I’ve always loved visiting Malawi. I’ve been there too many times to count, and Graham lived there for almost two years. It’s a kind and beautiful country, well deserving of the moniker “The Warm Heart of Africa”. But it’s also, as a colleague once described, “relentlessly poor”; something that I would rather not admit but that unfortunately rings true.
In recent months, the situation in Malawi has taken a turn for the worse. The people are angry with their government as fuel shortages become more frequent, the price of food and basic goods skyrocket, and the president becomes increasingly “autocratic and intolerant of criticism”.
Last weekend, we went to Malawi to meet up with old friends and enjoy their company on the shores of Lake Malawi. It was a wonderful weekend…if you disregarded a few minor details.
We were fleeced at the border when we tried to exchange US dollars – a hot commodity in Malawi these days – for Malawian Kwacha; we were nailed with two speeding tickets by some rather unforgiving police officers who seemed more interested in extracting rents than changing driver behavior; and, to avoid buying black market diesel at almost three times the market rate, we stressfully rolled back to Zambia on fumes. Needless to say, we felt some empathy for the people who have to deal with these challenges every single day.
The differences between Malawi and Zambia are starker than ever before. Zambia recently voted in a new president and peacefully transferred power from one party to another. It has also reached middle-income status as deemed by the World Bank. These are remarkable achievements for an African country, and they deserve recognition.
Our experience in Malawi made me realize that while change is a slow and difficult process, it does happen. Four years ago, when I first went to Malawi, I would’ve said the countries were more similar than they were different. That is not the case today. Zambia is the land of diesel and democracy, and Malawi is, sadly, wanting for both.