Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dispatch: Malawi

After a column suggesting suitable debate topics for the upcoming elections, some have suggested I might best serve Estonia as the republic’s envoy in Malawi, with which Estonia established diplomatic relations on July 19. The following is my first report. It is published here with permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


The sini-must-valge now flies above Malawi's rolling plains. Or near them, anyway, as I have duct taped it to the outside of my apartment window in Lilongwe’s Old Town – yes, they have an Old Town – one of many things our two proud nations have in common!

(Note to Minister Paet: Please send more duct tape via the diplomatic pouch – I must replace it daily, as it is popular here for upholstery repair.)

Presentation of credentials

President Bingu wa Mutharika is truly everything our ministry’s reports say, and the two of us have already enjoyed several chess games in the palace courtyard with live Malawian servants as pieces. Our games may go on for hours, and the discipline of the Malawian people is truly incredible. How do they stand still for so long?

Dispatching captured pieces with a high-powered rifle from the palace roof is rather unorthodox, but Bingo (as he insists I call him) has assured me the country’s unemployment rate—listed as “NA” in the CIA Factbook—is high enough to enable this kind of chess. Bingo has asked repeatedly whether there is sufficient room on Mr. Ilves’ lawn to set up a chessboard when he visits. Bingo says he wishes to play several matches in the memory of Paul Keres, and has characterized Estonia’s unemployment rate as “sufficiently high to allow proper chess in your country, too.”

These chess games have provided an irreplaceable forum for our two nations to get to know each other and for Bingo to point out similarities in our countries and cultures. Did you know, for example, that both our nations have an abundance of limestone? And that we are both bordered by a large lake to the east? We both have democracies, too, and Bingo has remarked many times during our conversations that a “multiparty democracy” is only several letters away from a “military democracy.” He has noted, too, that our nations share life expectancies exceeding 50 years, and that our respective infant mortality rates differ only by one single decimal place.

And as with all leaders, Mr. Minister, Bingo is sometimes tormented by the press. Just recently, this July 25, he was forced to deal harshly with the press when he shut down the nation’s radio stations, surrounded churches where journalists were seeking shelter, and delivered severe beatings to them in the national interest. I have enclosed Bingo’s gift of a dozen sjamboks in the most recent diplomatic pouch. If they work on African reporters, he believes they may also find application with Estonians, too.

Let me assure you, Mr. Minister, that I now more fully appreciate the significance of having established diplomatic relations here and the considerable expenses associated with my presence. It is my hope that I will be able to concentrate fully on Malawi and not be distracted by being asked to cover South Sudan, as I hear rumored in the halls on Islandi Väljak. Although if a black Chrysler 300C is part of the package, I could of course be enticed.

The Estoniafication of Malawi

A wise move, Mr. Minister, in dispatching the team of consultants from EAS. In no time at all they have managed to put the headline “Welcome to Malawi!” in red text on the country’s tourism website (see for yourself here!). The Malawians are starting to appreciate it, especially when it is paired with the equally compelling “Come and visit Malawi.”

The consultants are currently working to reduce enthusiasm for the current overly-specific slogan, “The warm heart of Africa.” The EAS men also raised the issue that the tourism business might improve if potential tourists were not informed that Malawi was in Africa. They have also suggested, in light of last week’s 18 dead protestors, that Malawi give consideration to whether they continue to advertise their country as “safe.” (NB! Though there’s perhaps something for us in this? “Estonia. It’s safe.”)

Under coaching from Bingo himself, I have begun “talks” with Estonian Air and instructed them to add daily flights from Tallinn to Lilongwe and Blantyre. I have suggested—and the EAS consultants agree—that these routes may be thematically linked with the airline’s Tallinn-Minsk routes, given similarities in management style of the leaders (both having been known to employ the phrase “I will smoke you out”). Should Messrs. Taskila and Helenius offer resistance, I count on you and Mr. Parts to remind them that profit is, at best, a secondary concern in a state-owned business.

Healthcare initiatives

In the city of Lilongwe, it is estimated that 20 percent of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS, which Bingo touts as an “effective initiative which has significantly reduced sex tourism” in the country. He eagerly awaits the chance to discuss his program as a prescription for reducing the number of British stag partiers in Tallinn’s Old Town when he visits Estonia in the autumn.

Another secret of Malawian healthcare, says Bingo, is the presence of zebra meat in the Malawian diet. Zebra is a deep red meat with a medium grain tasting delightfully sweeter than beef. It may surprise you to know, Mr. Minister, that the zebra can reach speeds of up to 65 kilometers per hour, and has a strong jaw and teeth sharp enough to cleanly bite off a grown man’s arm. I have come to see possibilities here for Estonia, as 100 hectares can easily support one stallion and four to five mares. I believe that we may have found our solution as to what to do with the increasingly de-populated areas in the countryside. I have sent a separate report on the zebra, but please know for now that a zebra can live 25 years, each has its own unique stripe pattern, and its skin is ideally suited for upholstery in Chrysler 300C sedans.

Commercial opportunities

Lilongwe’s Old Town supports a thriving bicycle parts business, and I believe many of Estonia’s out of work cobblers and watch repairmen may be gainfully employed here. Bingo has alluded to the fact that he might be willing to nationalize the bicycle parts business, and I have cabled the owners of Hawaii Express to check their interest in having a part in such a concession.

I also understand that there is growing support within the Tallinn city government to begin to use western-made buses, and Lilongwe is home to a sprawling mini-bus station which may be a source to distribute many of Tallinn’s Soviet-era public transportation. I have been in touch directly with Mr. Savisaar concerning this matter, and his office has also shown interest in a personnel exchange program so that both governments might be enriched by the other’s best practices.

Next Steps

As per our nation’s The More The Merrier policy, I have assured Bingo that he has Estonia’s unconditional backing for membership in both NATO and the EU, and I have duly presented the president with the gifts you sent. Bingo especially seemed to like the Georgia, Ukraine, Malawi tshirt you sent him. (And I note here that our former President Rüütel had spoken publicly in favor of also backing Ishmaelia for membership.)

As per your recent cable, I have begun to form a cozy alliance with Minister of Education Arthur Peter Mutharika, believed to be in line to succeed his brother in 2014. I urge the inclusion of Arthur Peter among the autumn delegation. Under his leadership, tuition at the University of Malawi increased 220 percent, and he will certainly have knowledge and experience to inform our country’s debate on free education.

I am,

Your humble servant,