Bono recalls his time in Lilongwe

Today's guest blogger is Bono:

: We know you’ve got a deficit problem. We
understand there’s a war being fought. But, really, if we’re to take
this issue seriously, and we must, because in 50 years, you know, when
they look back at this moment, they’ll talk about the war against
terror, they’ll talk about the Internet, and they’ll talk about what we
did or didn’t do about this continent bursting into flames. It is the
most extraordinary thing to watch people dying three in a bed, two on top and one underneath, as I have seen in Malawi, in Lilongwe, Malawi. I mean, it is an astonishing thing. And it’s avoidable. It’s an avoidable catastrophe. You saw what happened with the tsunami. You see the outpouring, you see the dramatic pictures. Well, there’s a tsunami happening every month in Africa, but it’s an avoidable catastrophe. It is not a natural calamity.

Okay Bono didn't really guest blog for me, this is just an interview from Meet the Press in prep for Live 8.

The call of the wild

And now for something completely different. Guest blogger (he doesn't know I am posting this, I hope he doesn't sue me, especially now that he is almost a lawyer) Sean Carney, reminds us to get outdoors. 

OK you pansy-ass lilly livers. It's time for you to stop spending your summer nancying about in your fancy pants and sipping fruity drinks under the cabana by the pool at your shi-shi gentlemen's clubs and get out into the backcountry. That's right, ladies - trade in your man-purses for 6-inch serrated deer-gutting knives and strap on your steel-shanked, lug-soled, ass-kickers instead of your super-soft burnished calf-skin penny loafers.

Forget about gelling up your frosted-tip, blow-dried coiffures and jam on a bush hat instead, you milk-sipping mama's boys. That's right, my little violets, it's time to go hiking. Put down your barbie dolls, take your thumbs out of your mouths and stop snivelling. You used to love hiking. You still do. But grown-up life has made you soft and afraid to get dirty. So, I extend to you, an offer to go hiking this coming Saturday or Sunday,
July 2 or 3. "Oh but it's the 4th of July and I'll miss the fireworks, so I can't go!" you wail in your high-pitched, girlish voice. Oh, but you're wrong - the 4th isn't until Monday. And you're scared of fireworks anyway, remember? They're too loud for your ears.

The deal is this, buttercups. Darcy and I plan to hike up the East Fork of the San Gabriel river in the Angeles National Forest above Azusa and want you to go with us. It is an in and back hike about 9 to 10 miles round-trip, very little elevation gain with a number of shallow river crossings. Your feet will get wet. Your destination is the Bridge to Nowhere, a 120 foot high concrete arch highway bridge over one of Southern California's deepest gorges. The bridge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s, along with a paved highway along the banks of the East Fork. The intent was to continue the road throught the Angeles National Forest and into the high desert beyond. However, record rainfall in 1938 created massive floods which washed away the paved road. The government abandoned its plans, and nature reclaimed the river valley. However, the highway bridge remains. It is an impressive and startling monument deep in the heart of the San Gabriel mountain wilderness, and well worth the hike. And isn't Donut Man near Azusa? Why not reward ourselves after the hike?

Sorry Sean if you get a bunch of crazies with big knives that want to join you on your hike, but I couldn't resist sharing a fantastic piece of writing.

A stroll through Malawian politics

Politics in Malawi are weird and just got a lot weirder.

For about 20 years Malawi had a dictator named Banda. He dictated that
women can't wear trousers, that men must have short hair, and that
Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkle must never be played, ever. Most
Malawians seem to have fond memories of the time under him.

Maluzi took over. It was stereotypical African democracy including an
attempt to change the constitution so he could go on ruling after his
time ran out. That failed so he hand picked Bingu as his successor,
mostly because Maluzi figured Bingu would just do whatever he told him
to do. Maluzi would be in a position to do this as head of their
political party, the UDF.

Bingu is currently president. When he first took over he made a lot of
vows about fighting corruption and various people got sacked. This
included some people that Maluzi liked. Maluzi got pissed, and at one
point a meeting between Maluzi's men and Bingu ended before it began
because Maluzi's men were found carrying concealed weapons. Bingu then
dropped out of the UDF to form his own party.

A few weeks ago the world's wealthy countries announced a big
debt-write off for poor countries. Malawians were excited, but
ultimately denied, because the country is perceived as being too
corrupt to be worthy of this gesture. People were upset, because Bingu
had been making some big strides in his fight against corruption.

The next day Bingu's brand new cars make the paper. Three Mercedes
Benzes, each one costing half a million dollars. One for him, one for
his wife, and one more just in case.

Impeachment chatter begins, and is consumated with preparations for a
secret vote in parliament. Parliament goes crazy, the speaker of the
house collapses during a tense moment, and soon dies.

That was yesterday. Meanwhile the country is preparing for a food
shortage in July and August that will surely result in thousands and
thousands of people starving.

An introduction to OIBM

OIBM stands for Opportunity International Bank of Malawi and it is the reason that Claudia and I moved to Africa 6 months ago.

OIBM is just a bank.

OIBM is a revolution transforming one of the poorest countries in the world.

A bit of history first. About 30 years ago, the concept of microfinance
took hold in Bangladesh thanks to a professor names Mohammaed Yunus.
The idea is simple: provide small loans to the poorest people. They use
the money to start or grow small businesses and help themselves out of
poverty. It has been a huge success, and has been replicated all over
the world.

The trouble with microfinance is that it requires capital. Over the
past few decades this money has come from donor countries. But there is
a lot of overhead required: fundraising, finding clients, collecting
repayments, etc. Because of this microfinance has a hard time scaling.
Poverty on the other hand has no trouble scaling.

Loaning money out is not a new idea. Loans are how banks make money.
But where do banks get their capital from? Savings accounts of course!
Simply put banks take a deposit from one person and loan it to another,
taking the interest from the loan home as profit, minus the costs of
running the bank.

So OIBM is doing what banks do. They get capital by offering savings
accounts, and then they loan out that capital to people who would never
be able to get a loan from a normal bank. So the loan side of things is
classic microfinance and the savings side is just normal savings
accounts. Well not totally normal. The savings accounts are targetted
for people who wouldn't be able to open a bank account at any other
bank in the country. Banks usually require formal identification, a
minimum deposit, a letter from an employer, and unless you can read and
write you probably won't make it through the process. This is where
OIBM is different. You just need 500 kwacha, which is about 4 dollars.
This gets you a full featured bank account including access to an ATM
machine that identifies customers with a digital fingerprint reader.
With these savings accounts OIBM has the capital they need to
distribute loans, but it also gives people bank accounts, and the
importance of the latter cannot be overestimated. Before OIBM, money
was literally stuffed under the mattress or buried in a can, now that
same money is able to transform the community that needs it the most.
It is a scalable, positive feedback loop - a revolution indeed!

So that is the theory behind OIBM. In my next post we will get practical, and see how this is actually working.

Listen to OIBM advertisments as mp3s. A warning though, the OIBM songs will get stuck in your head: English and Chichewa

Accommodation in Lilongwe

I just completed a website for the Kumbali Country Lodge. It is a really beautiful place set on a farm, just a few minutes outside of Lilongwe. So if you happen to be looking for a hotel or accommodation in Lilongwe
I would definitely recommend checking them out. And yes, this is a
blatant attempt to get them indexed on search engines - but it also is
a chance to share some nice pictures of Lilongwe.