UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Edition #41 13 February 1998
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'ISLAMIZATION OF MALAWIAN CULTURE' Some Christian believers in the country have formed the opinion that Malawi, which has always been thought of as a Christian country, is slowly but surely becoming Islamized.This 'suspicion' began to crystallize in 1994 when the country's first ever multi-party elections ushered in the United Democratic Front party led by a Muslim, President Bakili Muluzi.
And, after coming to power, Muluzi's administration did not wait very long before it established diplomatic ties with a number of Islamic countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Iran.
However, Muluzi has on many occasions emotionally condemned the people fanning the flames of these allegations that his government has been setting up diplomatic relations with Islamic countries with a view to turning Malawi into an Islamic state. "The fact that I am a Muslim does not mean that I want to make Malawi an Islamic state," Muluzi recently told a rally in Zomba, the old capital of Malawi. There are many, however, who say that there are visible signs of the spread of an Islamic influence in Malawi now.
Those who talk of these 'visible signs' refer to the Muslim students who have won scholarships and are now studying in Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states. And to the mosques that are a common sight in most towns now but which were once only found along the lakeshore areas of Lake Malawi, or in the cities which have a high proportion of Asians.
During the first week of January this year, the opposition Malawi Congress Party owned Daily Times newspaper carried a story which reported what Muluzi had been denying for some time, this being that he had ordered the treasury to release money to be used for the building of a mosque.Muluzi has so far not refuted the story.
And now there are many who think that what they describe as a time bomb is threatening the country and say that if this is not properly handled it could well explode. They say this 'time bomb' is threatening to pit Christians and Muslims against each other over their different religious beliefs.
What has sparked what many Malawians think could very well degenerate into a religious war is the treatment of all meat and meat products in the country's super markets, slaughter houses, hotels and other meat suppliers by the Halaal method, an Islamic practice which is said to purify meat before it is eaten. Many Christians view this as a slow but sure penetration of Islamic practices and see it as a Muslim wish to have only Halaal meat products distributed through the country's main meat suppliers.
In the wake of this development a group of 'concerned' Christians have threatened to boycott meat products slaughtered by Muslims. They say that they do not see any wisdom in buying meat products slaughtered by Muslims when Muslims boycott meat slaughtered by non-Muslims.
In a statement, the group said they had noted that although Muslims enforce the supply and sale of Halaal meat products in the country's meat stores, they themselves prefer to buy live animals such as chickens and goats and slaughter them themselves. The group said Christians eating Halaal meat signifies submission to the Islamic faith, that is, believing and supporting Islamic practices. The group said in the statement that they felt this was to deny people freedom of choice and religion.
'To the world of Islam the eating of Halaal meat products by non-believers has serious religious significance' the statement noted adding that 'the dominance of Halaal meat products in the country's supermarkets and restaurants has direct symbolic significance for the expansion of Islam and the Islamization of Malawian culture, politics and education'.
They further argued in their statement that if Muslims were not allowed to eat meat slaughtered by non-Muslims because of their conscience and belief and are free to choose, why should non-Muslims be forced, not given the same freedom to choose, to buy with a clear conscience and belief?They requested that Christians be allowed freedom of choice.The group said that other concerned Christians should come out more strongly in their stand by boycotting meat slaughtered by Muslims.
Sheik Muhammead Osman of the Muslim Association of Malawi when asked to comment on the issue said that he would not immediately do so. "The matter is explosive," he said adding that he would react to it at a later date after consultations with his colleagues in the association.
He did, however, describe the group of Christians' views and allegations as serious and unfortunate.An official at the association's secretariat, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, dismissed claims by the concerned Christians that the enforcement of the Halaal system was intended to Islamize the country.
1.MULUZI DISPUTES KAMUZU'S WILL
State president Bakili Muluzi on January 27 threw his full weight behind the war to repossess the late and former president Banda's wealth from his longtime confidante Cecilia Kadzamira.
Muluzi, who had earlier offered his condolences to the Banda family in Kasungu, Banda's home district, told a rally later on the same day that he doubted the validity of the will. The will was read to family members and Kadzamira on January 6.
"Kamuzu went to study outside the country and worked to help his family and relatives," said Muluzi. He also said Kadzamira who is mentioned in the Will as principal beneficiary of Kamuzu's wealth had been a secretary and not been a wife to the former president. Muluzi said that it was therefore 'surprising' for the will to state that property was to be given to his secretary and not his relatives.
Muluzi said the government will closely monitor the situation and see to it that justice is seen to be done on the matter.
2.'STOP BEING ANTI THE NORTH'
Annoyed by regionalistic allegations made by ruling United Democratic Front secretary general, Sam Mpasu on 5 February against Ken Williams Mhango, president of the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions, the MCTU asked Mpasu to avoid being 'anti-north' in his utterances. The MCTU in its letter to Mpasu also took a swipe at the UDF for what the union described as the party's tendencies to divide the country instead of uniting it.
MCTU secretary general Francis Antonio was reacting to allegations contained in a letter that Mpasu wrote to Antonio's counterpart in Kenya, Andrew Kailembo.
In the letter (surprisingly printed in full in the government owned newspaper, The Weekly News, which falls under Mpasu's ministry of information], Mpasu alleges that the MCTU is an appendage of the two main opposition parties, Malawi Congress Party and Alliance for Democracy. Mpasu alleges that MCTU was being manipulated by the two opposition parties which he said wanted to get into government on the back of the trade union.
"What the government should know is that we (MCTU) are for the people and our activities have nothing to do with any political party. Our objective is to prevent or stop violation of workers' rights," said Antonio. He said the union was always surprised with the manner in which the UDF seemed set on dividing the country. He said whenever someone from the north of Malawi was the leader of one or other organization this was regarded as a sure threat to the UDF requiring castigation of that leader's personality.
Antonio also wondered why Mpasu, a party cadre, was interfering in what was none of his concern, saying the letter he wrote to Kailembo should not have been written by him but to have come from the state president's office. "Your regionalistic approach reminds us of your earlier campaign against Northerners to stop them taking leadership positions in MCTU...," Antonio said and continued by saying that it was 'village politics for Mpasu to always dub people from the North...as being appendages of Chihana.'
MCTU lawyer, Viva Nyimba, concurred with Antonio that it was not Mpasu's duty to respond to the letter. "But my only advice to government is that it should sit down with the union and settle their disputes amicably," he said, adding that a confrontational approach would not achieve desirable results.
3.ALL SHARE INDEX ON THE UP AND UP It is still all smiles at the Malawi Stock Exchange following the handsome rise in the Malawi All Share Index to 145 last week from a low of 137.57 during the week ended January 2, 1998. This is thanks to the soaring in value of Sugar Corporation of Malawi shares on the Malawi Stock Exchange.
New chief executive at the three year-old Malawi Stockbrokers Limited, Thom Mpinganjira who has replaced Rob Stangroom said in an interview last week that Sucoma's shares have been trading between 320 and 340 over the past trading weeks. This, he said, was far higher than the value at which shares of other listed companies are trading. Stangroom, associated with the development of the Malawi Stock Exchange over the past three years, has moved to Harare where he has joined Fleming Martin Corporate Finance, according to MSE.
Mpinganjira said the rise in value of Sucoma shares was due to the high optimism that ordinary investors have in the firm saying that there was much interest in the shares. He said this was because Sucoma shares were now raking in lucrative profits of K1.15 per share describing this as a very handsome profit. He said it was very unlikely with the present trends that the Malawi All Share Index would decline in the near future adding that this was the best time for potential investors in Sucoma to buy the shares as their value is expected to continue rising.
Commenting on the continued rise in the inflation rate, Mpinganjira said the main culprit in this was excessive government spending. He said there were other small factors that might be inflationary, but said the main cause was government's over-expenditure. Inflation is sailing along at 15.2 percent as from January 23 up from 13.80 percent the previous week and 12.7 percent and 6.7 percent the previous month and year, respectively.
Mpinganjira said the 1997/98 budget deficit had been projected at 7 percent but due to excessive government spending the deficit stood at a staggering 10.4 percent by September last year.
5.MALAWI ECONOMY HEADS TOWARDS DEEP WATER
After two years of what seemed to be an economic turn-around, the country's economic ship seems headed to reach the millennium as a complete wreck. Unfortunately, the culprit steering this ship into deep waters is no other than the government. Economic experts say unless the government stops its lavish spending habits, Malawians should gear up for the worst. Virtually all economic indicators point to one thing: that the economy has taken a downturn.
After the Malawi Kwacha exchange rate stabilized at K15 to the US dollar, following a dip to K19 to the dollar in early 1996, everything looked rosy for the economy for most of 1996/97. The opinion was that before long all would return to normal and Malawians would once again start basking in the warmth of sound economic policies.
Among measures hailed as contributing to the this outlook was the cash-based budget system which government introduced in November 1994, and a strong commitment its part to follow sound fiscal management and monetary control measures.
Owing to these measures, the budget deficit for 1995/96 went down from K2.1 billion to K1.2 billion in 1994/95. Revenue collection increased by more than 100 percent. Real output grew by 8.8 percent in 1996 up from 8.5 percent in 1995. The stimulus to the growth was the agricultural sector which grew by 29.2 percent as a result of good rains in that year. Other sectors that also contributed substantially to the growth were the construction industry (11), distribution (12.3) transport and communication (7.4), financial and services (7.2).
By December 1996, inflation rate had decelerated to a low of 6.7 percent from 74.9 percent in December 1995. The downward trend in inflation also knocked down interest rates from a whopping 50 percent to 27 percent by November 11, 1996. Prime lending rates also went down to 23 percent from 42 percent. The real gross domestic product grew by 9.5 percent in 1996 from 9 percent in 1995. Among the measures that contributed to this were the availability of food items following a bumper harvest of cereals, the stability of the Malawi Kwacha reducing speculative behaviour among the business community, and tight fiscal and monetary policies during that year.
Unfortunately, the country's good economic performance did not last with the down turn beginning towards the last quarter of 1997 when the inflation rate started shooting up. Although government had projected that it would remain in the single digits for most of 1997, this was not the case. In addition, budget deficit which was projected at 7.4 percent for the fiscal year, also shot up to 10.4 percent by September last year. Analysts say this was the main contributory factor for inflation.
Official external reserves projected at 5 months of import cover for the 1997/ 98 programme are estimated to have somersaulted to below one and half month's import cover. On the other hand, the manufacturing sector did not perform well, registering a decline of 5.6 percent. The decline is said to have been due to stiff competition from cheap imports and the high interest rates that prevailed during the first half of the year.
Due to government's excessive borrowing, which put inflationary pressures on the Malawi currency, the central bank last September knocked down the Kwacha by 12 percentage points. This in turn brought more undesirable pressures on the economy including a rising inflation rate which stands now at 15.2 per cent from a low of 6.7 the previous year at the same time.
Commercial banks have now announced an adjustment in the lending rate to 26.5 percent from 22 percent with the Kwacha oscillating between K20 and K21.24 to the US dollar. Rates for treasury bills have also moved up by an average of 5 percentage points as of last week, according to the Malawi Stock Exchange. But, the greatest shock in the new year, though not unexpected in view of the prevailing economic situation, was last Monday's fuel price hikes by up to 30 percent.
Petrol has moved up from K10/l to K13/l. Diesel has been increased from K8.40/l to K11/l, while paraffin has gone down to K7/l from K7.75/l. Fuel prices were last raised in 1996. Although government urged the business sector not to push up prices of their commodities as a result of the fuel price rise, it is most unlikely that the rise in fuel will not exert a ripple effect on products and services. Increased production costs to be incurred in the manufacturing sector as well as the service industry due to higher transport costs will inevitably have to be pushed on to the consumer.
So, the simple writing on the wall is that Malawians should now brace themselves for even tougher times to come.
6.GOVERNMENT SHOULD KEEP OUT - KUPINGANI
Gogo Kupingani, one of Kamuzu Banda's nieces has broken her silence and expressed her views on the ongoing wrangle over her late uncle's property, saying that government should keep out of it since it is a family issue. "If and when we need help, we will definitely approach them [government], but right now we do not need it," Kupingani said in an interview. Kupingani who is one of the people mentioned in the will to benefit from Banda's wealth.
She was reacting to statements made by state president Bakili Muluzi during a political rally he addressed in Kasungu approximately a week ago, where he criticized some aspects of the former president's will. She said although the family was aware and appreciated that the government was concerned about the issue it was not in the family's interest for the government to become involved without authority of the Banda family.
Kupingani said all those concerned were working with their lawyers on the will and hoped that very soon the public would know the outcome of the discussions. Banda's nephew, Fred Kadzombo, who inherits nothing under the present wording of the Will, is among the disgruntled family members who think that their uncle's Will was manipulated.
7.TAIWAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER ON GOODWILL TOUR
Taiwan's foreign minister, Jason Hu, was in Malawi from Tuesday last week to assure the government of his island's continued support for Malawi's development programmes. Hu's first call was on President Bakili Muluzi where he said that his government will provide finance for a hospital to be built in northern Malawi.
The foreign minister's visit comes at a time when the Republic of China has only recently lost diplomatic friends in Central African Republic and South Africa both of which have now established ties with mainland China. Only in January, Malawi's information minister Sam Mpasu was in China on an exploratory mission on the possibility of setting up formal ties between Lilongwe and Beijing. That report, which was later denied by the government, sent jitters along Taipei's diplomatic corridors.
Hu's visit to Malawi soon after Mpasu's visit to Beijing is now regarded as an exercise in fence-mending, to assure the Malawians that Taiwan was still their best friend in Asia in terms of economic and financial support.
Malawi and Taiwan set up diplomatic ties in 1967.
From: AfricaNN@inform-bbs.dk (Africa_news Network) Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 14:17:30 +0100 Subject: MALAWI NEWS ONLINE #41 Message-ID: <email@example.com>
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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