I have known Jean-Philippe since we met in Trocadero, Paris, France in 1995. But, I must confess, there is still something about him that I don’t understand. Believe it or not, Roselyn Mwenelupembe, that ever smiling Karongian girl we met at Club Marina is our resident guide. How Jean-Philippe convinced her to be part of us, I don’t understand. How he also convinced the management of Club Marina to release her, I also don’t understand. In the past two weeks, we, guided by Roselyn, have visited a number of places of interest in the City of Karonga, as Jean-Philippe insists we should call the Karonga Town Council, satellite urban centre Songwe, Kaporo, and the hitherto mighty port of Kambwe. We have not yet visited the controversial Kayelekera uranium mine, the Malawisaurus Museum, and the Mwangwego Script Centre.
Last Monday Jean-Philippe suggested that we take a boat ride to the Tanzanian side of Lake Malawi, but Roselyn was against the idea.
“I thought the whole northern part of this lake belongs to Malawi?”Jean-Philippe asked as we took terminator drinks at Mufwa Lodge.
“Can we discuss something more serious?” Roselyn challenged us.
“Is the lake not a serious matter?” Jean-Philippe protested.
“The lake will always be there. It is not even an issue here. Do you know that people from Mbamba Bay shop in Nkhata Bay and those from Kyela and Lupingo come to Kambwe as they wish? We can discuss something serious like food security.”
“She’s right,” I said, “I have always wondered why Malawi stopped promoting rice as a cash and food crop.”
“Rice is the only food no one in the world doubts,” Jean-Philippe said.
“My father used to tell me that before Malawians deposed Kamuzu Banda and MCP, Karonga, Nkhota Kota, and Nkhata Bay produced enough rice to feed the whole country and export for cash. But when the so-called democrats came on the scene they destroyed everything that worked and started begging the world for food.”
“In France we say dictators build and democrats destroy what dictators built,” Jean-Philippe intoned.
“Roselyn is right. NOIL used to process and package rice right here in Karonga,” I said.
“Who is NOIL?” Jean-Philippe asked.
“The National Oil Company of Malawi. Have you ever tasted or just heard about Kilombero rice?” I explained.
“I tasted it when I visited London in 2001. Fresh and aromatic. But it wasn’t marketed as a Malawian product. The wrapper just said Rice from Africa.”
“Well. Welcome to Karonga, the home of Kilombero and….” Roselyn left her statement hanging and turned to talk to a young Karongian man who had just arrived carrying a bunch of newspapers.
We bought both dailies. They were a day late, but they were still fresh enough.
“This is what we need to discuss,” Roselyn said pointing at the bold headline on the front page of the Daily Screamer.
“What?”Jean-Philippe screamed, “In a resource poor country like Malawi, how can this be?”
“You know what this means?”I said coolly, “Bingu was right. Malawi is not a poor country!”
“K61 billion is enough money to run the University of Malawi for 12 years with no strikes by lecturers and students!” Jean-Philippe said.
“Or it can run the ministries of education and health for the whole year without Marita Kwatauyo lambasting statehouse budget votes! You know that K61 billion is almost 10% of Malawi’s current national budget?”
“I don’t understand. How much exactly is one billion?”
“A billion is one thousand millions,” Jean-Philippe responded.
“Did Bingu need all that money or he just wanted to show how one family can bankrupt a country?” Roselyn wondered.
I reminded Jean-Philippe and Roselyn that in full, Bingu wa Mutharika said, “Malawi is not poor, but it is Malawians that are poor!”
“That we, Malawians, are fatalistic idiots who smile as leaders empty state coffers. We can’t protest plunder! We all wait for Lucius Banda to fight for us. How can we allow a leader to accumulate so much wealth as if he ever ran an aircraft manufacturing company? Just where is our nationalistic unity? What are we? Masochist zombies?” I asked.
“I can feel the weight of your frustration.”
“Malawi needs shari’ah. Apply Qur’an 2:38 pronto!”
“But you can’t apply it on a dead person,”
“It should be cited to get back everything that Bingu got illegally and cut off the limbs of all those who assisted in the illegality!” Roselyn said laughingly.