Tea has always been my favourite hot beverage. Millions of people across Malawi and the world drink tea.
In fact, tea is so popular among Malawians that if it were a brand, very few would be closer in terms of brand loyalty among consumers. Where I come from, tea rooms abound.
To many Malawians, any hot beverage is tea! That is regardless of whether it is coffee, milo, cocoa or what have you. Such that when placing orders for coffee, many of us have ever heard or been guilty of saying: “Ndikufuna tea wa coffee [Can I have a coffee tea please].” This is how popular tea is.
No wonder, tea is said to be the second most consumed drink in the world, surpassed only by water.
Closer home, in terms of economic value, tea is the second major foreign exchange earner for Malawi after tobacco. Put precisely, tea contributes about eight percent of total export earnings.
Malawi also ranks second after Kenya as the largest producer and exporter of tea in Africa and lies 12th on the global list of major tea producing countries.
Commercial tea production started back in the 1880s during the British colonial rule. Since 1878 when tea was first planted in Malawi, large tea estates have characterised Thyolo and Mulanje in the Southern Region and Nkhata Bay in the Northern Region.
Besides creating jobs and a source of livelihood for thousands of people within and beyond the tea growing districts, tea plantations have also added beauty to the areas they are found. Those who have travelled through the tea estates can attest to this. Indeed, the evergreen plantations are a tourist attraction in themselves.
From the above, one can see that the importance of tea cannot be overemphasised. It was no surprise, therefore, that in her second State of the Nation Address, President Joyce Banda announced some plans or strategies regarding tea sales.
The President said her administration would establish “the first-ever” tea auction in Malawi. When I heard this statement, I was stunned as were several players in the tea industry as Malawi has had a tea auction floor since the 1990s.
I do not blame the President, but her aides who provide input for her speeches. In the same address, they made our good President look like she does not know the geography of her country when she said the Mudzi Transformation Fund would benefit “all 29 districts” in the country when we only have 28 districts after the addition of Phalombe, Neno, Balaka and Likoma.
And, as if the error in the address was not enough, the “29 districts” were repeated in centre-spread newspaper adverts the following Monday. Surely, the aides could be more serious. It is the same lack of seriousness that we see senior government officers, including the Vice-President, using yahoo.com or gmail e-mail addresses. We can do better. What happened to .gov.mw domains?
On tea auction, with good ground work, surely, the President could have been spared the embarrassment of planning “the first-ever” tea auction. Elsewhere, in the civilised world, such embarrassing but avoidable errors can be costly.
The other time JB’s predecessor also claimed, on record, that the country has no fuel reserve facilities when such facilities exist at Chipoka in Salima, Chilumba in Karonga and Mchinji as well as at small reservoirs at Makata in Blantyre which turned into white elephants.
Sweeping statements of the “first-ever” type can be embarrassing. Get the facts straight, even over a cup of tea, to avoid embarrassment at all cost.
Remember a popular Japanese proverb: “If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.”