When the people of Egypt filled Tahrir Square, we were predictably glued to the newsroom television. A single screen that normally flickered between British football games and Nigerian soap operas suddenly became fixed on Al Jazeera updates. It was a blazing hot January, and I had just begun reporting at Malawi’s oldest newspaper, The Daily Times.
The Arab Spring made an indelible impression on people across the globe. Beginning my internship at the Times, the first questions from family and friends were about a people’s revolution happening nearly 5,000 kilometres north. They asked what the mood was like in Africa and if the uprising was spreading south. There were a few moments when I had to earnestly explain that Egypt and Malawi were very different countries.
“What day is garbage day?” I asked my landlord upon arriving in Malawi.
Expecting her to mention a day of the week, or perhaps direct me towards a calendar affixed to the refrigerator, I was confused by her silence and contemplative blinking. After a few moments of discomfort, I soon learned garbage day doesn’t exist.
In Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial hub, only 30 per cent of the city has access to waste collection—which, as it turns out, doesn’t include my current home. Our garbage doesn’t disappear from the curb like it would in any Canadian city; like most Malawians, we deposit all of our household waste into a metre-deep pit in our yard.
It began with a lecture.
At Chancellor College in Zomba, political science professor Dr. Blessings Chinsinga told his public policy class that Malawi’s shortages of fuel and foreign currency could ignite political uprising. To make his point, Dr. Chinsinga drew matter-of-fact comparisons to the mass protests that toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
Though such discussion of current events may seem commonplace during a university politics lecture, Dr. Chinsinga’s words have since sparked an unprecedented country-wide battle over academic freedom.
In their respective villages, Cecelia Muliya and Esitere Chabwera are regarded as cultural leaders.
The two have worked in girls’ initiation camps for decades, tasked with the role of introducing young girls to womanhood.
Upon reaching puberty, more than half of all Malawian girls participate in some form of initiation ceremony, ranging in length from days to an entire month. Sent away to rural camps, this traditional rite-of-passage is meant to teach girls to take care of themselves, to dress like a woman and to show respect to elders.
Media Council of Malawi (MCM) says if dialogue with government doesn’t end in a repeal of Section 46 of Malawi’s Penal Code, it will consult legal experts to see if the media ban law can be challenged on constitutional grounds.
The renewed call to repeal Section 46, which empowers the Minister of Information to ban publications deemed contrary to the public interest, was in response to a government statement by Chief Secretary Bright Msaka that said the law would only be used under “reasonable grounds.”