Apr 18, 2012

Evolution of the fourth estate

In the age of new social media technologies we’ve seen the rise of Twitter and Facebook as means of spreading information and ideas. And we’ve seen recent examples of how these sites have elevated stories that would otherwise have gone unreported or even worse, falsely reported by traditional media.  

This has proven to be extremely critical in countries where much of the media (newspaper, radio and television) is controlled by the government; and when the government is deathly silent about a particular subject you’d be hard pressed to find courageous journalists willing to defy orders. This is typically where private media, where it exists, has filled in gaps and now they are steadily being eclipsed by savvy mobile and social web users with their ears to the ground.

This is an opportunity for more than a singular voice to be heard on a wide array of subjects, and to circumvent the collusion of government and state owned media to manipulate and spin stories in their favour. Sadly, I don’t think this new reality is sinking in for everybody or if it is they’re have an awfully difficult time adjusting appropriately.  

I think of how Malawi’s government completely fumbled news of President Mutharika’s death. While verified sources at the hospital said the president was dead, the government was at first mute and then when they spoke, it was one lie after another. As we now know this wasn’t done in the interests of the country and its people to prevent panic or a military takeover, but rather as a means of consolidating power by a handful of thugs.

Ideally all these different parties would complement one another in the pursuit of truth and truly being an effective 4th estate, independent of government interference and holding all people to account. 

Apr 16, 2012

The privilege of healthcare

The issue of unequal access to healthcare is not a new one in most societies. Most rational people will agree that healthcare should not be a matter of privilege. Unfortunately, reality is often cruel and we continue to see those without money or means succumbing to illnesses and conditions that treatable and often preventable.

When I read a news article about a maternity wing having an inadequate number of beds, thereby forcing expectant mothers to deliver their babies on the floor, outrage is not quite the right word to describe how I feel. There’s a profound sense of remorse that wells inside me to know that my country continues to fail in providing these very basic needs.

How is it that in 2012, you can have a clinic in a densely populated area putting at risk the lives of mothers and their children, as well as the health and safety of the attending staff by operating in shambolic conditions? When are we going to say “enough is enough” to the Ministry of Health and every successive government that continually fails at its job?

We need to build a quality healthcare system for all Zambians, rich and poor. These ‘shows of force’ by politicians where we see new paint slapped on buildings when donated equipment from donor countries is handed over, need to stop! We cannot continue to be handed down these gestures of goodwill from benevolent leaders and count them as progress.

This is indeed a huge undertaking but then again what isn’t when the goal is a structure and system that should outlive its architects. How do we get this word to the powers that be? We need our own show of force indicating our strong support for a serious change to happen.  

Apr 12, 2012

Madam President

A week ago, I doubt Malawi’s former vice-president, Joyce Banda, could have imagined she would be celebrating her 62nd birthday (today), as the country’s new president. Her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead at Kamuzu Central Hospital. Her ascension to the office of president was briefly mired in intrigue given the fact that Mutharika’s inner circle was meeting behind closed doors scheming to block her path.

Fortunately, the language in Malawi’s constitution is clear about who steps in in the event of a president’s death or incapacitation, and Ms Banda was sworn in two days after Mutharika’s death. I watched the live coverage of the swearing-in ceremony, and I have to admit I was covered in goose bumps. This was history unfolding before my own eyes.

Joyce Banda is a life-long advocate of the advancement of women’s rights and is no political lightweight. She has a tough job ahead in restoring confidence in the executive branch and returning sanity to the economy. It is my fervent hope that she surrounds herself with worthy advisors and colleagues who will keep her honest and also have the tenacity to do the job at hand.

Happy birthday Madam President and Godspeed!