It’s been three years since my last visit to Malawi. It’s also my first time in the country during campaign season. Below I share (in no particular order), some of my first impressions.
On driving: one of the first stops we made after leaving the airport was the filling station. It is amazing that we could just drive up and buy fuel (my challenges buying fuel in 2011 are still deeply etched in my memory). Of course, fuel is now four times the price it was the last time I was here. The going price for petrol was 839 MWK/liter in Blantyre at Chichiri Mall. Also, for an American, it’s hard to remember to drive on the left side of the road. Relatedly, it’s hard to remember left-hand turns are easy and right-hand turns are hard.
On campaigning: there are flyers, flags, and billboards everywhere. Rather than use the Chichewa term for choose (sankhani), much of the campaign material uses a borrowed English term to encourage people to vote (votelani). Thanks to the warm hospitality of friends, I’m staying in a home in Blantyre that is near Joyce Banda’s foundation/school. The area is not, however, a Banda or People’s Party stronghold. I saw flyers for non-PP candidates and UDF flags in the area. However, I was serenaded much of the evening by a group of young men walking through the area singing pro-JB campaign songs. Many of them were wearing shirts with her face pictured on the front.
On the people you meet: while waiting in the office of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to get a press pass for election-related events, I was seated next to an older gentleman who was also waiting for someone. We began chatting. It turns out he is the Secretary General for the Republican Party, a smaller opposition party. Needless to say, he had a lot of insights he wanted to share. He was mostly upset at what he described as an un-level playing field. He spoke in particular about how development projects were used by the government as campaign tools. He was at MEC to complain about this (and other issues) and to urge them to do something.
On abandoning my usual travel routine: I’m not taking anti-malarials this trip and I’m drinking from the tap. So far, I have no adverse health outcomes to report. I’m sure that will come later.
On musical selections broadcasted by others: turns out people in Malawi still like to blast R. Kelly, Celine Dion, and Phil Collins. Some things don’t change.