On the Fast Lane of Malawi: Whose views will prevail on legalising abortion, hemp?

Malawi Parliament has a huge task of guiding the nation on very crucial issues. This week, two issues were in the public domain and one of them will sooner rather than later need their seal. One is on the call to legalise industrial hemp farming while the other is on decriminalising abortion. While the former is still just a cry in the wilderness, the issue on decriminalising abortion is almost a done deal.

Indian hemp's narcotic relative, also known to users as Malawi gold, is so popular

Indian hemp’s narcotic relative, also known to users as Malawi gold, is so popular

The first public call to decriminalise industrial hemp farming came from Ntchisi North Parliamentarian Boniface Kadzamira during the last sitting of Parliament. Kadzamira said the country stands to benefit from industrial hemp because it has medicinal properties, and that it is very different from the smoking hemp.

He said the industrial hemp being advocated is not the same hemp that has a bad name of making people mad when they smoke it, saying this particular one has very little percentages of THC, the substance responsible for making people get high when they smoke it. He said for one to get high after smoking industrial hemp, one would have to smoke a cigarette the size of an electric pole. I should say I like his sense of humour.

This week, a University of Malawi Professor Ben Kalua added his weight to the MP’s call to legalise industrial hemp and asked for the ‘‘de-politicisation of the hemp’’, locally known as chamba, saying industrial hemp [farming] has the potential to steer the country’s economy towards recovery. In 2014, the United States of America imported US$640 million worth of industrial hemp products from the 30 countries worldwide that legalise its farming.

The majority of social media commentators supported the call for the decriminalisation of industrial hemp farming. But the question is—if industrial hemp is not the same illicit weed we know that is widely grown in Nkhotakota north and Mzimba east—then perhaps it is a different kettle of fish altogether. For this reason, given its notoriety for making people high, and mad for those with soft brain, the country cannot just jump on legalising its farming.

Maybe the best government can do is to mandate the Ministry of Agriculture through its research institutions—Bvumbwe, Chitedze, Lunyangwa, and others—to pilot some research studies on this plant. For example, what weather patterns does it favour? What varieties would be best suited for Malawi? Is it already being grown elsewhere in the country—albeit illegally, et cetera?

And given that there is no political will to improve farming in Malawi as some people argue (Jumbe, The Nation July 22, 2015)—why should anyone believe that industrial hemp farming holds the key to the growth of the country’s economy? To this end, given its history, my gut feeling is that industrial hemp farming in Malawi will remain what it is—just a dream for God knows how long.

Now on the proposed abortion bill. The Special Commission on the Review of Abortion Law this week said it had recommended the promulgation of a Bill: the Termination of Pregnancy Bill. The bill advocates for liberalisation rather than discrimination of abortion. The Chairperson of the Commission, Justice Esme Chombo, says the recommendation is a true reflection of what Malawians have been looking for on the ground.

The current position is that abortion is illegal in Malawi except where it is performed to save the life of the pregnant woman through surgical operation. The law criminalises all acts of procuring or assisting in the procuring of miscarriage of a pregnant woman.

But the Commission says has scrapped wanton criminalisation of individuals procuring abortion after getting views from the Ministry of Health, Justice, Judiciary, Episcopal Conference of Malawi, Malawi Council of Churches, the Muslim Community and Traditional leaders, Malawi Law Society and the Malawi College of Medicine.

The background is that for a long time government has bemoaned the high prevalence of maternal mortality in the country and has identified unsafe abortions as one of the major contributing factors to the problem. The country’s maternal mortality rate is still high at 460 per 100,000 live births from 765 some two years ago.

The Commission says having considered all information and literature on matters of unsafe abortions, it has resolved that certain abortions should be permissible. Among the permissible ones is when abortion is procured to prevent injury to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman; where pregnancy endangers the life of a woman, where pregnancy is a result of incest and defilement; and has resulted into severe malfunction of the foetus which will affect its viability. According to the Commission, 77,000 women procure abortion yearly, and 17 percent of maternal mortality in Malawi is a result of unsafe abortion.

In Africa abortion is legal in Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia, Tunisia, Cape Verde Ghana, among others.

The majority of comments from members of the public on social media are negative. They range from ‘Satanic’, ‘This is murder’, ‘Punishable in the presence of God’, ‘Those who agree are stupid’, ‘God told Adam and Eve to subdue the world’, ‘This is selfishness’, ‘Sin is in the sex not pregnancy’, ‘Stop discussing legalising abortion or just legalise chamba’. There were just as many anti-abortion comments on a phone-in radio programme I listened to.

The next step is to table the Bill in Parliament. My intuition is that it will make the day. My understanding is that there is a disjoint between social media commentators and phone-in radio participants on one hand, and policy makers on the other. The latter usually carry the day. But even if that were so, the best way forward is for the Special Law Commission to lobby Members of Parliament before taking the Bill to Parliament. I also expect that since women are key stakeholders on the issue, the Commission will enlist the support of female gender activists for the smooth passing of the Bill into law

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recon banda
Guest

legalise the herb and lets make the money flow in this country. already some people in this country are growing the ganja and selling it outside the country.

vitsiru
Guest

komatu ana awo amawaletsa kudya
kanundu ndiye akuti chan??????
zausiru ife tipenge basi dont they know dat misala imabwezera chitukuko mmbuyo?

zaluma
Guest

But man Jah gave us a herb to eat legalise all herb Hi man Jah Rastafari. We have preached to the nation that the herb is medicinal but apolisi and majudge akhala akutipingapinga. Hi Hon Kadzamira our bona fide members. Jah wona bless. Nyasas upstanding.

Kukaya wa kukaya
Guest

I do not see any sense in promoting abortion and also legalizing growing of Indian hemp.
Let us promote coffee growing which has a big potential to bring forex in the country

Mbowe Mulambia
Guest

Industrial hemp?? Malawian wake up why white lady on the debate what was she doing please guys you are selling this country in the name of investers.

Advocate in Malawi
Guest
You have just outlined all the benefits of Cannabis and distinguished between the two types,but then have fallen into the trap of lumping the two together at the end and confusing the terminology! The paragraph where you say ‘if industrial hemp is not the same illicit weed we know…then perhaps it is a different kettle of fish altogether’…YES it is. It’s just another crop that produces products. One of many crops! At least from one plant you can get creative and produce such a big variety of consumables people want. Then you go onto say ‘given its notoriety for making… Read more »
Myao
Guest

KOMANSO TITHETSERETU DZINA LOTI ‘INDIAN’ HEMP, ABALE NDI ZACHIMALAWI IZI TIZIPATSE DZINA LACHIMALAWI – ZOTAYA ANAZO ZIKAGWELE NDANI SADZIWA KUTI KUKHANYULA KUMABWERESA NKHUTO?

Tamanda Sauka Namwiyo
Guest
Tamanda Sauka Namwiyo

Honestly it pains being impregnated by an irresponsible man, who leave you with his babe. Abortion do happen and married and unmarried people have ever committed this sin. There are several reasons people go for abortion and other reason are very reasonable. How will such people be protected by the law. One ndinapangapo and am speaking from experience

Responsible human
Guest

Pali azimayi okonda plain sex.Kondomu iwowo sayidziwa.mimba amachotsa ngati chiani.They are only motivated by making dirty money.Timathupi tinachita kuuma gwaa ndikuchosa mimba.Makolo awo akanakhala ndi nzeru zimenezi kaya akanakhalapo?Please practice safe sex that destroying innocent foetuses.Mukalangidwa nazo.You are murderers.Use condoms or abstain completely.

Kingsley Jika
Guest

A few years ago, it was unthinkable we would be told to grow ganja to propel ourselves into prosperity. Today they tell us we must grow ganja because our economy is not healthy. I’m assuming we have tried every sane thing & we can’t find answers. Are we serious our poverty is a result of us not growing ganja? Honestly, when I hear this proud nation conspire to become a leading ganja grower I stop in my tracks & laugh in shame for an idea despicable.”

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