We, Sheikh Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC, and I, drove to Monkey Bay City to see our friends and travel mates, Abiti Joyce Befu, MG 66, and Native Authority Mandela, who had invited us to meet them to relive our sojourn in foreign countries. Since we left Blantyre rather late, we only got to Mangochi around 7.00 pm. We stopped and parked at Upile Kulekangana Superette.
Although it was dark, there was enough moonlight to enable us to see UDF, PP, DPP, PPM and MCP flags fluttering side by side.
“I didn’t expect this,” Sheikh Jean-Philippe remarked.
“What did you expect?” I asked.
“I understand Mangochi is UDF territory and, therefore, a no-go zone to any other political party. So, I expected to see only UDF flags here,” Sheikh Jean-Philippe said.
“The Mangochians are civilised, tolerant and forward-looking. Remember, the other day they had disagreed and altercated over the issue of pork being sold in public places? They solved the wrangle amicably. Politics can’t put Mangochians asunder.”
Jean-Philippe nodded in agreement. We bought a few provisions from Upile before driving to the Nkopola Lodge for a snack.
At Madelco, Sheikh Jean-Philippe asked me to stop at Ndalama za Misonkhano Zimatherapano for a drink. I refused. He asked me why. I did not answer. He asked me what was amiss. I did not answer. He asked me if I knew he was a donor and that without him my life could dive for the worst. I told him I did not care and was not ready to stomach any threats from any donor, big or small. He tucked in his tongue. He understood that when a David challenges a Goliath, the weakling must be armed; ali ndi legeni and waponda mwala.
And armed I was on this trip. I drove straight to Pamudzi Lodge.
“Is this Nkopola?” Sheikh Jean-Philippe asked, timidly.
“Can’t you read?”
“I can’t read Chewa”
“Chichewa is the language of the Chewa. Last lesson: prefix Chi to the name of any Malawian tribe and you have that tribe’s language.”
“Thanks, dude”, he said, “such that we have Chimangochi?”
“Mangochi is not a tribe, but a district.
We drove into the Pamudzi Lodge and found a tight spot to park. The Lodge’s night manager sauntered to welcome us.
“Mwemwe na kusowa,” the lodge night manager greeted me, his regular customer of yesteryears, and motioned us to an empty table. He called the barman to give us drinks.
“Fine. How is business?” I asked before adding, “This place has really changed.”
“We now have 29 rooms, a conference centre, restaurant and a more roomy bar and, of course, Chivas Mikhito!” he said without masking his joy at seeing us.
“What’s been your magic?” Jean-Philippe asked and called the restaurant waiter to come and take our order. I asked for charcoal-grilled batala and rice while Jean-Philippe called for chambo cha nsima.
“Change of government. Since Joyce Banda reversed the DPP ban on government Lakeshore meetings and conferences, business has picked up. We can now afford to expand, pay salaries, eat and smile.”
“True. Government policies have a direct bearing on the economy. Even in the Central and Northern regions, lakeshore lodge were paralysed,” I said.
“Even our colleagues at Nkopola, down there, feel they are now in business. When the government banned Lakeshore conferences, it thought the policy would harm us UDF supporters only, but even Sunbird felt the pinch,” the lodge manager said.
“Who owns Sunbird Hotels?” Jean-Philippe asked.
“The Malawi Government has a 71% stake in the business,” I said.
“And the same government banned government conferences at its own lakeshore hotels?” Sheikh Jean-Philippe asked mockingly.
“That’s why in this year’s election candidates should be judged on what they have to offer rather than on their tribes of origin, education, wealth, and former popularity. I hope people are also listening to the so-called small parties,” I said.
“By the way why is the MEC only interested in four parties?” Sheikh Jean-Philippe asked.
“PP, DPP, MCP and UDF are the only parties whose vice-presidential candidates are being featured in the ZBS debates. I thought there are at least 11 presidential candidates. Why feature only four? Will you be surprised if other parties and candidates allege that the 2014 elections are already rigged against them?”
“Those vice-presidential debates are organized by ZBS; not MEC,” I corrected Jean-Philippe.
“And why were all MEC commissioners present at the debates? That sounds like a MEC endorsement debate to me,” Jean-Philippe said.
“ZBS is likely to organise debates for other parties, too!” the lodge manager prayed.