Because of the air transport problems created largely by Air Malawiâ€™s suspension of its Blantyre-Johannesburg flights, Jean-Philippe had to travel through Amsterdam, Nairobi and land at Kamuzu International Airport.Â I, therefore, had to travel by coach to welcome him in Lilongwe.
â€œWe should buy the jet your President is selling!â€ Jean-Philippe joked as soon as we met. I laughed and asked him to follow me to Airport Bar for a drink.Â
â€œI thought you had adjusted your drinking habits, considering the economic hardships you are experiencing!â€Â Jean-Philippe said as soon as we sat down in the bar and clicked our glasses to our health.
â€œWell, actually, the government should subsidise the cost of alcohol,â€ I responded.
â€œReally? You want people to get drunk even more?â€
â€œNot necessarily. The truth is that for regular drinkers, the alcohol budget is always adjusted upwards in tandem with the cost of drinking!â€
â€œSounds funnyâ€, Jean-Philippe intoned.
â€œSadly, it is the home budget that is affected!â€
â€œSo, some Malawians will party with or without their families suffering!â€
I told Jean-Philippe that in Malawi, apart from sport, all-day alcohol drinking and all-day praying are a form of entertainment. That is why, I said, Malawi is the only country in the world where people drink alcohol on credit.
â€œLast time, I wondered why beer sellers could give drinks on credit to a person in the process of mental depreciation?â€
â€œWe are umunthu-driven.â€
â€œThe South African philosophy of ubuntu, I am because you are… I like that.â€
â€œItâ€™s not a South African philosophy,â€ I corrected him and explained that Ubuntu or Umunthu is a Bantu humanist philosophy which defines human existence in communitarian terms. Julius Nyerere called it Ujamaa whereas Kenneth Kaunda of called it Zambian Humanism.
â€œAnd in Malawi, Kamuzuism?â€
â€œWhere did you learn that?â€
â€œI read. Your founding president used to boom: â€˜Whatever they say elsewhere, here development means enough food, a house that does not leak when it rains, and decent clothing!â€™â€
â€œKamuzuism became poverty-alleviation and now we call it poverty-reduction. Some economists call it pro-poor budgeting!â€
â€œWelcome back to Malawi where economic planning revolves around making the most unproductive, lazy, and non-tax-paying richer and the most productive tax-paying poorer.â€
â€œYes?â€ Jean-Philippe asked and beckoned the waiter, who had been politely standing at a distance, to give us two more haram drinks.
â€œThis country favours the unproductive: government ministers, religious leaders, MPs, chiefs, heads of government institutions and most lazy villagers.â€
â€œMinisters and MPs enjoy duty-free importation, free transport, free housing, free marriage, unlimited untaxed allowances; chiefs enjoy free housing and salaries. The other year, one principal secretary gave himself annual leave money equivalent to 1000 leave days!â€
â€œThe lazy villagers have free medicines, free primary schools, free fresh water boreholes, free farm inputs, free mosquito nets, and free mattresses.â€
â€œAll budgeted for?â€
â€œYet, some lobby groups want government to increase the freebies. They advance pro-poor economic policies; not robust pro-production, or pro-wealth and pro-job creation strategies.â€
â€œIf were president, I would reduce Paye tax, bring back hut tax and primary school fees.â€
â€œBut, would you be re-elected?â€