Our planned trip to the United States of America to meet with that country’s embattled president, Ngwazi Professor Dr Donald J Trump has been suspended sine die. We have been advised that the American Ngwazi is quite busy handling his impeachment saga, campaigning for his re-election in November 2020, and pondering a response to the North Korean Christmas present launched into the sky recently.
Our main aim for going to meet the American Ngwazi was not to beg for anything more but just to thank him and the American people on behalf all Malawians for their aid money, some of which our leaders steal, and, most importantly, for not suspending George W Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), which has provided cheap, if not free Aids drugs, that have literally saved Malawi from Armageddon. The impact of Pepfar is there for all to see.
As such we decided to stay put in mainland Europe. We took a train ride to the City of Dortmund, in Germany, to visit our team, Brussia Dortmund, to learn why the Germans decided to shut down their major coal plant dating from before Hitler’s days and, of course, taste German fantakoko.
One thing we have learned during our European sojourn so far is that Europeans are genuinely fearful of climate change and are doing something about it. Slowly but seriously the petrol or diesel powered motor vehicle is becoming a liability. Carbon taxes, toll fees, and other controls have been instituted to ensure that the more you drive and the more you pollute the air, the more you pay.
To discourage people from using their motor vehicles, public transport is up to scratch and timely. Electricity powered trains are regular upground and underground; on intracity, intercity, regional and international routes. The need for using the motor vehicle to go to the grocery store and buy bread and come back is thus eliminated. The need to spend hours in queues to go work and back home is eliminated.
This is what Malawi would have achieved had leaders that succeeded the Ngwazi in 1994 maintained what was good out of the MCP government. Malawi had a network of public transportation that was the envy of Africa. The cities had hourly circular bus systems. The express and coach bus services were timed in such a way as to take people to airports in time for their checking in. Air Malawi planes flew from Blantyre to Lilongwe, Mangochi, Likoma, Karonga, Mzuzu and the districts, whose airstrips are now being sold off and shared wantonly, meaning that Malawi does not plan to reintroduce local air travel to districts.
In fact the coach used to stop right at the entrance to terminal building at Kamuzu International Airport. There were express buses in the morning from Blantyre to Mzuzu and vice versa. Every corner of Malawi was served by the national bus system, which was aligned to the movement of trains and the lake vessels.
But this is Malawi, as our neighbours were moving forward, borrowing from our creativity, we decided to be moving backwards.
Back to Europe. We have also learned that to ensure that their air gets less polluted, Europeans are encouraging solar and wind energy harvesting. On most roofs of private homes, public buildings and car parks, mountain tops and hilltops, solar panels have been installed for that purpose. In valleys, wind turbines are gingerly rotating to harvest wind energy to power industry.
Denmark is investing over $30 billion in an offshore wind island to harvest enough energy to power 10 million homes (almost twice the number of Malawian homes). Nuclear energy is of course still the main source of electricity while natural gas remains the major source of home cooking and heating.
In the Netherlands in particular and Nordic countries in general, the bike, kapalasa, or kabaza is prized as a form of transportation that not only saves one money that would otherwise have been spent on buying fuel but also helps one exercise one’s body and minimizes air pollution. The governments here have created special lanes for bikes so that bikers do not fight for space with motorists and pedestrians. It is an offence here to block, drive in, or walk in bike lanes. And bikes have front and rear lights for visibility.
The government has also created bike parking lots near all train stations and public places. In some cities, such as Amsterdam, multi-storey bike parking lots have been erected.
And the people here love walking. Like water, philosophises Jan, our chief host and guide, walking is life.