This week we are in The Hague, the Netherlands. We are here at the invitation of a grouping called, ‘Progressives International’. How we were identified, we don’t know but they, in meeting after meeting, have described us as an influential social accountability, anti-corruption, anti-free speech crusading expedition in Africa.
We are lodged at the Hotel des Indes from where we have traveled to other cities in this land.
From here we are travelling to Washington, DC to meet Ngwazi President Dr. Donald J. Trump.
While here we have learned a lot about living simply. Here the politicians, from the king right down to the senators and members of parliament go about unnoticed. Just yesterday, Friday morning, we were shocked when our chief host and guide, Jan, pointed at someone on a bicycle.
“That’s our prime minister,” Jan said, pointing at someone cycling into the narrow road leading to the seat of parliament, the senate and the prime minister’s office.
“I can’t believe it!” I said.
“Why?” Jan wondered.
“A prime minister on a bicycle, alone, no police escort, no convoy, no sirens, no supporters, no dancers. Why does he risk his life thus?” responded Nganga Maigwaigwa as if he had read my mind.
Explained Jan: “Well, here, we live simple lives. Everybody is safe. And politicians are the first to demonstrate that all Dutch people are safe anywhere in their country. Life is simple and we live it simply. Too police escort is a sign of fear and guilt.”
“In fact,” Jan continued, “take a look at that small building; that old 15th century rondavel with a Church-like conical roof and one window facing this side.
“Yes. What about it?” Abiti asked.
“That is the prime minister’s office!” Jan said.
“You must be kidding me! In Malawi, not even the President’s guard’s guard would accept that one for an office!” Abiti said.
We shook our heads.
“Welcome to the Netherlands,” Jan said.
A prime minister cycling to official work was just one of the latest shocks about Dutch life.
Earlier in the week, we had visited Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands. All along we had thought The Hague was the capital city but we learned later that The Hague is the administrative capital much like Cape Town is for South Africa and Zomba was for Malawi.
The Hague is famous because it houses the International Criminal Court where the likes of Charles Taylor, abusers of human rights and stealers of elctions are tried. The Hague is also the home of the International of Justice, which deals with issues of international arbitration, such as borders between countries.
While in Amsterdam we learned one lesson that our leaders in Malawi need to take seriously. There we learned that the entire city is below sea level. The international airport, we were told, is actually 1.5 metres, Klaus Chilima’s height, below sea level. The entire city is built on a support system, a set of pillars that allows the water to quickly drain into the canals and back to the ocean. The city has been virtually under the ocean for over 600 years.
The canals themselves are a marvel. Built using stones and concrete, they work using the ‘strength in numbers’ theory.
In short, there in Amsterdam, the city is always in floods but the designers found a way of managing the water, 600 years ago. When the presidential election court case is finally settled and we know who our real president is, we will ask for an audience to brief him about the need to borrow the Dutch flood control model so that we manage and live with the annual floods in the Shire Valley and other areas.
Big cities and their associated civilizations, London, Paris, and Amsterdam emerged around rivers and estuaries but the English had to tame and live with the Thames River, the French had to tame and live with the Seine River and the Dutch had to tame and live with the Amstel River.
We can also tame and live with the shire river. Can’t we?
Here in the Netherlands no one uses plastic bags. There is no ongoing campaign but everybody understands that plastics pollute the land. The real Ngwazi Dr H. Kamuzu Banda had foresight. He ruled, was deposed, he died and was buried before climate change was an international issue. However, during his rule, Malawians, never used plastic bags. Shopping was in Jumbo paper carrier bags manufactured around Ginnery Corner in Blantyre, Malawi. Stopping use of plastics is a matter of political will and in Malawi political will means Che Jumo’s will.
On our way back from Amsterdam, we took a train, no, trains. We were amazed at how young Dutch boys and girls gave up their seats so that senior adults could sit comfortably.
“What is it?” Jan asked when he saw me smiling in amazement.
“Dutch youths don’t know their right to public transport seats,” I muttered. n