Janet Karim; 40 years in media work

In Him also we have received an inheritance [a destiny—we were claimed by God as His own], having been predestined (chosen, appointed beforehand) according to the purpose of Him who works everything in agreement with the counsel and design of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ [who first put our confidence in Him as our Lord and Savior] would exist to the praise of His glory. – Ephesians 1:11-12 

Forty years ago, on May 4, 1982, the first Women’s Page appeared IN The Daily Times. It had taken the mighty hand of God to get to this job, my previous one having ended in an interdiction because I stood my ground and refused to go for an assignment meant for somebody else. The assignment was to escort female students to dance for the Life President on a trip to Mwanza.

The unfairness was that it was not my turn. Ministry of Education had me interdicted for three months. Four months after being reinstated, thanks to Rachel Semu who argued that penalizing young graduates for politically-quoted reasons, was not the best use of these resources, Mike Kamwendo offered me a job at the Daily Times.

This did not seem like a great idea to my Dad, so he asked his colleague, heavyweight John Tembo (then Chairman of Blantyre Newspapers) to sit on my application, due to President Banda’s disdain for journalists. Kamwendo held on until I argued with my Dad to let me work. I was extremely bitter with the education ministry because, in its wisdom, it was sending me to St. Michaels Junior School for Girls in Malindi. I resigned and secured a job at Central High School when Kamwendo’s offer came.

Roziliro Twea and I (Janet Mbekeani) shared a room with Felix Mponda. He was advised to “teach the girls as much as you can about the ropes of journalism.” That he did, and we too exchanged our craft with him for his Drum Beat column. Thus began our journey in journalism, along with it came the ugly, the bad, and the good. The good, of course, outdid the other vices. I stand here proud and tall, thanks to the mix of all the three. The three are grouped in thematic order as opposed to chronological order.

The ugly; In 1993, the year I launched my newspaper The Independent, my son was almost killed by Malawi Young Pioneers, as they tried to force the car he was driving, off the road. In the car were 10,000 copies of the next day’s The Independent, with the lead article “CT Kadzamira, who is she?” The article was mistaken to question her worth, on the contrary, it was in support of the work she has done for Malawi.

Although as advocates for democracy, we all rallied behind the views that Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s legacy was marred tendency of killing opposition members, the United Democratic Front (UDF) showed that killers were also on the loose during the democratic era, especially during the first 10 years. My house was twice raided at gunpoint, and my electronic equipment, computers, and photo albums were taken. Topping this were threats to my life in 2007 by the UDF functionaries, which caused then-President Mutharika to step and move me out of the country to the diplomatic service. After the end of my contract in 2015, in great fear of returning to my home country, I am in self-exile due to these threats. This is the ugliest part of my journalism career.

The bad: In May 1991 I was the Malawi delegate at the UNESCO Windhoek media conference (that led to World Press Freedom Day), two police officers not only came with me (their names are not on the list of delegates) but also attempted to stop me from actively participating, citing that I was going to make Kamuzu look bad. I relocated to sit with Al Osman who was at that time editor at the Botswana Observer. I asked questions that helped foster larger assistance from the UN to help forge a free, independent, and pluralistic press in Malawi and Africa.

The good: Working in the media has availed me the opportunity to be up close and personal with some of the world’s heavyweights and giants, and help change the landscape of Malawi, the SADC region, and the world, uplifting the lives of the vulnerable and the voiceless. Among these are former Chile President, who was the first Executive Director of UN Women. UN Women was an agency, fellow colleagues from the African group helped formulate; and later while in a board meeting as a Malawi delegate in the room, convinced the UN Women management team to reconsider and set up an office in Malawi to assist in-coming Malawi’s first female President, Dr. Joyce Banda.

Two other women I worked with were the late Mary Singletary, who brought 50,000 books to Malawi for primary school children in the village. Dr. Singletary requested the Malawi Mission to assist Dr. Ann Gloag in gaining an approval letter from the Ministry of Health to establish the Fistula Wing at the Bwaila with her friends, Tom Hunter (Sir Thomas Blane Hunter) and former US President Bill Clinton. A few phone calls that I made, including one to Vice President Joyce Banda and the Director of Reproductive Health, made this a reality.

Furthermore, it was a great privilege, to work as a diplomat to manage the media outreach at the Malawi Mission to the United Nations under the supervision of Ambassador Brian Bowler, by establishing media platforms such as Vibrant Malawi on Facebook, Malawi  UN Channel on YouTube, and the quarterly Malawi Diplomatic Extraordinaire.

Lastly, following the expiry of my contract as a diplomat, something good, in fact, great came out of the ugly in my journalism journey,  I started columns in the Nation and the Maravi Post, even serving for three years as senior editor for the Marai Post. These two columns avail me the opportunity to write on a bucket load of local and international topics. I have also made two guest appearances on Voice of America’s Straight Talk Africa with Shaka Ssali to discuss the 2020 Fresh Malawian elections and made a guest appearance in the Medical Society of Malawi (MASM) magazine.

The upside side of the ugly is the relaunch of my book publishing career. During this comeback, I‘ve published several books including Brilliant! One Year with Dr. Joyce Banda – April 7, 2012- April 7, 2013 (2013), Zinyama Village Road (2016), and A Girl Called Gaborone (2022). In the pipeline are several manuscripts including one on intergovernmental and national leadership, grandma’s garden.

Destiny helpers: I have not walked these 40 years alone or unassisted. I have had strength effused in my running, prancing, and soaring with help from firstly God the Almighty. The earthly helpers in my destiny were my Dad (he warmed up to and was one of the loud cheerleaders), Mom, siblings, my husband (Adam Sr.), and children, Mike Kamwendo, David Tattersall, Felix Mponda, Roziliro Twea Tembo, Ralph, Robert Chilenga, William Kadzamira, Walker Jiyani, Willie Zingani (wapaNtchito), and Sam Chu, and Blantyre Newspapers colleagues, David Nthengwe and The Independent staff, H. Kamuzu Banda, Justin Malewezi, Joyce Banda, Patricia Kaliati, Zahra Nuru, Esnath Kaliyati, Mary Shaba, Francis Kakatera, Gervasio Kaliwo, Tony Mita, Rozlyn Makhumula, Queen Gondwe, Brian Bowler, Charles Msosa, Mbumba Banda, Elwin Mandowa, and Lloyd M’bwana, among many others.

Thank you, destiny helpers, the journey continues!

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