It’s my last night in Malawi. I’ve left Blantyre, taking a coach bus for 5.5 hours to get to Lilongwe. I had tried to rent a car, because I wanted to be able to stop along the way at Dedza which is the home of a beautiful pottery studio that’s known around the country, but I couldn’t. Blantyre has run out of fuel- it’s been out for the last few days. Lilongwe, the capital city where I am now, has been out for a week or two now. There’s no signs of more fuel coming, either. There are still people driving around town in cars, but there are so many cars left in lines sitting by fuel stations, in hopes that a truck will come to that one with a load of gas. There is diesel still available (but for how long?), so that’s why I could take a coach bus. I’m told that most who have fuel for their cars have bought it on the black market (which has been struggling to smuggle fuel from Zambia but the government is trying to stop it as much as possible). I didn’t feel the problem as much in Blantyre, because they still were able to find fuel fairly easily it seems (likely illegally from neighbouring Mozambique). Today though, it became very obvious, as I was easily able to get a taxi from Old Town (a popular central part of town) out to the Lilongwe Nature Reserve, where there is a restaurant at a beautiful place called Sanctuary Lodge. It’s only about 15 minutes drive (through traffic) to get there. But when I wanted to leave the lodge and head back to my hotel (in Old Town), the manager took about fifteen minutes to find a taxi driver who had the gas. In fact, one of them tried to come, but ran out of gas on the way. Eventually though, we managed to get a taxi. Normally I would catch a minibus, but there are less buses now because of the lack of fuel as well, and the manager of the hotel told me that it would take a long time to find one with an empty spot. Then later, while I was walking home from dinner (just before sunset), the fuel station that is normally reserved for the government vehicles only, had received a truck. Hundreds of people and cars lined up for blocks around the fuel station. I have a video that really shows the craziness but I can’t get it to upload, so here’s a picture- keep in mind that there are blocks and blocks of people in their cars around this fuel station:
There is such a growing tension here. People can’t get from their homes to work. People have started really restricting their movements about town- I know for example, if I lived here in Lilongwe, I wouldn’t be able to go out at night at all because we rely on taxis to keep us safe at night. With even more economic hardship for the common people, I know that muggings would rise as well. I had many people talk today of revolution, because the government seems to be unable to help the people. I obviously don’t understand the complexity of the situation, but I was shocked today to hear from a friend in Blantyre who had to wait fifteen minutes on the side of the road to wait for the President’s convoy to pass. The President left Lilongwe this morning and was driving south, through Blantyre. His convoy had the whopping total of 21 cars in it. I can’t help but feel for the common people, who already often can barely afford the transportation costs in a crammed minibus since the cost has doubled in the last year. Now with the further fuel crisis, they will start to see a lack of ability to access a variety of food, I think. How do they manage to avoid resenting those of us who have so much more (such as the President, cruising around the country in 21 cars, but also people like myself, who will catch another taxi in the morning)?
I also can’t help but wonder if this is simply a view into the future of Canada as well. Will we also face such shortages in the future?