Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the arts sector has been badly hit economically. Malawi registered the first case of Covid-19 on April 2 2020 and since, the numbers have been rising. To contain the spread , authorities introduced preventive measures as part of public health guidelines and response plans, one of which was restricting public gatherings to 50 people. This effectively meant the temporary stoppage of all major arts and entertainment activities. In this conversation with our reporter YVONNIE SUNDU, line minister Michael Usi acknowledges the measures have grossly affected the arts, and the creative industries and sheds more light on what the government is undertaking.
While acknowledging that it is necessary to have these measures in place to contain the spread of the virus, it has been noted that politicians are freely campaigning. Is this not double standards?
While it is true that musicians feel punished by the disparities, it will not help for musicians to also start hosting events willy-nilly. Two wrongs do not make a right. If we say, for argument’s sake, that politicians are gathering in such large numbers, let us also do the same, the virus will not understand and say they are trying to equate the game. It will attack us. The issue is no small or big artist, but rather, how many patrons are you going to attract? Black Missionaries, for example, will not attract 50 patrons, but hundreds. Now, look at some one doing an acoustic set, goes at a bar where they attract maybe 30 people. Does that artist need to seek permission from the government? No.
The ministry has launched a K20 million Covid-19 relief fund for Malawian artists. However, this support has come from the Malawi Gaming Board. As government, any prospects of adding more or the ministry coming up with its own initiatives?
You are right. This is a process and we are going to learn lessons which government will see how to come in fully. Of course, government is already in. It can be through the brain or resources. By virtue of me being here, I am representing government. As you know artists have been negatively affected by Covid-19 so we needed to find a way of smoothening the pain they are going through. This fund will come a long way at least to some artists as they will be given work to go out to the people to sensitise them as regards to the pandemic’s prevention as well as promotion of safety messages.
A lot of things that have failed in the industry relate to the arts council. As a minister, are you pushing to have it on the ground?
The arts council is at an advanced stage. We are hoping that in the next meeting of Parliament it should be tabled. From us we are done, that I can confirm.
As a ministry, what lessons have you drawn from the global pandemic in terms of uplifting and promoting arts in the country?
We have never had such a pandemic in this generation. Now, it has taught us to be strategic, proactive, plan for such type of eventualities and catastrophes. A risk that is not managed becomes disastrous. So, what are the risks, threats and opportunities that are surrounding the arts industry? If those are famed in a fashion that would clamp whatever can knock off the artists. That should be done by the ministry in collaboration with the associations and much more when we have got the arts council.
Where are we in terms of the arts fund that you launched a few months ago?
I am happy to say that our artists are benefiting from that. I don’t want to mention their names for ethical reasons but we are disbursing that money. However, what we are not doing well is to prove that it was seed money because we have not added any more to the initial K16 million. That’s where we are revisiting our strategies because when it gets depleted, it is going to be embarrassing.