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A month so far in Blantyre, Malawi. In his blog, Trafford Council Chief Executive David McNulty suggested I’d be getting Trafford’s name in the local papers (www.trafford.gov.uk – have your say) as former director of communications.
I don’t need to. The two national daily papers here – The Nation and The Daily Times – feature Trafford (well Old Trafford) regularly. The Premier League is hot news here – more than the Malawi Clubs. So much so, the Malawi national coach Kinnah Phiri is having to urge locals to ‘go red’ when they play the Democratic Republic of Congo in the latest Africa Nations Cup and World Cup qualifier on Saturday 11 October. Red because the team’s nickname is the Flames.
Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa. It’s true. Every conversation – in shops, in schools, in the street, starts – How are you? Muli bwanji? Fine thank you and how are you? Ndl li bwino. Kaya inu? Fine thank you. Ndi li bwino onso. Zikomo.
I’m here as my husband, John, is teaching physics at an international school and I have residency on his work permit. Malawi law says employers have to provide housing or a housing allowance. This is our home. A spacious flat two minutes’ walk from school. Blantyre is the commercial capital of Malawi and with around 550,000 population is a busy, bustling place. The civic capital is Lilongwe, five hours’ drive away.
We’re now approaching the wet season (due in November), so it’s getting hotter by the day: around 38C. At least Blantyre is 1000m above sea level.
Big issues? Poverty which is leading to the degradation of the environment, urbanisation, poor health and an educational system developing not as fast as the international donors would like. Short-term issues? Voter registration is happening in time for next May’s parliamentary and presidential elections. Teams of temporary-contract civil servants are travelling the country, sleeping in community centres or town halls, with computers and cameras. People are having to queue for hours to register.
There’s a big debate about the constitution, which seems to say a president can serve only two terms. A former president, Dr Maluzi, is making a come-back bid. He served his second term from 1999 but he interprets the constitution as meaning ‘serve only two terms in one go’.
A leading and veteran political campaigner, Dr Vera Chirwu, who was imprisoned by Dr Hastings Banda after he made himself life president, is clear. At a talk to launch her autobiography at the Society of Malawi last week she said it was two terms only. She was one of the people leading the constitutional discussions in 1994 which led to the first truly democratic elections and continues to do so as the founder of ‘Women’s Voice’, a voluntary body aiming to get more women involved in politics and stand for parliament.