Tuesday, 18 April 2017

When one wife is not enough

Mr Phiri with his four wives.

By Jack Zimba
“I DECIDED to marry four wives because one woman could not satisfy my desire as a man,” says Moses Phiri of Mulangeni village in Chief Chanje’s area.
Mr Phiri, 41, married his first wife, Lizyness, in 1993.
But in 1997, Mr Phiri befriended and fell in love with Loveness Banda of neighbouring Bonzo village, whom he met at a village soccer match. Mr Phiri still fancies himself as a good soccer player.
Within only a month, the two were discussing marriage.
“I would lie if I said I found anything wrong with my wife, she was okay,” says Mr Phiri. “I just needed one more woman to satisfy my sexual hunger.”
But when he told Lizyness about getting a second wife, she strongly objected to the idea.
“She was very unhappy, and I understood why; she is a woman and wanted to have a husband all to herself,” says Mr Phiri, who makes a living through subsistence farming.
In order to appease his wife and get his wish granted, Mr Phiri gave Lizyness a chicken, as per Chewa custom.
A few years later, Mr Phiri had added two more women to his harem.
And Lizyness? Well, she seems to have gotten over her unhappiness of having to share her husband with other women, so much so that she now speaks in favour of polygamy.
“The goodness of being in this marriage is that we work together, but also we have a husband who handles his affairs very well, he doesn’t skip the time to spend with each one of us,” she says.
Mr Phiri spends two days with each of his wives.
To enhance his sexual drive, he uses an aphrodisiac called vubwi, which is a wild root ground into a powder.
He says vubwi is so potent, that it even helps in women who have difficulties conceiving.
“When I married my second wife, she had stayed nine years in her previous marriage without a child, but now she has a child, and is expecting another,” he says.
Mr Phiri has nine children, six with his first wife.
He also says he takes the issue of HIV/AIDS seriously, and he and his wives regularly test for the virus.
There is no hint of trouble in the Phiri household. The four women do many things together.
“We go to fetch water together, we sit and chat and even groom each other’s hair,” says Lizyness.
All the three women have the same reasons for entering this polygamous union, and they did it with full knowledge.
“I knew he already had three wives, but I just wanted to be his fourth wife because I liked him,” says Esnart Soko.
Esnart says she has seen many benefits of being in a polygamous marriage.
“There was a time when I was away in my parents’ village which is far from here and my son was badly hurt with an axe,” she narrates, “it was my friends who took care of him. So I have seen the benefits of being in a polygamous marriage.”
By “friends” Esnart is referring to the other wives of her husband’s.
And while many women will frown upon this marriage, raising issues of jealousy, these four wives claim they live in harmony.
“When I came here, my friends received me very well, we don’t fight. The two women I found were very kind, and even the fourth one who joined us later was also kind-hearted and so we live happily together,” says Florence Tembo, who is wife number three.
For Florence, this is her second polygamous relationship. Before she got married to Mr Phiri, Florence was married to a man who had three wives. She now boasts of some experience in such affairs.
“Being in a polygamous marriage is not difficult,” she says.
Mr Phiri met Florence at gule (a cultural festival of the Chewa that brings out masked men called Nyau to perform various dances). Mr Phiri says Florence was smitten by his drumming, and the two fell in love almost immediately.
But while the women seem very tolerant and accommodating of each other, any suggestion of a fifth wife gets even the less vocal of the four raising their voices in protest. It seems five is a crowd.
“We can’t allow a fifth wife because she will just bring trouble. The four of us are enough,” says Lizyness.
But it is Esnart, the fourth wife, who makes the strongest protest.
“He has already divided the field among us and, look, there is not enough space in this compound to build a fifth house. If she comes, we won’t be nice to her,” she says as they all giggle and laugh, like a bunch of sisters.
Mr Phiri’s homestead has four small houses of burnt bricks with thatched roofs. He has also apportioned a field to each of the four wives to cultivate.
But maybe the four women will not have to worry much about a fifth addition to their household.
“Right now I don’t have any lovers outside my home, I have all I need. I’m now satisfied,” says Mr Phiri.
Mr Phiri is not the only one in Chief Chanje’s chiefdom who has married more than one wife. Polygamy is a common practice among the villagers here.
Malamulo Zulu married his first wife in 2000 and in 2013, he married a second wife.
“I decided to marry a second wife because whenever my wife went to visit her parents, I remained alone to take care of the children,” says the 38-year-old peasant of Dongolose village.
Unlike Mr Phiri, Mr Zulu did not face any objection from his wife to marry a second wife.
“I allowed it because it helps a lot. When one is sick, for example, the other is able to help,” says Mr Zulu’s first wife, Misozi Banda.
In fact, Misozi speaks well of the second wife, Clara. “She is a well-mannered woman,” she says of her. Misozi says as long the women are united, there are no feelings of jealousy between them. She says she and her husband’s second wife are now like twins, doing many things together. “Sometimes we even bathe together,” she says.
As for Clara, she says she doesn’t have any feelings of being second wife. “I feel like I’m his only wife,” she says, leaning against her husband.
There is no hint of jealousy in Misozi’s face, who is sitting on the other side. Mr Zulu says he has no plans of marrying another wife, “unless I find a problem with my current two wives.”
But if he marries a third wife, he risks being excommunicated from his church. Mr Zulu and his family are devoted members of the Last Church of God and His Christ, which allows polygamous relationships, but only if one married more than one wife before joining the church.
In fact Mr Phiri is the pastor of that church.
Both Mr Phiri and Mr Zulu say having many wives has helped them to avoid extramarital affairs.
“There are some men who condemn polygamous marriages, but they have many girlfriends and they even have children with those girlfriends. It’s better you bring those children home so that you raise them together with your other children. Even when I die, these children will support each other,” says Mr Phiri.
For Mr Zulu, marrying more than one woman also stops one from spending on girlfriends.
“Many husbands spend a lot of money on girlfriends, but it’s better you marry that woman so that you spend the money within your home,” he says.
But it seems the men here also marry more wives for economic reasons.
“Instead of engaging a worker from elsewhere, it’s better to get another wife so that you work together to develop your farm,” Mr Zulu says.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

I could have killed my husband

Mutinta pictured at her home.


WHAT would you do if your husband’s girlfriend invaded your bedroom in the middle of the night and savagely attacked you while you slept? That is the situation one woman of Lusaka was faced with.

Now divorced for 10 years, Mutinta* talks about the pain of living in an abusive relationship.

A fading bite mark on her wrist is a sad reminder of her deeply troubled marriage. She has similar marks on both thighs, inflicted on her by her husband’s lover.

One night, when she couldn’t take the abuse anymore, Mutinta became like a cornered animal and hit back, savagely beating her husband.

“He wanted to hit me, and I was upset, I was shaking. I have never felt that angry before. I just reached for a helmet under the bed, closed my eyes and just started hammering,” she says.

“I used to ride a motorbike back then, and I would park the motorbike outside, but I kept the helmet under the bed.

“I think it was a combination of emotions – I love this person, why doesn’t he love me?”

When Mutinta had stopped the attack and opened her eyes, her husband was kneeling on the floor injured.

“There was blood everywhere. There was a lot of blood in the bedroom.

“I think what saved him that night was the fact that the only weapon I had was a helmet. If it was a knife or a gun, I can assure you he would have been dead, because I still can’t remember what I was doing,” she says.

“I really meant to kill. I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. I didn’t know that I could get angry to that extent where I could become so violent.”

While she regretted what she did that night, Mutinta says she felt “lighter” afterwards.

“The burden was lifted off me when I hit back at him. I felt like he didn’t understand that I had feelings.”

“That day I felt like I was venting out. I really thought that I had released something and I felt at peace after that.

“I did not do what I did because I hated him. I did not. I loved that guy,” she says.

In the morning, Mutinta says she tied a mutton cloth to a broom to clean the ceiling, which was splattered with blood.

“I felt ashamed.”

“I could have killed my husband,” she says.

Mutinta blames herself for having ignored some vital evidence pointing to her husband’s infidelity, including three used condoms she discovered in his jacket pocket one day when he came home from work.

During the four-day holiday in July 2005 – just three months after they had been married in church - Mutinta went to visit her husband, who lived in Mumbwa then. Mutinta herself lived on the Copperbelt due to work.

“This husband of mine comes home and I’m happy and I remove his jacket and take it to the bedroom, then I decide to remove what was in the pocket and I find used condoms. There were about three.”

Her husband’s explanation for the used condoms, was that his junior officer he had given a lift from work had put them there.

“I forgot about it completely. I loved him. I believed his story, but I really wondered how a junior would put used condoms in the boss’s jacket.

“Sometimes we see the signs, but we ignore them,” she says.

But Mutinta was also naïve.

“I was very innocent, very naïve. He was my very first boyfriend. I was a virgin.

“He is the one who broke my virginity when I was 22, and I became pregnant with our first-born child.”

“I kept on forgiving and forgiving, yet I kept seeing one or two things. But I kept thinking he is going to change.

Mutinta had dated her husband for seven years before they got married.

“I was married to a very good gentleman, very loving,” she says.

“I was not an angel, I also did a lot of wrong things in the marriage.”

In April of 2005, a month after Mutinta married her husband, her friend who worked in the same office as her husband, alerted her about his flirtatious behaviour with his secretary.

But Mutinta brushed the story aside. In fact, each time she would call her husband’s office on the landline, she would talk to the secretary.

“I remember in 2005 we didn’t have cellular phones in certain parts of the country. And I was in that part of the country where Zamtel had not yet reached. I remember I was using the land phone and each time I had to travel, I would call and would talk to the secretary. “Hi how are you, could you please tell him that I’m coming.”

“What used to happen apparently was whenever I leave, she used to stay in my house. When I call to say I’m coming to visit, that is when she would move out. I would actually alert her to move out,” she says.

On October 4, 2005, Mutinta managed to get a transfer to stay with him in Mumbwa, but her transfer displeased her husband.

“I remember he came around 01:00 hours and the first thing he asked me was: ‘What are you doing here?’”

“He was mad, and I was shocked.”

“He was like ‘I have peace when you are not here.’”

Her husband then became absent from home.

“He would come at 05:00 hours, bath, have breakfast and leave.”

“There was no intimacy. I remember going for nine months without anything. I would sleep on the bed and he would sleep on the floor.”

When the abuse got worse, “he would call me a ghost. He would call me a dirty woman. He would call me a woman who was not taught.”

“One time he beat me so hard I started hallucinating. When I went to the hospital, the people thought I had been in a road accident. I had many blood clots and swellings.”

Then her husband’s lover, the secretary, started calling her.

“She called me and insulted me. I was upset,” she says.

“In May 2006, he came home with the girlfriend, around 02:00 hours.

“I just heard a bang, and I felt pain on my wrist. It was a bite from his girlfriend – in my sleep, in my house. It was like a dream. She bit my thighs and I screamed. I have two bite marks between my legs, on my thighs,” she says.

Startled, Mutinta reacted by hitting her assailant with an umbrella, and running out to call her neighbour for help.

“We locked her up in my bedroom and I reported her to the police,” she says.

The woman was later arrested for assault.

“The case went to court, and I won the case.”

She was imprisoned for six months, but only served four.

But that only made her husband even angrier with her. “During the court case and before she was sentenced, my husband was an animal.”

Her husband blamed her for his girlfriend’s imprisonment and loss of employment.

“He told me that I should support the woman since she had lost her job and that when she came out she would come and live with us,” she says.

By the time his girlfriend came out of prison, Mutinta had divorced her husband and moved to Isoka in Muchinga Province.

About three weeks after the divorce, on November 30, his girlfriend was released from prison and she joined Mutinta’s ex-husband.

“After I left, the anger started building up again, especially when I was told that when his girlfriend was released on November 30, my ex-husband went to prison with a bunch of roses.”

“I developed a headache for six months. I would stand in the rain. I was bitter with him and the girl. When I looked at the children, I hated them because each time they smiled they looked like him.”

One of Mutinta’s biggest regrets is that “when I got married I thought ‘this is the ultimate, I’m going to live in a happy marriage’, and when things were not happening accordingly, I was really affected.”

“It feels nice to be called ‘Mrs Somebody’, you feel respected, you feel responsible. And this is something I lost.”

“My children are there for me, but there is still this void, especially when you attend functions, or when it is Valentine’s Day.”

Mutinta, who is now 40, has never married again after her divorce, and she now devotes her time trying to help other women and children in abusive relationships as well as raising her two children.

About three years after they divorced, her husband wrote her a four-page letter, apologising for his action.


*Name has been changed.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Shambalakale: The forgotten mansion


The mansion viewed from the observation post. Pictures by Jack Zimba

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Learn to walk while you can

Chipasha: The worst thing that he ever did was stripping me naked and beating me up
 while all my  neighbours were watching.


CHIPASHA Iliamupu takes a deep breath and fans her face with her hand before she starts to narrate her story. It is a story she has definitely recounted a number of times before, but she still has to gather her inner strength to relive it.

There is a deep sense of sadness in her voice, but she manages to mask it with her amiable face and a warm smile.

The 23-year-old third-year linguistic student at the University of Zambia considers herself a survivor after enduring almost two-and-half years in an abusive marriage she describes as “modern-day slavery”. After breaking out of her abusive marriage eight years ago, Chipasha now wants to use her story to help other women to learn to walk before it is too late.

Chipasha’s story began when she came of age at 14, in her village in Kaoma district, Western Province.

She, like many other girls in her village, was taken to a sikenge, to be initiated into womanhood.

In the Lozi tradition, a sikenge is an initiation school for any girl who comes of age, which is usually when they start their menses.

And when she was 15, Chipasha’s father married her off to a soldier who was 20 years her senior. He paid K300 as bride price for the young virgin.


Chipasha says her father was too poor to support his family of nine children, hence the decision to marry her off.

“I come from a very deprived background. My father and mother had never been in formal employment,” she says, her voice almost breaking as she remembers the start of her path into hell.

And so Chipasha was forced out of school and became a wife and a step-mother to the three children her new husband had fathered with three different women. The oldest of the children was only two years younger than Chipasha.

The young wife soon realised that her marriage was very different from what she was taught at the sikenge.

Chipasha says the abuse from her husband started almost immediately she moved in with her husband, and took various forms, but most traumatising of sexual nature.

“Every time he had sex with me, right from the beginning, he never prepared me for it, he just forced himself on me, which was a very painful experience, contrary to what I was taught that sex was supposed to be an act of love that was enjoyed,” she says.

Before she could celebrate her sixteenth birthday, Chipasha had become a mother to a baby girl, but her frail condition did nothing to stop the insults, blows or assault.

“Sometimes you would find that he beats me and I’m swollen, but he still wants to have sex with me and in a very rough manner,” she says.

Chipasha believes she would have either died from her injuries or even killed had she stayed longer in her marriage.

“I was almost ending up being killed. If I never opened my eyes, or if YWCA (Young Women Christian Association) did not come to my rescue by empowering me with the knowledge that I needed, I would have been ‘late’ by now because it was getting out of hand,” she says.

Like many women in abusive relationships, Chipasha felt some affection towards her husband and hoped that he would stop hurting her. But the abuse only grew worse.

“The worst thing that he ever did was stripping me naked and beating me up while all my neighbours were watching,” she says. 

Although she was insulted, belittled, slapped, punched and kicked she says it is the sexual abuse that has had a lasting impact on her.

“The sexual abuse is still engraved in me, because it hurt me deep inside my flesh and my mind,” she says.

But whatever she went through, Chipasha says: “I didn’t know how terrible it was until I had moved out.”

She thinks her husband’s abusive nature stemmed from his own background – his own father was a polygamist who abused his wives.

But he may also have taken advantage of Chipasha’s vulnerable background as he often boasted: “I can kill you and pay your father”.

Although Chipasha’s father later came to learn about the constant abuse, he could not allow her daughter to seek divorce as he couldn’t afford to pay back the bride price, as required by traditional law.

Her father died while she was still in the early years of her marriage but Chipasha says she never hated him for marrying her off so young.

She thinks he was merely following a tradition passed down from previous generations and believes that some of the time-honoured traditions have led to continued and rising GBV cases.

While she is not against some cultural practices she does have reservations about girls’ initiation ceremonies.

She says initiation practices, which teaches girls as young as 12 how to please a man sexually, and to submit to their husbands unconditionally, leads to women being vulnerable to abuse.

Chipasha blames her silent suffering on the lesson she received at the sikenge.

“When I was secluded [for initiation] I was taught to keep everything that happens in my matrimonial home to myself and that I mustn’t share problem, so it took me time to come out and share what I was going through,” she says.

She says there was a lot of emphasis on secrecy in the marriage during her initiation.

Chipasha also says the lessons that teach a woman how to please a man in bed should only be given when she is ready to get married.

She wants the lessons in the sikenge to just focus on hygiene when girls are having their menses.

“I will never take my girl to a sikenge, that I have vowed. If it means fighting, I will fight it with the last drop of my blood,” she says.


Ilyamupu’s husband abused her even more when she demanded to be taken back to school.

But determined to continue her education, Chipasha sold drinking water to pupils in order to raise money to pay for her grade nine examination fees, and bought booklets so she could study at home.

She passed her exams, and when she went to another school, she found help with the YWCA, and she gathered more courage to leave.

“One day I decided I was going to walk out no matter what,” she says.

Some people, however, tried to persuade Chipasha to stay, but she had seen enough.

“I thought I had seen all the pages of his book and it was up to me to stick around him and die or to leave and lead a better life without him,” she says.

“They knew his public life, but I moved in his private life,” she says.

Today, Chipasha is now less trusting of men and almost vows never to get married again.

“Anytime I think of being in a relationship, all that comes is what I went through,” she says.

She thinks women in abusive relationships should break the silence and speak about their sufferings.

“I think we should be breaking out more,” says Chipasha.

YWCA programmes manager Mirriam Mwiinga, says: “When the situation is bad, walk out.”

Ms Mwiinga says many women her organisation deals with are afraid of walking out of abusive marriages for economic reasons, while other fear losing their status.

“We have also noticed over years that some people get used to GBV,” she says.

The YWCA runs seven temporally protective shelters around the country, helping abused women, sometimes with economic empowerment.

Zambia has in the past year recorded a slight increase in cases of gender-based violence, according to recent data by the Zambia Police Service, with a worrying trend of spousal killings.

According to statistics released by police last week, 18,540 cases of gender violence were recorded last year, compared to 18,088 for 2015.

The statistics also show that the country recorded 77 murders related to gender-based violence. Of these, 36 murder victims were male, while 30 were female, seven were girls, plus four boys. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

60 years of ‘Sister Act’

Sister Maria Regina. Picture by Jack Zimba


 AS A little girl Regina Kuhlmann dreamt of travelling to Africa and serving as a Catholic nun.

And so in 1952, when she was only about 18 years old, Regina, who would later be known by her Christian name “Maria”, decided to follow her dream. She left Germany for Africa to begin her new way of life.

Although her parents were devout Catholics, Maria, who is the oldest of five children, says it was very hard for her family to let her go, but they never tried to stop her.

Perhaps what made it even harder for the Kuhlmanns to let their daughter leave the family and travel to Africa was the fact that they, like millions of Germans at the time, were still trying to rebuild their lives after World War II.

Now aged 85, Maria still has fresh memories of the war.

“When the sirens went off, we had to get out of bed and look for a safe place. Before the war ended in 1945, we had lost everything,” she says.

Maria’s father, who was serving in the German army at the time was captured by Russian soldiers and kept as a prisoner of war for years.

“It was an anxious waiting. We were not sure if he was alive or not,” says Maria.

But in 1950, the captured soldier did return home.

However, by then, Maria had become even more determined to leave her country for the missionary field – Africa.

Maria first arrived in South Africa in 1952 where she trained to be a nun, and then later did her training to become a nurse.

In 1956, Maria began working in a hospital in South Africa until 1962 when she was posted to Zambia (Northern Rhodesia then) and begun working at a small missionary outpost in Lukulu.

She speaks about Lukulu with some fondness.

“We were not rich that we could get all the medicine and food, but it was nice to help the people; and the people were happy, and we were happy. What else could we want?” she says. 

In the evenings, Maria and her fellow nuns sat down together singing and working on handicrafts.

Years later, Maria was posted to Lewanika General Hospital in Mongu where she worked in the theatre.

In 2007, Maria was posted to Lusaka, where she has devoted her time in establishing a school in Chalala.

And on January 7, this year, Maria Regina Kuhlmann, who belongs to the Congregation of Holy Cross, celebrated 60 years of a life given to poverty, chastity and obedience, but is very unpretentious about her long service, attributing everything to prayer.

“If you pray in the morning and put your day in God’s hands and say ‘Lord, what comes, comes, I will take it. If it is nice, I will be happy, and if it is hard, I will offer it up,’ then you can make it,” she says.


There has been a push within and outside the Catholic Church to change the celibacy law to allow priests and possibly nuns to marry, but for Maria that is unthinkable.

“I’m old fashioned, I couldn’t imagine that,” she says. “If I had a family with four children, how would I go out and do all the work?”

“I have chosen celibacy and I will stick to it,” she says.

When asked if she ever desired to have a family of her own, Maria replies:

“It never really occurred to me that I would like such.”

She instead talks fondly about the children she helped to nurse during her active service.

Maria also dismisses any suggestion that she chose to become a nun because she did not have a social life.

“I did have a good family and I had a good life,” she says.

Maria talks of going out for movies and attending parties as a teenager.

“I never had a real friend from the male side. I had male friends, but we were friends, like friends, open. There was never anything,” she says.

Maria says she was never swayed from the thought of going to Africa and becoming a nun.

“I’m simply different, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” she says with a chuckle.

“If you had to make a decision again today, would you still choose to be a nun?” I ask her.

“Yeah, of course,” she responds immediately, almost as if that answer had been there all the time.

“I don’t regret a minute. No!” she says.

But Maria admits times have changed, and talks implicitly about the social influences today when one is making such a decision.

“In 1951 when I entered [the sisterhood] there was no TV, there was not much social life,” she says.

But Maria almost loses her composure when she talks about the behaviour of young women today.

“I’m ashamed the way some women here behave, the way they dress, the way they show themselves. What about your dignity as a woman? It has been lost,” says Maria.

“It’s their life, but I feel ashamed to be a woman that you can get your dignity and throw it away,” she says.

About twice a year, the convent where Maria belongs in Kabulonga, Lusaka, invites young girls to stay with the nuns as a way of showing them their way of life, after which they can then decide whether to join the sisterhood or not.

Maria says the girls are never talked into joining the sisterhood.

“It is their decision not our decision. We lead them towards it, but we don’t say ‘come and join us’, they come out of their own free will,” she says.


For six decades, Maria has led a Spartan life, completely devoid of luxuries, including cosmetics and jewellery.

“I wouldn’t know how to apply lipstick, but still I’m happy so why should I apply it?” says Maria.

The octogenarian is softly spoken, with a genial face now touched by age.

Among Maria’s treasured possessions is an old photo of her family, a wooden cross, a curved image of the Virgin Mary and some curved images of guardian angels she was given by her family in Germany.

She also treasures a rosary she received from Pope John Paul II when she met him at the Vatican years back.

And when she dies, Maria wants to remain modest. She does not want an expensive coffin.

“I wouldn’t like that,” she says.

Once every three years, Maria goes to Germany to visit her family, but almost scoffs at the idea of her going back to live there. 

“I don’t feel at home any more in Germany. We don’t fit in the life of the people outside the convent. We don’t. Perhaps if I was younger, say 40 or 50 years old, but no,” she says.

Even when she dies, Maria wishes to be buried in Zambia.

“We have no money to fly a body to Germany, and who would look after me in Germany?” she asks.

“I wouldn’t go back, alive or dead,” she says with a chuckle.

Maria wants to reach 100 years, but does not want to become a burden to the people around her when she is too old to do things for herself.

Outside the small convent, Maria shows off her garden with banana trees heavy and bent-over with fruit. It keeps the old nun busy for now.



Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Stockholm: A picture-postcard city

Beautiful Stockholm.




THERE is nothing more comforting than the screeching of tyres on the runway and a little jolt back and forth.

It is that sound and feeling, not the assuring voice of the pilot or flight attendant that confirms you have safely landed on terra firma. 

“Welcome to Sweden,” said the waiting taxi driver with a broad smile on his face.

After 13 hours of flight, I was relieved that I was not going to spend time at Arlanda Airport before my arranged transport arrived to take me to my hotel in the Swedish capital, Stockholm. Airports, no matter how big and posh can be such boring places, and the niggling thought that one is in-between places can be sickening.

Well, at least for me.

I was in the Scandinavian or Nordic country on invitation by the Swedish Institute to look at some of its novel innovations meant to reduce greenhouse emissions and encourage sustainable living.

The taxi driver, a Turkish migrant, was kind enough to point out some important buildings on the way to the hotel, including the Nobel Museum.

I was booked at the First Hotel Reisen, an 18th century hotel situated in Gamla Stan or the Old Town.

The hotel overlooks a picturesque waterfront with white boats of varying sizes and shapes moored along the river.

About 200 metres from the hotel is the Royal Palace, a grand and imposing building with 600 rooms. 

Stockholm is a scenic city surrounded by water. Actually the city is made up of 14 islands connected by bridges, and one can even take a tour of the city by boat.

The city also has a well-developed and integrated transport system combining tramlines, bus lanes and bicycle lanes.

Every morning at breakfast during my short stay, I sat by a large window and watched the Swedes as they traveled to work. Many of them cycled.

The city also has an elaborate subway, and it is not just an underground tunnel, but an art gallery.

Large cruise ships, some as high as six stories can also be seen docked at various harbours in the city. Some vessels are so big that they appear to be part of the city blocks.

Stockholm is devoid of skyscrapers, which is by design, really. Few buildings rise above 10 floors. This provides a panoramic view of the landscape from various vantage points.

The city also has many green spaces, after all this is a country of tree huggers. Swedes place such great value on nature; they go to great lengths in protecting it.

And every citizen has the right to roam. No, I’m not talking about mobile phone connectivity. Rather, it means anyone can set up camp at any open space for a few days. This law is based on the belief that everyone must have access to nature.

Sweden is a land of freedoms and almost everything is subjected to a vote. In fact, Sweden was the first country to legalise same sex marriage in 1944, not surprising for a country that is deeply irreligious, as I was constantly reminded.

It is hard to define Swedes in terms of dress or music – I heard some Bob Marley and even some Paul Simon in the hotel restaurant and lobby. But no doubt, one of Sweden’s most popular contributions to the music industry is ABBA. The quartet were such a sensation, they have a museum dedicated to them.

Life in Stockholm

Life in Stockholm appears very beautiful, but also very uneventful and predictable. Every car stops at the red light, and the night is devoid of the sirens that characterise big cities.

Besides, the Swedes themselves seem very reserved and private people, showing little interest in strangers. It did not matter that I was the only black person in a restaurant; very few eyes rolled my way, which made me feel rather bad.

Discussing Nordic social trust and radical individualism in a journal, Henrik Berggren and Lars Tragardh predict that “…the world might be a more reasonable but also possibly duller place if it were inhabited solely by Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Finns.”

And I could not agree more.

And for all its beauty and serenity, Stockholm is a super expensive city, a fact that its residents will readily admit.

But that is not a huge problem in a country ranked by the World Bank as having the seventh highest per capita income in the world. The poor are far fewer here. I did come across three or four women begging on the streets and when we visited one of the poor areas, a colleague from Estonia had to ask how “poor” was defined in Sweden.

The Old Town

One remarkable thing about Stockholm is how the old masonry has been preserved and blended with the new.

The Old Town, with its cobbled narrow streets and medieval alleyways between centuries’ old buildings is really a remarkable place and attracts hundreds of tourists every day.

The town, which dates back to the 13th century, is like an open air museum with many curio shops that sell memorabilia of all kind, including Viking helmets and Viking dolls. 

Some buildings in the Old Town are as old as 700 years. Most of them have undergone some form of modernisation such as being fitted with electric door locks for card entry, but their original architecture has been maintained.   

Gamla Stan is such a welcoming place and gives one the feeling of going back in time many centuries.

One frigid evening, we sat in a pizzeria located on the ground floor of a seven centuries old building. The room looked like an old mine tunnel with an exposed woodwork and Spartan furniture.

It is here where I met Safi, a handsome chatty young Afghan man who migrated to Sweden nine years ago, and now works at the pizza shop.

“The Swedish people are good people,” he said after laying a plate of sizzling peperoni pizza before me.

“Maybe out of 5,000, you can find only one Swedish who is racist, but they won’t show it,” he said with a middle eastern accent.

Safi’s statistic may not be accurate, but Sweden has a large number of migrants. A large community of Somalis and Iraqis now call Sweden home, while the current immigrant crisis in Europe has brought many Syrians to the borders of the Nordic country.

Inevitably, the migrant crisis has become topical among Swedes and clearly not everyone is welcoming to the newcomers.

Two days after I met Safi, a school teacher and a pupil were killed in a racially-motivated knife attack.

I wonder if Safi changed his opinion about the Swedes after that.

During my short stay in Stockholm, I added two words to my vocabulary: fika and tack.

The two small words mean a lot to the Swedes. Tack means thank you, while fika, put simply, is a coffee break, although it seems to have more meaning among the Swedes than just sipping on a brew made of roasted bean seeds - brotherhood, perhaps.

 “Tack,” I said to the taxi driver after he dropped me at Arlanda Airport.


* Here is a tip for men when you are flying abroad, put on a tight fitting trousers that does not require a belt to hold your waist. It saves you the trouble and embracement during those annoying but necessary security checks.

Friday, 28 October 2016

How Malawi is mopping up Zambia’s staple food

A truck loads bags of maize at Sawala in Muchinji District, Malawi. PICTURE BY JACK ZIMBA


 A MAIZE storage shed for the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) lies empty at Vizenge in Chipata, Eastern Province – not a single bag of the grain in store. Outside, a large green tarpaulin lies disused. Usually, it should be covering stacks of maize bought from farmers in this highly-productive area.
The records in the clerk’s book show that since July when the crop marketing season started, the FRA here has only bought 77×50 kilogramme bags of maize. It is just enough to fill one four-tonne truck.
There are only two entries in the clerk’s big book; August 31, when he bought 25 bags, and on September 22 he bought 52 bags.
“People just say they will bring the maize, but they don’t bring,” says Whiteson Phiri, the clerk at the depot.
With the crop marketing season almost over, the depot clerk sounds less optimistic of making a third entry in his ledger. Elsewhere in this region, the sheds were closed a long time ago, for want of business.
Something is awfully wrong. Where has all the maize in this area gone to?
The answer lies a few kilometres from here, at Sawala Trading in Mchinji district of Malawi.
I hitched a ride on a motorbike to Sawala, entering Zambia’s eastern neighbour through an old mission outpost called Tamanda, where Zambia National Service (ZNS) officers have been posted to stop the smuggling of maize in this area.
Chief Chanje’s area has every high activity of maize smuggling in Eastern Province.
We rode about a kilometre on a bush track that demarcates the two countries.
“This side is Zambia and this side is Malawi,” the bike-rider informed me.
I could not have noticed; there was nothing to show that this was an international border – just crop fields on both sides.
I arrived at Sawala to find a seedy but bustling trading area.
Everywhere you look at Sawala, there are stand-scales and stacks of maize awaiting transportation. Men could be seen busy weighing and sewing the bags.
The money changers were also at hand to change the currencies.
I found two Freightliners loading bags of maize, while a Zambian-registered truck BAB 6559 made its way back to Zambia empty, after delivering its cargo.
Back in August, at the peak of the marketing season, as many as 10 trucks would leave Sawala daily for Lilongwe or other towns in Malawi to deliver their prized cargo, according to my informer.
“It is almost as if the FRA has shifted to Malawi,” someone commented.
The traders at Sawala are wary and suspicious of strangers, but from the small vent of a pit latrine, I managed to capture the illegal trade with my camera.
Returning to Sawala the following day, I found two police officers chatting with the traders, obviously turning a blind eye to this illegal exchange across the border.
Since the harvest in April, the smuggling of maize in this area has gone on unabated.
Although Government stationed ZNS officers at the border crossing at Tamanda, it has done little to stop the smuggling.
Along this porous border, there are many entry points.
Just a kilometre from where the ZNS officers are stationed is an entry point – a road so busy with heavy lorries that the soil at the junction has turned into a loose powder.
At this point, trucks, cars, motorbikes and bicycles enter at will, delivering the maize.
“Last Friday, I saw 11 trucks cross to the other side,” headman Dzoole told me.
Dzoole village lies on the border with Malawi.
This kind of smuggling has been going on between the two countries for decades, but not on this scale, says headman Dzoole. The illegal trade has escalated in the recent past due to adverse weather affecting Malawi’s agriculture.
“Last year we saw a lot of Malawian trucks here collecting the maize and taking it to Malawi through the bush, but this year, it is the Zambian trucks taking the maize to Malawi,” said the headman.
One government official told me the only way to stop the smuggling is erecting a physical boundary such as an electric fence between the two countries.
“We are not saying we are at war with Malawi, but I have seen such fences within Southern Africa,” he said.
“Our border is naturally porous, right from Vubwi to Lundazi,” Chipata district commissioner Kalunga Zulu told me.
He said the illegal trade is driven by demand on the other side of the border.
“The demand for our maize is so high in Malawi that we cannot even meet the need,” he said.
The Malawian government is currently buying maize from vendors.
For the farmers of Chief Chanje’s area, the biggest cause of smuggling is the maize pricing and payment system for grain purchases.
Moses Phiri, who is one of Chief Chanje’s representatives, gives an analogy of a goat and cow to emphasise his point about the maize pricing.
“Tell me, if you are offered a goat and a cow, which one are you going to choose?” he asked, and waited for my answer.
At double the price per 50 kilogramme bag, Malawi is offering a “cow”.
Besides, the farmers prefer cash for their maize, which the FRA does not offer.
At Sawala, a 50 kilogramme bag is now costing K180. The price is rumoured to have reached K200 at one time.
The FRA is buying the grain at K85 per bag.
“Even a child on the breast would laugh at me if it heard that I sold my maize at K85 when I could have sold it for K150,” one farmer told me.
Essau Chulu of Dongolose village told me he sold 130 bags of maize to Malawi. His friend, Adamson Phiri, sold 100 bags.
“And how many bags have you sold to the FRA?” I asked them.
Both men wagged their heads.
“I don’t want to lie to you, I haven’t sold a single grain to the FRA,” Mr Chulu said.
The two farmers sound like unpatriotic Zambians.
“It’s not that farmers don’t want to sell their maize to the FRA, but they want cash,” Mr Chulu said, sounding upset.
The two farmers also complained about the requirements by the FRA for the farmers to clean the maize before selling it to the agency, which they say eats into their profits as they have to hire people to help them do the sieving.
“We also have to pay for transportation of the maize to the FRA depots, but the Malawians follow us to our homes,” said Mr Phiri.
“The FRA wants very clean maize, but the Malawians don’t care about the grade or how clean the maize is, they just get as long as it is maize,” he added.
And some, like James Nyirenda of Mulangeni village, now fear that many here will face starvation because they have sold all their maize to the Malawians.
“Soon many people here will require food aid from government because they have sold even the maize they were supposed to feed on,” he said.
Mr Nyirenda has a good-sounding solution to end the maize smuggling.
“Why can’t the government buy the maize from us at a higher price of, let’s say, K120, and then export it to Malawi at K150?” he wondered.
“That way, the government would benefit, and we would benefit, too.”
And because of the willingness by the Malawians to buy the maize at a high cost, it has pushed the prices of maize up on the local market. A five kilogramme container or meda of the maize now costs about K10, up from as low as K2.50 last year.
Last week, Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya told Parliament that the country has enough maize, but that the FRA needs to buy 187,000 metric tonnes of the commodity to reach the country’s reserve ceiling of 500,000 metric tonnes.
The minister also assured the nation that there were enough stocks of maize with both government and the private sector.
Zambia is said to have produced 2.9 million metric tonnes of maize last season, plus a carry-over of 667,524 metric tonnes from the previous season.
According to Ms Siliya, the private sector has bought 903,630 metric tonnes of maize from this year’s harvest.
Government also announced an export ban of all maize.
But just how much has been smuggled into Malawi, is hard to know.
Mr Zulu, the Chipata district commissioner, said what the FRA has bought in Chipata is a drop in the ocean, compared to what has been smuggled to Malawi.
In the villages, I came across a few Malawians on bicycles mopping up whatever has remained of the grain in this area.
Back at the empty maize shed at Vizenge, the clerk waits and waits.