The creative sector in Malawi is like a cursed profession.
It’s a game of fame without money in the pockets where very few artists boast of reaping dividends from their talents.
Cries of the artists are heard from afar as argued by Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) president, the Chimwemwe Mhango, who sums up 2015 as the year that left musicians poorer.
“The biggest challenge was piracy which has become uncontrollable. It has affected lives of musicians hugely, leaving them poorer,” he says.
A ray of hope was raised in February 2015.
The long-waited National Cultural Policy which, if effected, will coordinate various arts events—including curbing piracy, was adopted by the Cabinet.
To the disappointment of most artists, the policy is yet to take effect as there is no Arts and Heritage Council to act as a threshold for its operation.
“Government should speed up the establishment of the Arts and Heritage Council. If that is done, 2016 will be a prosperous year for artists,” says Mhango.
The battle for the cultural policy and arts council did not begin today.
It is a battle spanning decades.
Since time immemorial, there has been no operational guideline for delivery of cultural services and promotion of culture.
These activities have been uncoordinated with various players which has led to clashes of events, and sometimes bringing chaos in the industry.
Attempts to have the policy—which seeks to preserve and protect the vibrant Malawian culture for national identity, unity and sustainable socio-economic development—were first made in 1981, although the draft policy was first submitted to Cabinet in 2003.
Since then, various ministries and the Cabinet have been giving lip service. It was until February 2015 that the policy was adopted.
There was no better news for artists than the adoption of a policy which also looks into issues of piracy by providing guidelines on the amendment of some laws.
The policy gives the Ministry of Culture room to amend the weak laws under the Copyright Act to increase custodial sentence or fines to convicted pirates.
Previously, copyright offenders would pay between K200 (about $0.3) and K150 000 (about $231) or serve a maximum of a one year jail sentence.
The draft Act proposes a fine of between K200 000 (about $308) and K7 million (about $10 783), or in default serve a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The draft bill, however, was not presented to Parliament for debate in 2015 which did not go down well with artists.
“Government is failing to help artists. It failed to bring to Parliament the draft Copyright Act Bill. We want government to bring this bill to Parliament in its next sitting,” says Mhango.
The year 2015, however, was not all doom and gloom. Government showed some commitment in making sure that the Arts and Heritage Council is established by July this year as promised by President Peter Mutharika in April 2015.
The draft Arts and Heritage Bill, which paves way for the creation of the council, was taken to the people for input before it is tabled in Parliament in April this year.
Principal secretary for sports and culture Sam Madula said the ministry is racing against time in fulfilling the promise made by Mutharika.
“We do not have a choice. This has to be done by the end of the financial year on June 30 2016. We will do all we can to ensure it goes to Parliament in April,” he said.
Madula said the crafting of the proposed law shows that government is committed in the implementation of the cultural policy which will provide a harmonised approach for resource mobilisation for the arts and cultural heritage sectors. n