Free of any New Year’s Eve cobwebs we visited the Hastings Banda Memorial statue who was Malawi’s first president.
This state park, very close to us, has been kept a secret from us mainly because it seems many in the local community consider it an extravagant waste of money (although built with ‘help’ – money – from the Chinese government) or one of those unecessary Presidential pet projects. We had stumbled across it a few weeks ago after being detoured past it when the current Malawi president was in transit along on our route home (along Presidental Drive so I guess he has a right).
We had gone out with Fishani and Isabel for Fright night happy hour and we learned a lot about the history of Malawi over a few beers. The link above provides the detailed history and is an interesting read. In summary the Brits didn’t mess things up too badly and handed over peacefully in 1964 to Hastings Banda who had been the ruler for 3 years while as the British protectorate of Nyasaland. Fishani explained opinion is divided; Banda consolidated power and later declared Malawi a one-party state and in 1971 he became President for Life of Malawi itself. A dictator. But at a time when being a dictator in Africa was fashionable.
After years of alleged abuse of power by 1993 there was widespread protests and a referendum ended his one-party state and presidency. An interesting footnote was he instituted a rule that women were not allowed to wear see-through clothing, have visible cleavage, trousers, or wear skirts or dresses that went above the knee. Well, he’s no friend of mine but it does explain the conversative values in Malawi and shock at Natalia short-shorts at the market.
He doesn’t sound like someone I would invite to my party but he did govern over a more prosperous period in Malawi’s history. Farms could feed the population. But with the explosive population growth, the AIDS epidemic and deforestation the country now cannot feed itself and more progressive ecomonic policies (especially minimizing government business ownership and accompanying corruption) are required. But many remember the good old days. Better the devil you know perhaps.
So off we went to the statue and the clock tower (apparently he has a mausoleum in Lilongwe too but I’m not sure where that is or anything about it – Fishani?) with Natalia appropriately dressed with her Chitenge.
The aerial views were the 4 sides of the clock tower from the top after a climb up a shaky metal ladder on the inside of the tower. As soon as we arrived at the park an older gentleman in a formal looking outfit (who claimed to be the park attendant) gave us the history of the park, pointed out the date errors on the engraved plaque and explained the clock wasn’t working due to the power cuts. He even climbed to the top with us (which was motivating as we huffed and puffed) where he explained the abundance of trees was because the whole area is protected and jail sentences were severe for taking any firewood. It looks a lot greener up there.
All in all quite a plenty surprise and meaningful memorial to the father of Malawi although it’s another government project where funding for ongoing maintenance wasn’t really consider and it shows. No tourists here (in fact, very few locals for a Sunday) and no vendors selling overpriced trinkets and food which is a pleasant change. But I can’t help but think the whole area needs a healthy slice of capitalism (get that Father?).
So an interesting day after the morning at the gym (New Years morning!?) although a major driver was to continue ‘project upload’ for Jenni’s lost pictures using the Sunbird WiFi (ssshhh – we’ve scored here). We now only have 400 x 5MB photos to go so back to the Sunbird tomorrow (public holiday).