An Identity Crisis – Mathew Cooke

One killed and many injured in land resettlement fracas involving Mota Engil

Barely a week after the Times run a story about Mota Engil’s proposed 5-star hotel in Monkey Bay in Mangochi, the newspaper has reported that a man has died and several others were injured on Tuesday in a fracas over the issue:

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Nyasa Times put the dead toll at two people. Malawi News 24 reported that nine people had been injured.

The dispute (also mentioned on the Times Facebook page here) concerns the resettlement of villagers from land (said to be in the region of 100 hectares) to make way for a the construction of the hotel and golf course. The villagers claim the government didn’t consult them when selling the land to Mota Engil, and that their rights have been breached. Further they claim that the chief, Nankumba, is corruptly implicated in the scheme.

Land grabbing and forced eviction disputes are common across Africa (see the following links: Brazil’s big landowners have far too much power | Who Owns the Land? Cameroon’s Large-Scale Land-Grabs | Tanzania evicting 40,000 people from homeland to make room for Dubai royal family – Salon.com | Villagers, the big losers as land is ‘grabbed’ for development | Ethiopia’s land grab nightmare of the Suri People ~ Horn Affairs), and usually they follow a similar pattern that pits the power of the government in concert with rich corporations against defenceless and voiceless communities.

A government will decide to commercialize a large chunk of land for a project, be it agricultural (e.g. a sugarcane plantation) or industrial in nature. They approach the villagers, but because there is very little incentive to adequately compensate them, or not enough effort to explain how the sale of the land will benefit the villagers, and because of the corruption involved, the villagers will refuse to be resettled. Thus after varying degrees of negotiations or coercion, the military, police and sometimes armed militia are recruited to forcibly remove the people. Bulldozers move in, buildings are demolished, sometimes burnt, those who resist are arrested and sometimes imprisoned, and very little is done to help the people whose land has been forcibly taken. Often the communities never get to receive any material benefit from the sale of their land. Talk of taking advantage of defenceless people.

But there are ways of doing things constructively. For example, looking at the floods that have recently devastated the southern part of Malawi, it makes sense to resettle most of the people from the areas that are most at risk of flooding; indefinitely, or until effective permanent solutions are found to the flooding problem in these areas. It’s in their best interest.

If I were in charge of a project of resettlement, the following is a rough outline of what I would insist to be done. To me it’s common sense, at least if the dignity of the people affected is to be preserved:-

(1) The government and land developer involved would need to identify suitable land for the villagers to be resettled to, and begin building decent accommodation (homes and flats) for them to live in. In order to utilise space efficiently, they would need to consider energy-efficient flats or even communal living spaces for those who opt for it. Although it would entail some cost, if you are taking land away from people, they need to be remunerated properly. And just because they are poor doesn’t mean that they must be ill-treated or taken advantage of.

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And it doesn’t have to be overly expensive. Bamboo roofed houses like the one below, made of treated bamboo, with solar water heaters, solar lamps could go some way in providing accommodation for a few years, before something permanent is built :-

bamboo-house(2) The government would need to develop employment options for the community, by bringing in some kind of work. A factory to make soap, to assemble bicycles, to produce eco-friendly building materials, or an integrated commercial agricultural interest would do. This is important to provide the working population amongst the villagers with jobs, and a means to earn a living, so as to reduce poverty and desperation.

employment(3) Similarly, an administration office, a police depot, some schools, a technical college to provide skills training would need to be built. A library, a market, a hospital, some shops, possibly even a small shopping mall with a Cinema, and other important infrastructure would also be necessary, to provide amusement and entertainment, and to cater to the new settlement.

Students-Africa(4) The roads and transport links from the new settlement to the nearest city would need to be updated, to enable seamless travel, and encourage transfer of skills to the area.

road(5) Communication:- The government would need to be transparent and invite the villagers to relocate to the new town. Each family would be provided with a home depending on the size of the family and its earning potential. The ownership of the house would be 50% owned by the government and the other 50% by each household. Further, depending on their earnings, they would be asked to contribute a small amount each month towards buying the house, although alternative arrangements would be found for those who are old and can’t work, and those who are poor and have no income source. A relocation stipend to each household would also be provided to help them start their new life.

(6) A promise to preserve grave sites and religious or sacred sites at their old settlements would be necessary. Further, within reason, the villagers would need to be allowed access to the religious and sacred areas.

(7) Finally, Ownership. A trust fund would be created to be administered by representatives of the villagers ( and not the chiefs) whereby at least 20% of the hotel and golf-course’s pre-tax profits would be invested in to help developing the community, including creatint employment, to be invested in education and healthcare, and to maintain the housing estates or build additional settlements. This must be fixed contractually for the present hotel operator, and any future operators. Why? Because that’s the true meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Only then would it be equitable and right to hand over the vacated land to the hotel developer. These people have to ask the question, how they would want the government to handle the matter had it been them who were being asked to move, and leave their land behind? Any developer who doesn’t agree to a deal that includes such considerations definitely does not have the people’s interests to heart.

I have decided to leave Zimbabwe

I have decided to leave Zimbabwe via Voices of Africa.

A few paragraphs are worth replicating:

…In fact, when all my peers and former school mates left I stayed because I was patriotic to the land. I saw a future where others couldn’t see one. I told myself that whatever we were going through as a country would soon come to an end and that in no time things would be better…

…Then I started realising something about the republic.

No one cares for the public. We have dirty water in the taps and no one cares. We have erratic supply of electricity and no one cares. The roads are in shambles and no one is doing anything about it. Fuel prices go up and we can’t do anything about it. New taxes are introduced and we can only comply. Internet is very expensive. The public hospitals, the ones which we can afford, provide crappy service and people are dying because the nurses don’t care. I know because I watched my mother-in-law die at the hands of poor service delivery. And no one cares. Not them, not you, not the minister of health. No one. The company CEOs get treated outside the country now. But what about me? What about my kids?

…And guess what, my children have to grow up in such an environment and go to schools whose teachers don’t even know why they are doing what they do.

No.

I am sick and tired of it all.

Surely I wasn’t born to suffer. I just want a better life, that’s all.

**The article first appeared on 263chat**

Personal Devil’s Advocate

truth

A good writer of history is a guy who is suspicious. ~ Jim Bishop

The slap of a friend can be trusted to help you, but the kisses of an enemy are nothing but lies. – Proverbs 27: 6

I’ve got a  friend who in many respects is a complete opposite of me. He takes pleasure from calling himself my nemesis (somehow that makes him feel good??), he’s not religious, is culturally and physically different, has an attitude to life that is way too serious, has no identifiable hobbies – other than time in the gym. He doesn’t take holidays or relax, hates Tv, hates travelling, doesn’t drink alcohol, hates the sun,  in fact this guy is different from me in almost every imaginable way, other than the fact that I listen to a small selection of the same type of music he listens to, and that we view technology through similar lenses.

He’s much older than I am, almost twice as old, caucasian, and became an acquaintance a few years ago when fate caused our paths to cross. Long story cut short, we are now friends, which to an extent also means he does some  things I find somewhat annoying. Things that drive me nuts. Conversely, it appears my habits at times also get the better of him, and after heated fits of rage, and much shouting and swearing, everyone eventually calms down. Sometimes the results to these rage bouts include periods where he will not even answer my phone (or me his), and can last for up to weeks. But most times, I have a sense that he means well, even if at times it appears selfishly so. My ex girlfriend once said ‘if he were a woman, there would be an affair to worry about’ . That’s how close we have become.

I’m giving this example because he speaks his mind, and is not influenced by historical biases or myths. He is not given to lies or hypocrisy, and his input into my life has taught me a number of very important lessons.

A typical conversation with him either involves his antagonizing me or his poking holes in my thinking. As troublesome as it can sometimes be, a perpetual devil’s advocate can find many faults, most times way before they occur, saving one unnecessary mistakes. Indeed wisdom can come from the most unexpected of places.

He likes to bash at my faith (which is fine – some people can’t be kind to things they don’t understand). If not then he’s ever attempting to ‘educate’ me in one thing or another, which I know sounds paternalistic and condescending, and I can imagine could be offensive (or annoying) to others, but I often patiently play along.

Of everything he has said, he has repeatedly informed me that certain people in Britain are horrible;  the heists crafted in the name of tax planning –  behaviour which he says depresses him because he sees the bigger picture and how it worsens Britain’s economic situation in the long run. Yet he’ll often remind me – when I criticise public policy – that Britain has done more to help the world than to destroy the world. So he is patriotic. But he is convinced that at the end of it all, there will be no winners as people will destroy the world anyway, so our efforts at conservation and restraint although noble, are futile?? Which is an incredible thing to say, for someone who get’s extremely annoyed when he sees people litter…

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Among the crazy and incredible things he has said in the past are a few which stand out quite remarkably:

(1) ‘Most people are two-faced, and don’t trust what some people say because often they are saying it to influence you, to the benefit of them alone.’ What I think he means is there are too many oafs in Britain, so beware…

(2)  He says that his opinions are driven not by anything he wants from me or my family, but because he knows that nobody else  will give me the whole truth. I think what he means is that he thinks that no other white person I know will tell me what he tells me?? But obviously just because one white person speaks one way, doesn’t mean what he says is true. Although, it’s probably true that there are people who think in the ways he describes.

(3) He says the major ‘cultural differences’ between white and non-white people boils down to one group which  is bent, whether legally or illegally, to keep all other groups ‘subjugated’, and the other group which inherently and historically come from cultures that are more caring of their friends and accepting of their neighbours. Apparently, that is why you hear about all the immigration noises. He says its down to greed, jealousies, selfishness, and power, because when 5 to 6 million British people are in other countries, its ingenious to be complaining about immigration because what about if every country in quid pro quo manner decided that the British citizens in their countries must be expelled or  thrown out?. This friend says a worrying number of British people  are only happy to have its citizens live in other countries, and benefit from it, but not other country’s citizens living in Britain, which he says is as ‘selfish and predatory as it gets, and the definition of hypocrisy‘. He says I should leave Britain because of this fact alone, because as long as I live here, ‘the hostilities‘ will continue in one form or another, mostly covert. What he probably means is that there are some politicians given to popular sentiment and whose actions and populist policies have divided communities in introducing hate for the foreigner. He probably has a bit of truth in this?? But to generalise that all white people are hostile to foreigners is a bit unfair. Or maybe he is saying it because, like he says, some British people don’t want foreigners in  their country, so maybe he’s one of these kind of people??

(4) In addition, he correctly says that too many people in Britain are only interested in your money. It depresses him, the whole ‘money obsession’ and he has to take antidepressants for that. He says if he becomes rich, one of the first things he will do is build a homeless shelter, because those people have been are neglected. He has been homeless before, so he knows what that world looks like. I have written briefly about this money thing before on this blog, here, after a chance encounter with one Ghanaian.Its the same thing which Jagadish Chandra Bose meant when he wrote:

” This multi-millionaire has come to me like a beggar for making some more profits. Friend, you would have seen the greed and hankering after money in this country, – money, money – what a terrible all pervasive greed ! If I once get sucked into this terrible trap, there wont’ be any escape ! See, the research that I have been dedicated to doing, is above commercial profits. I am getting older – I am not getting enough time to do what I had set out to do — I refused him”

(5) My friend also hurts from the fact that the standard of education for young people in primary and secondary schools is lagging behind other less developed countries. He seems to think the teaching system is too soft, and young people are not being equipped with knowledge and skills, instead they are taught to pass exams, so they leave school ill prepared for higher education, or even for vocations, and after university, they don’t have many transferable skills, which puts off employers as employers have to spend too much time and resources in ‘plugging the holes

(6) He hates the waste, ‘spending competition’ that’s the words he uses. Apparently, a thrifty, recycling approach would do, and save western economies huge amounts of resources, from food to money. Similarly, he thinks Britain should grow more of its own food, in local urban farms  and local greenhouses and not ‘import things as far as from Argentina‘. Again, I agree with this to a large extent.

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(7) He says if it wasn’t for his children and wife, he would leave the UK, go and live in a monastery among monks somewhere far because ‘the bullshit being peddled about is paralyzing‘ . He doesn’t watch British news as he says ‘it’s severely biased, it’s not even funny and even a blind person who can’t see will tell you that’ . I agree that families can make it difficult for one to determine their own life, but a monastery is probably too radical an approach.  But his language  in re blind people is clearly inappropriate.

(8) He thinks robots will take over the world, controlled by their masters – ‘the super rich‘. It sounds like an orweilian plot from a movie, but you can never know what the future will look like. On this point, I have some reason to agree with him. I too believe that machines will undertake more and more of the tasks human have done, or historically used to do. But to what extent will this happen?? And how safe in the long run will it be is yet to be seen.

(9) Finally, he says the world economy has been ‘swallowed by masters of deceit‘. That if you follow the chain of debt, you’ll soon get to the ‘mega banks’ who control events, create wars, and make trillions out of all the chaos they create, behind aliases, oil companies and other ‘pawns’. ‘To these people it’s not about money any longer’ he says ‘It’s about power, they don’t care whether you or me dies, they don’t even care whether the US president lives or dies, all they care about is the sustenance of this deceptive machinery that keeps them in control. They have enough money they don’t need any more, so it’s not about profit anymore, but control.’

As much as I hate to admit it, I like this guy, because in my view he’s real and honest, and doesn’t care whether what he says upsets me or not. And since I always do my own independent research before agreeing with any opinion, a lot of his views have a credible basis. There are hints of truth in some of these things, at least that’s what my research shows, although quite where fact becomes conspiracy theory is debatable.

In the past, this man has come to my rescue in many instances, when some Malawians have ‘shied away’ from helping me…and there are too many examples to list here. Whether he does so selfishly knowing that I will return the favour, I do not know. What I do know is there exists an interdependence between us. He has accepted me and my family and never judged me (at least I don’t feel judged). I have accepted him and his family and don’t judge him – even though sometimes I question his mannerisms. He does things for me and my family, I do things for him and his family. I try to understand his world, his friends, his way of life, and it seems he also tries to understand my world. He says he knows that what I do for him, nobody else can do for him. What he must mean is that nobody can do for him at that cost, so again, questions of motive behind his assistance could arise?? But since he does things for me aswell, without pay, I doubt that’s of much relevance.

And considering everything he has said in the past, maybe it’s not too bad an idea to have a pessimist who plays the devil’s advocate card time and again over you; someone who tries to show you (or pretends to show you) what the dark side of the world really looks like (assuming they quote facts). I believe that we live in a world where duplicity is more common than before and since not all people one meets are genuine (or what they claim to be) , maybe one needs a dose of error check about always.

Especially if one is a migrant living in a foreign country. A country where popular sentiment against foreigners is often negative (which is probably everywhere in the western world), and at times hostile. In which case, maybe you should get yourself a personal devil’s advocate, who says it as it is, unsanitized, and will put things into perspective – whether it hurts you or not.

Isn’t it better to have that from a ‘friend’ than be surrounded only by dreamy optimists who half the time choose to ignore the reality, and speak only what is sweet to the ear?

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Living in a country that breaks my heart time and time again

The following was a status update posted on a friend’s contact on Facebook: 

Living in a country that breaks my heart time and time again. Today at my son’s cardiologists appointment (Queens) I met a beautiful four month old baby. I immediately saw that she had down syndrome and a possible heart defect-she wasn’t growing much and laboured with her breathing.The mom,a simple unemployed woman, had no idea though and I feared that in just a short while her life would be turned upside down. She would soon experience an indescribable heart wrenching pain. She would be gripped with a fear of an uncertain future and the reality that she lives in an unjust society. Sure enough she walked out of the doctors completely shattered as she tried to make sense of the news she had just received, that her baby had two holes in the heart. The condition requires surgery but she was not told, instead simply sent away with tablets. Why? Because the option of surgery is not made available. Government does not provide financial assistance to children with Downs or similar genetic conditions. Only “normal” children. Effectively this child was sent home to die because our government decided that her life is not worth fighting for. That she is not a worthy citizen. That because she will have developmental challenges then she shouldn’t be given a chance at life. And these decisions are made on my tax money? Unbelievable!! Simply Unbelievable!!

Same **** different players

So the cowboys have finally taken to the dock. After that fateful night in April plotting to effectively hijack the presidency, an unconstitutional coup that was only prevented by the combination of the fury of discerning Malawians, and the true patriotic knight that is General Odillo – a man every Malawian should be thankful to – the midnight six are now facing charges of treason.

But putting aside the case itself, what I’ve never been able to comprehend is this: While this case is ongoing, why are DPP supporters still betting on Peter Mutharika for leadership? Is DPP’s part of Malawi really that short of people, and leadership, such that they continue to fawn at a man who flew the dead and rotting body of his brother to South Africa, and count on him as a presidential candidate?

NewsTo be frank, as a Malawian, I really wouldn’t want to be associated with a country whose president has such a dodgy and inhumane history. Not in a 21st century post dictatorship democracy.

When Bingu was a president, I supported him. I’ve never believed in the backward, cheap and regionalistic politics of only supporting people from your village or region because such is what causes underdevelopment in Malawi, since people vote for incapable candidates because they are ‘Mwana wakwithu’. Mwana wa Mayi…its absurd, and Malawians must move away from this type of thinking to a logical position where they vote for competency, not along tribal or regional lines.

Anyway, despite being a northerner, I supported Bingu, after he began DPP, because he represented a fundamental shift from the cheap, corrupt and brutish voter-rigging, empty rampaging charade of acheya’s UDF. Having said that , my family didn’t like Bingu  because they didn’t know him and thought he would turn out to be just like the others before him, making promises he wouldn’t be able to fulfill. They had their reasons.

But Bingu did well in his first term of office. He began to actively target corruption (see this brilliant tribute by Yves Kalala), and indicated an interest to spark economic development and improve education and research. Despite the high expense, the FISP programme proved a success, and from around 2006 created a huge surplus (1.3 million Metric tonnes) for Malawi, increasing food availability and transforming Malawi into a grain exporter. Malawian harvests became a global model. Bingu began promoting gender equality and had several female politicians hold high political office – including Joyce Banda. Bingu made a stand against some western policies, which at times have been selfish and not exactly in the best interest of poor Malawians.

But when his second term came, after a 66% majority, and the whole Mulhako Wa ALhomwe thing (which to me is a divisive initiative a sitting president shouldnt involve himself too much in); add  Mulli and Mota Engil to that and I found myself doubting where the man was going.  I couldn’t support a figure who was increasingly becoming divisive.

There were some things I still believe Bingu was right about, even towards the very end. The issue about currency devaluation was a hotly debated topic, and even experts disagreed on whether devaluation was the best course for Malawi to take, considering its circumstances. Then there was the story about energy generation – to buy from Mozambique (and be  a recipient of electricity which you didn’t control, while the Mozambicans made money off your head – kutidyela masuku pamutu) or for Malawi to generate its own energy(he chose the latter – and he was absolutely right)

What he was wrong about was becoming a divisive figure, the attacks on civil liberties and CSO’s, including the question marks over the death of Robert Chasowa. The intolerance  and heavy-handedness that led on July 20, 2011, to the death of 19 demonstrators. The blind eye paid to corruption that saw millions of dollars looted. The close links with Mota-Engil and Mulli – companies which under Mutharika’s leadership won many substantial contracts. All this isolated many well-meaning Malawians who had initially supported Mutharika, when he fell out with UDF. Bingu’s own indiscretion blurred his reputation even more.

Today, we have a different problem in Malawi that is somewhat linked to the problems of those days. When Bingu ignored the advice he received regarding the IFMIS, he either did so knowingly, or he did so because he was trying to appease some people within his circles. Whatever his intention, he was wrong not to address the issue, which today we are told is in fact responsible for the looting of millions of dollars, this time under Joyce Banda’s government.

The plot is intoxicating and the revelations keep pouring in. Yesterday another version or appendage to the story sprang up. Here, I would call upon the auditors looking into the cashgate scandal to take note of what Mphwiyo’s wife is alleged to have said. After all, wives generally do get to know a lot of their husbands’ dealings:

What Ralph Kasambara knows and the reason he wants JB [Joyce Banda]. Mpinganjira,Cecilia Kumpukwe to be his witnesses [ in his court case] is that Lutepo withdrew K4 billion with the help of Chuka and together with Cecilia deposited the money into the Joyce Banda foundation accounts.

Ralph’s role was to explain to Chuka the legal implications of disobeying the president if he was going to say no and consult regulatory bodies. Zonsezi zimachitika [All this was happening] the same week Mphwiyo was shot.

Nde Now aMphwiyo asked Ralph for his cut since he had to be made aware of the transaction and Ralph refused to comment citing presidential confidentiality agreement.

Mukumva? [Are you listening]

thats when they labeled him a liability and had to be eliminated.This is according to Mphwiyos wife… Who also mentioned Manganaue Mphande to be one of many people who visited him in an SA hospital…nkhaniyi ndiyayitali [this story is long]….

a few days ago, someone else said:

Mr. Lutepo had a joint contract with Roy Kachale, to supply transformers to ESCOM. They were supposed to be paid K1,356,000,000.00 (K1.3Billion). Transformers were delivered on 13th September, 2013. Allegedly, award of this contract flouted some procedures and ACB was supposed to interrogate officers at ESCOM headquarters on Monday, 21st October, 2013 after a tip-off from ESCOM employees. Those doubting this information can cross check with MRA, where Mr. Lutepo cleared four 40 feet containers of ESCOM Transformers. AMALAWI TSEGULANI MASO! (Malawians open your eyes!)

And it gets worse, with another group here speculating that they may have been responsible for burning down Escom house???

Who do you believe in a country where some opposition journalists live in fear, or are under intimidation, so cannot do their job properly!

Hopefully, time will tell what is true or what of everything I’ve written regarding this scandal is infact mere speculation. At that point count me in as one deceived by liars!

Time will tell where Malawian politics goes from here, however, knowing how  things have worked in the past, we may never know the full story…we may never know the whole truth. Especially with shady PR organisations being hired (see here) at a cost of millions of tax payers kwachas (at a time when there are no medicines in hospitals, and thousands of teachers have not been paid) to paint false reputations, how should anyone be able to distinguish fact from fiction, or indeed put their leaders to task?

teachers

My message to anyone outside Malawi who truly wants to  know what is going on in Malawi is this: –

IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT, PLEASE GO THERE, AND SEE FOR YOURSELF!

DON’T TRUST ANYONE, CERTAINLY NOT THE MEDIA AGENCIES ACROSS THE WORLD OR IN MALAWI – there are strong indications of a conspiracy going on. Mercenaries with devious intentions are about, pulling strings.

DON’T TRUST ANY NEWS AGENCY-SOME OF THE VOCAL ONES (INCLUDING ONLINE PORTALS) HAVE ‘SOLD OUT’ AND ARE ON THE PAYROLL OF POLITICIANS, OR HAVE AGENDAS.

DON’T EVEN TRUST THIS BLOG! PLEASE DON’T.

GO INTO THE HOSPITALS, THE VILLAGES AND THE SCHOOLS, GO AND SEE FOR YOURSELF WHAT IS HAPPENING IN MALAWI TO KNOW THE TRUTH

HEAR IT FROM THE PEOPLE, AWAY FROM PR GURUS ON POLITICIANS’ / GOVERNMENT PAYROLL, AWAY FROM COMMENTATORS,  PARTY SUPPORTERS OR SPIN DOCTORS WITH QUESTIONABLE AGENDAS

The Ghanaian

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Yesterday morning I had another chance encounter. Now, I’ve noticed that these encounters are getting frequent. Even before I began writing this blog, I seemed to be meeting quite a fair number of strangers, who wanted to talk, needed directions, and even one who came and randomly just held my hand and that of another friend – who I’m glad was witness to this particularly bizarre one. Come to think of it, it’s either that I’m always in places where people need to ask questions, or that I’m approachable (possibly even have the face of someone you’d want to ask a question from). Otherwise there’s an invisible force at work that attracts strangers towards me ;-).

Whichever way it is, I was undertaking my exercising routine, walking along Palatine road – heading towards Didsbury when someone on the other side of the road called out “Excuse me”

I looked, and saw a black chap maybe 5.5+ foot tall or so, wearing a brown coat and carrying a black backpack. He crossed the road and asked me whether I knew of the location of Jigsaw Hospital?

“Its something to do with people who have mental illnesses” he added.

Upon hearing that, I just about managed to suppress a smile that would inevitably have forced itself upon my face as soon as an uninvited and menacing thought declared “Ah, that’s where they keep the mad ones eh?”. I know, a bit harsh, but we can’t always control what we think.

I told him that I suspected the hospital was somewhere along Palatine road, but I couldn’t be too sure of the exact location as I had only dropped my mother’s friend at a hospital I didn’t previously know about somewhere on Palatine road the previous week, where she was going to catch a night shift.  But because I was heading in the same direction, I offered to walk with him to the general location I had driven to that night.

After the introductions, he informed me that he was Ghanaian, and that he was going to the hospital to drop the house keys to his wife, who had just moved to Manchester from Ghana, and who had began to work at Jigsaw. I told him that I had some Ghanaian friends in Nottingham, where I did my studies, after which I inquired what he did in Manchester.

It turns out he is studying for a PhD in Luton, where he also happens to be a part-time lecturer, but was in Manchester to visit his wife for the weekend. So obviously I wanted to know about Ghana and his outlook on life in the UK.

“Ghana is doing well, very well in fact” he said confidently, “We are making long strides of progress”  We tried to find the similarities and differences between our respective countries. He thought one of the things that sets Ghanaians apart, besides integrity, is ‘a drive for legacy’. “Ghanaians are thinking about the future, what can we do that we can leave for our children to inherit, they are not doing short-term fixes”

“What’s the politics like?” I asked

“Oh we are trying, the president is in court at the moment over corruption charges, so that says something right?

“I guess so” I replied “Unless of course it’s just a show and one is as slippery as Silvio Berlusconi”

He laughed. As I told him about Malawi, he listened intently but tended to repeat the ending of every other statement I made.

“So after the previous guy suddenly died, a new president, Joyce Banda was sworn in, who happens to be Africa’s second female president, and the first female president of Malawi.” I said

“Africa’s second female president, and the first female president of Malawi.” he repeated, not exclaiming disbelief or someother emotion, just repeating the last part of what I had just said, which I thought was an interesting way to conduct a conversation.

Then I asked him whether he would stay in Britain a little while after his PhD.

“Nooo, not living here” he said. “After I finish, I’m taking my wife back home, here they want your money, ” he said matter-of-factly. “They don’t care about you, all they want is the money and they have clever ways of taking your money from you”

“Council tax that always seems to be rising?” I commented, tongue in cheek

“Television licence, expensive accommodation, high taxes, National Insurance…what is the real purpose of National Insurance?” he asked, straight faced. I could only laugh

“In case you retire, or for your rubbish collection isn’t it” I replied, partly mistaking Council tax with National insurance.

“£110 a month for rubbish collection! Its better I go and earn something that I can keep and call mine, not live with this” he said

At that point we saw text on the glass door of a building to our right that read ‘JIGSAW…’. After a few more words and some polite goodbye’s and goodlucks, we parted ways.