This last week in Malawi...
...ESCOM got sued. ESCOM is the Electricity Supply Company of Malawi. They have the ambitious slogan 'Power All Day Every Day' which is really more of a vision statement than a slogan. It is plastered all over their trucks and marketing materials. I find it less like advertising and more like taunting. What is that advertising even for? Do we have any choice when it comes to using electricity?
Which is why many Malawians are happy to learn that, after years of load shedding and unscheduled blackouts, the Consumer Association of Malawi is suing them for fraud because the slogan 'is false, misleading and does not conform to rules of decency, sincerity and truth.' Strange to hear myself say this, but lets have three cheers for those lawyers.
...our Ex President accepted his fate at being barred from running for a third term. Hurray for Malawi and the rule of law. Instead he has dragged his party into an alliance with his Ex Rival Party, lead by his Ex Sworn Enemy, a man he once accused of assassination and jailed for 9 months. Now the two of them are chumming around running a jolly campaign to oust the current president.
So what does the incumbent do? Why, he buys a 6 meter video screen, mounts it on the back of a truck along with some massive, massive speakers and drives it at walking pace through rush hour traffic. On screen he loops video of the Ex President and the Ex Sworn Enemy campaigning against each other 5 years ago. Such choice clips include shots of the one publicly declaring the other a murderer, the other shouting he would rather inhale Doom (insecticide) than vote for the former, as well as some heartbreaking shots of family members at the funerals of the four dead politicians supposedly assassinated.
Huge crowds gather to walk alongside the vehicle and soak up the hypocrisy. Huge, huge, huge crowds. I know because I am repeatedly caught behind them on my way home from work.
... a new debate sprang up in the media about the role Malawi's many chiefs should play in a democracy. A traditional leader is expected to be neutral to carry out his/her leadership responsibilities at the community level. But they are also funded by the national government to be able to maintain a level of status and effectiveness. As multiparty democracy has flourished in the last 14 years, chiefs have quickly learned to align themselves with the ruling party to improve their budgets. Now this relatively new tendency is starting to undermine their credibility. Where is the balance? Can you run a traditional community without funds? It is an interesting question to consider.
... Chief Kalumbu rose to defend the integrity of Gule Wamkulu. Gule Wamkulu are traditional dancers who are elaborately costumed and disguised. They are shrouded in mystery, enormously powerful, terrifying to behold, and upon a time were once only to be seen at night, or at the funeral of a chief.
But no more. Chief Kalumbu has been lamenting that they are being exploited and he is appealing to all Malawian Chiefs to wield their authority to stop this practice. "You find Gule Wamkulu in bottle stores (bars), at political rallies and some are even including them in music videos."
I like that progression: bars, political rallies and music videos. It is a litany of evil, is it not? The Malawian version of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.
Guli Wamkulu, dancing roadside and terrorizing the money out of tourists.
... several people were eaten by crocodiles. There is nothing funny about this story, but in a country suffering environmental degradation it loudly illustrates the laws of natural consequence.
Two canoe loads of poachers decided to do some illegal night fishing in the rich waters of the Liwonde National park. Waters rich in fish, hippos and crocs. When they were surprised by a boatload of game wardens, they tried to escape by diving into the river. Oh dear. Of the 12 men 3 were immediately eaten. The nine others were rescued by the wardens, though 2 of them needed to be hospitalized.
...a Regional Tourism Officer was quoted in the paper as saying 'We appreciate the role the media plays in sensitizing the public.'
This is not an interesting comment to make in the paper, or to repeat on one's blog. But it is interesting to note that the quotable officer's first name was 'Salad.' You may join me in wondering: is Salad a man or a woman's name? I do not know. I could see myself using it on either our daughter or our son with equal amounts of likelihood. I guess that makes it unisex.
... I personally met a gentleman by the name of Mount Sorry Nthochi. Charmingly, he was just as amazed and delighted by his name as I was - and he has had some 40 years to get used to it. We shared a good chuckle when we introduced ourselves. It gets better when you understand that Nthochi is Chichewa for Banana. Mount Sorry Banana. Definitely a boy's name.
... Mr. Chafutsa, 29 year old independent candidate in next week's Parliamentary elections, disappeared on Monday. A missing person's report was filed on Tuesday but he reappeared on Wed morning in a town about an hour away from his home.
Briefly, he retells his story; he was called by several different people (among them a local radio station and the police) and each caller invited him to the same bus stop. At the bus stop 3 men in black suits and dark glasses invited him aboard a private bus. Then they asked him to accept some money to live outside of town until after the elections (i.e. withdraw from running), or else fear for his life.
After this ominous conversation, the apparently offered him a beverage. Perhaps to break the ice? "The last thing I recall was having a drink with a straw" Chafutsa told police. It is not clear where, how or in what condition Chafutsa regained consciousness, or what he is going to do next.
That is the whole mysterious story, and it leaves me with one longwinded question: Would you rather vote for:
a) someone who reports to a bus station for simultaneous radio interviewing and police questioning? (has he not seen the SNL 'Landshark' skit)?
b) someone who climbs on board with some men in dark suits and sunglasses, listens to them threaten his life and then obligingly sips away at the drink they give him? (I love the detail that it was 'through a straw.' So cheerful and ominous at the same time.)
c) someone who goes on some sort of bender, wakes up days later and miles from home with the police looking for him, finds himself cornered by the press a week before the election and then comes up with the above explanation?
Lucky for you you don't actually have to make a choice. You can find all three tantalizing characteristics rolled into one artful politician. Whether the story is true or not, the voters are spoilt for choice.
...we learned that "Motorbike ambulances help Malawi to halve maternal death. " Light upon light! Not only does everyone one loves saving babies, but do we also not love to see pregnant women zooming around on motorbikes? We do. I actually have never seen such a sight but I can picture it, and it makes me happy.