Letter from Malawi
by Horace Nyaka MCIPR, Communications Manager, Malawi Red Cross
I work in the heart of Lilongwe, the Capital City of Malawi. We call our country the warm heart of Africa for our nice hospitality. I am currently doing in-house communication for the Red Cross movement in Malawi. Previously, I worked in government as a Public Relations Officer in the Office of the Vice President.
I have also been a consultant for the government and international organisations like GIZ and Khofi Annan's AGRA. In Malawi, the biggest PR issues relate to media relations, crisis and political communication for development/humanitarian organisations and government agencies respectively. Politics and business consumes the interests of many Malawians.
One area where PR seems to be failing is tourism. Malawi has a population of 14million, 62% of whom are literate. There are over 20 radio stations and two daily newspapers with combined circulation figures of less than 50000. Only 4% of the population uses the internet. Although this may look insignificant, most decision-makers in Malawi use the internet.
People who are new to Malawi should understand the different demographic groups and their preferred way of communication. Malawians love sharing information and the internet is hot among the middle class and the youth. While radio remains the biggest form of communication, some communicators do not understand the different audiences that different radio stations target. I would advise more use of community radios and an informed understanding on national radios and their audiences.
None of our Universities or major colleges offers PR courses and most people learn PR on the job. The different roles of marketers and PR professionals are not yet clear in our society, so is the role of PR officers especially in government and public institutions. Professionalism and ethical practice by journalists remain a challenge. Most PR professionals are forced to pay "allowances" to receive coverage.
PR, just like democracy, is new in Malawi and there are still misunderstandings as to what PR is and what it should be. A lot of journalists in Malawi are joining the PR industry and this is creating more awareness among mainstream journalists regarding the role of PR not just in communication but in politics as well as business. Creating networks and personal relationships with journalists remains the best way of working with them in Malawi since professional standards still need to improve especially in terms of objectivity and independence.
We don't have a registered or accredited PR body. Some PR workers, because of their journalistic backgrounds, or interaction with local journalists, have become members of MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) Malawi Chapter. Some even belong to the Journalists Union of Malawi. There is also an online discussion group on Linkedin called PR Malawi where issues regarding PR are discussed.