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what is haba na haba?

haba na haba started out as a team blog, but it seems I’m the only one left. Who am I? Kim Yi Dionne, aka @dadakim. I research about Africa, HIV/AIDS, health, development, ethnicity, and — most importantly — how politics plays a role in all of these contexts. I also teach about the aforementioned, as Five College Assistant Professor of Government at Smith College. My employer, however, does not take any blame or shame associated with the opinions and information I present here.

The photo in the blog header was taken at Satemwa Tea Estate, Thyolo District, Malawi, in November 2008.

Here is the historic version of “what is haba na haba?”:

haba na haba is a blog on little things maintained by people interested in big change. the methali (swahili proverb) from which our blog derives its name is: haba na haba hujaza kibaba, translating in english to: little by little fills the measure.

the group of us blogging here met while volunteering in tanzania in 2004. now, we’re scattered around the world doing lots of different, but we think, interesting things. haba na haba was started in july 2007 with the intent to keep us in touch and to share information among us. of course, haba na haba is happy to have an audience beyond the friend-volunteers.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 April 2011 6:32 am

    Malawi: Of Classroom Spies and Academic Freedom

    On the morning of 12 February 2011 the Inspector General of the Malawi Police Service, Mr Peter Mukhito, summoned University of Malawi Associate Professor, Dr. Blessings Chinsinga, to interrogate him on allegations that he had been inciting university students to take to the streets in protest against the Malawi government. A student in Dr. Chinsinga’s class, believed to be a police officer studying at the University of Malawi, is suspected of having informed on the lecturer about an example Dr Chinsinga is said to have used to illustrate a point. Dr. Chinsinga is said to have alluded to the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, which toppled long-ruling dictators in the two countries, saying problems of fuel and forex shortages, which have hit Malawi in the last several months, can lead to similar uprisings.

    News of the summoning appeared within hours on Boniface Dulani’s blog. The constituent college of the University of Malawi where Chinsinga teaches, Chancellor College, has grounded to a halt since. Lecturers at the college have since stopped teaching, citing fear of spies in classrooms, and demanding an apology and a reassurance of academic freedom, from the Inspector General of Police. The IG has not apologized, and the State President, Professor Bingu wa Mutharika, has sided with the Inspector General, announcing that Mr Mukhito will not apologize.

    Police versus Academic Freedom. Source: Joseph Banda’s Academic Freedom in Malawi Facebook page

    In a blog post as guest blogger on Dulani’s blog, Dr. Chinsinga argued for the significance of competing ideas, saying it was the role of public intellectuals to offer new ideas to compete with those being propagated by the state. Titled The Poverty of Ideas, Chinsinga’s article argued:

    Consequently, a society that does not entertain alternative ideas, and in which the leadership projects itself as all knowing, catches up with the law of degeneracy rather rapidly. The decay is even much faster if a regime resorts to suppressing alternative ideas either covertly or overtly.

    The Chancellor College lecturers, who have since been joined by another constituent college in the University of Malawi system, The Polytechnic, have been lead by Acting President of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union, Dr. Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula. Dr. Kabwila-Kapasula has kept a running commentary on the unfolding events on her facebook page, where other facebookers, Malawians, friends and colleagues of Dr. Kabwila-Kapasula outside Malawi, have been sending messages of support and solidarity.

    Posting on March 8 when heavily armed Malawi Police invaded the Chancellor College campus, Dr. Kabwila-Kapasula wrote on her facebook page (This content is currently unavailable):

    Acting President of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union, Dr. Kabwila-Kapasula (Photo from her Facebook page)

    malawi is now a police state, it is official. as i write, there is police inside campus firing teargas at students whose only crime is to ask why they are not going into class. omg, this is not hapening. sadly, we have a weak opposition. we live a country where Bamusi [civil society leader] poses a threat more than political parties, how pathetic.

    Two days later she posted again after police invaded the campus once more (This content is currently unavailable):

    today i woke up to the reality that for the Malawi govt, university education is not a priority, students can be teargassed and not even one person in high office bats an eyelid. spent the day pushing police out of campus, teargassing students in the hostels.

    On Saturday March 12, speaking to graduating students at Domasi College of Education, the president directed that the Chancellor College lecturers return to class and resume teaching by the following Monday. The lecturers defied the order, and sought a court injunction. On her facebook page, Dr. Kabwila-Kapasula wrote (This content is currently unavailable):

    so now it is the principle of academic freedom versus bingu: head of state, chancellor and cammander in chief. I will not get back to class without academic freedom. a presidential decree cannot make me go into a snake infested classroom, stop me from upholding constitutional rights.

    A facebook page created by Joseph J Banda, named The Online Demonstration for Academic Freedom in Malawi, has been receiving all kinds of reactions, some supporting the lecturers, some criticizing them, and some urging for dialogue.

    The page says:

    2. We demand a signed document that assure Academic Freedom and no further involvement of the government or any other parties in the Teaching system.



    33. Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, belief and thought, and to academic freedom.

    34. Every person shall have the right to freedom of opinion, including the right to hold opinions without interference to hold, receive and impart opinions.

    35. Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression.

    One comment in support of the lecturers read:

    Its hard to believe that this is happening in a country where we have many so called “learned” leaders….we need to redefine this i think

    A comment in support of the president, written in a mix of Chichewa and English, said:

    ngati mwatopa ndi sukulu munene a bingu has other things to do like our graduation asafuna asiye [If you are fed up with school just say so. Bingu has other things to do, like our graduation. Whoever doesn’t want to continue should just quit]

    Another comment called for dialogue:

    Lets only call for the understanding of the two parties so students may go back to class, we need a lot more educated minds to move this nation! I really feel bad for the situation

    Not all lecturers and students are in support of the stand-off, and voices deviating from the stand taken by the lecturers have been heard on state broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Some lecturers and students are reported to have gone to court to seek an injunction against the striking lecturers, but thus far the effort has not succeeded. Other students are reported to have also gone to court to demand a withdrawal of the application for the injunction. In a radio interview with Brian Banda on Capital FM’s Straighttalk, Dr. Kabwila-Kapasula said the door for negotiations was open. Esteemed professor of Law in the University of Malawi, Dr. Edge Kanyongolo, told weekly newspaper Malawi News that initiatives for dialogue needed to come from the government side, but the newspaper did not give reasons for Dr. Kanyongolo’s thinking.

  2. Magnus permalink
    27 July 2011 8:39 am


    Nick Wright, 23 July 2011

    By the peaceful standards of modern Malawi, the 20th of July was a very bloody day indeed. At least 19 people were killed and many more were injured, in demonstrations against the Mutharika government that took place in and around the main cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba and Mzuzu. Having begun in a peaceful, carnival, atmosphere of red shirts and banners, they quickly turned violent as the heavily-armed police and army, finding themselves in a period of indecision over the legality of these protests, responded characteristically with live bullets and tear-gas.

    The old men who lead the Malawian Opposition parties, John Tembo for the Malawi Congress Party, and Friday Jumbe for the United Democratic Front, quickly melted away from the angry streets, leaving the escalating riots to a a few hard-pressed protest marshal and the party-youth of the governing, Democratic Progressive Party. As always, there were large numbers of angry young men, freed by Malawi’s huge unemployment crisis and eager to express their multitude dissatisfactions.

    President Bingu wa Mutharika, himself a nervous and irascible old man, now ruefully contemplates the burned-out houses and the looted shops of this “Warm Heart of Africa” and he blames western interference, along with “satanic” local Civil Society groupings, for the disaster. His rhetoric is becoming increasingly incoherent and apocalyptic.

    Bingu’s massive first-term (2004-2009) popularity on the domestic and international fronts, now seems very distant. It was based on his decision to channel Malawi’s scarce foreign exchange reserves into the purchase of foreign chemical fertilisers and hybrid seeds for subsidised use by Malawi’s millions of smallholder, maize-growing, farmers. That bold presidential decision propelled Malawi from regular food deficits to a permanent over-production of the maize food staple. It made Bingu — who was only copying what the USA and the EU had been doing for decades — into an overnight expert on food security and, for many Malawians, their very own “economic engineer”. Even the bilateral and multilateral aid agencies which have kept the Malawian economy unsteadily on its feet since Independence in 1964 and have been temperamentally suspicious of such “unsustainable” economic strategies, were prepared to contribute regularly, through “Budget Support”, to this subsidy, on the principle that emergency food-aid is even more unpredictable and costly.

    Bingu, however, lacks political subtlety. He has managed simultaneously to alienate Malawi’s two main generators of foreign exchange: the international donors and the international tobacco-buyers. However understandable it may be, his very public hostility towards their representatives in Malawi: the diplomats of the western embassies in Lilongwe and the American executives of the tobacco-buying companies, Alliance One and Limbe Leaf, has been nothing short of reckless. It has shaken even the British government’s unwavering attachment to its swollen Department for International Development in Malawi. Other bilateral and multilateral agencies are taking their cue from Britain by withholding aid. Furthermore, the market for Malawi’s export staple, burley tobacco, already in serious decline, is more than a little impatient with Bingu’s futile attempts to set minimum prices on the auction floors and interfere in personnel management.

    These anxieties and uncertainties have fed into the July 20 riots through the recent austerity budget of Finance Minister Ken Kandodo. Urban Malawians, who gave Bingu and his DPP-party a landslide majority in 2009, and called him the Modern Moses, now blame him for every long queue outside petrol-filling stations, every price–rise in the shops, every interruption in electricity-supply and water-supply, every time foreign exchange is unavailable in the banks, every tax-rise. Such things are becoming daily more frequent. Because of Bingu’s public face as a finger-waggng All-Wise and All-Knowing Leader, he now must personally accept the major responsibility.

    For more like this go to

    Nick Wright has worked in the History Department at Adelaide University (1975-1991) and for Africa Confidential as its Malawi correspondent (2003-2010).

  3. Sara permalink
    12 March 2012 10:54 pm

    How cool! In the middle of google search for a research paper, I randomly came across this site, the name caught me, I know this methali! Nafurahi sana! Ni na soma afya ya umma na Kiswahili sasa! This has so many great articles, issues that is brings up. I also lived in Tanzania two years ago, I am graduating in May with a BA and trying to figure out the next steps (I think I need to expand my skills and experiences before returning to TZ).. can’t wait to check this site out more, after my paper that is. Crazy how many blogs there are out there, glad I found this one.

    • 12 March 2012 10:58 pm

      Karibu sana, Sara. I presume you are learning Kiswahili with Mwalimu Mchombo. I actually call him Aphunzitsi since he taught me Chichewa over a couple of days during a conference about Soccer in Africa at UCLA. Please tell him Kim Dionne says hello.

      Happy reading!

  4. 14 March 2012 1:22 pm

    how do you perform ur work whilst u are in different parts of the word

  5. nsajigwa mwasokwa permalink
    11 June 2012 4:11 am

    i have just “discovered” this site, and have liked it “mara-moja”, immediately…
    i am a native swahili speaker, someone with connection to Malawi…
    i have liked how you have explained “haba na haba” turning it into philosophy…likewise have been captivated on “mbalimbali”-for other (various) matters…mengineyo…
    i will be checking this regularly
    naomba mnikaribishe
    nsajigwa sisikwa sisi
    Dar es salaam (for now) and Mbeya (anytime)

  6. Rhoda Zulu permalink
    28 August 2012 6:38 am

    I am pleased with Malawi’s background to this website. Iam a malawian who works at a local media NGO ,a student in community development as well as writer ..Iam researching for shoprite workers strike in lilongwe malawi which took place in january 2012 for my assignments. Up to now I have tried nyasatimes,mailtalk but fail to upload the story….no success. I trust u can assist me to get it,will you?

    Am also interested in Gloria jelemiah’s claim of Garani MW1 as a cure for HIV AIDS, pls provide her contact email/cell no if possible.



  1. Research Frontiers in Foreign Aid | Malawi Ace

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