Ben Winston

Not your average travel blog

Chiefly Politics and Recovery

I would love to say that like my two malaria muppets and the infected leg bandit, that my next few days were a smoke-free, alcohol-free resuscitation period, but I’d be lying. While the chaps have been recovering from their horrid ailments, I have spent the days gargling salty water, popping ibuprofen, rehydrating with powders that taste like old sock, tending to cuts and blisters, and suffering with a very noticeable smokers cough (I don’t smoke).

With smoking such a cheap past time here, “everyone”continues to enjoy it. Even though the rules against smoking indoors (to my knowledge) are a little more relaxed, most things happen outdoors – and much like prior to July 2007 in the UK, people typically smoke everywhere. Amusingly, some people have told me that smoking keeps the mosquitos away. As much as I would like to believe them and as much as it makes some sense; both tobacco fiends are recovering from mosquito manipulation as I write this. Charlie can also confirm that no amount of smoking (from whichever fume-creating leaf) will stop you from having intimate times with mosquitos. Smoke may keep a few flies away from your mouth, but that’s about where the gassy barricade stops.

Today I was privy to some local political drama. Ruarwe has recently been going through a controversial period of crowning it’s new, inherent Chief. Following the death of the previous Chief, there was some difficulty getting the right chap to take over. A few claimed the role but eventually and controversially some stubborn (and possibly bribed) locals agreed to appoint a man who sadly, split village opinion.

As Charlie has been involved in the process to make sure the correct chief be instated, the new Chief-pending visited this morning. Not only is being Chief a role of authority, it is also matter of inheritance, responsibility, pride and ultimately, a respected legal position. The government issues a certain amount of money to the man who takes over. In this case, the man in charge is not the correct guy and has spent rather a lot of money indecently and selfishly, as well as to keep some people pocketed to keep the wolves at bay. The dispute has been escalated to the Malawian high court and today the news has travelled back to us that the correct Chief is due to be crowned in the coming weeks. Finances will be redistributed and the old Chief will have to reluctantly pay back a lot of the money that he distributed incorrectly or spent immorally. It is huge news! However, This is Africa, and nothing is that simple.

The sitting Chief obviously is defending his rights to remain Chief and has issued a response to the regional court to complain that he should keep his position. However much it is entertaining, and however much the regional court might listen to his claim, he will be over-ruled by the high court. However, it’s never simple and his stalling tactics may work. Until his lawyers can come up with a better plan (because I really hope that this isn’t his ONLY plan); he has issued at best, a delaying tactic which must be “heard” by some authority or another. His reasoning against the accurate Chief resuming position? He accuses him of having “improper dreams about sleeping with the current Chief’s daughter”.  A genuine complaint I think you’ll agree, and one which his lawyer has put into writing.
It’s surprising to me that he hasn’t been accused of illegally dreaming about being Chief. Surely that would be just as blasphemous! I may mock the circumstances, but these kinds of issues are common through local governance and it’s unsurprising why the politics of this part of the world and indeed the nation’s leaders are so fraught with corruption, insecurities, problematic enforcement, unlawful authorities and opportunistic civil servants. Sadly, I don’t think it is any different from anywhere else in the world – the west just has wonderful bureaucracy to wrap it all up with a legal bow. When an official letter is written by a lawyer, accusing the opposition of having a dream, as if it’s a principled argument which may hold up in court, you have to worry and question what kind of horrendous integrity that may at some point spew out of the Chief currently crowned – and god help a nation if this kind of “leader” ever reaches the top of the pyramid.
Thankfully though, and with Charlie’s financial loan and political help, the village should have their accurate leader back soon.

Admittedly, when the gentlemanly Chief arrived to show us the letter of accusation, I couldn’t at all make the assumption that was part of any higherarchy. Of course, he was a little more elderly than most people in the village and maybe this should have been a good hint, but in his roughed up shoes, rather tainted trousers and patchwork shirt, damaged teeth and weathered face, he din’t exactly scream “Chief!”
Of course nobody should expect a kingly athlete with shiny dark skin, draped in animal skins, brandishing a spear with a harem of nubile beauties and masked headmen following him around, and in this kind of climate in such a rural location, it’s hard to expect the leaders to be constantly wearing a well pressed suit and to have their hair quaffed to within an inch of its regality. Village leaders here (at least the successful and admitted ones) are much much more humble. With age comes wisdom, pragmacy, empathy, and a localised focus with a wider knowledge of logistics and relations that the can only be generated through experience. This rough-looking fatherly figure was full of smiles and handshakes, and rightly, he had the best interests of the village in his heart. It was hard not to admire him, despite the book cover giving no indication of what was on the pages. His mind was at rest in the knowledge that the letter wouldn’t be anything more than a short term distraction and an entertaining eye-roller.


Malaria does’t do much for your sleepy-face

Thankfully, once the drugs have worked and worn off, the recovery from malaria is quite rapid. The next couple of nights see us all enjoying Bjorn’s birthday.  We threw a lot more toxic “gin at a quiet, electrical-free evening in Zulunkhinu River Lodge overlooking the lake. We played our infamous and imaginatively name “dice game” well into the night and even though it was dangerous and concerning, we had a deliberately-lit bush fire light up the hillside that towers over the lodge and the nearby horizon. Coming over the top of the lodge was a blaze that with a little bit of unwanted wind, could have meant us rushing into the lake for safety, but as it was, we could enjoy the flames as if they were some kind of giant, Malawian firework. It is a regular and normal occurrence for the planting of cassava. However sadly, it isn’t the best method of prepping the land and causes many landslides each year. Unfortunately, improved farming methods haven’t caught on or reached the rural communities; something that charities are working towards across certain Southern African areas. If you want to take a look at the downfall of farming (amongst other things), take a look into Zimbabwe and the effects of exiling the country’s white farmers. Forget racism, the expulsion of knowledgable and skilful farmers has crippled a nation and sent it to the realms of civil war – it’s an understatement to call it civil unrest. The expulsion hasn’t happened in Malawi, but being under-educated in modern farming methods is a current issue with a growing population. Staying off the topic of racial, political, environmental and population-focussed concerns, it’s fair to say that there are places in southern Africa which have not developed their farming as the west has, and lacking these developments has it’s own consequences – regular and dangerous landslides being just one of them.

The consequences of Bjorn’s birthday are similarly unfortunate to any of us attempting any productivity and lack any kind of human development the following day. Thankfully, we’re not leaving till very early tomorrow morning. As painful as packing is, we have another night to steady ourselves before we ride the Ilala!

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Where am I now?

After extensive work and tours through Southern Africa, most of my time is spent between Malawi and Europe.
Go Untamed Safaris was striding into top gear, but volatile poitics in 2019, Covid in 2020, the impacts of Russia vs the World as well as insesent corruption forced my hand.
The dust is now settling. Everything has changed. New chapters are about to be written.

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