Driving change through communication

Malawian activist and communicator enabling journalists to tell stories that improve lives

By Aarti Bhana

When Patricia Mtungila started as a reporter over ten years ago, she needed to learn more about where she would be going or what kind of journalism, she was interested in. She started reporting on governance, elections, and women’s and girls’ rights in Mzuzu, Malawi, until she saw a bigger purpose for herself.

Now, Mtungila is an activist, development communicator and the founder of Purple Innovation for Women and Girls. This organisation trains and empowers women and girls with skills and knowledge to spearhead the fight against gender-based violence and poverty in Malawi, among other interventions. The organisation is helping women and girls create solutions themselves and for themselves.

Even though she majors mostly in advocacy and women empowerment, Mtungila believes journalism plays a significant role in uncovering corruption and precisely how the lack of good governance affects women and girls.

She brought her two passions together in a project supported by Peoples Vaccine Alliance Africa.

In February 2023, Purple Innovation teamed up with Peoples Vaccine Alliance Africa and African Alliance to kick off the strengthening Covid-19 funds accountability project – a six-month investigative journalism training programme to help qualified journalists in Nkhata Bay and Mzimba to unearth corruption, mismanagement allegations and accountability issues surrounding Covid-19 funds that are disbursed to the Malawian government since the onset of the pandemic.

“We are capacitating investigative journalists to uncover COVID-19 funding better. As you are aware, when COVID-19 hit in 2020, Malawi was one of the countries hugely funded locally and by bilateral and multilateral partners. However, after that, we could see from the reports from the minister of finance and news reports that there was much mismanagement of funds amounting to $10 million that could not be accounted for,” she said.

While the mismanagement of funds was reported, no arrests have been made, and the money has not been retrieved, so the project can help bring the issue to light.

The journalists are expected to produce evidence-based, twenty-five investigative stories on public procurement of Covid-19 materials in Malawi that can inform legal investigations and prosecutions of allegedly corrupt public officers.

Journalism in Malawi

Journalism in Malawi needs to be more resourced, according to Mtungila.

“Most media houses will not invest so much in these investigative stories, and thus they are left ‘hanging’ or will end up having a simple news story and not digging up the facts. That is why we thought of investing in or capacitating these journalists so that with these resources and the time given to them, they should produce the best stories that can positively impact Malawi’s society. We want to know where these funds went – and we would want to see transparency and accountability around these funds,” she said.

She said capacitating journalists to do deep investigative reporting is her way of giving back to the industry.

In addition to working with African Alliance, Purple Innovation is working on several projects that deal with HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, career guidance for schoolgirls, entrepreneurship training for women and girls, scholarship linkages for girls and employable skills mentorship for recent graduates.

Development journalism

Mtungila refers to herself as a ‘development communicator’ rather than a journalist. For her, this means going into communities and talking to the people that have been or are affected by an issue – understanding them – and then getting their voice into the mainstream media. “At its core, journalism and communication is about impacting communities,” she said.

In the current climate, Mtungila said journalists need to think creatively. This means thinking outside the 5 Ws and H when doing stories and learning to use social media tools and other digital innovations to tell stories and create impact. Additionally, journalists need to push for accountability and transparency, especially as the 2025 elections in Malawi approach. She said that now more than ever, journalists need to love their job and country. “Whatever they [journalists] report on has a huge role in influencing public opinion, shaping the future of Malawi, and informing voters. Hence it is essential to be ethical and passionate about the profession and the country,” she said.