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STORY FIFTEEN Too Many Cooks Malawi, 1997 239 Professor K and Ben wait outside the office of Minister Grace Lumba. The professor, a former high official in an earlier government, now works as a private consultant, as does Ben. Ben is the “outside” consultant on this assignment, brought in by the UN Development Program (UNDP) to assess Malawi’s readiness for a new program in microcredit . Professor K is Malawian, therefore he is the “local consultant.” For two weeks they have gone everywhere together, and the professor’s contacts—he knows virtually everyone in the capital—have made the work go smoothly. A large, modestly dressed lady comes out to greet them, apologizes for keeping them waiting, and ushers them into her office, a square room with a dirty window looking out on an alleyway between government buildings. Immediately, a tray with six Coke bottles appears. The bottles lie side by side on the tray; there are no glasses. For five minutes or so Ben, the professor, and the minister sip Coke from the bottle and chat amiably about nothing. Having finished, Mrs. Lumba grabs her large 240 Story Fifteen pocketbook and the group heads down the stairs and outside to a beige nine-seater van. As the professor and Ben stand there, another large lady comes up carrying two guns. She gets in the back, without introduction. Apparently she is Mrs. Lumba’s bodyguard. For the rest of the trip she says nothing. They drive to the Office of the President in another part of town. Here they are introduced to one of the president’s senior economic advisers, who will accompany the group, and also to someone who, the professor tells Ben in a whisper, is “a princess” (apparently related to an important former chief). Princess Nalinga N’dagire is a pretty, thirtyish, heavyset woman one of whose responsibilities, it turns out, is Poverty Alleviation. As the princess and the senior economic adviser climb into the van, two more women come down the steps: One carries a notebook and will take notes throughout the trip. The other carries a video camera. She, like the bodyguard, doesn’t speak but will be recording the visitors at every stop on the trip. The entourage is now complete. The princess, the economic adviser, the minister, the camerawoman, the notetaker, the bodyguard, the two consultants, and the driver set out for the countryside. As they ride out of the city, it becomes clear that Mrs. Lumba, whose full title includes the term “economic monitoring,” is a lively and sharp lady with a cynical sense of humor. And it is she who dominates not only all conversation but also the group as a whole. The “economic monitoring” suggests she would know something about the microcredit field in Malawi. But two hours of discussion with her in the car and several more in the field reveal an uninformed woman with major disconnects in her economic thinking. For one thing, she is a fanatic about honey. “Honey can be a major foreign exchange earner for Malawi,” she declares, going on at length about it being a “high-value” export crop, using the current jargon of many economic planners in the region. Mrs. Lumba’s air of authority and the supreme confidence with which she continues her disquisition on the special qualities of Malawi’s bees, region by region, don’t permit interruption or qualification. Ben keeps silent. He has had experience with honey projects in Kenya and elsewhere and nowhere in the world is it an export commodity. Local producers in the developing world have enough trouble making money marketing honey locally, even when there is demand. Honey produced by African small farmers, cottage industry–style, faces challenges that honey producers elsewhere don’t even think about—finding a reliable supply of uniform containers is one, a reliable supply of tops for the containers is another. As they go off the main road and start to climb into the hills on bumpy red-dust roads, Mrs. Lumba finally drops the honey topic. They pass farmers and other folks along the road. Other fixations emerge from Minister Lumba: How lazy the people are, how they’ve lost the work ethic, how the resources they have should be better used. She amends her remarks as she warms to the topic, singling out African men for special abuse. “Useless!” she shouts, as she concludes a litany about the African male’s many...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781613760826
Related ISBN
9781558493926
MARC Record
OCLC
647376217
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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