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Archive for the ‘Malawi’ Category

Part of Life

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On multiple occasions, when discussing their (young) family member’s death, my male Malawian friends say that it is “part of life.”

One phrase contains a life’s worth of emotion and conceals male emotion from the public eye.


Written by Niall

May 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Malawi

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Sloppy Qualitative Reporting?

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Cash Transfer programs have received a lot of research attention in the past dozen years. See here for a summary report.

Replacing food handouts with cash is an increasingly observed trend in Malawi. A piece by Oxfam in the Mail & Guardian does a nice job of presenting the commentary of program participants.

Oxfam’s cash trickle goes a long way in Malawi.

The quant in me would like to see some evaluation evidence on how the Oxfam cash transfers shift the nature and timing of recipients’ consumption. But, I do really enjoy seeing the voices of people receive some coverage. As acknowledge through these quotes, there is a host of foods and non-food (school fees, roofing, medical) that are not easily targeted through in-kind transfers.

However, that is not the main message of this post.

I am really concerned about the confidentiality of those interviewed. Are we to assume that the M&G or Oxfam received authorization to publish people’s pictures, names, age and home district while quoting them as saying things like, “I’m married with two children, and I’m HIV positive. We used to survive on my husband’s charcoal burning and my ganyu.”

There has been some progress in reducing stigma toward people living with HIV/AIDS. But for the vast majority of people it is still very private information.

At the very least, this is sloppy qualitative research and journalism. I understand that the writer wants to put a personal touch to the story. It could have been written with greater assurance that the identity of sources is protected. It’s a shame that a positive story is done so sloppily.

Written by Niall

May 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Journalism, Malawi

Proposed polygamy ban in Malawi

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Some of the Malawians that we interview are part of a polygamous household. One article suggests that polygamy is present among 12% of households. This week, the government proposed to make polygamy illegal

Christian and Muslim organizations, citing religious and cultural significance, have both come out against the proposed ban.

Not being active within the religious life of Malawians, I cannot comment on the religious significance of polygamy, however, I feel like the social and economic significance of polygamy have received little serious discussion in the debate over polygamy in Malawi.

In some cases, men see it as an expectation or as a conspicuous demonstration of wealth and success. While many women in polygamous households suggest that they accept the custom, I rarely hear from women that are supportive of there husband marrying and additional wife. There are serious cost to breaking up a marriage and divorce is not easy in any country. Even in very poor households decisions must be made about the division of assets and social ties may be threatened. From my observation of the people that we work with and interview, it is possible that polygamy is used as a way to avoid formal and costly matrimonial cessation through divorce. While it may sound crude, adding an additional wife is part of the marriage market in Malawi. Polygamy offers an alternative to divorce as well as an alternative to add to his asset wealth and household productivity.

Let me be clear. Polygamy doesn’t seem to be a good solution to marital discord, nor is acquiring another wife an appropriate demonstration of wealth. And I believe that many women probably do worse in polygamous relationships than they first anticipate.  However, with a high female-male ratio and a shortage of assets diversification options, wives are perceived as an item to expand the productive capacity of a household. As wealth increases among Malawians of options for diversifying assets improve, I propose that we will see a diminishing polygamy rate even in absence of a government imposed ban on the practice.

As for the predicted success of the law, this quote from the secretary general of the Muslim Association of Malawi leds me to believe that the impact of the ban will not be clear:

“I have only one wife, my dear wife… but the moment they proceed with this, I will take a second wife”

Here is Tyler Cowen on polygamy, with some read-worthy links.

Written by Niall

May 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Law, Malawi, politics

Paragraph of condescension

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I ate my first mouse last weekend. In summary, this was a one minute experience with about 24 unique flavors, uncountable bones crunched and two near vomit moments. I managed to swallow the whole thing despite my better mental and guttural judgment.

This act of masochism was in part a protest of a recent article sent around by the Associated Press (picked up here and here, for example).

The first three paragraphs are fun and mostly harmless. But then comes to unecessarily canned and out of context “malawi is poor” fourth paragraph.

Malawi, with a population of 12 million, is among the poorest countries in the world, with rampant disease and hunger, aggravated by periodic droughts and crop failure.

The paragraph is not inaccurate (maybe the population, which is now above 13 M), but it is entirely unnecessary. I find it infuriating when the MSM spreads brainless generalizations of African countries.

Matt over at Aid Thoughts writes the reply that I wish I had written;

This sentence is copied onto the end of every single photo description in the article. It reflects the media’s preferred African stereotype. Yes, Malawi is poor, disease-ridden, and often hungry, but it is really defined by these things? If we’re going to start bringing more dignity to development, we’ll need to start with our newspapers.

America, with a population of 300 million, is one of the fattest countries of the world, with a frighteningly awful perception of poor countries, aggravated by a befuddled, profit-driven media.

Written by Niall

September 9, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Posted in Africa, Journalism, Malawi

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Strong Words

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Anyone who sabotages the economy is an enemy of the people and does not deserve to be in this country.

That is Malawi President Bing wa Mutharika, commenting on several South African nationals deported from Malawi for “sabotaging the economy and harming tobacco growers.”

Written by Niall

September 9, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Posted in Africa, Malawi

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Sugar, Sugar, You are my candy girl

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International sugar prices are at record highs. This should help the Malawian economy  considerably, especially during a year when tobacco prices are low.

Written by Niall

August 14, 2009 at 8:55 am

Posted in Malawi

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License to drive

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Going to any motor vehicle authority, I am reminded of Tolstoy’s opening line to Ana Karenina: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

My trip to the Malawi Road Traffic Authority on Monday of last week was no exception. What follows is a user’s guide to obtaining a license in Malawi.

I was instructed by a police office that after being in Malawi for three months, I was required to obtain a Malawi drivers’ license. Monday, I finally decided to end my streak of procrastination and dive into the bureaucracy of registering myself as an officially licensed driver.

  1. Arrive at the Road traffic authority as early as possible. ( I arrived at 8:20am)
  2. Go to the door labeled “1 Application room / 5 Driving license collection”, where you are immediately told to go to Window #3.
  3. Proceed to Window #3 and ask for an application. Don’t worry if it says “Learner’s License Application”…I was told that the form itself doesn’t matter.
  4. Enter Door #2. Oops…”Test going on!” you are warned by the attendant.
  5. Wait.
  6. Ok, Door #2 open now, go in and submit your application.
  7. After submitting your application, you are told to go to the un-marked door at the end of the corridor for “scanning and printing”. DO NOT CONFUSE THIS ROOM WITH THE ROOM LABELED “6 Photograph, Fingerprint and Scanning”
  8. Wait in line to be digitally fingerprinted (all 10 fingers) and photographed.
  9. Once your biometrics are in the database, proceed to “4 Cashier office, card receiving and Enquiries.” Don’t be afraid make physical contact with others as you protect your place in line waiting to pay MK 5270. (NB: never go to this room with an “Enquiry”…As with most of the signs, you are bound to go wrong if you trust their advertised services.)
  10. With your payment receipt in hand, return to Door #2 and submit all paper work.
  11. Obtain your temporary license at wait for “one to two months” for the permanent card.

The experience was a mixture of technology and speed at times, chaos and misdirection at others. All said, I can’t say that the entire experience was entirely more frustrating that what I have undergone in the United States.

Written by Niall

July 5, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Africa, Malawi

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