I was at an international meeting at the same time President Joyce Banda was at the Queen Diamond Jubilee and subsequently proceeding to the Washington. As I participated at this meeting, my mind also wondered how the world could change in a second. This was a Malawi whose State President was being welcomed in almost all (except Khartoum, I am sure) capital cities. This was Mrs Joyce Banda who shook hands with the Queen and Washington was looking forward to meeting her. This was a Malawi whose citizens were not asking how much money her Presidentâ€™s trip had consumed. Yet just a few months ago, people were interested how much forex Binguâ€™s trips were draining the national coffers.
At the international meeting I was at, I happened, in one of the sessions, to sit left of a man who looked Sudanese. To the right was Tebogo, from Botswana. Mr Sudanese looked at me and asked: “You said you come from Malawi, right?” I sized up the man. What was he implying? Did he want us to engage in the General Omar al-Bashir discussion? Why was he not asking of the Tswana? Was it not Lieutenant General Seretse Ian Khama the man who said Malawi should not receive Al Haj al-Bashir?
Well, I thought this man should not intimidate me. Bingu never intimidated me. So I answered the man that yes I was from Malawi. You could have seen me smiling when the man said: I am from Ethiopia. I work at the Defence College of Health Sciences.
Ethiopia has a medical school owned by the military. This is partly because national defence is a big concern for Ethiopia not just because the country is surrounded by hostile neighbours in Somalia and Eritrea. In fact, there are no direct flights between Asmara (Eritrea) and Addis. The reasons are not the same as we have in that we do not have flights between Maputo and Lilongwe or Blantyre. For us, travel between the Mozambican cities and Malawian cities may not be economical. The number of people travelling between the cities is not known. Air Malawi does not have the required aircraft to facilitate that. For Ethiopia and Eritrea, the reason is security.
I am interested to learn what will be the next thing President Banda will do to reduce freight costs. The Nsanje Port is certainly one issue she is tackling. The Sena Railway Corridor is another. What I donâ€™t know is whether extending the runway at Chileka is in her plans. Why? Many cargo planes land in Lilongwe, not because the goods are destined for Lilongwe, rather because the runway at Chileka is much shorter. We could save money, so I am told, by extending the Chileka runway.