft offence.
On my way back, I was informed that there was a witch hunt at Chinoko village, T/A Chimutu about 15 kms from Kanengo on Lilongwe- Salima road. I decided to investigate. Indeed, the witch hunt was in full swing with the witch finder named Boston (25- 30 yrs old) doing searches of witchcraft charms. By the time I arrived at the village, the witch finder was at the grave yard. It is alleged that a “witch” by the name of Frazer Kaphanga had hidden his charms at the grave. There were many people at the grave site with drumming and singing.
I managed to join the crowd and took pictures. I went into the graveyard where some people had gone to watch the witch finder digging the charm of Mr. Frazer. At the grave, I found the witch finder busy with his act and within a short time; he managed to bring out the charm. He showed it to the crowd claiming that it was a rat that Frazer uses to steal money from other people. Then, Mr. Frazer was detained at the camp smeared with flour all over his face as witch. Next, the witch finder went to the house of an old lady by the name of Kwajere, Ms Mukhalepo Chinsapo (80). I followed and took pixies. At the house the old lady was very disturbed and confused. She was smeared with flour on her face and asked to stand in the middle of a circle so that the witch finder could search her house for charms. The old lady noticed that my mission was different. She faced in desperation clearly asking me in her heart so that I should her help. I went closer and took her hand and whispered to her that I will indeed rescue her at the appropriate time. I assured her that my mission there was to help such vulnerable people and her request would be answered.
I left and went aside to call the police to come and stop this illegal practice. The police headquarters told me to contact the Kanengo police. The community security men were alerted by the witch finder that my presence there was suspect. He briefly suspended his work and told them to bring me to him. The security men wanted to harass me. I resisted and told them that I had no time to go to the witch finder but to the Group Village man. At this time, I alerted my relations and humanists friends about this unfolding drama.
We went to the camp where the Group Village headman –Chinoko Kawenga was supposed to be. He was not there. But all the chiefs were there. At the camp, there were 10 “witches” by that time, surrounded by people. Kwajere, Ms Chinsapo was dragged to the camp while I was there. One could not help to shed a tear to see live how the people labeled as witches are victimized and mistreated. Mostly it is the elderly and women. Here are their names:
1. Mr. Kaphanga Frazer- is said to have a charm in the form of a rat for enrichment.
2. Mr. Boswell Kamuseza-the witch doctor was yet to visit his house to find the charms
3. Mr. Nasoni Kacholora-is said to have a charm to steal manhood from others.
4. Ms Naphiri Nabanda-is said to have a charm for tying pregnancies leading to still births.
5. Ms Moneyi Makata-her charm moved and was found to be at someone`s house.
6. Ms Mukhalepo Chinsapo-Kwajere- very old woman and her charm was found in the roof of the house. This is a very old woman possibly 80 see her photo.
7. Mr. Herbert Kupenga
8. Ms Nankhoma Genitla
9. Ms Anasani Jojo- her charm was said to cause measles to others
10. Ms Angela Mawumusamathe
11. Mr. Kumbali Kamuseza
I was told that once the witch finder had finished his searches of charms, he would come to the camp to deliver his final verdict on the “witches” in terms of punishment!
The chiefs told me that I was being charged with 3 offences: of taking pictures, of entering the grave yard without permission and attending the witch hunt without permission. I was fined to pay MK 13000 ($85). I negotiated this down to MK 5000($32) and paid.
I was destined to stop the witch hunt and to have those in captive released. I went to the captives when I was discharged on my own greeted them one by one and assured them that their freedom was at hand. I went to Mchezi roadblock at Kanengo and told the police about the witch hunt and they quickly phoned their superior to dispatch the 997 immediately. By 8 pm, the police arrived in full gear and we went to the village. At the village when police presence was noticed, people run in all the directions. All the chiefs, two lieutenants of the witch finder were taken for police questioning at Kanengo police. The witch finder disappeared and he was nowhere to be seen. Up to now he is nowhere.
As at 2nd June, 4 chiefs have been arrested and detained at Kanengo police; four lieutenants of the witch doctor are detained. The arrested chiefs are Kalumbu Byton, Chinoko 2, Nachimbo Chapotela and Kachiundu. The police went back on 2nd June to look for the witch finder and brought back two lieutenants of the witch finder. They did not find the witch finder.
The so called witches came to the police to give statement on 2nd June. I was with them. Some due to old age could not make it. I managed to deliver them back to their village especially the very old. At the village the situation is calm now. Some villagers did thank me for helping them and stopping the witch hunt.
George Thindwa 2/6/2011
Although this post is vastly overdue, the Mzembes, who I met while I was in Malawi, have had their witchcraft case thrown out of court. I filmed a short interview with Mr. Mzembe which I have attached below. Hopefully, all cases of this nature will be thrown out of court and never heard again.
Subject: Fw: THE WITCHCRAFT CASE OF THE MZEMBES- Mr AND MRS MZEMBE RULINGThe Ruling for the Mzembes case on pretending witchcraft came to court today on 14 April at 11.30 am. As usual Thindwa was in attendance. Magistrate Gomani read his ruling this way:
1- He stated that the Court heard the evidence from the children that the Mzembes were practicing witchcraft. That they fly to America in lichelo where they drink human blood.
2- But the case before this court was on pretending witchcraft which in short, the state witnesses should have shown that the accused by their statements or actions pretended themselves as witches or having powers of witchcraft to the state witnesses or police.
3- the state witnesses did not show any evidence of admission on part of the accused that they pretended witchcraft.
4- there was further no evidence paraded in the court for any statements or actions that the accused pretended witchcraft to the witnesses or the police.
5- the Magistrate said that since there was no evidence shown by the state regarding pretending witchcraft, he concluded that the prosecution failed to demonstrate to the court where it could find the accused with a case to answer and ask them to defend themselves. He therefore found the accused, Mr Mzembe and his wife with NO CASE TO ANSWER! They were acquitted accordingly. The wife and husband were quite happy with madam shedding a tear. Those wishing to appeal his decision were asked to do so within 30 days.
Last September Mr. Mzembe and his wife were accused of killing three people by using witchcraft. They now face a sentence of 5 years in one of the worst prisons on the planet.
You can help them by donating to assist Mr. Mzembe and others who have been imprisoned on these baseless claims.
Mr. Mzembe is a 65 year old retired civil servant from Rumphi, in the Northern Region of Malawi. In September, and unknown woman from Blantyre phoned Mr. Mzembe and his wife and accused them of being witches and visited the couple several times while Mrs. Mzembe was in hospitalized. Mr. Mzembe went to report the harassment to the police who, inexplicably, arrested Mr. Mzembe for being a witch.
The Mzembes were released on bond, and have now been to court more than 15 times, hoping that the Magistrate will eventually dismiss the case entirely. The prosecution has brought forth children, who claim that Mr. Mzembe comes to them in the night and takes them to graveyards and uses his “witchcraft plane” to fly them to South Africa.
I personally spoke with Mr. Mzembe and can verify his claims. I shot a video interview of him telling his story as part of a wider project on Malawian secularism that I’m working on and have posted it below.
Mr. Mzembe’s case will likely be thrown out of court. He is educated, speaks English well and has access to at least some financial means. Others who languish in prisons all around Malawi are not so fortunate and need your help.
It is unconscionable that people are imprisoned for supernatural crimes in any context. Mr. Mzembe does not practice any type of witchcraft. However, this case should be of interest not only to those who believe in basic human rights, but also those who believe in religious freedom and respect for all beliefs, and in the necessity for secular democracies in preserving the rights of all.
If you donate, you will be helping the Malawi Association of Secular Humanism in their efforts to assist those navigating the courts, in bringing food and support for those languishing in prison and in preserving the human rights of all in sub-Saharan Africa. I can attest to the veracity of this organization personally. A little bit goes a very long way.
Please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions.
The Wisconsin Republican Party was so threatened by a recent blog post and NY Times op-ed from University of Wisconsin history professor William Cronon, that they filed to recieve copies of all of Cronon’s emails. Cronon detailed connections between the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the present Republican administration in Wisconsin, who seek to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, and ultimately reduce them to the status of poorly paid interns.
ALEC receives funding from a wide range of shady groups including the American Nuclear Energy Council, the American Petroleum Institute, Coors Brewing Company, Texaco, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, VISA, Exxon Mobil, the National Rifle Association, Amway, and, of course, the infamous Koch Brothers.One would assume, of course, that upon recieving the emails, smear professionals will scan the entire data base for scandalous tibdits that, when taken out of context, will ruin Cronon’s credibility. The results of this Republican led data mining experiment will be used to generate a case to fire him as a state employee or, at the very least, publicly make his life completely miserable and unlivable.
Cronon is like anyone who might read this blog. Given that many associated with this blog are at least in some way connected to either academic institutions or free thought and expression, I believe that we all have much to worry about.
Cronon’s recent experience reminds me of the recent arrest of political science professor, Dr. Blessings Chinsinga of Chancellor College in Zomba, Malawi. Dr. Chinsinga, referring to the at that time recent political uprisings in Egypt, pointed out that Malawi’s ongoing problems with fuel shortages, food insecurity and the lack of foreign exchange could one day prompt similar uprisings in his country. Word reached the office of President Bingu wa Mutharika, who had Dr. Chinsinga arrested at his home, detained and questioned for hours.
The state has little to no legal grounds on which to prosecute Dr. Chinsinga. However, his arrest and detention are clearly intended to intimidate, defame and publicly humiliate a potential critic of an political group determined to hold on to power.
Rather than sow the seeds of true democracy, Mr. Mutharika and the Wisconsin Republican Party have sowed the seeds of totalitarianism, taking points directly from the playbooks of Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot. Those three are certainly extreme examples. It is doubtful that the WRP will send Cronon for reeducation, nor have Cronon killed. However, the precedent is already there. Given the ugly, extreme and polarizing nature of modern day American politics, if intimidation of public citizens is to be accepted as fair political game, then it is only a matter of time before intimidation turns to true retaliation.
In contrast to the United States, faculty at Chancellor have gone on strike to protest Dr. Chinsinga’s detention. Malawian students have taken to the streets to demonstrate in favor of academic freedom and the public expression of criticism and independent thought. Students at Chancellor College have endured violent repression by police, multiple riots have ensued and arrests plentiful. To my knowledge, American students, like many Americans, are disturbingly quiet on the subject of political suppression of written dissent.