After dropping off Traffic Sergeant Ujeni of Sharp Valley at the accident spot, our leader of delegation and expedition, Professor Abiti Joyce Befu, MG 66 and MEGA-1, commanded us, like all great leaders do, to travel to Lilongwe via the Golomoti Escarpment. Alhajj Mufti Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD) tried to argue that our initial plan was to go to Mtakataka and savour the beauty of the grasslands, the hot dark sand, the free-roaming goats, and, of course, the artworks at Kungoni at Mua Mission.
However, Abiti maintained that a ship cannot have two captains and, as captain of the expedition, she had the final say on where we go, when, why and how.
The rest of us agreed with her for the sake of unity because we had really prepared ourselves to go and meet OChisale at Mua and get a carving on the recent political history of the Federal Republic of Malawi, our country.
“Do you know why I said we should go to Lilongwe?” Abiti asked, her expression sounding somewhat guilty that she was abusing her powers as delegation leader.
“No,” I said as I manoeuvred the Mitubise Patelo along the meandering road towards Mlanda.
“I want us to do two things there,” she said.
“First?” Nganga Maigwaigwa, PSC (RTD) prompted.
“We will meet Police Inspector General, Rodney Jose, to demand a vehicle for Sharp Valley Police station,” Abiti said.
“I wish you well,” Nganga said, tongue in cheek.
“Well, we will try to reason with him that police vehicles should be deployed to rural areas as well as urban areas,” Abiti said.
“I am with you, Professor Leader,” Mzee Mandela, started, “The majority of the Malawians live in rural areas where there are health centres without ambulances, police posts without police vehicles, agriculture extension offices without extension officers, schools without teachers and hope without hope. Sometimes I wonder why year after year our experts tell us their budgets are pro-poor, pro-rural, pro youth…”
“That brings me to the second thing that we’ll do while in Lilongwe,” Abiti said.
“What’s it?” Jean-Philippe asked.
“Since the Parliament is meeting to discuss and approve the 2018/2019 National Budget, we should alert the MPs about research data that should guide them in their discussion of living wages,” Abiti said.
“Where do the data come from?” Jean-Philippe inquired.
“The Centre for Social Concern in Lilongwe gathers data in a systematic manner and uses the data to estimate the monthly living wage or income for an average Malawian six-member family living in the urban centres of Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba, Blantyre and in selected rural areas,” Abiti said.
“I must have read about it,” Jean-Philippe said.
“How much money does one typical family need to fill one’s family basic needs basket for one month? This is the question the centre asks,” Abiti said.
“And what is the answer?” Mzee Mandela asked.
“The latest, that is March 2018, data show that an average family in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Zomba needs over K190 000 per month for food and non-food essentials. In Mzuzu and Karonga a family needs around K150 000 while in Mangochi, K200 000 is the minimum a family needs for basic needs,” Abiti said.
“Now if we add the cost of non-essential but all the same critical needs such as school fees, uniforms, fuel, bus fares, airtime, alcohol, tithes, bribes, membership fees, etc, the story is totally different,” Abiti said.
“So, what do we want the MPs to do? It is easy for the Police Chief to give out vehicles because the Chinese donated enough for the whole country,” Jean-Philippe asked.
“The MPs should examine the budget with this reality in mind. The minimum wage should be adjusted upwards to K200 000,” Nganga said.
“Then inflation will follow because traders will adjust prices in response to the new living wage and the money will still not be enough,” Jean-Philippe warned.
“We should ask the government to control and fix the prices of basic goods,” Mzee suggested.
“Ours is a free market economy!” Nganga protested.
“Maybe the government should consider reducing taxes such as Pay as You Earn and remove Value Added Tax on essential commodities such as water. That way people will have more disposable incomes without raising salaries,” Jean-Philippe suggested.
“Point taken. We will present that, too,” Abiti said.
Jean-Philippe suddenly asked me to stop. He had seen a dreadlocked man sitting in the shade of his carvings shop and wanted to buy one carving. The dreadlocked man came near the Mitubise Patelo.
“How much is this?” Jean-Philippe asked pointing at a carving depicting a man standing in a snake farm and one snake, a python, coiled around his body and another, a cobra, poised to strike him on his head.
“K50 grand,” the dreadlocked man said.
“That’s too expensive,” Jean-Philippe protested, “I can take it at K20 pin.”
“OK. Take it at K25 grand,” the dreadlocked man offered.
Jean-Philippe forked out the K25 000 and paid. As he gingerly placed the carving in the car, he asked the carvings seller.
“What’s your name?”
“Njoka Saweta,” the dreadlocked man responded.