Vipha cottage is ideally located. This morning I watched the sun rise over the lake in a riot of oranges and reds. Some other aspects are less ideal. Two come immediately to mind: the massive cockroach that has taken up residency in the bathroom (I know a certain someone who must be cringing to read this), and the unending swarm of ants that launched themselves onto a pair of fish that had been left out in the kitchen. The ants seemed perfectly comfortable to line up and wait their turn before carrying a small piece of fish back to their home… somewhere. I quickly opted for the chicken-dinner (at least I know that the chicken was fresh, I heard it meet its sorry end). For whatever reason this puts me in a mood to discuss politics (although my future roommate would likely argue that almost anything can trigger such a mood).
Despite what my roomie would say, it has actually been some time since I reflected on the political situation here in Malawi. As many of you may know, particularly from reading this and other blogs, Malawi has recently joined the ranks of “countries with presidents who seem to be treading a dangerous line between fish and chicken.” Okay, bear with me here while I make an absurd analogy stick like white sweet potato to the roof of your mouth.
For the sake of argument, let us think of “opting for chicken” as the assertion of democratic right to chose — or at least the democratic right to whine until things go your way (something we wazungus are particularly good at). Conversely, the fish seems to represent passivity and “executive decision making” both on the part of the ants (who line up for their share and then take it back to feed the queen) and on my part (should I have just shrugged and accepted the fish that was being offered regardless of personal preference?). Are you following me yet?
Anyways, what I am trying to say is that even well educated and apparently politically aware Malawians seem to be taking a zima chitika (so it happens) approach to the current political situation. When I engaged one of our interviewers and a supervisor in a discussion about the president’s unwillingness to hold local elections, spending habits, and disregard for rather basic political procedures (there is a way that you can go about dismissing your vice-president, unilateral firing doesn’t qualify); these two friends of mine seemed… strangely unconcerned. They both insisted that they would have a new president in a few years (maybe 2014, maybe never) and that the new leader would lead them out of the current troubling economic situation into a new age of plentiful fuel and nsima for every table. I find myself wondering whether they have a point and there is no reason to make mountains out of mole hills, or whether they are simply brushing off the ants and lining up for spoiled fish.
The point being this: this small sampling of educated, and I can attest to this fact, sharp and politically aware Malawians seem relatively unconcerned with the president’s possible abuse of power. Others are clearly more concerned, but I think the fish-eaters far outweigh those asking for chicken. So where should/do we westerners stand? What is really going on? How can we evaluate the real-world “state” of democracy here in Malawi?
I confess to being 88% more ignorant than most, and at least 35% more confused than many but these questions seem worth asking, some may even be worth answering.