Tag Archives: politics

Malawi Trip | February 2017

From February 24 to March 12, 2017, with funding support from the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, I conducted pre-dissertation research in Malawi. This was a brief trip, but it proved to be very important for ensuring that all the pieces of my dissertation project are moving forward. Since I will return in July for ten months, I needed this time to meet with my research team in country to troubleshoot any problems. In July 2017, we will begin the rollout of the second phase of surveys so it was essential that we all meet and make sure everything is ready to begin the next stage of research.

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Conducting a site visit with a few of my moderators

During this trip, I collected nearly 1,000 completed baseline surveys from Malawian women in 21 research sites across the central region. These surveys are part of my broader dissertation project. The survey asks women questions on a range of topics including: women’s rights, gender roles, health and HIV/AIDS, cultural practices, and laws of Malawi. I am interested in understanding what the average Malawian woman knows about her rights protected by Malawian law, what she knows about how to protect and promote her own health, and her opinions on the roles of women in Malawian society.

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These women teach an “Equipping Women – Empowering Girls” course through the NGO Malawi Matters

Through meetings with my moderator teams, one finding became very clear: women in Malawi do not know their basic rights. My moderators reported that women were “upset”, “embarrassed”, “confused”, and/or “dismissal” of questions related to rights and laws because they didn’t know the answers. In many cases, the moderators reported that answering the survey questions emboldened the women and made them angry, not at the survey, but at their ignorance. “Why don’t we know the answers?? We should know our rights!” Many women said that participating in the baseline survey was an important first step in becoming more empowered individuals.

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Mike Dzembe and I walk through a new community-based model for Malawi Matters that integrates traditional authorities (TAs)

 

One of my moderators begged that when I return in July 2017 I bring copies of the Malawian constitution. For many Malawian women, they do not know Malawi has a constitution; in some cases, they did not even know the meaning of the word “constitution”. How can a woman know her rights in terms of marriage, divorce, rights to work, rights to maternity leave, etcetera, if she does not know that her country has a nationally codified legal system that outlines these protections? As my moderator made clear, it is essential that they be given copies of the constitution because without them, as she explains, “We will have nothing to show them, nothing to teach from. How can we educate the women in our communities if we cannot point to the constitution and read from it?”

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Dissertating at Lake Malawi

This is the first time I have designed, piloted, implemented, and coded my own survey. I’ve already learned so much from round one that will impact how I continue with the second round. For example, when relying on moderators, you must be able to trust that they will do their jobs exactly as trained. During my trip, I was forced to remove four research sites from the study because I could not rely on the moderators to do their jobs. I also ran into problems in terms of funding. I provided each of my moderator teams with a small fund to cover transportation costs so they could reach participants in their homes. Given the very rural nature of Malawi, and the fact that it is the rainy season, many moderators had trouble reaching women participants in the more remote villages. For example, one of the villages I went to on a site visit is found 23km off the tarmac down an unpaved road. Driving through the mountains, it takes almost an hour to reach the village. The moderators in this area had to hire motorbikes or take minibuses to reach even more remote villages to find women to participate in the survey. This meant that the budget I provided them was not enough to cover their actual costs. The problem of transport became a scramble for me during the two weeks as money exchanges in Malawi are rare and ATMs even more so. Anytime we went through Lilongwe I was running to an ATM so I would be ready at the next site visit meeting to address the issue of transport costs.

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Local men haul bags of maize off a truck that is stuck in the mud on the hill, blocking our progress to Chibanzi

The issue of roads/transportation will prove to be the biggest obstacle for me to conduct fieldwork in Malawi. During my short time there, we had a van slide off the road into a deep ditch, we had to turn around several times because of impassable roads, we almost got stuck more than once, and we once had to stop 2 km short of a village due to the road being blocked by a maize truck stuck on a hill. We watched as men from the village volunteered to unload over 100 bags of maize from the back of the truck to make it lighter so it could be pulled up the hill by ropes. As we watched, another smaller truck was pushed and pulled up the hill with ropes by a group of almost 30 men. This is a normal occurrence during the rainy season. Another issue is the presence of road blocks. All roads in and out of Lilongwe contain police checkpoints and it is quite common for the police to extract bribes before cars can pass, especially if white people are in the car. Our driver was “fined” for missing a newly required form of certification on his license. Once we passed the checkpoint he clarified that the new certification was bogus and that he talked them down from a 10,000-kwacha bribe to a 5,000-kwacha bribe. We joked that from then on, all the white people in the van should duck as we approached a checkpoint!

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Mphatso (far left) and her family during a site visit; she is a moderator

My favorite part of this trip was meeting the team members I had never met before, but with whom I’ve been working via email for months. Everyone was so welcoming and eager to move forward with my project. Since I will live in Malawi for ten months, I was excited to build a community of friends and colleagues on whom I can call when I return in July. For my short two weeks in Malawi, I was surrounded by a great team of Malawians and Americans. Sharing meals, long car rides, tea breaks, and meetings, I gained a sense of clarity about the direction I see the rest of my research taking.

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Real fried chambo

I’ll close this post by telling a funny story. I spent the entire two weeks in the company of two Malawians, David and Luke. David is the Regional Coordinator for Malawi Matters in Malawi. During a site visit near Lake Malawi, we went to a restaurant where the guys were excited to order chambo, a popular type of fish eaten from the Lake. The restaurant, which sits right on the beach, did not have any chambo, so they were forced to order chicken instead. The next day we went to an ex-pat restaurant in downtown Lilongwe. They were excited to see chambo on the menu and ordered it immediately. When our food came out I heard the guys mumbling to each other in Chichewa. I asked what was wrong and they said, “This is not chambo. We don’t know what it is, but it’s not chambo.” They called the waiter over to say there was a mistake. The waiter got this big, sheepish smile and said, “Um….yeah, It’s not chambo. It’s tilapia. We don’t actually have chambo, but foreigners don’t know the difference. Where are you from?” In unison David and Luke responded: “Malawi!” Don’t ever try to swindle a man from the Lake with fake chambo; they know their chambo!

Taxicab Confessions

On Sunday morning I took a cab from my home in Mowbray to downtown Cape Town. With no traffic, this is usually about a 15 minute drive. I take taxis all the time and the ride usually goes the same way each time. The driver asks me where I’m going, I tell them. Do you have a meter? No? Set rate? How much? I get in and we start driving. About two minutes into the ride either I or the driver start the usual small talk–weather, how long have I been in Cape Town, where am I from, why am I here. I’ve even gotten better at talking out of my ass when it comes to rugby–Stormers, Cheetahs, Springboks, All Blacks, I can name a few teams and hang with them for 15 minutes as they tell me the latest rugby news. Sometimes we talk about my work, sometimes we don’t talk at all. It just depends on the driver.

On Sunday the drive started the same….but the conversation quickly got serious. How long have you been in Cape Town? Why are you here? Oh, you study politics? You’re doing a project on democracy? What do you think of South Africa’s democracy? Is it fair here? Keep in mind, I’m from here you know–born and raised–so I know about this country. Let me tell you about it….

Before I knew what was happening, my driver took off on a whirlwind explanation of his experiences living as a coloured man in first apartheid and now post-apartheid South Africa. Together we had the most candid, interesting, open 15 minute discussion about South African politics. We pulled up to my destination and he stopped the meter, put the car in park, and kept talking for almost 10 minutes. I encouraged him to keep his passion for democracy and politics alive and he smiled, waved, and told me to do the same. Once I got out of the car I quickly tried to write down as much as possible of what he said so I could share it. While this transcript is not the exact words he used, it is true to his style of speaking and the sentiments he expressed:


On the African National Congress (ANC), which is the current ruling party of South Africa:
You stop any black man on the street anywhere in this country and they will tell you how the ANC has done them wrong. They made promises they didn’t keep. They did this; they did that. They’re fed up with the ANC. Fed up. But mark me– come election time, they will all vote for the ANC to a man. To a man! Because for them, they think only a black can be in charge. To them, this is a black country and the blacks must be in charge. They won’t vote for someone who will actually make the changes that need to happen because they will only vote the color of their skin.

See, that’s why I appreciate the United States. In the U.S. you have Republican and you have Democrat. It’s about the politics. It’s about the issues. It’s not about blacks voting black and whites voting white and coloureds voting coloured. How is that right? How is that progress?

And the thing is, the blacks think this land is black. Look back in the history– the original inhabitants of this land were the Khoisan, a coloured people. Their skin was a shade lighter than mine and a shade darker than yours (pointing at me in the rearview mirror). When the blacks came down from Central Africa with their cattle they were able to overpower the Khoisan and take the land away from they. Wiped them out completely. The blacks are immigrants to this land like all the rest of us. It’s all there in the history. But do they teach that history? No.


On post-apartheid South Africa:
I am a coloured man and I am 50 years old. So I lived through apartheid, I remember it. I lived through the “old” South Africa and I am living now in the “new”. Let me tell you this– the “new” South Africa is NOT better than the “old”. It’s not better. I remember when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I remember it; I was there. He stood there at City Hall (pointing in the direction of City Hall). He stood there and he said, verbatim: “Friends, comrades, and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy, and freedom for all. Fellow South Africans, he said. See, we are all the same. Freedom for all he said. He said we should look to the future, not to the past, and that we are all one nation. The Rainbow Nation. That’s what he said and that’s what we believed. Where is that South Africa he promised? It’s not here. I will tell you plainly– it is not here.


On democracy in South Africa:
There is no democracy here. Not in South Africa. What does “democracy” mean? Simple. It’s one word. It’s fairness. What is fair here? What is fair for the coloured man? We feel forgotten in this “new” nation. What am I here? A second-class citizen? A third-class citizen? People think the issues are black and white. It’s always black against white and the coloured man gets left out. My son can’t even get a job because he’s not white but he’s not black enough. His skin is fairer than mine, you see. I even tried to get him a job at a factory where I knew the manager personally. Personally! He told me to my face that my son wasn’t black enough. The job had to go to a black boy. Not my son. Not my son with his fair skin and green eyes. Where is the fairness there? Jobs should be given out on merit, not skin color.


On the future of being coloured in South Africa:
Maybe not in my lifetime, but there will be a day when South Africa is ruled by the coloured man. It can’t be any other way. Today, white women are marrying black men. Black men are marrying white women. What is the result? Coloured children. The future of South Africa is a coloured future. The problem is, these mixed couples are not sharing their language and their culture with their mixed children. It’s a shame because so much language and culture is getting lost. I blame the parents. They know this stuff and they do not pass it to their children. We will have a nation of coloured people who don’t know who they are.


You can watch Mandela’s entire speech made from the balcony of City Hall on the day of his release from prison here:

 

What Really Happened in the Congo?

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, author Stephen Weissman takes us inside the political world of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1960s. Weissman explores one of the most contentious issues of Congolese independence: how big of a role did the CIA play in the death of independence leader Patrice Lumumba? See an excerpt of the article here and follow the link above to read the article in its entirety:

We now know that even though the threat of communism in Congo was quite weak at the time of Congo’s independence, the CIA engaged in pervasive political meddling and paramilitary action between 1960 and 1968 to ensure that the country retained a pro-Western government and to help its pathetic military on the battlefield. So extensive were these efforts that at the time, they ranked as the largest covert operation in the agency’s history, costing an estimated $90–$150 million in current dollars, not counting the aircraft, weapons, and transportation and maintenance services provided by the Defense Department. The CIA had a hand in every one of Congo’s major political turning points during the period and maintained a financial and political relationship with every head of its government.