By Mabvuto Banda

Chimwemwe Lusungu was one of the first beneficiaries of Malawi’s much-touted economic miracle, a large-scale national programme which subsidises agriculture inputs, mainly fertilisers and seed for maize production.

Within five years, her maize yields doubled and her life changed: she had enough to feed her six children and surplus to sell. But now the 45-year-old widow from Lilongwe has neither maize to feed her family nor cash to buy food or pay other vital expenses such as school fees.

“I was struck out from the list of beneficiaries because I was told that government didn’t buy enough fertiliser to distribute to everyone as per usual,” she said when asked why she could not get fertiliser last year.

Lusungu blames her situation on “Cashgate”—a corruption scandal in which senior public officers, bankers and businessmen allegedly siphoned an estimated 6.1 billion kwacha ($15.5m) from government coffers, according to Baker Tilly, the British audit firm hired by former President Joyce Banda to investigate the stealing of public funds.

The 117 acre plot stands abandoned after the school project failed
The abandoned 117 acre plot were the Academy for Girls school was supposed to be built. Credit: M.Banda

By Mabvuto Banda

New information has emerged about how Madonna’s handlers covered-up how the Kabbalah International Center used poor Malawian children as a fundraising tool, mismanaged their funds and shifted blame on the managers of the failed school project

Phillippe Van Den Bossche was Executive Director of Raising Malawi, Madonna’s charity and Dr Anjimile Oponyo was the head of the planned Academy for Girls. They both were  accused of malfeasance in a report done by Trevor Neilson’s Global Philanthropy Group

But as I find out, it was all lies perpetrated by Neilson’s report to shift blame to helpless Malawians and distance Madonna and the Kabbalah Centre from the Malawi blow-up.

Neilson is a powerful PR consultant who has worked with political leaders like President Bill Clinton and billionaires namely; Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson among others. He has extensive experience in addressing global and domestic challenges ranging from disease to poverty in Africa.

This is the reason Madonna hired him to use his enormous experience and do a Public Relations facelift after she failed to build the $15 million girls’ academy she had promised Malawian girls, who want better free schools that successive corrupt governments have failed to offer.

 By Mabvuto Banda

On April 6, 2009, US pop star Madonna braved the scorching sun and laid a foundation stone for the $15 million girls’ school in the rust-coloured dirt of a sprawling piece of land in Chinkhota Village – about 15 kilometers outside Lilongwe – the capital of Malawi.

Forced out of their ancestry farm land to pave way for Madonna’s school, the angry villagers calmed down and joined international journalists , government officials, to witness the pop star lay the ceremonial first brick, good news in the southern African nation where only 27 percent of girls attend secondary school.

“I grew up as a poor girl with my mother… I had no chance for good education,” the emotional Madonna said as she put down the brick with an inscription: “Dare to Dream.”

Her remarks resonated so well with many Malawian girls who believed in her and saw the school academy as a chance to live their dreams.

By Mabvuto Banda

Gogo Munthali dissolves into tears every morning. She worries about what to feed her five grandchildren orphaned by HIV/Aids.

Munthali was among the first beneficiaries of Malawi’s farm input subsidy programme (FISP) in Rumphi, which lies over 400 km north of Lilongwe, when it was introduced some eight years ago by late President Bingu wa Mutharika.

About 1.7 million poor farmers were targeted providing them with two 50kg bags of inorganic fertilisers, improved hybrid and open pollinating maize seed at 50 % less.

A village headman in each village assisted by the Village Development Committees (VDC), identified the families with priority given to households headed by children and women.

The results were phenomenal; maize output almost tripled in the first two years from an average of 1.06 ton/ha in 2000- 2005 to 2.27 ton/ha in 2009/2010 pushing GDP growth to an average of 7.4 %, higher than the World Bank recommended rate of 6% for sub Saharan Africa.

Inflation slid into single digits, benchmark interest rates went down from around 40% to 25% for the first time in two decades. Food security at household level also improved. For the first three years, Munthali’s yields doubled from 10 bags of maize to 20 bags. But today, the 65-year-old widow is desperately poor and feeding her grandchildren has become an everyday struggle.

“Fertilizer for the last four years has been arriving late after the first rains…I have had to plant my crop three weeks late and this has reduced my harvest drastically,” she says.

But what worries Munthali more is Samson, the youngest of her grandchildren, who looks sickly and scrawny because he has fully blown AIDS. “Samson may not be with me for long; he is on treatment and I can’t give him the food he needs,” she says looking forlorn and lost.

Samson, 10, is a statistic in a country where UNAIDS says 200,000 children aged between 0-14 years are HIV positive and over 500,000 are orphaned.