Thursday, 29 March 2012

Timeline of Political Chaos in Malawi


Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika is an African leader who is facing growing criticism for dictatorship, suppressing democratic freedoms and causing Malawi’s economic decline.

Mutharika’s sinking popularity has been caused by a series of appalling political occurrences and the apparent economic collapse which is reminiscent of the Zimbabwean situation.

The following is an outline of the killing of 19 unarmed protesters and the detention of prominent human rights lawyers, human rights activists and opposition political leaders.  

It all started on 20 July when Malawians under a coalition of 80 Civil Societies and NGOs, religious and students groups (collectively known as “Concerned Citizens”) went to the street protesting against perceived poor economic management and poor governance by Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party.

The protestors’ grievances were highlighted in a 15- page petition which included a list of 20 demands like ending the acute and growing fuel shortage problem which has progressively become worse over the past two years, the forex shortage and bad governance.

However, the day before the protest, the government set out to intimidate protestors. Two vehicles belonging to the independent private radio station Zodiak Radio were set alight by masked men and in the commercial capital Blantyre, five official DPP vehicles carrying DPP youth Cadets were seen driving around the city waving machetes.

 Malawi police killed 19 unarmed citizens, shot 58 others during the protests and arrested 275 people; a development which was condemned by both local and international human rights bodies.

Speaking in a telephone interview former president Bakili Muluzi described the killing of 19 unarmed citizens as inhuman. Muluzi accused his successor of turning Malawi back into a one party state.

“This is not what we expected when we voted for democracy in 1994, Malawians have a right to assemble freely without being intimidated.” Said Muluzi

On the 21st of July, the riots continued because of the manner in which government had responded on the previous day. Government clamped down on journalists, radio stations and citizens who participated. When police failed to handle the situation the army was sent in as reinforcement. At least two people were killed after Mutharika vowed to “use any measures I can think of” to quell the unrest.

On 22 July, the director of the Church and Society rights organisation, Moses Mkandawire, who was also one of the protest organisers in the northern region, said government using police blocked funeral processions for people who were murdered during the riots. “Armed police stopped our arrangements to bury the heroes”. Protest leaders started receiving death threats which forced them to go into hiding for fear of arrest or worse.

Some protest leaders sought refuge in diplomats’ residences.

Rafiq Hajat, the director of the Institute for Policy Interaction and one of the protests’ lead figures warned Mutharika that if he did not address protesters' demands by 16 August, demonstrations would resume on 17 August with the goal of ending his regime. The Public Affairs Committee, a group composed of both Christian and Muslim activists, also warned that "should government continue to harass people for no proper reasons, another demonstration will be inevitable. Bullets and tear gas have never triumphed over the will of the people."

The Concerned Citizens of Malawi planned to stage another protest on 17 August in the form of a national vigil for the victims of the 20 July protest. The vigil was, however, cancelled a day before the protests due to the intervention of the United Nations who engaged civil society groups and the government in dialogue. The dialogue later broke down because of what the civil society groups said was continued intimidation being faced outside the meeting.

In September a string of arson cases were also reported, whereby unidentified assailants threw petrol bombs at the homes and offices of several government critics, including the activists ,Reverend MacDonald Sembereka and Rafiq Hajat and an opposition politician, Salim Bagus.

President  Bingu wa Mutharika was accused of being behind the arsons, particularity since he threatened protest leaders by saying he would "smoke you out." He later denied being behind the arsons. No one was arrested or found guilty of partaking in the arson cases.

The two markets in Blantyre and Lilongwe were also burned down on 20 September a day before the protests on 21 September.

On 21 September a national stay-at-home was organised with the aim of shutting down the economy via a general strike, civil servants also participated.

 On what the organisers called "Red Wednesday." Businesses and banks across the country were closed; at the same time there was also a heavy police presence and protestors clad in red. People were also urged by the organisers to hold vigils at home to commemorate the deaths of Malawians killed during the protests in July.

 The protest was held on Wednesday to mark the day 19 people were killed during the July protests; it also marked the beginning of a planned for three day stay-at-home strike.

On 27 September, Bingu wa Mutharika called for an end to the strike on the state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation warning that "You can’t bully me into submission. The government can’t be taken to ransom by a few disgruntled individuals hiding in the name of civil society. If you stop people from going to work, I will deal with you." He added that the strikes were illegal, while telling people to return to work the next day.

Following the violence, Mutharika called on the people of Malawi to "stop the rioting and let's sit down to discuss. I have a responsibility, based on the powers vested in me by the constitution to bring law and order."

Mutharika who  accused the protesters of being "led by Satan," then blamed his former deputy Joyce Banda and opposition leader John Tembo, as well as other civil society leaders of being responsible for the violent protests. "The blood of these people who have died is on you. Let their spirits haunt you at night. This time I'll go after you! Even if you hide in holes I'll smoke you out!”

 He also said that those organising the protests should face the "consequences." His rhetoric saying to protesters saying that he would "smoke you out" was in reference to former United States President George W. Bush, who used the same words for Osama bin Laden.

First Lady Callista Mutharika publicly castigated the NGO's that organised the protests for allegedly being paid by Western donors to "disturb the peace" and promote homosexuality, stating that they would "go to hell." She further said that villagers should not have an interest in the protest over fuel and foreign exchange since they do not drive cars and because they don't engage in cross border trade. She urged village chiefs and the rural population at-large not to protest. Her response was received with much criticism from civil society. 

On 19 August, Mutharika made a surprise move by sacking his entire cabinet without announcing a reason for the move. Analysts speculated that it was related to the protests and the freeze in aid from the United Kingdom triggered by the government's response, however other DPP members of parliament also speculated that some cabinet ministers were planning to impeach Mutharika.

He reappointed a new trimmed down cabinet on 7 September. However, it still included controversial posts such as his wife Callista Mutharika as a cabinet member, his brother Peter Mutharika as Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture Ken Lipenga as Minister of Finance, while excluding former Vice President Joyce Banda, wa Mutharika has repeatedly referred to the cabinet as a "war cabinet" charged with defending the "integrity of nation."

Mutharika hastened the retirment of the head of the army, General Marko Chiziko and appointed a new army chief after the protests. The former army chief was  replaced  by  General Henry Odilo.

Mutharika was accused of hiring mercenaries from Zimbabwe to patrol the streets and suppress protestors in preparation for the second protest which was to take place in the form of a national vigil. They were hired after consultations by wa Mutharika with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe after it became clear that the Malawian army would not shoot at Malawians during the planned protests due to discontent in the army. The Zimbabwean personnel were stationed in Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Blantyre, and Zomba.

In spite of the nationwide protest against the Mutharika regime, in early August 2011 the DPP National Governing Council (NGC) endorsed Peter Mutharika, the president’s brother, as a presidential candidate for the 2014 presidential election. This early announcement came a few days after the protests.

The appointment decision was made by President Bingu wa Mutharika and endorsed by the council without a party convention. DPP Secretary General Wakuda Kamanga stated that they are optimistic that the country will elect another Mutharika in spite of the protests because the "anger would phase out." The party also sacked other leaders that had been against the promotion of the Peter Mutharika as a candidate, including first vice-president Joyce Banda and second vice-president Khumbo Kachale.

In October 2011, police arrested five civil society activists – Habiba Osman, Billy Mayaya, Brian Nyasulu, Ben Chiza Mkandawire and Comfort Chiseko on charges of “holding an illegal demonstration” They were taking part in a small, peaceful demonstration outside parliament, calling on president Mutharika to a referendum, to resign and to hold an early election, they were later out on bail after five days.

Police and ruling party supporters have also been implicated in the intimidation, arbitrary arrest and beating of journalists attempting to report on political events. On October 11, police summoned and questioned two journalists from the Malawi News, Innocent Chitosi, a deputy editor, Archibald Kasakula, a reporter  and George Kasakula of Weekend Nation after two papers published stories  about the death of a university of Malawi student activist Robert Chasowa and Mutharika’s critic  who was murdered at the campus of Polytechnic College.

On September 12, police arrested and questioned a journalist, Ernest Mhwayo, for taking pictures of president Mutharika’s multimillion dollar farm.  He was charged with “conduct likely to cause breach of peace” and released on the following day. Several journalists were beaten and detained by police in July as they covered demonstrations throughout the country.

On February 13, police arrested a prominent lawyer, and former Attorney General Ralph Kasambara, and five of his security guards in Blantyre, after the guards apprehended three men who wanted to petrol bomb  Kasambara’s office. Police charged Kasambara and his guards with assault. The arrest came after two national newspapers had published details of the interview in which Kasambara criticised Mutharika’s record on human rights and governance and called for his resignation. Kasambara was detained for several days before being let out on bail. However the three men who attempted the attack were let free without charge.

Political analysts believe that the attempt attack against Kasambara is directly related  to his work as a human rights lawyer and his support to civil society organisations.

Responding to his arrest Kasambara said he believes his case is politically motivated because he has been outspoken in his criticism of Mutharika and true in his pledge that he would not be deterred from opposing the president.

He told local radio station Capital FM " Mutharika must resign immediatelly, infact  he must have done that yesterday"

On March 15 the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) a religious rights group, called for the resignation of the president or for a referendum for Mutharika to seek a fresh mandate from Malawians.

However President Mutharika responded to the call by saying he could rule Malawi forever if he wanted to.

“If I wanted to, I would use the majority I have and amend the constitution to rule another term” he told supporters at a rally.

Commenting on the issue human rights activist Undule Mwakasungula accused the president of misusing the majority he has in parliament to fulfil his personal gains.

“I am not sure why Mutharika made a sudden change but I believe the majority he won in second term might have surprised him too”. Said Mwakasungula

“We have always felt the majority would have been used to  better use than seeking third term or introducing bills in parliament that are not human right friendly” added  Mwakasungula

Recently Bingu made a shocking move when he signed a newspaper ban law, which was described as an intimidation and a threat to the journalism profession.

The Malawi National Assembly amended Section 46 of its Penal Code and made it into a new law in November 2010.The statute now reads “if the minister has reasonable grounds to believe that the publication or importation of any law publication would be contrary to the public interest, he may, by order published gazette, prohibit the publication or importation of such publication.” Initially,the Penal Code empowered the information minister “to prohibit the publication of any seditious materials”

Local political and law experts have questioned these amendments and Blessings Chisinga, a renowned political analyst from the university of Malawi described the amendments as “a strategic movement towards 2014 general election”

According to Chisinga the signing of the new law further thwarts the ratification of Access to Information Bill which has not yet been passed since it was drafted in 2003, which could have helped journalists to easily access information.

On March 16, police without a warrant arrested John Kapito, chairperson of the government funded Malawi Human Rights Commission and a prominent critic of the government’s human rights record, accusing him of possessing guns and seditious materials. Police conducted an extensive search of Kapito’s home but found nothing, but nonetheless he was charged with possessing “material with seditious words,” and undocumented foreign exchange. He was released on bail on the same day.

On March 21, police in the capital Lilongwe arrested a prominent opposition leader and son of the former president, Atupele Muluzi, and charged him with inciting violence. The arrest came after angry United Democratic Front (UDF) supporters torched down a police station after police tear-gassed a party rally in Lilongwe which Muluzi was addressing.

Commenting on his son’s arrest former president Muluzi believes that charges against Atupele were politically motivated; meant as a scare campaign to intimidate the opposition and civil society.

On Thursday 29 March police in the commercial capital Blantyre arrested lawyer Shepher Mumba in connection with the signing of bail papers for Ralph Kasambara a prominent lawyer and critic of president Bingu wa Mutharika

Police claimed Kasambara's first release from Chichiri prison had procedural infringement after his arrest on assault charges.

Speaking in an interview his partner in legal firm Wapona Kita said the arrest is to do with the signing he did at Chichiri prison during Kasambara's first release on bail.

"Police have charged Mumba with Section. 362 of the penal Code which provides for the offence of procuring execution of documents by false pretence in respect of the Ralph Kasambara's bail. He is right now remanded at Blantyre Police station." said Kita.  

Friday, 23 March 2012


The U.S Government's Millennium Challenge Corporation  (MCC) Board chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has suspended the Malawi Compact due to bad governance.

MCC maintains compact partnership only with countries that demonstrate a clear commitment to good governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens.

MCC CEO Daniel Yohannes started that "An MCC compact is a partnership, and the commitment  to democratic rights, accountable government and sound economic management is fundamental to that partnership.In light of our ongoing concerns about democratic governance in Malawi, MCC has formally suspended the compact."

He therefore stated that the future of this compact now rests on the actions of the Malawi government leadership from now to June, when the MCC Board is expected to meet again.

MCC planned $350 million investment in the power sector and was expected to provide close to $ 2 billion in net income benefits to nearly six million Malawians, the great majority of whom live on less than $2 per day.

However the MCC board has expressed very serious concerns about the economic and political situation in Malawi.

The board therefore called upon the government of  Malawi to respect the rights of its citizens and civil society  organisations to assemble and speak freely.

The board did not hide that it will continue to monitor events in Malawi closely and will decide whether to terminate the compact at its meeting in June.

The killing of 20 people during the anti-government riots of July 20, 2011 and the recent arrests of opposition and human rights leaders are some of the key issues that led to the suspension.

Muluzi Arrives on Saturday, As Atupele Moved To Mwaiwathu

Former Malawi President Dr. Bakili Muluzi is expected to  arrive in the country on Saturday, March 24 from South Africa where he was receiving medical treatment.

Muluzi has been forced to cut treatment short following the arrest of his son Atupele who is also a presidential candidate for the United Democratic Front in the coming 2014  general election. 

 ,Atupele  who was arrested on Tuesday was charged with  inciting violence.

According to local media Muluzi  has been given a  15 day holiday by his doctors to attend to the arrest of his  son.
Speaking with local press the  former President condemned  the arrest  and called for the immediate release of his son.
 He further urged President Bingu wa Mutharika to desist from persecuting his family.
“They are detaining Atupele illegally. There is nothing wrong he committed. This is just an attack on my family,” said Muluzi.
Meanwhile, Atupele has been  transferred from Lilongwe City Centre Clinic to Mwaiwathu hospital in the commercial capital Blantyre.
He has been diagnosed with Malaria and high blood pressure.
His  Lawyers are still negotiating for police bail .

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Final Communique On PAC Meeting

Recently The  Public Affairs Committee held a two day meeting  to find solutions to the country's economic and social challenges
At the end of the meeting they   called upon president Bingu Wa Mutharika to resign or call a referendum.

This is the final Communique

BLANTYRE, 14-15 MARCH, 2012
Issued : 21 March, 2012
This communiqué is not a strategy paper but a document that provides the
general spirit of the observations and recommendations emanating from the
conference. Specifics will be defined in line with appropriate consultations with
sectors present at the conference.
1. The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) held a two-day All-Inclusive Stakeholders
Conference from 14-15, March, 2012 at Limbe Cathedral, Blantyre, Malawi.
Delegates to the conference included media fraternity, political parties, academia,
legal fraternity , Malawi Congress of Trade Union, representatives of civil society
organizations , faith leaders and other interested stakeholders .
2. PAC, a predominantly faith-based organization whose aims include : to encourage
religious bodies to fulfil their prophetic and religious roles, and respond to the socioeconomic
and political affairs of the Republic of Malawi; to enter into and maintain
a dialogue with any person, political body or any other institution including the
Head of State in the Republic of Malawi regarding any issues of concern to the
nation; and to promote peace and tranquillity in the Republic of Malawi among
others , hosted the conference which focussed on three topics: the current
political situation in Malawi, the economic situation in Malawi and Constitutional
gaps and opportunities.
3. Prompted by signs in our society that point to a crisis in political, economic and
constitutional governance, inspired by PAC’s prophetic mandate, realising that
God does not change the conditions of people unless the people themselves show
commitment to change them, we did a serious introspection and critical analysis based
on hard questions that need to be addressed if we have to reclaim our future as a nation.
Our observations
Current Political Situation
4. Delegates observed that the challenges facing the country need urgent attention and
must be dealt with by Malawians themselves through constructive engagement
among various stakeholders.
5. It was noted that Malawi as a nation has drastically deteriorated from a developmental
state (2004 -2009), and is now bordering towards a weak state (2010 to 2012)
as witnessed in the passing of unpopular bills in parliament; pursuing policies
without adequate consultation, and threats to dissenting views.
6. While Malawi successfully ushered in a democratic constitution , lack of internalised
democratic culture in the governance structures of our society especially in political
parties remains a challenge in the field of good governance. It was further
observed that there is a reasonable number of political parties without defined
and distinctive political ideologies to guide the political agenda in Malawi.
Economic Situation
7. Delegates noted that the economic situation is unsatisfactory. This has led to
rising cost of living and the shrinking of businesses resulting into loss of jobs
which is bringing misery to many families.
8. Though government has put in place initiatives in attracting investment, policies
to ensure the expansion of businesses in different sectors and attracting foreign
investment remain inadequate and ineffective .The need for a self-reliant economy
is of paramount importance. However, delegates observed that the zero deficit
budget has tax burdens for Malawians and could further stifle the economic
activities given that Malawi remains weak in most of the sectors that drive the
economy. In view of this , the matter of devaluation of the Kwacha cannot be
ignored but needs proper planning.
9. Delegates noted the loss of donor support as a major cause of concern
following the poor relations between our government and international
10. Noting the importance of trade unions, members observed the need to guarantee
basic requirements in form of a decent wage, better jobs, protected environment, a
conducive social security and health protection and ensure that political interests
do not overshadow the need for a free and conducive environment for workers . It
was further noted that Unions have been agents of change world over and their
meaningful engagements have resulted in positive gains for nations.
11. In spite of Malawi adopting a democratic constitution, there is a considerable
evidence that there is limited knowledge and internalisation of the Constitution
- a situation that has led to having a constitution without constitutionalism.
12. The Constitution has both gaps and opportunities in our young democracy. However,
it must be appreciated that governance challenges cannot be solved by the
constitution alone.
13. Although the Constitution clearly states that the mandate to govern derives from
the people of Malawi we note that it is abused by those entrusted with it. We also
note that the balance of power is heavily skewed towards the Executive branch of
government at the expense of the other two .
14. Access to justice is a very important human right and PAC should ask the government
to settle its differences with the judiciary as soon as possible so that the courts can
start functioning.
15. PAC should facilitate political parties (both ruling and opposition) to hold own
conferences of parties to address their differences and enhance party ideologies
and inter-party democracy.
16. It is the constitutional duty of the government of the day to promote the economic
welfare of all Malawians. PAC should ask Government to settle its differences with
UK, the IMF, the World Bank and other donors immediately so that the economic
deterioration is arrested immediately. It must be emphasised that Malawi, though a
sovereign state, can not operate in isolation in this global world.
Delegates noted that the matter of the devaluation of the Kwacha should not be
dismissed off hand but an honest discussion should be fostered culminating in the
right action by the highest authority.
17. It is the responsibility of the President and indeed all our political leaders, to speak
and behave in an exemplary manner so that Malawians can relate to each other
in a harmonious manner. PAC should ask President Mutharika and all the other
political leaders to desist from using provocative statements meant to demean and
insult their opponents or those who hold different views from them.
18. Delegates felt that bad laws ( S46 of the Penal Code, amendment to S35 of the
Police Act, Injunctions law, Local Government Act(S147(5), among others) should
be repealed because they are very unpopular and a source of division in our
country. There is high perception that such laws were passed to serve interests
of the few.
19. Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) should provide balanced information
given that it operates on tax payers money. In the same vein, media should
be protected so that media freedom continue to be exercised in line with the
expected standard by the media fraternity.
20. Given the human rights challenges Malawi continues to suffer, members
demanded an inquest on the death of Robert Chasowa. The outcome of the
inquest would assist Malawi to avoid a repeat of such horrible events.
21. Electoral Commission should be strengthened and commissioners need to be
appointed as a matter of urgency in readiness of the 2014 tripartite elections.
The current situation will need a non-partisan electoral management body
to lessen tensions among various stakeholders taking part in the electoral
22. Clear road map after Constitutional Conference held in 2007 is imperative if
Malawi is to improve its constitutional architecture.
23. On the new currency notes to be introduced, members felt that no individual’s
face on the currency (not even of the incumbent president) should appear on
the note, especially in a multiparty setting like ours in Malawi.
24. Delegates further felt that a sensible balance between creation and distribution of
wealth should be maintained for the overall development of the country. In
order to achieve the latter, effective measures should be put in place to guarantee
accountability, transparency, personal integrity and financial probity in our society.
25. Independence of the legislative arm of the government should be secured by giving
financial independence. Parliament must be given the right to own and manage its
own budget.
26. At the conference there were calls that the current government should resign. Failing
which, a referendum must be called to give a chance to the nation to express its
mind on the matter.
The need to repeal the bad laws and to cooperate with IMF and other development
partners is of urgency with the prevailing crisis. Otherwise, with the current crisis
Malawians may exercise their right to withdraw the trust bestowed upon the current
regime in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of Republic of Malawi (S.12)
(111). To this end, redress to the latter would assist Malawi to reclaim its destiny.
All the views of the stakeholders from conference will be entertained through
appropriate special committees with special competencies. PAC has been called upon
to engage with the relevant authorities using constructive engagement to secure
results on hard issues.
We call upon all Malawians to demonstrate a spirit of patriotism towards our nation
as we face the socio-economic and political challenges by actively participating and
engaging with the concerned institutions in the exercise of their constitutional rights .
By the Grace of God We shall Succeed.
Rt Rev. James Tengatenga

Mali President Forced To Flee After Coup

  President Amadou Toumani Toure has been forced  to flee Mali after a military coup , Xinhua reported Thursday.

Rebel soldiers announced on a state TV that they had removed President Toure from power. However they have promised that  an inclusive government will be formed to organise fresh polls as soon as possible.

Deaths were reported in the raid on the presidential palace.

Lt. Konare spokesman of the mutinous Malian officers behind the coup speaking on  TV

The White House has called for an immediate restoration of "constitutional rule" in Mali.

"The United States strongly condemns the violence initiated by elements of the armed forces of Mali," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"We call for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule in Mali, including full civilian authority over the armed forces and respect for the country's democratic institutions and traditions," Carney said.

He said Washington welcomes "the strong statements by the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States condemning this unconstitutional seizure of power." 


The MCC board meets Thursday. On the agenda: Zambia (new compact), Malawi (whither its compact) and Niger (revised threshold program) Not on the agenda, but worth discussion: Senegal and upcoming impact evaluations. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it would be nice if there were news on the two vacant board seats.
 However on the Malawi part there are fears that the recent arrest  of high profile figures will affect Malawi's chances of getting the $ 350 million grant. 

Bad News: Malawi & Senegal
MCC signed a $350 million compact with Malawi in April 2011, but put the compact on hold in July following political violence and related concerns with Malawi’s commitment to good governance. The president of Malawi recently told international donors to “go to hell.”  The MCC compact would have focused on Malawi’s power sector and was expected to have far-reaching benefits for Malawi’s citizens. I’ve heard several MCC staff say the Malawi compact would have been the “best yet” so they are understandably disappointed at the turn of events (but shouldn’t be motivated by the sunk cost argument or pressure to get money out the door). The board is now faced with a tough decision: maintain the hold, suspend or terminate the compact. Merely maintaining the hold risks looking like inattention. So my guess is that the real debate is between suspension and termination.  The optimist may choose suspension to send a signal to the government while still holding some policy leverage and hope for near-term change. The pessimist may choose outright termination to show that the MCC only works with good performers and can’t spare slim funds or staff time when country performance reverses.
Meanwhile, Senegal is not officially on the agenda, but ongoing concerns with President Wade’s run for a third term in office, perceptions of corruption and spots of violence merit board attention (recall MCC has a $540 million compact with Senegal). The MCC says it is watching the election events and I doubt the board will take any action before the second round of elections this weekend, but it should be prepared for possible policy responses and risks to MCC’s reputation.

No News: Vacant Board Seats
Where are the remaining two non-governmental MCC board members? Rumor has it that a Republican nominee has been in the works for some time but that there is no word on the remaining nominee (which should come from Senator Reid’s office) or when the pair of nominees might be put in place. The makeup of the MCC board is innovative and useful and even being emulated in a new U.S. global development council. It would be nice if the model were fully staffed.
The MCC is also getting ready to release a number of impact evaluations that will certainly showsuccesses and failures. The board, MCC staff and development folks on and off the Hill should be looking for ways to ensure that these results are used to make program improvements, not justify program cuts. As I’ve said before, the MCC should be commended for doing impact evaluations and especially for sharing the bad news. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Press Statement on HIV/AIDS, TB Malaria activist emergency meeting


Contact                                                                                              Press Conference Details
Czerina Patel                                                                                      Thursday, March 22, 2012, 1pm
Health Financing Communications Officer                                        Suite 7
WORLD AIDS CAMPAIGN                                                               Protea Hotel
+27-79-867-4439                                                                                Corner Main & Arthurs Roads                                                                            Sea Point, Cape Town, S. Africa                                                                             +27-21-434-3344

HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria activists hold emergency meeting ahead of World TB Day as global leaders bail out banks but block progress in combating life-threatening diseases by not paying what they have promised

(Cape Town, March 19, 2012) - For decades Africa has been ravaged by its three most life-threatening diseases: HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria. The “deadly trio” takes the lives of millions of Africans every year, but instead of focusing on these ruthless diseases, many African governments are spending their budgets on guns or exorbitant political salaries, while failing to fulfill their promises to protect their citizens by investing in health and in providing medical prevention and treatment - the weapons that are needed the most.

“Where is the money?” asked hundreds of activists at the December 2011 International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia through demonstrations, speeches and a petition handed over to the African Union.

There are approximately 46 million people living in the world with HIV or TB and more than 200 million cases of malaria annually. The Abuja Declaration adopted in April 2001 by African leaders declared the response to HIV/AIDS, TB and other related infections as the highest priority issue in their respective national development plans, committing 15% of their national budgetary allocations to health. Now, 11 years down the line only a handful of countries have achieved this target, with the regional average remaining at 7%, and much of this amount actually coming from international donor countries.

In addition to African governments neglecting their commitments, some countries including Italy, Spain, and Ireland have also failed to pay in their pledges to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund), which provides about two-thirds of total international funding for TB and malaria services, and one-fifth for HIV services. The Global Fund‘s recent announcement to cancel Round 11 funding due to unfulfilled pledges and budget shortfalls came as a crippling blow to Africa’s health sector. Amongst other things, it means that the Global Fund will not fund the expansion of HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria programmes until 2014.

It was largely due to the impact of the Global Fund’s significant contribution to fighting these diseases over the past decade that the HIV sector recently became more optimistic than ever about achieving a world with no new infections and no more AIDS or HIV-TB deaths.  Not only had new HIV infections

dropped to their lowest levels since 1997, but breakthrough new scientific research1 shows that providing early antiretroviral therapy (ART) to an HIV infected person can reduce the risk of sexual transmission of HIV to an uninfected partner by 96%.

“The new research suggests that if we invest more in treatment, we not only save the lives of those living with HIV, but we also prevent new infections by almost eliminating transmission,” says Rosemary Mburu, the Regional Civil Society Platform Coordinator of the World Aids Campaign. “We can actually now envision a world where HIV is no longer the enormous threat it is today, but in order to do so, we need increased investment now.”

To reduce funding for the HIV response in difficult economic times is short-sighted and counterproductive and will put the world in a position where the financial burden of disease gets exponentially heavier instead of lighter. Last week at the 4th Interagency Meeting on Coordination and Harmonization of HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria (ATM) Strategies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, global health experts said the Global Fund decision on Round 11 “represents a setback, particularly because it comes at a time when countries were planning [to] scale-up case detection with new rapid diagnostics, [to] intensify efforts on addressing HIV associated TB and  [to] expand capacity to treat drug resistant TB.”

When we invest in health, we see we can overcome these life-threatening diseases. Just last week, it was announced that South Africa has successfully treated three patients with extensively drug resistant (XDR) TB at the Klerksdorp-Tshepong Hospital, the first three such success stories related to XDR TB in South Africa. Rates of new HIV infections have also decreased by 50% in South Africa.

Malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25% since 2000 due to a massive scale up of mosquito nets and indoor spraying, increased access to diagnosis and effective treatment, as well as research and activism around policy issues such as the banning of oral artemisinin-based monotherapies to prevent the spread of drug resistant malaria.

Still, an estimated 6 million South Africans are living with HIV, and TB is responsible for 60% of HIV related deaths in Kenya. Someone in the world is infected with TB every second and people living with HIV are about 37 times more likely to develop TB than people free of HIV infection. In Cameroon, 60% of pregnant women suffer from malaria and 35% of all deaths of children under 5 is due to malaria. Between four to five million deaths occur annually around the world as a result of the deadly trio. This is not just a number. It’s millions of lives, and millions of children left without parents or children themselves dying.

Unless the global community commits an additional $2 billion now towards the Global Fund, people who contract these diseases will be turned away from life-saving treatment. Preventing transmission of HIV (through treatment (ARTs) as well as other prevention mechanisms including condom use) is essential to reducing rates of TB illness and deaths.

In this health environment, pulling dollars means pushing death. It is for this reason that this week’s emergency meeting to coordinate activist efforts around health financing has been called with the goal to develop a unified voice around the three greatest threats to the health of African people. The activists will develop an emergency action plan to put pressure on domestic governments and international donor countries to close the budget shortfall and put people first by investing $2 billion by
July of this year and will simultaneously push for innovative initiatives such as special levies and a financial transaction tax (FTT) to ensure that health is given the investment it deserves.
It is not common for HIV, TB and Malaria organizations to come together, but the threat these three diseases are posing to the African continent and the danger of not having the responses properly funded is so large that it is essential to collaborate, build solidarity and strategize together to ensure both donor and African governments properly fund the health response.

1 The HIV Prevention Trials Network study (HPTN 052) was named Top Scientific Breakthrough by Science Magazine in December 2011.
Activists from across the African continent will attend this meeting, convened by AfriCASO, Aids Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), The Eastern Africa National Networks of AIDS Service Organisations (EANNASO), The International HIV/AIDS Alliance and the World Aids Campaign (WAC). UNAIDS, Global Fund, International Civil Society Support (ICSS), Open Society Foundations, Stop TB NOW, The Roll Back Malaria Campaign and RESULTS will also participate.

While the emergency meeting is happening in Cape Town, South Africa, hundreds of activists will participate in a march and memorandum handover on Thursday March 22nd in Johannesburg to demand that international donor countries do more to replenish the Global Fund and close the health financing gap left by the failure of governments to fulfill their pledges to health. This week the world also recognizes World TB Day (March 24th), with a “Stop TB in My Lifetime” campaign.

Global leaders must commit now to invest in research, treatment and prevention of these diseases, which cumulatively affect more than 200 million people in a year. Globally, we have been making progress educating citizens around health: testing for diseases, removing stigmas, and assuring them that once diagnosed, they can be treated and survive, but if the Global Fund stops funding new treatments and African governments fail to do their part as well, then this is no longer true, and for millions of people, disease will mean death.  ###

Meeting Details
Tuesday March 20 (9am) - Thursday March 22 (2:30pm), 2012
Press Conference 1pm Thursday March 22, 2012
[Suite 7, Protea Hotel] – Park at hotel (tell them you are here for World AIDS Campaign conference)
All of the above will take place at the Protea Hotel (Corner Main & Arthurs Road, Sea Point, Cape Town, South Africa – entrance on Arthurs)
Panelists on the press conference will include activists from all over Africa who will give an overview of the state of HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria in Africa, and also discuss what the impact of not closing the funding gap would be to each of these diseases and to health overall. In addition, the outcomes of this week’s health financing meeting will be shared with the media. One panelist will also speak about their personal experiences surviving TB. More details on the panelists will be sent to the press upon request.

Johannesburg Protest March & Memorandum Handover
Thursday March 22, 2012, 11:30am
1 Sandton Drive, Johannesburg, South Africa

Participants: Over 1,000 southern African activists & representatives of the Treatment Action Campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières South Africa, World Aids Campaign, Aids Rights Alliance of Southern Africa, He-Tic, Médecins Sans Frontières Swaziland, and Section27.

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