Until we arrived here last night, Abiti Joyce Befu, internationally and popularly known as MG 66 and the Most Excellent Grand Achiever or MEGA-1, the Most Paramount Native Authority Mzee Mandela, Alhajj Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD), and Nganga Maigwagwa, PSC (RTD) had never been to Rumphi district headquarters.
Rumphi is the home of great and famous political names in Malawi. This district has produced political daredevils in the names of Enoch (Sr) Chakufwa Simbiyamoto Chihana, whom Rumphians still adore as the father of multiparty Malawi; Machipisa Munthali, also dubbed the Nelson Mandela of Malawi for having spent 27 years in jail for political dissent; Kamlepo Kalua, the man who, alongside Unandi Banda and Shyley Kondowe, effectively used South Africa’s Channel Africa Chinyanja Service to taunt Kamuzu Banda into accepting multiparty democracy, and Kajiso Gondwe, though with roots in Mzimba, who was critical in local popular consciousness-raising efforts to free Malawi from MYP terrorism.
Rumphi District is also unique for other reasons. It is the major trading centre for tobacco farmers and tenants. A tale is told that once upon a time a tobacco tenant came here, bought a twin cassette radio player/recorder, some music cassettes, and a few provisions. He booked a room in a resthouse. Then, he went to Kajiso’s entertainment centre to search for a girl he had for a year dreamt about.
The girl he sought, the tale tellers say, was someone wearing dreadlocks. Any woman with dreadlocks qualified. Makeup did not matter. Facial looks did not matter. Height did not matter. Those very common things in women men rush for did not matter. All he wanted was a woman with dreadlocks on the head.
The story goes on that, after enjoying himself he ended up selling all the provisions, music cassettes and the twin cassette player. He had to borrow money from friends to satisfy his love for dreadlocks. After a week, he went back to the farm satisfied he had achieved his annual mission.
Rumphi is also unique because it is the Eastern gateway to Vwaza Marsh, Chikwawa in Rumphi, Bolero, Hewe, Zambia, Thazima, the majestic Vipya Plateau, Wenya, Chitipa, Titi and Mbeya, the town in Tanzania the Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda claimed was the original boundary between German East Africa or Tanzania and Nyasaland, our Malawi.
Last night, last Friday we were in Kajiso’s place to enjoy ourselves and wash away the dust we had swallowed during the day. Lilongwe, the Cashgate City, and Kasungu are dusty but Rumphi is dustier. However, we have come to conclude that the dustier the place, the richer the people.
“Munganya iwe, welcome,” someone said tugging me down. I turned. I did not know the man. “Uli makola? Long time,” the man said.
“Fine… I can’t remember you. Please remind me,” I pleaded.
“Call your friends. What are you having?” he said.
“Fantakoko,” I said as I beckoned the delegation to come where we were.
“This is Nganga; Jean-Philippe; Mzee Mandela and MG 66, our delegation!” I introduced the team.
“What brings you to the home of multiparty democracy?” the man asked.
“We are tourism and travel journalists, cultural anthropologists, and fun-seekers,” Jean-Philippe said.
“Journalists! How lucky am I!” the man said.
“How lucky?” MG 66 asked.
“I have a case before the courts and I am recruiting a team of journalists to ensure that my court proceedings are favourably covered,” the man said, “and I am ready to pay good money for the service.”
“You don’t need journalists for that,” Nganga argued, “You just need a team of good and clever lawyers to argue your case cogently and intelligently and you will be acquitted!”
“But journalists can clean up my image!” the man retorted.
“Listen, Sir, save your money for your lawyers,” Jean-Philippe said, “Journalism is a highly regulated and gated profession. The reporters in court have to report to subeditors, who report to section editors who are answerable to editors who report to editors-in-chief that are answerable to media owners. For your image-embellishment story to come out the editors must be convinced it reflects court reality, will sell the newspaper or attract an audience and advertisement to the TV or radio station.”
“But the 15 boys and girls that came to see me yesterday made it look very simple I would have a clean coverage,” the man complained.
“Bribing journalists is a waste of time and money, unless you bribe all the journalists in Malawi. Even then, some will use their nom-de-plumes to report that you attempted to corrupt journalists. They will receive your money and make your dirty image even dirtier,” I said.