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Inno Kumchedwa

Inno Kumchedwa

Last October, on an easy Saturday evening, I found myself in the newsroom, diligently producing the next day’s morning news bulletin.
The radio hummed in the background, its volume set just right—audible but not distracting from my task at hand.

Amidst the hustle, I tuned in to the familiar strains of the Chingalawa program.

“Chingalawa,” is a term literally translating to a water vessel. The program begins with the sound of a ship about to dock, its horn resonating with excitement as it reaches the upbeat people ashore.

As soon as the sigtune fades, the program host, Emmanuel Maliro, introduces his guest: Philip Waluza, the Corporate Sales Manager at Old Mutual Malawi.

Their topic of discussion? The Beneficiary Nomination Form—a crucial document that holds the key to ensuring that individuals’ wishes are honored when it comes to distributing death benefits.

Said Waluza: “This form is used to disburse member benefits. These are members that are on pension scheme, in an event of their death, that document is used to disburse their total accumulated credit and a minimum of their death benefits.

“The accumulated credit is coming from the 5%, 10% pension contributions. Death benefit is an insurance where the act states clearly that, that a minimum that can be payable is an annual salary, so when you combine the two, in an event of the death of a member, a nomination form is used to distribute those benefits.”

That information caught my attention. It was my first time hearing about it. The more Waluza continued to explain, the more I delved deep into the program.

Waluza continued: “It is very important for us to note, we need to update the nomination for at least once a year or as and when. As and when means, if something happens in your life. Assuming by the time you were not married, now you have got children. You need to update the form to include those children, or someone who was on the form is no more, so you need to update it.

“In the old pensions act the nomination form could be amended. In an event of death of a member, where they did not include someone on the form. For example, the person was married but they did not include one of their children on the form for whatever reason, the old pensions act was giving trustees of the pension scheme powers to add, to amend the nomination form where there was evidence.

“The new pensions act of 2023 clearly states that, no one can amend the nomination form. Whatever the owner put on the nomination form remains final,” Waluza explained.

Other than that, the 2023 pensions act also tackles the issue of organizations being mandated to comply with remitting pension contributions for their employees. Failure to do that could result in a fine of at least 150 million kwacha.

It also tackles the issue of people accessing their pension funds five years prior to retirement, and that those who lose their jobs can access their pension funds after 3 months, a reduction from 6 months.

In the program, he continued to explain that with a new system in place, benefits are no longer transferred to the accountant general’s office to distribute to individuals (beneficiaries).

That made me to recall a scenario that happened at Capital Hill in January: a young lady held vigils at the accountant general's office after growing frustrated with the bureaucracy and the delays to get death benefits.
The young lady was forced out of school, and her siblings were also on the verge of following that path.

Then, a bothersome thought popped up: if a journalist whom the masses we serve hold in high regard and assume that we know everything, was hearing about the nomination forms for the first time, how about the people in rural areas?

The next day, I assigned two reporters to find out. One is from Thyolo, and the other is from Machinga. The instruction was that they should talk to teachers whom people in communities or rural areas have much respect for.

In Thyolo, our reporter Luka Beston engaged Victor Mpuruma, a teacher at Nachipere Primary School. Mpuruma joined the civil service in 2011, and he said he filled out his nomination once in 2017.

Telling our reporter, Mpuruma said: “I remember it was in 2017 that I filled out some forms. But to be honest with you, that was the only time. I did not know that we needed to update it. I fail to get a clear understanding of pensions. I find it to be complicated, and in our area, we don’t get that information. We don’t have much information about it.”

In Machinga, our reporter Eamon Piringu talked to Majawa Ndoya, headmaster at Nampeya Primary School. Ndoya joined the teaching service in 2000 as a temporary teacher, before he later joined as a full government employee. For him too, he said he does not have a clear understanding of pension.

“There is no one who has ever come to our community to explain more about it. All we see is that, after long service in government, one retires, gets his pension, and is paid every 15th of the month. I also heard on the radio that there is now a contributory pension scheme. But I don’t know how that is calculated.

“There is no one who has ever come to the communities with information about pensions. It appears they rely much on the radio, but it is difficult for people like us to fully understand complex matters through the radio,” Ndoya said.

It is estimated that Malawi has close to 200 000 people employed in government, and teachers are the majority.

Teachers Union of Malawi Secretary General Charles Kumchenga says that there is a great need to sensitize all the teachers and other civil servants in the country.

“It is not necessary to do the sensitization through the radios or any other platforms where people will not have access to ask questions to get a clear understanding. It is important that the teachers be reached out while they are still healthy and energetic,” Kumchenga said.

An expert in human resources and a retired civil servant, Austin Gondwe concurs with Kumchenga on the need for reaching out to the workers in remote districts.

He says the problem stems from the fact that most district human resource officers do not take the task of sensitizing the workers about their pension as their primary mandate; as such, most workers start to grow interested and start scampering for information about pensions when they have already retired.

Agnes, a young woman from Area 47, experienced an innocuous moment that would soon unravel into a life-altering chain of events.
It was a Sunday, and she stood in her kitchen, engrossed in her daily routine. The alert tone on her phone interrupted her activities, signaling the arrival of a new notification. Little did she know that this seemingly ordinary message would set off a cascade of consequences.

The message appeared on WhatsApp, accompanied by a profile photo (DP) of a friend she had once been close to. Agnes’s heart warmed at the thought of reconnecting with an old companion. But fate had other plans.

As she opened the message, Agnes unwittingly stepped into a web of intrigue and danger. The life of a young lady was about to be turned upside down. Depression, stress, and even suicidal thoughts would haunt her, all stemming from this seemingly innocuous interaction.

Agnes’s story serves as a stark reminder of how technology, even in its simplest form, can wield immense power over our lives. A single message, a long-lost friend—these seemingly mundane elements can alter destinies and leave lasting scars.

“So they approached themselves as somebody who I used to know, but I had lost their number. Then we started chatting. They started telling me, as you know I run a couple of businesses, so one of them is something that I would want to introduce you to if you are interested.

“And I asked what it is all about. So, the person explained that, you know I shoot adult films, and I sell them out to people outside the country.

“So he said, what I need is either a girl I can record with, or if you prefer, you can just record something and it will be put up for sale. You’ll receive payment for your work.

“However, he mentioned that if you choose to send pictures, they need to show everything, including your face. These images are sold to a live audience interested in seeing African girls. For pictures, they offer a payment of 5 million kwacha, but if it’s a video, the compensation increases to 10 million kwacha,” Agnes recalled.

Agnes, a young graduate in Malawi, finds herself among the thousands of unemployed graduates desperate for employment. The relentless struggle to make ends meet has driven her to explore entrepreneurial ventures while she continues her job search.

The harsh reality of high unemployment rates and the ever-increasing cost of living has left many young people in dire straits, willing to take drastic measures.

In Agnes’s case, desperation led her down a treacherous path. A man promised her a staggering sum of 10 million Kwacha—a potential lifeline—simply by sending naked pictures and videos.

Hopeful that this could be her long-awaited breakthrough, Agnes agreed to the deal. Little did she know that she was stepping into a web of deceit and danger.

The man introduced her to another individual, posing as a buyer from Asia. Agnes dutifully sent samples of explicit content, including her own face, believing she was on the brink of financial salvation. But reality soon set in: she had unwittingly entangled herself in a nightmarish situation.

As she waited for the promised money, the tone shifted dramatically. The perpetrators began to change their tune, leaving Agnes trapped in a desperate struggle for survival.

"They informed me that many people in town engage in this activity, protecting their clients and themselves vigorously. They cited examples of influential individuals on social media—some celebrities and others well-known—who allegedly earn money through similar means.
“Intrigued by the names they mentioned, I felt at ease. However, my financial situation was dire at the time. Consequently, I complied with their request to record something.

“Before recording, they asked for my bank details. Their rationale was that I need not send everything at once. Instead, I could send a portion initially to demonstrate my commitment. Once they received it, they promised to deposit half of the agreed-upon payment.

“Later, upon receiving the complete recording, they would deposit the remaining balance. After complying, they criticized the clarity of my recording, urging me to redo it. Despite my best efforts, they remained dissatisfied. Eventually, they abruptly changed their tune, labeling the entire situation a scam. Now, they threaten to leak my pictures and videos," Agnes said.

With the scammers now in possession of her intimate photos, they ruthlessly demanded that Agnes pay them 800,000 Kwacha to redeem herself. Each day, their relentless harassment intensified, threatening to expose her naked pictures on popular Facebook pages and leak them via WhatsApp.

Agnes, desperate and cornered, initially paid 150,000 Kwacha through Airtel Money, hoping it would appease them. But the extortionists persisted, unyielding in their demands. Isolated and overwhelmed, Agnes withdrew from her friends, contemplating the unthinkable.

For three agonizing weeks, the torment continued. She blamed herself, trapped in a cycle of fear and despair. Finally, after a month, she confided in a close friend, who urged her to seek help.
At the police station, Agnes discovered she was not alone. An investigating officer revealed he had already handled nearly ten similar cases. His advice to her was stark: accept reality.

“After a month, I noticed that this person won’t leave me alone. That’s when I confided in my best friend. I explained that I was dealing with this situation because of my financial situation. Without hesitation, she advised me to go to the police.

“She recognized that I was being blackmailed and extorted, and she assured me that people like that don’t stop easily. She shared her own experience: someone in her life had threatened to leak her intimate photos if she broke up with him. She took immediate action and went to the police,” Agnes said.

The Malawi Police Headquarters Cyber Crime Unit has been grappling with an alarming surge in cases where unsuspecting individuals fall prey to a cunning and devastating scam.

Their modus operandi is insidious: exploit victims’ vulnerability, coerce them into compromising situations, and then hold them hostage for financial gain. Most disturbingly, many victims suffer in silence, their voices stifled by fear and shame.

Mary, a resident of Area 25 (a pseudonym to protect her identity), became ensnared in this web of deceit. When we interviewed her in June, she had spent three agonizing weeks confined to her home, unable to face the outside world.

Unlike Agnes, whose intimate photos remained relatively contained, Mary’s pictures were splashed across Facebook and WhatsApp, a cruel violation of her privacy.

The scam unfolded when one of the perpetrators posed as Mary’s best friend. Using her friend’s photo as a decoy, the scammer claimed to have a connection in Botswana seeking a girlfriend.

Innocently, Mary exchanged contacts with this supposed friend of her friend. Little did she know that she was about to be drawn into a sinister underworld.

The scammer introduced Mary to a lucrative business proposition: selling naked pictures and videos. The bait was irresistible—a promise of instant payment: 800,000 Kwacha. But it was all a ruse, a trap set to ensnare her.

Through Mary’s case, investigators have uncovered a disturbing pattern. The leaking of explicit content extends beyond her experience.
University students, both from public and private institutions, have fallen victim to this same scheme. The scammers maintain a price list: different fees for different categories—married individuals, singles, businesspersons, and even faith leaders. Those who refuse to pay face a grim fate: their private moments exposed on popular Facebook pages.

Mary, a single woman, was instructed to pay 200,000 Kwacha. Had she been married, the price would have doubled. But Mary’s financial situation didn’t align with their demands. Frustrated, the scammers escalated their cruelty, sending her compromising photos to her relatives and parents.

“On that day, I felt powerless. I could not imagine why I needed to live this life. It was very painful to imagine that my relatives, my friends, and worse yet, my parents, had seen my naked pictures,” said Mary.

Phycologist Ndumanene Silungwe from St. John of God Hospitaler Service in Lilongwe says victims of this type of scam could end up taking their own lives.

“We are likely to see the possibility of isolation and withdrawal. It is possible that others might not want to participate in social gatherings they are accustomed to, such as school. Additionally, the impact depends on who else has had access to similar materials.

“Assuming that some of these materials have reached their social circles, people may not necessarily view them with compassion. Instead, there is a likelihood of blame directed toward them, rather than sympathy,” said.

The scammers not only harm their direct victims but also employ deceptive tactics. They assume false identities, often using other people’s images. One such case involves Ibrahim Suwedi, a prominent businessman in Lilongwe.

According to Suwedi, he discovered through both the police and several victims that scammers were using his name: “You know, in business, a reputation is very important. So when people think you are a scammer, whatever business you are going to approach them with, they don’t buy it. And even in the community, they think everything I have is because I scam people around.”

Peter Kalaya, the National Police Spokesperson, has reported that the police have taken action against these scammers. Some suspects have been arrested, and others have faced charges in court. However, specific statistics and detailed information about individual cases remain undisclosed.

“As the Malawi Police Service, we are handling some of the cases, meaning that people are coming forward to report. When such cases are reported, we follow up, investigate, make arrests, and bring those responsible to book.

“I should add that, looking at what we observe on social media and the complaints we register, I can say that a lot of people are not coming out to report these cases,” he says.

On Facebook, there are pages like “Who Knows Him Ends in Tears” that frequently share photos of women whose intimate videos have been exposed. The phrase “patuluka kena mwakaona?” is commonly used to announce the release of new pornographic content on these pages. For instance, over the past three days, this page has posted six photos of different women, revealing their naked images.

Immaculate Maluza, a human rights lawyer, asserts that posting someone’s photos without their consent and distributing pornographic material constitutes a criminal offense. However, she emphasizes that the country must make substantial investments to enhance the cybercrime-fighting capabilities of the Malawi Police Service.

“When it comes to investigations, we do not have capacity. By capacity, we also mean the technology itself. So, you have the technical aspect of it and also the personal aspect of it. So you need somebody who is very tech-savvy but also has the equipment.

“For example, in other countries, if you are going to track an IP address, you have software or systems that can track a phone or the software on the phone or computer to find the specific person who perpetrated that violence. And I don’t think we are there yet,” Maluza observed.

The Minister of Gender, Jean Sendeza, has expressed shock over this distressing situation. She has issued a stern warning that the government will not tolerate any form of cyber-harassment directed at women or any other individuals.

“As a god-fearing nation, we will not allow such activities. A society that is rotten is not allowed; cyberbullying and using digital platforms in this manner are not allowed.

“As a minister, I am very saddened, and I would like to stand with all the women that have gone through this type of victimization. The law should take its course,” the minister said.

Old Mutual (Malawi) Limited has emphasized its commitment to nurturing and providing exposure to students and fresh graduates.

Old Mutual Group Marketing and Corporate Affairs Executive Patience Chatsika said this on Friday when hosting over 70 students from the University of Malawi who are pursuing various ICT-related programs.

The students were exposed to modern ICT infrastructure, Old Mutual business operations, products, and services.

Chatsika said: “As a responsible business, we are always committed to helping nurture and providing exposure and experience to students and fresh graduates.

“Within our business, we have interns from various institutions of higher learning. In addition, we have a long-standing relationship with the University of Malawi’s Actuarial Science Department, where we are providing internship opportunities.”

Speaking on behalf of fellow students, fourth-year Computer Engineering student Rejoice Banda described the visit as an eye-opener that provided them with invaluable experience and knowledge.

The students had the opportunity to enjoy a free financial education session, ICT-related exposure, and Old Mutual products and services.

The event concluded with an interactive session where students participated in a question-and-answer session, with branded items awarded to winners as tokens of appreciation.

Old Mutual Malawi Chief Executive Officer Edith Jiya made a call to women to believe in their potential and never let any stereotypes pull them down.

She said this when leading a staff engagement activity marking the commencement of the commemoration of International Women’s Day at the organization’s head office in Blantyre.

This was after earlier in the day she participated in International Women's Day celebrations at Puma Energy.

The event included a panel discussion on women's inclusion. Jiya recounted her experience of stepping out of her comfort zone and developing new hobbies.

“As women, we need to be bold and take risks in our pursuit of greatness. Let us not only pursue opportunities for which we are 99% qualified, but also dare to go after those for which we are only 50% or less qualified,” she said, while expounding on how she developed an interest in soccer to facilitate conversations with other male CEOs.

One of the participants, Gudrun Malunga, Sales Manager for Retail Mass Market, praised Old Mutual Malawi and the Old Mutual Women Network (OWN) for the opportunities and mentorship programs provided to women within the organization.

She stated: "The fact that I am here as one of the panelists is evident enough that there is inclusion within the organization."

Apart from reaching out to its female staff, the company, through its Financial Education Manager, Benard Chiluzi, delivered a personal finance management workshop to women at Airport Development Limited (ADL), addressing topics such as financial mindset change, financial goal setting in the modern world, and the basic principles of personal money management.

The sessions were delivered to equip participants with the necessary knowledge to attain financial comfort, freedom, and wealth.

The CEO of ADL, Thokozani Unyolo, commended Old Mutual for the free financial education session, which she said was enlightening and empowering.

A document purported to be the long-hidden report on the review of public service systems in the country which was instituted by President Lazarus Chakwera in 2021 is circulating on social media and being discussed in the public domain, causing divided opinions.

A food and supplies crisis could soon hit the Dzaleka refugees camp in Dowa district with government disclosing that it is only remaining with supplies that could last four months.
Minister of Homeland Security Ken Zikhale Ng’oma attributed this to a recent decision by the World Food Program which has cut to 50% all food and supplies assistance towards refugees.

He said this at a press briefing in Lilongwe yesterday, where he appealed for support.

“The World Food Program has reduced from 75% to 50% the supplies of food stuffs to the refugee camps in Malawi with effect 1st August, 2023. This will have an effect on our part because it will now be like a bottleneck for the government. This is why we urge everyone to help us, so that we can lobby donors.

“The supplies that we have will last up to 31st December 2023. We need to find a way that we should be able to support the refugees beyond that period,” said the minister.

At the briefing, the minister also said government will continue with the refugees relocation exercise. But he admitted that at the moment, the exercise has been hit by funding challenges as his department has not been able to get all the allocated funding for the exercise from the treasury.

Ng’oma also fired a warning shot to all refugees that have returned to towns and cities, that they have seven days to return to Dzaleka, failing which the government will be compelled to revoke their asylum and refugee status.

“We are giving all refugees that have returned to cities and towns to return to Dzaleka Refugees camp within seven days. If they do not comply with this notice, they will revoke their status and deport them out of this country. Everyone must return and follow proper procedures for conducting business in Malawi. You cannot be operating a business in the country illegally,” Ng’oma said.

Meanwhile, Executive Director for Center of Democracy and Development Initiatives (CDEDI) Sylvester Namiwa says this is a key indication, that the refugees do not need to be condemned into camps, as a good number of them can feed themselves.

“We warned the government to stop that exercise for the following reasons; first, it lacks merit and that it made no sense, Africans victimizing fellow Africans. Why would the government force them into very congested camps? People that were self-reliant? The same government that is failing to feed its prisoners and its citizens, how would it feed the refugees?” asked Namiwa.

Dzaleka refugees camp in Dowa district currently has over 50 000 refugees against a holding capacity of not more than 14 000 refugees.

Old Mutual (Malawi) Limited has become the first financial service provider in the country to launch a financial education podcast, dubbed “On The Money”. According to information sourced on the organisation’s website; the first episode features Old Mutual's Group Chief Executive Officer, Edith Jiya, and Old Mutual's Financial Education expert Benard Chiluzi as a permanent guest.

One of the country’s leading funeral service providers Mthuzi Funeral Services Limited has embraced the use of technology in its service delivery in a bid to make life of its customers easy when accessing their services. 

Old Mutual (Malawi) has expressed satisfaction with strides made in its "Kuitsata Pension Yanu" campaign launched in October last year.

Patuma is a commercial sex worker. She ekes her living through sex. She says her work is dehumanizing. This is because decisions in her work are mostly made by her clients.

She is one of the many women that suffer from unimaginable violence that is concealed in commercial sex rooms in Malawi: a story of women suffering in silence.

Such women are forced into sex without condoms, for example, in situations where the women are drunk or where the husband’s sexual behaviors are known to risk the lives of their wives, which puts the women in the harm’s way of injury and disease.

In this special investigation, Innocent Kumchedwa encounters not only sex workers like Patuma but spouses as well who lament the dominance of men on matters of sex and its effects.

Innocent, further ponders on the opportunities some newly invented scientific means to prevent sexually transmitted infections provide for these vulnerable women.

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