Malawians are congratulating themselves this week on one of the most peaceful, well organised elections in Africa – truly a model for the continent, if not for the world. Malawians are a naturally peaceful and non-confrontational people unless really roused by injustice, and there was little aggression beyond the odd tit-for-tat tearing down of each other’s posters.
Pre-election days were marked with remarkably good humoured campaigning on all sides. Up here in the northern town of Mzuzu, trucks filled to the gunnels with men and women chanting and swaying alarmingly to blaring loudspeakers passed up and down through the town during the days preceding the election as the campaigning reached its climax.
Bicycles decorated with party flags and party colours added to the fun, as did the brightly coloured T-shirts and sarongs or “chitenges” as they are called here, specially printed with photographs of the presidential hopefuls worn by supporters as they went about their daily chores.
The usual police roadblocks were doubled and police presence was evident but unobtrusive. On my third stop during the morning before the election, I waited somewhat anxiously as my driving licence was minutely scrutinised. “1938, eh?” commented the sergeant as he handed it back to me adding wistfully: “We don’t see many around from that date anymore.” Which of course they don’t, the average life expectancy being around 38 now.
The HIV and Aids pandemic continues to decimate the population. Everyday conversations are marked with references to relatives and friends who have passed away before their time, and although the word is never mentioned, one knows instinctively that although the immediate cause might be tuberculosis or pneumonia, it is almost certainly Aids which has reduced their immunity.
In contrast to the razzmatazz of the previous days, we woke up to eerily silent streets on election day. People had begun queuing well before the 6am opening time at the polling stations, and officials arriving at 4.30am were confronted with lines of voters, many of whom had trudged through the night to be there early. Queues were orderly and good humoured, and there was an atmosphere of seriousness about the whole affair.
The various international agencies monitoring the election, which could be seen travelling to even the remotest polling stations, declared themselves generally satisfied with the conduct of the polls. Campaigning had been banned for the day before the election, giving time for party supporters to cool down and voters seemed very aware of the importance of the occasion and the value of each and every vote.
Charles, a young university student to whom we gave a lift from the polling station, shared with us his pride at being able to help choose the new president. “I can hardly believe that my vote counts for just as much as that rich man over there who has just arrived in his big white Pajero!” And indeed the rich-looking man with the Pajero sports utility vehicle dutifully took his place at the end of the queue behind the farm labourers and ladies with babies on their backs.
Life returned to normal the next day, although the unusual sight of shops run by the Asian community being firmly shut and barred gave a hint that all had not perhaps been so peaceful and quiet in past elections, when frustrated losing parties took revenge on the wealthier ethnic minorities – it is often the small Asian shops which bear the brunt of such frustration. However, it was soon evident that the ruling party, led by President Bingo Mutharika, were gaining a lead even in opposition strongholds and the streets were full of smiling faces with ears glued to radios.
With an 8.7% growth rate during the past year, and several years of rich harvest – thanks in part to more generous agricultural policies – the people of Malawi recognised on which side their bread is buttered and voted back into power the President and the party responsible.
They are now hoping that such effective economic governance can continue to lead Malawi out of the extreme poverty of past years and into the first small steps towards prosperity. Those of us who live here temporarily share those hopes from the bottom of our hearts.
source : http://www.guardianweekly.co.uk/?page=editorial&id=1085&catID=1