Singer Annie Lennox will visit Malawi to develop and enhance the country’s links with Scotland, the Scottish Parliament announced today.
It is the singer’s first visit in her role as special envoy for the Scottish branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPASB), which aims to pursue and support parliamentary democracy in partnership with others who share the same ideals.
She will be joined by Parliament Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson MSP during the five-day visit, which runs from 13-18 February. The pair will visit various projects with Scottish links including schools, feeding centres and hospitals.
They will also meet the Speaker of the National Assembly of Malawi, a number of politicians involved in the Pilot Parliamentary Pairing Initiative, and members of the Malawian Parliament’s Women’s Caucus.
Holyrood also announced a further visit by members of the CPASB to Malawi on January 23 which will see four MSPs deliver a series of workshops to Malawian politicians on a range of topics including leadership, engagement and legislative scrutiny.
Speaking ahead of the visit, Annie Lennox OBE said: "Aids is the biggest global killer of women of reproductive age. In Malawi, one in 14 people are currently living with the disease, which remains the country’s leading cause of death in adults.
"In spite of this, the stigma of HIV in many countries is still so great that many people remain too afraid to talk about the issue or disclose that they are infected. To have the opportunity to travel to Malawi to meet individuals and groups and help to encourage them to find ways of breaking down stigma, increase access to treatment, and improve prevention initiatives, is a real, real honour for me."
Ms Lennox will return to Holyrood – where she has appeared at the last two Scottish Parliament Festival of Politics events to discuss her SING campaign – after the visit to report her findings from her Malawi visit to MSPs.
During the visit Mr Fergusson, the first Presiding Officer to visit Malawi, will meet key political figures to agree proposals for a second Technical Assistance Programme between the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly of Malawi.
Mr Fergusson, who is president of the CPASB, will also use the visit to strengthen links already in place between Scotland and Malawi. Since 2005, the Scottish Parliament has been working in partnership with the National Assembly Malawi to establish working links to help share ideas and ways of working. A pilot scheme which has ten MSPs twinned with Malawian counterparts was set up last April.
Mr Fergusson said: "An exceptionally strong relationship has grown between the Scottish and Malawian parliaments and I looking forward to further discussions with Speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda on the work we have undertaken to date and ways to continue our relations.
"This is very much a two-way process as politicians and officials at the Scottish Parliament have benefitted from the joint working with counterparts in such a different political and economic environment.
"Engagement with Malawi has provided a direct international perspective for MSPs and Parliament staff and has allowed them to share a breadth of knowledge they have gained since the Scottish Parliament was established. I am very keen to ensure the special relationship between our two countries continues for many years to come.
"It’s truly fitting I will be accompanied by Annie Lennox in her first visit as special envoy. She has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of HIV in Africa through her inspirational SING campaign and will be a tremendous asset to the people of Scotland through her work for the CPA."
The Presiding Officer announced details of the Malawi delegation during a visit to an aid warehouse in Glasgow run by the charity Mary’s Meals – one of the projects he and Ms Lennox will visit next month. Mary’s Meals runs feeding projects in communities where hunger prevents children from gaining an education in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Mr Fergusson collected letters from Glasgow schoolchildren who have been paired with a school near the Malawian capital of Lilongwe where he will personally deliver the mail. The Presiding Officer also helped load backpacks filled with pens and books and other educational materials donated from people across Scotland onto a lorry bound for youngsters in Malawi. He also learned about the special nutrition-rich porridge Mary’s Meals provides at its school kitchens.
Mr Fergusson said: "Set up by a former salmon fisherman, Mary’s Meals is an excellent example of how Scots have gone out of their way to help people in need – and how generous Scots keep on giving to those less fortunate than themselves. I am very much looking forward to seeing both sides of their work – the collection of goods in Glasgow to the distribution in Malawi."
He was joined by MSPs who are members of the CPASB delegation to visit Malawi to progress ideas on the second Technical Assistance Project between the Scottish and Malawian Parliaments.
CPASB Executive Committee Member, Karen Gillon MSP said: "We are looking forward to delivering ten workshops on a range of topics to our Malawian counterparts to help further strengthen and develop democracy in Malawi
She added: "During the six years of the CPA’s involvement in Malawi we have seen the huge difference the people of Scotland make with their generous contributions, both in terms of time and money."
Ms Gillon will be accompanied by three other MSPs – Ted Brocklebank, Maureen Watt and Liam McArthur.
Magnus MacFarlane Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals, said: "We are looking forward to introducing Annie Lennox, Alex Fergusson and members of the CPASB to many of the children who have benefited from Mary’s Meals in Malawi.
"We know providing a meal a day in school makes a huge, positive difference to a young person’s life and it is wonderful to have the opportunity to show our visitors what happens at one of our overseas projects.
"We feel it is highly appropriate that the 5,000 mile journey to Malawi starts at this warehouse, as it is here that thousands of backpacks, donated by the Scottish public and filled with school resources, begin their journey to Malawi every year."
Four MSPs and two Scottish Parliament officials are taking part in the CPASB delegation departs for Malawi on 23 January. The total cost of the trip is expected to be in the region of £19,000 and will be met by the Scotland Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The CPA consists of the national, provincial, state and territorial parliaments and legislatures of the countries of the Commonwealth. The CPA has around 175 branches and a membership of 17,000 parliamentarians. It promotes respect for the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms, and by pursuit of the positive ideals of parliamentary democracy.
The Scottish Parliament will fund the travel, accommodation and living costs for the Presiding Officer’s visit and the two Parliament officials who will accompany him. The estimated cost for this is £11,000.