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Africa Confidential, October 2009

Malawi and the Hunger Gap
Interview with Elvis Sukali of Oxfam, Malawi, 23 October 2009

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Africa Confidential interviews Elvis Sukali, Media and Communications Officer, Oxfam Malawi

Elvis Sukali of Oxfam

Africa Confidential interviewed Elvis Sukali, Oxfam’s Media and Communications Officer, on 23 October about the priorities in Malawi of the British non-governmental organisation founded in Oxford in 1942 and now active in over 100 countries worldwide.

Question:What would you say are Oxfam's most important achievements during its dozen or so years in Malawi and what are your real priorities?

Answer:We've been in Malawi longer but it is true that the Malawi office was only opened in 1987. Most important, I would say, is working with poor people, especially in Phalombe District, to reduce the annual 'hunger gap' from nine months to three months; to reduce the mortality-rate from HIV/AIDS by bringing treatments closer to the local communities; by disseminating information through radio-listening clubs. All this is contributing to a decentralisation of the effort to improve rural livelihoods, especially in the heavily-populated Shire Highlands, of which Phalombe is a part.

Q: Given that what sometimes is called the 'aid industry' is very large in Malawi and extremely difficult for an outsider to comprehend, how would you distinguish Oxfam's unique contribution from all the others?

A: It is our unique impact in this Mulanje Phalombe Thyolo-Balaka area of South-Eastern Malawi where there is now a big awareness of Oxfam and our advocacy role on the national stage for the local communities. Other organisations are doing similar things in other areas, like the Lower Shire.

Q: It must always be difficult to generate funds for your development programmes in Malawi but is the current situation unusually tricky for you?

A: Certainly, the global financial crisis is having a significant impact on our funding and we are being forced to use our existing resources as effectively as possible. I am optimistic that the situation will improve soon.

Q: How much of your funding comes from Oxfam's appeals in the UK and how much from multilateral and bilateral donors such as the World Bank, the United Nations, DFID [Department for International Development]?

A: A lot comes from Oxfam in UK but of course we are working in partnership with other international parts of Oxfam; also with multilateral and bilateral aid agencies like the European Union and UNICEF; and with a number of much smaller Non-Governmental Organisations in Malawi.

Q: The natural tendency for aid agencies is to emphasise current and looming disasters and the natural tendency of governments is to emphasise their own success-stories. We get extraordinarily conflicting messages from Malawi. While the government boasts food security based on four consecutive bumper maize harvests, the agencies tell us of the urgent need for food-aid for a million Malawians. Are both correct?

A: Yes. Both are correct. There is food security at the national level but at the local level there are some deficits and shortages. We help government in dealing with these deficits, but government is the main service-provider and we need government for a good policy environment. 

Elvis Sukali attended the Conservative Party’s conference in Manchester to talk about environmental issues. He has also published a report: The Winds of Change: Climate change, poverty and the environment in Malawi. He is currently on a national tour organised by Oxfam and, at Henley Town Hall on Tuesday 27 October, Mr Sukali said: ‘My talks put climate change into the context of Malawi and what people there have to face. Countries are trying to cut their emissions but I think they need to provide funding in addition to their aid funding for struggling countries.’