Pushing poverty into a hole through cash transfers

KALIATI—Malawi can move one step at a time towards prosperity

By Tiyese Monjeza & Richard Chirombo:

When Gogo Wisikesi, 80, buried her last-born child, who happened to be the breadwinner for the family, she also buried her hopes of ever living a decent life.

“I was blessed with five children, four of whom trekked to South Africa and have never sent anything, be it financial or material resources, back home. They went to South Africa on one trip, promising to come back because all of them left behind wives and not less than two children each. They never did.


“I was, therefore, depending on Zalimu, my last-born son who chose to remain in Malawi and provided all the resources I needed. Unfortunately, he was killed in a hit and run accident at Malindi on his way to Mangochi Boma and that was it. The driver of the vehicle that his him was never apprehended. I never got anything, in terms of compensation,” she says, controlling back tears outside a long-time friend’s house at Mpiripiri, Traditional Authority Makanjira, in Mangochi District.

However, the heavens smiled on her about four years ago, when she was contacted by district council officials and told that she was eligible for cash transfers.

She described her first encounter with Local Government officials who brought her the good news as “a miracle”.


“Believe you me, it is a miracle because, all along, I was being overlooked when it comes to government initiatives. I never benefitted from Starter Pack [a government initiative introduced by the United Democratic Front administration as one way of shoring up crop productivity], Farm Inputs Programme [which the Democratic Progressive Party administration introduced to advance its agricultural revolution agenda], let alone the Affordable Inputs Programme.

“The excuse they give for overlooking me is that I am too old to be productive,” she lamented.

This is what Manepo Executive Director Andrew Kavala has been protesting.

“Age discrimination, alongside other forms of abuse and violence, has been among the primary drivers of social isolation of older men and men in our communities. The risk is much greater for older men and women living alone, who continue to get very minimal attention from closes relations and community members.

“It would be so naïve for one to underestimate the role of social inclusion as one of the driving factors towards quality of life and independence of older persons. Just like any other person, older men and women have the need to maintain good relationships with family and friends, to feel useful and be treated with respect. Any deliberate efforts towards ensuring that the elderly are able to participate and make positive contributions to the community and society are integral to autonomy and dignity,” he says.

Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ clearly underscores the importance of maintaining some level of coerciveness for everyone to achieve the needs for safety, belongingness and love, which are crucial for positive living.

“Risk factors that may lead to social exclusion among the elderly in Malawi include bereavement, lack of appropriate income security systems to address their poverty concerns and poor health.

“Although older persons living alone are most likely to experience social isolation, those living in residential care are also at risk, especially if they lack opportunities to participate in some community activities outside their residential homes. Unfounded assumptions, stereotypes and stinking attitudes towards the elderly among many policy and decision makers continue to make Malawi one of the worst countries for one to grow old in the world,” Kavala adds.

Ironically, despite the country having the National Policy for Older Persons in Malawi, exclusion from programmes such as AIP and social cash transfers remains deep-rooted.

For Wisikesi, however, her inclusion in social cash transfer programme has sparked her interest in national development affairs.

“Already, I have been able to purchase livestock using the funds I get as social cash transfer,” she said.

This is also the case in Machinga District, where 13,515 households are receiving cash transfers.

One of the beneficiaries, Margret Mailosi from Traditional Authority Liwonde, says she now manages to fend for her family.

“At first, I used to struggle even to have a proper meal on a day. This is no longer the case after I was enlisted as one of the beneficiaries of social cash transfer,” she said.

She has, among other things, bought livestock and is able to have three proper meals a day.

“The initiative has gone a long way in cushioning households from the effects of hunger. Following floods that hit some parts of the country due to tropical storms Ana and Gombe, households are at risk of suffering from hunger.

“However, due to initiatives such as social cash transfer, some of us are able to make ends meet as our resilience to disasters has been built,” Mailosi said.

Machinga District Commissioner Rosemary Nawasha concurs.

“When recipients of cash transfers use the money for purchasing food items and other basic necessities, they improve their living standards and address challenges such as those of hunger. In other words, they become less vulnerable to problems that arise out of monetary needs,” she said.

She said, for example, that 131,651 vulnerable households that were said to be at risk of having hunger episodes had increased their chances of survival by getting K36,000 bailout for the months of January and February

‘My appeal is that they should be using the money for the intended purpose, which is, buying food and other essentials. It is always sad when we see beneficiaries of life-uplifting programmes misusing resources they receive,’ Nawasha said.

She further said the programme was a success in the district as they did not receive a report that a tambala meant for the initiative had gone missing or been abused by council officials.

‘The major challenge we faced was poor road network, where some roads were submerged in water and, as such, became impassable. In such circumstances, our officers were forced to work and this delayed the completion of the exercise,’ Nawasha said.

A Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee report indicated that 18,124 households in Machinga were likely to be affected by hunger and were in need of financial support.

Over 13,000 affected families in the district are benefitting from the social cash transfer programme while others are given other forms of aid.

Community Development Minister Patricia Kaliati said it was in the government’s interest to improve the living standards of people through the social cash transfer programme.

“We do not want anyone to lag behind, in terms of development, hence our commitment to ensuring that, through the cash transfer programme, people are meeting their needs in the country,” she said.

She further lauded the role digital payment systems were playing in easing beneficiaries’ access to cash.

“Now, with digital payment, there is transparency. We are going to extend the programme to other districts, which will also go a long way in easing communication challenges. We want to protect more beneficiaries of the Social Cash Transfer Programme,” Kaliati said.

Kaliati echoed sentiments for beneficiaries to be using the funds for the intended purpose as one way of developing their households.

“With the money beneficiaries get from the initiative, Malawi can move one step at a time towards prosperity one household at a time,” she said.

In the case of Wisikesi, this is even possible when one is in what some consider as the evening of their lives.

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