Friday, December 30, 2011

"The same song with different words"

So we had an interesting and very productive meeting at the Ripple offices the other day. It was my first time to meet Force and Joyce from Ripple and they were both impressive and capable. I learned a lot about Ripple's conservation work in the nearby Kandoli Hills where they have set up conservation committees and formed local bylaws with efficiency and deft political skill. According to Force, setting up a similar conservation program along the lakeshore would simply be "the same song with different words." He and Alex have a well thought out game plan for its implementation. I have stated my willingness to assist them but at this stage, where getting approvals from various local government officials is paramount, they are certainly more capable than I. Once the committees are established, a process I am very much interested in documenting rather than assisting in, The Maru, our research center, may have a role in developing a sensitization campaign and literature that the committees will disseminate to the local villagers about the importance of using the lake's resources sustainably and the consequences of not doing so. Following that The Maru will be assisting in the development of a community monitoring program so that the efficacy of any bylaws that are developed can be tested.

The meeting was also a fairly long one however. Force is an expressive fellow and could wax rather eloquently about his passion for conservation. Most of the time, however, if you will exuse the pun, it felt like a pretty forced performance. I don't necessarily blame him for that, nor do I wholly doubt his sincerity, but in retrospect I think the presence of three foreigners at the meeting (out of a total of 6 people) was a mistake. It put Force and the other Malawians into the position of feeling like they needed to perform for us their knowledge of, and allegiance to, what they supposed was our Western conservation ethic. Certainly the meeting would have taken a different course had we not been there. So instead of discussions about operational details such as task allocation, budgeting, strategy, and developing an implementation schedule, we spent most of the time wading through Force's conservation rhetoric.

This is a common problem when westerners take part in or instigate development programs in non-western contexts. Locals whom they enroll in these programs feel the need to spend a great deal of time demonstrating to westerners their allegiance to what they suppose to be our goals. Rather than working with westerners to formulate, on an equal-footing, what those goals should be and how they should be implemented, local counterparts adopt western goals with great enthusiasm (Force was taking his shirt off at one point) but with only partial credibility. And I think the we are mostly to blame for this. We are very bad at recognizing our own reflexivity and at creating non-judgmental spaces within which westerners and locals can creatively and cooperatively devise development programs. And unfortunately the local cultures within which we work often don't help us out very much in this regard in that they tend to be more overtly hierarchical than our own. Locals themselves often find it in easier, or at least more natural, to pledge their allegiance than to stand on an equal footing with us. In Malawi I have often felt myself falling into the roll of a "Bwana" (boss) not because I have actively chosen it but because it is frankly hard to create relationships of parity with local Malawians both because their local culture doesn't operate on such terms and because the history of my culture's interaction with theirs has been so appallingly unequal.

No answers here really but I think valid concerns.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Beach Village Committees.

So on Wednesday I, Alex (our local government fisheries officer) and couple guys from Ripple Africa are going to sit down and make a plan for potentially establishing Beach Village Committees in various "beach villages" along the Chintheche strip. It will be an interesting discussion. Beyond the nebulous goal of "better fisheries management" I'm not sure what, specifically, these committees will work towards, but mostly I am interested in seeing how Alex, the Ripple guys (one of whose very cool name is "Force"), and I can work together with the community and how they go about implementing the program. At this point this "how" is more important to me than the "what" we are actually doing or going to do. In any case the "what" should not be determined by a few fellas (half of whom are foreigners") sitting around a table one morning, but rather through talking to people and seeing what they think are the problems and how they might best be solved.

Good Essays

David Brooks has a good series highlighting some of the best essays of the year here and here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Malawi reading list.

Thanks to Haba na haba for putting this together. Its is a great reading list for those interested in Malawi, from its politics, to its culture, to its development.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A view from afar, and maybe a little encouragment.

So I've been living outside of my birthplace, the USA, for nearly a decade. Over the past couple years I have been following, mostly through the internet, but also through conversations with family and friends back home, how the global economic crisis has affected the way Americans think about themselves, their country, their educations, and their jobs. I just read this article from the Atlantic (which is a very fine publication full of very thoughtful writers) that tries to make a distinction between a "job" and "work" and what it means to have a meaningful job or to do meaningful work. Its worth a read. What struck me while reading it however is not what the author was interested in discussing but with an undertone in the article that I have noticed in many other writings and conversations about the American economy and particularly about finding jobs. People talk of "catching a break," "finding a job," getting employed," the importance of getting a "useful degree." They dwell on topics like structural unemployment, global un-competitiveness, having their jobs "out-sourced," evil corporations, and corrupt governments. Megan McArdle, another great writer at the Atlantic, has written a lot about the trauma of being unemployed and about how a lot of young people who "have done all the right things," gone to university etc, still can't get a job. From the outside one gets the picture that Americans, and particularly the youth, are simply stuck in a bad situation, a bad economy, over which they have no control and no one really has an answer for what they should do.

Here is my modest suggestion. Get out of America. Not because America is a bad place, or a sinking ship, but because it is only one place, one possibility, on a planet with so many other places and possibilities. You live in a larger world than the companies to whom you have sent job applications, than the friends you have now, than your car payment, or favorite bar hang-out. These things are not necessarily bad, but there is more.

And money is not an issue. Again, money is not an issue.

There are so many ways to survive or even thrive outside of America. The possibilities are nearly endless and cost next to nothing. Join the Peace Corps. Work on an organic farm in nearly a hundred different countries. Get an internship in the Scuba Diving industry. Volunteer somewhere (even with us). Teach English. Or just hitch-hike and bum around nearly anywhere. And these are just some of the opportunities that are available even without any job experience or uniquely "useful" skills. With experience and skills the world of possibilities outside America is even greater.

Now if none of this sounds like a good time to you and you would prefer to stay in America, fantastic. But at least know that you are not trapped and at the mercy of a bad situation or a bad economy, but rather someone who has a whole world of opportunities lying at his or her feet and has chosen a certain path. Fight for it, but always remember that there are other paths that could be fought for as well.


Thursday, December 15, 2011 has had a face-lift!

Aquanuts Divers website, located at, has had a little make-over. She is leaner, faster, prettier, and more informative than ever. Check her out.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

News from the Beach

-So after a couple of nice rainy days it looks as if the rainy season is officially starting. Today however is sunny, calm, and crisp. And since it is the 1st of the month that means survey time. Monica and I are going to go out this afternoon and survey two transects, one at the Outer Reef and one at Kande Island. It is amazing the diversity of fish out their even among these two transect lines which are only about 300 meters away from each other. Nearly a 1/4 of the species found at each transect are never found at the other one. Our data set is still to small to make any robust conclusions but so far our Kande Island transect is characterized by slightly more abundance and slightly less diversity than the Outer Reef transect. Its our hope that by the middle of this month we will be able to lay another transect line at John's Reef which is 25 meters down and bathymetrically very different from either Kande Island or the Outer Reef.

-There is one more member of the small expat community up here. Congratulations to Richard and Lauren at Makuzi Lodge for their newborn girl, Nyassa.

-Christmas is coming and here at Aquanuts and The Maru we are thinking of something special to offer our friends and customers. Stay tuned!

-Road Trip! Joy and I will be taking a road trip through Southern Africa in January next year down to Cape Town. We are thinking about going through Mozambique and Zimbabwe on the way down and through Botswana and Zambia on the way back. After years in Africa I still have never been to Victoria Falls so we are going to try hard and fit that in. South Luangwa National Park, Chobe, Hwange, and Bulawayo are also all on the possible list. I am open to pointers.



Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fish Talk

So I had a meeting with the local goverment fisheries official for our area, Alex, the head of a British NGO (Ripple Africa), Geoff, and a couple others yesterday. It was very interesting. We learned all about the fisheries management laws in the area, how fishing permits were issued, at what price, when, and with what enforcement mechanisms. The head of the NGO is interested in supporting the creation of some sort of community management system for our area to increase the sustainability of the local fishery. Alex is quite keen on the idea and I am also very interested in helping to set up some sort of community based monitoring program so that we can have a system of data collecting that will allow us to know if any community management iniatives that might be set up are effective. Part of the inspiration behind Geoff and Alex's interest came from a USAID COMPASS supported community management system that was set up at Benji island, just off Salima, which instituted a 6 month no-take season that is, apparently, still being enforced after the end of USAID funding.
Another interesting development that Alex spoke about was the recent (July 1st) increase in the cost of various fishing permits. The price of the different permits, which are based on the fishing gear used, vary however in general the July 1st increases are more than quadruple. Ouch.
Since starting our research program I have been indifferent to approaching established Aid organizations for assistance but more recently through the encouragement of several persons working in the Malawian aid scene I am going to start looking around for possible partners. Especially if we are able to start putting together a broader community management and monitoring system our resources will need to expand. I would love those resources to come in the form of interns or volunteers living and working with us at our research center. So if any of this sounds interesting to you, check us out here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

First Rains

So down here at Kande we received our morning first rain the day before yesterday. It was really quite refreshing after the so many weeks of heat. On that rainy morning I took the opportunity to sit back have a nice hot cup of freshly made and locally-grown Chipunga coffee and read this article, entitled "Number as inventive frontier in knowing and working Australia's water resources." by Helen Verran, a historian and philosopher of science at the University of Melbourne. She wrote a book on Yoruban mathematics and has since been active in the field of Science and Technology Studies.
The article, which is rather difficult to follow as befits here philosophy prof status I suppose, talks about two water quality data collecting organizations in Australia. One of the organizations, Waterwatch has a huge network of volunteer data collectors who regularly go out and test the water quality of Australia's rivers. Their goal is to "fill in spatial and temporal monitoring gaps" in Australia's government-run monitoring program and their motto is "You can't sustain what you haven't measured." How cool is that! And it is precisely the kind of thing we are trying to set up here in Malawi. The "monitoring gaps" here are pretty huge.


Monday, October 17, 2011

E. O. Wilson and the "eusocial" gene

Here is an interesting article about E.O. Wilson, the renowned ant biologist who, among many other projects, started the field of sociobiology. He is helping out a billionaire who is trying to rehabilitate Gorongosa National Park in nearby Mozambique. I hope it doesn't turn into another case of too much (foreign) money and to little (local) sense.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


So the head of Dfid, Andrew Mitchell has just said that countries who receive UK aid may face "fines" if they continue to discriminate against gays. This has not gone down well in Malawi. Check out the comments below the linked-to article. Relations between the UK and Malawi have been strained for awhile now over a number of issues, in particular over the recent departure of the High Commissioner .

I'm torn on this issue. On the one hand I completely agree that gays should not be discriminated against by any government. On the other hand as a foreigner in Malawi I am very pessimistic about my chances to, or even my right to, engage with Malawians on this issue in a constructive manner. The UK's choice to single out this issue does not seem politically or culturally smart to me if their end goal is really to change the attitudes and laws of Africans and their governments. You can't "fine" a people, particularly a people with a history of colonial oppression, into adopting the values of their former oppressors.

And yet I too hold those values and so wish there were a way to engage in a constructive and respectful dialogue with Malawians about homosexuality.
There is always an unresolvable tension between a need to respect diversity and a need to protect the vulnerable.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Give me some data!

Although I know very little about economics and economists, I love following their debates. Tyler Cowen, Russ Roberts, Karl Smith, Paul Krugman, et. al engage in, lively, serious, and data-informed conversations that, with a little struggling, even most laymen (i.e. me) can follow. Take a look at my blogroll for some good sites where these debates are happening.
Its a shame that we don't, and can't, have similar conversations in the realm of environmental management particularly in the developing world. Certainly there have been, and continue to be, lively debates about the efficacy of Aid and its effects on the developing world but much of it is nakedly ideological rather than data-driven, whatever side of the debate you happen to be on. Some have called for more randomized trials of development projects and I think such tests are probably a good idea though implementation, as always, will be difficult.
However in the little world of environmental management, and in the even smaller world of coastal and oceans management, it should be possible to collect comparable data from various management schemes in order to starting making some statements about their efficacy that are more than just anecdotal and ideological. Of course there will be arguments over the data and about what data should be collected, how, by who, etc, but that is precisely the point. Just as in economics, a field in which huge amounts of datum are collected, such data becomes the fodder for rich and useful discussion. Without it, productive conversations are difficult and ideological punch-ups, very easy. Unfortunately in environmental management in the developing world all we get are individual project reports that don't reference concrete but general data indicators that would make cross-project comparisons possible. The expected audience for such reports are usually government officials, potential donors, and other Aid or conservation organizations, not policy analysts.
I'm not sure how such data collection could be orchestrated. The nice thing about economic data collecting is, to a degree, that everyone in our increasingly globalized world operates according to the same economic rules and measures themselves, whether in China, Sudan, or the U.S. against the same indicators, GDP, inflation, equity, debt, etc. However in environmental management we haven't even gotten that far except in very abstract terms, i.e. biodiversity, conversation, "clean" water, endangered species (although that one is getting closer to what we need), etc. International management and data collecting training organizations like ReefCheck and the GCRMN (Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network) have made some efforts to standardize data collection methodologies but, at least I haven't seen, larger attempts to use the data collected from these methodologies on a global scale as the basis for discussions on how we can best manage coastal and ocean environments in any real rigorous fashion. Either the data just isn't there or we haven't analysed it enough to start having debates about what management schemes, or perhaps other factors, have led to "good" outcomes.

Any ideas out there?


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Masks in Malawi

Africa Past and Present has a new podcast on the role masks and dancing in Malawi, check it out.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve

So we had our first mini-vacation this past weekend since arriving here in Malawi. We went camping up at Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve with a couple friends and saw these,

And a bunch of these,
and a lot of other nice critters. I also read most of William Dalrymple's "City of Djinns" which he wrote while living for a year in New Dehli. Part travelogue, part history of colonial New Dehli, its entertaining and mildly scholarly. I think it would be cool if someone would write a similar book about Blantyre or even Nkhata Bay.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mixed Feelings

It has taken me forever to finish Laurens Van der Post’s, A Journey into the Interior, in which he tells about his trip to Malawi to explore Mt. Mulanje in the south and the Nyika plateau in the north. Van der Post is an elegant, but for my tastes, pretentious and long winded writer whose prose, though aspiring to Shakespeare, usually sounds more like cheap Freud. On the other hand as I read his book I couldn’t help but admire the skill with which he, and the British Empire in general, were able to navigate through, and really thrive in, the African Bush which at the time of his travels was a pretty inhospitable place for non-natives. And yet this was also a man, and an Empire, that (among many other worse deeds) ordered native village chiefs to round up 45 men to be porters for their mountain explorations and whose condescension and bald racism towards Africans made me cringe as I read. And yet again, several generations before Van der Post’s journey Livingstone, the most renowned British explorer of Malawi, was also its most vigorous anti-slavery activist trekking through the country trying to convince the natives not to sell each other to Arab slave traders.

I have also been reading the reports of the Joint Fisheries Research Organization (JFRO). Based in Nkhata Bay from 1954 and later moved down to Monkey Bay in the 60s, this organization was responsible for much pioneering work on the limnology and biology of Lake Malawi. And once again I am torn between an admiration for their work and a great sadness in the colonial motivations and force that made such work possible.

Scientists and explorers have always had to deal with this kind of situation though until quite recently (the last thirty years) it was rather taboo to explore its implications too far. Thanks to some historians of science and technology such as Deepak Kumar (India), Lewis Pyenson, (Indonesia), and Micheal Osborne ( French Africa), this has changed at least for the colonial era. We now know how integral a role science played in the subjugation of what we now call the developing world. There has even been some attention to the role that science played in the more recent history of the Cold War (see here for a good review.)

However attempts to understand the continuing role that Science plays in Western attempts to aid the developing world have not been well studied. Hopefully, that’s where my own research comes in, at least in regards to the tiny world of coastal and fisheries management. While certainly responsive to the critiques of the excessively technocratic development paradigms that dominated the scene until the 70s and 80s, more recent coastal and fisheries management schemes have still been remarkably inattentive to social and cultural underpinnings of their projects when applied in non-western countries. So-called “international best-practices” cannot run away from their own history simply by being labeled so. Who developed these practices that are supposedly “best” and “international,” under what circumstances, towards what goals, and upon what assumptions, are all important questions that are too rarely asked.

Monday, September 26, 2011

All around the world...

So the power cuts in Malawi, or at least up in Kande, have been getting a little more severe lately. I was feeling mildly annoyed about this and even started having some (shudder the thought) nostalgic feelings about living in Korea until I read this. For those who don't read Korean, apparently power cuts in Seoul have been annoying people there too lately.

Luckily we don't need power to dive with the fishes and the lake water here is warming up. By next month we won't even need to wear wet suits. We laid down our second underwater survey line last week and will begin monitoring the population and diversity of fish along it shortly.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Some tunes

So our internet connection here on the beach is doing a little better these days. Here are some tunes I've been listening to because of it.

This is off of Nneka's new album.

This is a new Malawian artist, H-Spade. Kinda lame but, hey, they're getting there.


Monday, September 5, 2011


So we've been mapping out our dive sites and survey transects using GPS and GIS software (QGIS) to get a better understanding of where things actually are underneath the lake and to aid us in exploring it in a more systematic manner. Yesterday we just focused on georeferencing some maps of Kande Island and the surrounding area and then plotting our dive circuit at the Outer Reef which lies not too far from the Island. The waypoints corresponded to roughly where we thought the Reef was so I am happy with the results. Today we are going to do some more test-runs on our survey line out at the Reef and lay another one at the Island. Take a look at where we are working on the map below. Zoom into letter "A"and find the island just offshore to it.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


So I've been reading over this report on the state of Aquaculture in Malawi. While reading about the history of international efforts to promote small-scale aquaculture in Malawi I started thinking about how vibrant the entrepreneurship climate is in South Korea, my former home. There many, many, people ( I don't have statistics) either had their own, usually family-run business, were friends with people that did, or were thinking of starting one. And at least anecdotally many of these people I met had, I judge, "good heads" for business and a willingness to work hard and sacrifice in the short-term in hope of long-term success. I greatly admired this about many Koreans and still do. However I also saw how often and quickly new small businesses in Korea failed. Most of the storefronts on one of the main streets of my neighborhood changed once or twice just in the short two years that I lived there. Competition is fierce in Korea and consumer expectations are very high.

As a small-business owner myself now I know what a stressful and difficult occupation it can be and am increasingly skeptical about the extent to which it is the ideal lifestyle for most people. Although on balance I am very happy with my life here on the shores of Lake Malawi I admit that most people would probably not choose to live as I do.

In Malawi I see a lot of keen entrepreneurs as well. My Tonga language instructor is one of them. Besides teaching my wife and I Tonga he probably has 4 or 5 other ways of earning an income that he balances on a daily basis. But here too, again at least anecdotally, I see most people who try to start their own business having a very rough time at it. The barriers here are usually insurmountable. Lack of financing opportunities, education, transport, materials, fuel, and electricity (just to name a few) are all major hurdles for any young enterprising entrepreneur.

Which brings me back to this status report on Aquaculture in Malawi. The report outlines how efforts to educate, finance, and in general support small-scale fish farmers in Malawi have met with very limited success. During the 70s and 80s this lack of success was blamed on, among other things, a centralized and "top-down" approach to technical assistance. Since the 90s that approach has been abandoned but other challenges, mostly to do with the extreme poverty of the fish farmers themselves, have led to sub-optimal outcomes.

The report also briefly details the efforts of a couple private companies that have started aquaculture businesses though frustratingly it doesn't state whether or not they are profitable. It also talks about how, in regards to cage-style aquaculture, there is insufficient legislation to guide potential investors in it.

The report is emphatic, however, that the demand for fish in Malawi is very much higher than the current supply can keep up with. And so my question is, given that no local company, of whatever-scale, has managed to establish itself and meet this demand after 40 years of international assistance, why has the Malawian government not attempted to create adequate incentives and legislation whereby a large-scale international aquaculture company could establish itself in Malawi, create jobs for Malawians, and meet the market demand for fish?

Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. But most people still want a job. In an increasingly globalized world, I worry about the extent to which international aid efforts to promote small-scale entrepreneurship in African countries, whether in aquaculture or elsewhere, have shifted African governments' attention too much away from creating institutional and legal environments that are attractive to international companies that could provide real jobs and real services to people who desperately need them in African countries.


Friday, August 12, 2011

News from the Beach

Well it looks like the rest of the "modern" world is falling apart
again economically but out here on the beach the weather is fine and
the fish are getting down right huge. Yesterday afternoon we spotted
quite a few 40cm chambos and other species. For cichlids thats quite

-Monica, our resident biologist at the Maru, is settling in well and
already knows the fish better than I do. We've also started
collecting weather statistics and water quality indicators and will
begin doing our underwater population and biodiversity surveys at the
end of the month.

-Ever since we first arrived here at Kande I've been seeing fish that
I couldn't find in any of our three fish identification books. This
is not really surprising since an estimated 1/3 of the fish in the
lake are yet to be properly scientifically described and identified
but until now I haven't been able to verify whether or not the fish I
have been seeing are truly undiscovered species or whether I just
don't have a complete list of known cichlid fish. Well that has
changed now that the Maru has an underwater camera to take snapshots
of our potential new finds. If anyone knows how one can properly
identify and describe a new species in a scientifically recognized way
please contact us at

-Tonga words for the day- chirwa = island, watu=paddle/oar

Monday, August 1, 2011

The is up and running! and other News from the Beach

-Finally after a month of struggling with our (crap) internet connection I have managed to upload The Maru research center’s website. Check it out at I am really very excited about the future of the Maru. Maru (마루) is a Korean word that refers to the central room in a traditional Korean hanok home in which guests are entertained, meals are eaten, and information is shared. Our goal for The Maru research center is that it too can be a place where Malawians and everyone else can come together to learn, share, and simply enjoy each other’s company while learning about Lake Malawi and those who depend on it. As a volunteer-powered research center we are passionate about teaching our volunteer researchers valuable surveying and diving techniques and methodologies and are now officially accepting volunteer applications. For more information on our volunteer program, click here.

We also welcome university students, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level, to contact us with their research interests to see how we might host and assist them in their pursuits.

Finally it is our goal to make partnerships with local Malawian and international educational institutions in order to promote greater study of Lake Malawi and those who live near it and we invite interested institutions to contact us to see how we might work together.

-If you have been following the news you may have heard that there were some demonstrations in Malawi on the 20th of July. For better informed commentary on them than I can provide check out Haba na Haba’s blog and various Malawian online newspaper’s coverage of the events at or At The Maru and Aquanuts we like to focus more on what’s happening below the water than above it but we do hope that the problems facing Malawians can be resolved peacefully and swiftly. At the Lake all has been calm and life continues as normal.

- Male black chambos, a species of cichlid that is particularly loved on the dinner table here in Malawi, have been very busy making their mating nests lately. These holes in the sandy lake floor can reach huge proportions often measuring over a meter in diameter and half a meter deep. Take a look at this picture of one.

- Winter and the windy season are coming to a close out here and although it’s been great to be able to snuggle up in a nice thick duvet at night I am excited for a little warmer weather.

- Oh and if you do find any glitches over at please do let me know by shooting me an email at


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Our newest team member

Here at Aquanuts and the Maru we'd like to extend a warm welcome to
our newest team member Monica Sanz. With a masters in Biology and
field research experience in places as diverse as Finland and Brazil,
Monica is well equipped to help us implement our research programs.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

We are hiring!

So things are starting to kick into high gear here at Aquanuts and the Maru Research Center and to help us with that we are accepting applications for the position of a Research and Dive Assistant. Applicants will preferably have a masters degree in coastal or lake science, environmental management, ichthyology, or a related field. Applicants should also be Divemasters or willing and able to be trained as one. Those with only a bachelor degree but who have experience with population and biodiversity surveying and mapping will be considered. Remuneration will vary according to applicant’s qualifications. Send your CVs to

News from the Beach

-This makes me feel a little better about not rushing into academia.

-July 6th was Malawian Independence Day. It has been a long walk to freedom for Malawians but in my short time here I have seen their determination to continue down the road as it were. Congratulations to them on their anniversary and best wishes for the future.

- The windy season continues here at the Lake but it has blown the usually shy catfish out of their rocky hiding places. Yesterday we saw lots of meter-long specimens of both the “African catfish” (Clarias gariepinus) and the locally named “Kampango” (Bagrus meridionalis). Lake Malawi is home to a group of catfish that belong to the Bathyclarias genus and which are the largest fish in the lake reaching up to 2 meters in length. Because they are usually nocturnal it was a real treat to see some many hanging around Kande Island on our afternoon dive.

-And on a completely different note congratulations to the South Korean town of Pyeongchang on being awarded hosts of the 2018 Winter Olympics. My former home has been waiting and working hard for this chance for a long time. It is well deserved.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

News and Pictures from the Beach

-So the windy season hasn't been all that windy. This is good for us.
-The cichlids out at Kande island are getting bigger. Anyone know a good source of info these fellow's life cycles?
- So we went to Kaya Papaya on our way back from Mzuzu last week. Who knew you could find such awesome Thai food in a German-owned restaurant in Malawi?
-Haba na Haba has written an interesting article about how the right to refuse is often misunderstood in Malawi. I'm not surprised by this. People in hierarchical cultures are of often uncomfortable with stating their preferences to people of perceived higher social ranking to them. Instead they seek to do the "right" course of action in any given context so long as it doesn't inconvenience them too much. In the case of HIV testing I can imagine that most Malawian mothers receiving care recognize (rightly) that health officials would like them to be tested, don't perceive such testing as a large inconvenience, and so submit when the officials tell them to do it.
-And the pictures. Thanks to Robert from Germany for these.


Friday, June 17, 2011

News from the Beach

News from the beach.

-Well the Malawian winter is well upon us. It actually got down to 20 degrees the other night (70 in Fahrenheit) and boy let me tell you I was bundled up in two sweaters as I listened to the cool tunes of the Guisely Brothers, a good British cover band, over at Chinteche Inn the other night. Live music is always good.

-I keep telling myself I need to get an underwater camera. By now I'm sure I could name a few new species of cichlids after myself if I could properly document them with a photograph. With about a third of the estimated 1000 species of cichlid fish still left to be properly scientifically identified and categorized the possibility that I could actually name my own fish isn't all that farfetched. I saw a beautiful blue, white, and yellow speckled fellow yesterday that I couldn't find anywhere in my three cichlid identification books. The Kande area, although not unknown to the existent guide books, hasn't really been properly surveyed. But we are going to get to that soon.

- It looks as if the Universities in Malawi are going to be opening up again soon. Fingers crossed.

-Huge schools of usipa continue to be abundant in the lake around us. Diving as thousands of tiny fish swim in perfect unison around you is unforgettable.

-Tonga word for the day. Somba = fish


News from the Beach

-Well the Malawian winter is well upon us. It actually got down to 20 degrees the other night (70 in Fahrenheit) and boy let me tell you I was bundled up in two sweaters as I listened to the cool tunes of the Guisely Brothers, a good British cover band, over at Chinteche Inn the other night. Live music is always good.

-I keep telling myself I need to get an underwater camera. By now I'm sure I could name a few new species of cichlids after myself if I could properly document them with a photograph. With about a third of the estimated 1000 species of cichlid fish still left to be properly scientifically identified and categorized the possibility that I could actually name my own fish isn't all that farfetched. I saw a beautiful blue, white, and yellow speckled fellow yesterday that I couldn't find anywhere in my three cichlid identification books. The Kande area, although not unknown to the existent guide books, hasn't really been properly surveyed. But we are going to get to that soon.

- It looks as if the Universities in Malawi are going to be opening up again soon. Fingers crossed.

-Huge schools of usipa continue to be abundant in the lake around us. Diving as thousands of tiny fish swim in perfect unison around you is unforgettable.

-Tonga word for the day. Somba = fish


Monday, June 6, 2011

Malawi, Economic Independence, and News from the Beach

Recently in Malawi a number of donors, including Malawi's largest contributor Britain, have stopped funneling money into the country. Citing a deteriorating respect for human rights and increasing authoritarianism in the Malawian government donors are trying to pressure the president in particular to govern more in accordance with internationally (read Western) recognized good governance standards of transparency, accountability, elections, etc.

In response Mutharika and the Malawian government have announced through a series of speeches and policy documents, most notably the budget report for the 2011/2012 fiscal year, that it is reducing drastically the extent to which it relies on foreign donors to finance government activities. In order to do this and accomplish what it is calling a "zero-deficit budget" the government must raise taxes.

The expat community here is generally pretty dour about these recent announcements and many Malawians seem to be equally so. Ever the contrarian, however, I'm not so sure that this new turn by the government need be a bad thing.

I think we can all agree that what Mutharika has called the goal of "economic independence" is a laudable one for Malawi to strive for. As is a "zero deficit budget." Very few people are, or should be, arguing that Malawi must continue to rely heavily on donor support and get itself into debt. So Mutharika, the Malawian government, and basically everyone else, at this level at least, are on the same page.

The question is how to get there. Mutharika has been careful to stress that international donors do still have an important role to play in Malawi's development. Whether the donors are willing to play role the Mutharika envisions for them is an open question. I doubt it. But they probably won't pull out completely. Whatever they chose, so be it. Economic independence comes at a price and perhaps from the government's perspective relying on donor support too heavily may be more trouble than it is worth. Mutharika's bigger challenge, it seems to me, is convincing his own people that he and the Malawian government are sincere in their commitment to the hard task of developing the country. The political history of Malawi, first colonial, then dictatorial, have perhaps justifiably made most Malawians very cynical about their political leaders. If Mutharika can crack that cynicism, however, he will have done himself and the country a huge service.

-Here at the Beach the weather has been windy at times but with the end of the rainy season diving visibility has been fantastic. We are seeing thick swarms of thousands of usipa (lake sardines) around the islands.

-We’ve had the trial monitoring program up and running for just a little over a week now. We are collecting ten different indicators three days a week. Hopefully we'll be able to bump that number up in the upcoming months when we get some new equipment and volunteers to help share the work load.

-Related to that, the Maru Institute is starting to piece together a volunteer program for people who would like to learn about the lake, the fish in it, and how to do standard monitoring surveys both under the water and above it. In the next month or two we will have more information about that program and begin accepting applications from those who would like to join it.

- Did you know that only about 600 of the estimated 1000 species of fish in Lake Malawi have been properly identified and scientifically described?

-Did you know that Lake Malawi, which is already the 3rd deepest lake in the world at nearly 800 meters, has a further 4 kilometers of silt underneath it?

- Tonga word for the day - Tawonga = Thank you.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Hasty conclusions

So I've been talking with a lot people about how I am interested in starting up a lake monitoring research program. Most mzungus (Westerners) have responded to my plan with a weirdly similar narrative and the rest of the conversation follows a very predictable arc.

1. Initially most Westerners respond with cautious optimism. They advise that "out here" getting such a program started will be difficult but that if I could manage it it could be a worthy thing.

2. They then begin speaking about how unfortunate it is that the lake is overfished and offer a few ways of fixing this problem. Fish farming is often mentioned. Setting up more national lake parks under some sort of community based management scheme is often mentioned. One fellow even said I should teach the fishermen how to build fiber-glass canoes instead of their traditional dug-out ones in order to save Malawi's forests. While others suggested that I find funding to start some "community gardens" to offer the fishers an alternative livelihood.

3. I am then am asked my opinion about all of these ideas. At this point the conversation gets a little awkward for me. I usually begin by saying that their suggestions might work but that I am not an expert on any of them. Knowing a little bit about the history of development projects in Malawi, I do however usually add that fish farming, community gardens, etc., have all been tried with very degrees of success and failure.

4. I then try to steer the conversation back to my proposed lake monitoring program by stating that, if one actually reads the existing studies, very little research has been done on the lake and even less is currently on-going particularly in its northern half.

5. After about 5 or 10 minutes most people lose interest and the conversation dies, always with an amicable "good luck."

I think I can pull a couple important lessons from this. First, I am not a very talented salesman for my project. I mostly knew this already. Second, and more interesting to me, is how powerful and persuasive what I call the "conservation narrative" is amongst Western communities in African countries.

This narrative begins when Westerners collect anecdotal information from various sources about the conditions of a particular natural environment and conclude from that that it is over-exploited. Then various measures are suggested to remedy this situation which generally have a connection to the expertise of whoever is suggesting them. Healthcare specialists promote HIV awareness programs (bizarre but true, see here). Biologists promote national parks. Engineers promote alternative livelihoods. Ichthyologists call for fish-farming and entrepreneurs ask for easy loans.

In Malawi this pattern is obvious in how Westerners have approached issues of resources use on the lake. Despite there being a pitifully small amount of actual data on the health of Lake Malawi's natural systems, most Westerners here by default, and with great certainty, "know" that they are being unsustainably exploited, overfished, cut down, polluted, etc.

Why? What makes this "conservation narrative" so appealing and so persuasive to us? It is certainly not its scientific merits, however clothed in that jargon it may sometimes appear. The data simply does not exist to back it up. Perhaps we simply abhor a vacuum? Saying "I don't know" is admittedly pretty unsatisfying. Or, as many Africans think, is this narrative just a pretext for our nascent neo-colonial ambitions? Or is it something else, perhaps more noble? I certainly don't know but it seems worth reflecting on.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

News from the Beach

-So we’ve gotten ourselves a little Jack Russell terrier. His name is Tank.

-Instead of using one of our rubber ducks to go out to the island we took canoes the other day. It was awesome. Along the way Gary and I toyed with the idea of doing multi-day canoe and scuba diving trips up the coast of Lake Malawi from Kande to Nhkata Bay. We’d either just bush camp and braai every evening or for those wanting a little more comfort could probably even work it so we stopped at a lakeside lodge every night. Sound like a good time?

-We are having our new friend from just down the beach over for dinner tonight. They are the founder and operators of a great organization called Mphatso which funds and manages around ten nursery schools in the area. Along with a little education each child that comes to one of these nurseries gets a nutritious meal of vitamin fortified porridge. For some children this can literally be a life-saver.

-I’m going to start test-running a few indicators from what will eventually be a more comprehensive water quality monitoring program. Time to build a Secchi Disk!

-Our first Tonga lesson went well. Alfred, our teacher, is a nice guy and he is starting with useful phrases. I now know for instance how to say “good morning” to my employees. Mwayuka wuli!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kimchi in Malawi and other stuff

So we were finally able to find some chinese cabbage and radish in Lilongwe the other day. Joy and I have been waiting for it to come into season so that we could get back to our Korea-era routine of eating stupidly large amounts of kimchi and rice. Joy spent the whole day making kimchi and then we devoured it for dinner. Not to worry though, we still have another couple kilograms of the stuff.

Down at the lake we've been having fun taking out our diver propulsion vehicles (DPVs). These little "underwater motorcycles" are a great way to explore new parts of the lake.

In the news check out this pair of articles on Kamuzu Banda's rightful place in the history of Malawi. This guy is for the him, this guy is against. You decide.

Development in Lilongwe is still going strong as far as I can tell from our short trip there. A new Spar (large western-style supermarket) is scheduled to open soon and Chinese-owned shops in newly built buildings are still sprouting up all over the place. These people continue to intrigue, baffle, and impress me.

Finally we met our Tonga (the local langauge here) teacher, Alfred, and are having our first lesson today. It was difficult to decide which language to learn. Like almost every African country, Malawi has numerous languages that are widely spoken. ChiChewa is certainly the most dominant. Many Malawians call it their "national" language because Banda promoted it as such however that policy was highly controversial in many parts of the country where Chewas were not the majority tribe. So we have decided to learn the language of our closest neighbours, the Tongas. Wish us luck!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Paternalism or "maternalism" in Africa?

Aidwatch has an interesting post on feminism and international development. Dr. Easterly believes that there are far too many male guilty consciences working themselves out in the Aid world and that this tends to hurt rather than help those in need. I agree but I'm not sure its necessarily only us males who have this problem. I've often talked about how demeaning it is to Africans when foreigners claim to be "protecting" them from various nefarious forces. This "mother (or father)-bear" instinct is condescending when it is applied, as it so often is, in blank fashion to an entire continent because it implies that Africans are weak when they are not. It is true that in some ways African women and children are uniquely exploited by NGO advertisements (how many times have you seen some random picture of a half-starved mother and child and then been asked for money?) but I would guess that the people behind such ads are not exclusively men.
More generally many feminist arguments have often struck me as on the one hand very novel and powerful and on the other hand very incompletely applied by feminists themselves. Dr. Easterly's post is a very good case in point. Certainly condescending attitudes in the Aid world are damaging and should be exposed and discussed and it is to the feminist's credit that they bring up the issue but I'm not convinced that it is only males that practice such condescension.
For my own Phd studies the concept of performativity, which was originally conceived of by feminist scholar Judith Butler, has been invaluable but by the time I encountered it in the Science and Technology Studies literature it had been very fruitfully applied in a much broader array of contexts than simply gender issues.
I know that feminism has in the past decade or so been going through some small turmoil with a newer breed of feminists questioning some of the orthodoxies of the "founding mothers" of feminism but I haven't kept up on the details. It would be interesting to hear one of these new feminist's perspective on gender issues in the Aid world.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

News from the beach

So its been a busy week down here. Joy is back at full-strength from
her fight with malaria. We've had a great series of dives with Robert
from Germany. We are going to start taking Tonga language classes next
week and the rainy season has ended.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Academic freedom, blogging in Malawi, and other stuff.

-Here is a great interview at the Nyasa Times with Boniface Dulani, a lecturer in Politics at the University of Malawi, about his blog and academic freedom in Malawi. He is rather eloquent. The academics at the University of Malawi have been on strike for quite awhile now over academic freedom of speech issues.

-So Joy had malaria again. But she received excellent treatment from the all-Malawian doctors both at Chintheche hospital and at the Matiki Health Centre and is well on the road to recovery. A big thanks goes out to both organizations. The Illovo Sugar Plantation, on which the Matiki Health Centre is based, is a massive place.

-Ranil over at Aid Thoughts gives a little more information on the possible causes of the fuel problems here in Malawi and other things.

-And last but not least here is another picture of one of the beautiful little creatures we get to dive with everyday here on the lake.


I heart Opera Mini

So in the world of crappy internet connections at which Malawi must be
near the center, Opera Mini has come in to save my day. I recognize I
am horribly behind the times with this discovery. I've also found a
way to put it on my laptop. Score!

Monday, April 25, 2011

So after a lot of trial and error our business website is online.
There are still a few glitches to be ironed out but that will come.
We are very exicted about our new venture here in Malawi and are full
of future plans. Check us out!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Forex,fuel, and good conversation

So there is a fuel shortage in Malawi right now. Most people here link the shortage to a lack of forex, i.e. Malawi doesn't have enough foreign currency (basically US dollars) to buy gasoline (petrol). I have no idea if this theory is true, but it certainly seems plausible. Does anyone have more information on this? For businesses in Malawi, mine included, availiablility of fuel is critical. I can't run my boats without it. Most business owners I talk to here think that the national bank exchange rate very much over-values the kwacha. They argue that the kwacha should be devalued. Even sanctioned forex bureaus here are exchanging for well above th 150ish kwacha to the USD bank rate. I suppose I agree that the banks should be allowed to float the kwacha more but I'm not really sure that it would solve much. It would seem to me that there are structural reasons why the kwacha is depreciating that will not change whether or not the government officials recognizes this or not. Devaluing the kwacha would certainly help me in the short term but I've not heard any case why its a good idea for Malawi overall. Again if anyone could enlighten me on this subject I would love it hear it.
Otherwise its Easter holiday weekend and here at Kande Beach that means lots of local city-folk flocking here to the countryside for a little breather. The Malawian middle-classes are growing, intelligent, and increasingly populated by black Malawians. This is very healthy. We are situated next to a lodge that caters for all budgets so its a great place to see all sorts of people. Yesterday afternoon I had a great conversation with a Zimbabwean lady who spent over a decade in the States and now teaches German back in Harare. Last week I spoke with a Malawian travel agent about the rapidity with which some Chinese in Malawi are picking up ChiChewa. And just last night I spoke with a British ex-overland truck driver who now works in the construction business in Tanzania.
There are benefits to living out here...


Monday, April 18, 2011

Showing off and the urge to survive

This is a picture of a cichlid mating area. These depressions in the sandy lake floor are made, and protected, by various species of male cichlids during their breeding seasons. They can be over a meter in diameter and perhaps 30cms deep. Considering that the average size of a cichlid is around 10 cms these circular depressions are quite a feat. Apparently they are used by male cichlids to attract, court, and then mate with their fairer counterparts. Many male cichlids also have brillant "breeding colors" during this time of year. Scientists tell us that these kinds of displays and activities are linked to the universal urge in animals to procreate and thereby ensure the survival of their genetic heritage. I pretty much buy this but its a very unsatisfying explaination. It leaves me with too many unanswered questions. Why do female cichlids apparently like meter-wide depressions? Why circles and instead of squares or rhomboids even? Why is this or that particular color pattern attractive and how did it come about? Did the fish somehow choose it (unlikely?) and if not how did it evolve? How do the males decide how big to make their depressions? Is bigger better? Or are shape and depth just as important? Do they learn to make these holes or is it just instinct?
Upon reflection, considering how tenuous the cause-effect connection is between these bizarre so-called "breeding" rituals and displays and the the will to survive, its suprising how easily most of us are actually convinced that their is one.
I mean really, how much intuituve sense does it make that small male fish dig big holes in the ground because female fish think its sexy? Not much really. But then, absent a a better explaination, I, and probably you too, do think that.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Chimbenje, a foxy cichlid.

Amongst the over 1000 cichlids that populate Lake Malawi's depths one of my favorites is the Chimbenje (Fossiochromis rostratus). In the local language here Chimbenje means "fox." This cichlid has earned that name by being particularly good at avoiding fishermen's nets. The chimbenje generally like to hang out in the shallow, sandy, near shore waters of the lake. They are one of the first cichlids that I was able to identify simply because they are so easily accessible. If you are walking through the water they tend to follow behind you in a small pack because as you walk you are digging up the detritus that they eat. This should mean that they are also very vulnerable to a fishermen's seine net which is simply dragged along the lake floor in shallow water, picking up whatever is too slow to avoid it. However the Chimbenje have learned to actually burrow themselves temporarily into the sand in order to avoid these indiscriminate and deadly nets and thus have earned foxy title. In the picture the blue fella is the fella and the white one is the gal.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

We're Residents!

Well we've been hanging out in Malawi for the past few months learning about the Lake, the dive business, and getting to know our neighbors but until just yesterday our business residence permit had not come through. Well now it has and Joy and I are ecstatic. We still have a lot of things to do, opening bank accounts, registering with the tax man, buying insurance, and getting our new flash website up and running which, by the way will be located at
This morning we are off to pick up a couple of divers from the nearby Makuzi resort which is nestled in a beautiful little sheltered bay on the lake shore. Yesterday we had a great visit with our friends Johnny and Adela (sorry if I misspell that one) and their newborn little boy Daniel over at their beautiful horse farm ( just up the road. We haven't taken a ride ourselves yet but its definately on the "things to do" list. All in all Malawi has treated us very well so far. I've been a little remiss in posting up here but that will change.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Internet is up.

So we've finally managed to get some internet up here onto our laptops. Its not lightning speed but it works. No more needing to update via my phone. I'll also be able to keep up on the news a bit better so expect more frequent postings.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NGOs in Malawi: part 1

So I took the director of an NGO diving the other day. His
organization has operations in several countries but he said that
working in Malawi is the worst. When I asked why he said there was
simply "no follow through." . In the late 90s he had actually pulled
out of Malawi but had decided to return in the early 2000s. This NGO
does mostly agricultural development projects that are, crudely
speaking, pro-compost and anti-Monsanto. He called the Malawian
government's food subsidy program "dangerous."
I've already talked about my thoughts on that particular program. In
this post I'm more interested in why many NGOs in Malawi are
frustrated these days. For this director is not the only one
experiencing difficulties. Last month many Aid agencies started
cutting their funding to Malawi because they too are frustrated.
In a series of posts . I will try to talk about some of the possible
causes, and my opinion of their likelihood, for this frustration
ranging roughly from "its their own fault" to "its Malawi's fault."
and finally to "its nobody's fault.

Friday, March 11, 2011


So I bought a refrigerator in Lilongwe at Game. I was happy to see
that they could deliver it. They said it would take two or three days,
maximum a week. Its now been close to two weeks and still no
refrigerator. So I called up Game. After several callbacks I learned
that it is in Mzuzu but the delivery truck is broken. So I ask when I
will recieve my refrigerator. The lady working for the delivery
company proceeds to go into a long explaination about why the truck is
broken but assures me my refrigerator will arrive the following day.
It doesn't.
This is of course frustrating but also interesting, maybe, culturally.
From my (Western) point of view explainations as to why I have not
recieved my refrigerator which do not include a specific ( and
believeable)date when I can expect to recieve it are not comforting,
and indeed decrease my confidence in the company's competence.
But perhaps from a Malawian perspective explainations and appealing to
reason, rather than fulfilling obligations is seen as more important.
Certainly my impatience with hearing such explainations was not
recieved well by the lady on the other end of the phone.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mwana palibe

In "The Nation" newspaper here in Malawi today there is an interesting
article about a cultural belief held by some in Malawi called mwana
palibe. According to the article couples who follow mwana palibe
should not have sex during the day if their children are not at home
nor should they have sex at night unless all their children are asleep
at home. If they do have sex outside of these times, then it is
believed that their children will become violently ill.
I'd like an anthropologist to explain this one to me.
On the other hand, publications do a disservice both to Africans and
their readers when they highlight the exotic or "wierd" aspects of
African cultures above those aspects that are more mundane and
therefore common to all cultures. The most common reaction to Africa
that I hear from travelers coming through our little home on the lake
is not how wierd and unfamliar it is but how accessible and "normal"
everything is. The point is not that difference is bad but that it is
usually exagerrated and that we should be suspicious of the reasons

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Recipe for a perfect beach braai (barbeque)

1. Soak one toilet paper roll in gasoline.
2. Build a log cabin of sticks around tp roll.
3. Build teepee of larger pieces of wood over log cabin.
4. Ignite with match. Important: drop match onto tp roll from a good height.
5. "fan" the flames with a scuba cylinder until your fire resembles hell.
6. Sit back and enjoy with cold beer.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Subsidizing agriculture in Malawi

Aid Thoughts has a series of interesting posts about Malawi's
agricultural input subsidy program (aisp) inspired by some recent
papers written by Dorward and Chirwa who credit the program with
dramatic increases in agricultural output in Malawi over the last 6-7
years. The posts acknowledge the real achievements of the aisp but are
worried about the economic theory that underpins it and the political
hazards that are inherent to it. They are all worth reading.
Here is my take. First, in a perfect world agricultural subsidies
should not exist. In the real world, however, they do exist everywhere
and I'm not optimistic that anyone has a good plan on how to
reduce/eliminate them globally. Until that plan exists and is
implementable I'm not going to give any country too much guff about
subsidizing their agricultural industries, Malawi included.
Next the Aid Thoughts posts talk about the opportunity costs of the
program and its cost/benefit balance. When we talk about opportunity
costs we are often really talking about values. In this case the
Malawian government has decided that it values domestic food security
very highly, higher perhaps than even some health and education
programs. There is certainly room for debate here but the government's
position is hardly indefensible even if we think they could spread
around the resources a bit more effeciently. As to the cost/benefit
balance of the program, even if we assume it is negative ( which is
not a given), this only reinforces our earlier judgement that in a
perfect world agricultural subsidies shouldn't exist in the first
place. Few such programs whether in Malawi or the U.S. would withstand
most cost/benefit analyses.
And so I think we should muddle through with the aisp, acknowledge
that it is far from perfect but also that it provides some real
benefits, and be hopeful that it can be tweaked to be more efficient
and protected from becoming a purely political pork project.

The Chinese in Malawi part 2

Chinese government activities and the emerging Chinese communities
popping up around them. Particularly when our first hand knowledge of
these Chinese communities is so limited an open mind demands a less
judgemental approach on our part and frankly a more welcoming attitude
to our new expat neighbors.
Second the Western track record over the past couple hundred years in
Africa is pretty dismal. We have very little room to criticize if we
want to avoid rank hypocrisy.
And finally i think we need to be open to the real possibility that if
we truly want Africa to develop economically it might be wise to ask
those people who have been doing much of the economic development in
the past half century for a few pointers China, South Korea, and other
. Asian nations have gone from Africa-like poverty to Western-like
prosperity in a very short period of time. Perhaps they have better
lessons to teach Africa than we are willing to admit?

The Chinese in Malawi

The Chinese government is very active in Malawi. They have built
Malawi's new parliament building. They are building a five star hotel
and a new technical university amongst many other smaller projects.
The Chinese people are also busy moving in. Lilongwe, Blantyre, and
even Mzuzu are full of small and some rather large Chinese-owned shops
selling Chinese-made goods. The new "scramble for Africa" is alive and
well in Malawi to the consternation of the more established European
expat community and even many local Malawians themselves. On the other
hand the Malawian government seems to be allowing this flood of
Chinese immigrants in return for continued Chinese government
assistance with various building and development plans.
Concern over the rise of China is not isolated to Africa of course but
the relative vulnerability, or percieved vulnerability, of many
African countries does seem to heighten the issue.
On the one hand I sympathize with these concerns. As an
environmentalist I am well aware of China's lack of due regard for
environmental issues in their own country and am skeptical whether
African nations will be able to, or even feel the need to, persuade
China to behave more sensitively in Africa.
Furthermore as a still developing state China is very concerned with
the economic well-being of many of its own still desperately poor
people and so is arguably more motivated to exploit Africa's
resources, at whatever cost to Africa, than well-off Western powers
might have been over the past half-century.
Finally China is an authoritarian state largely uninterested in
promoting democracy in its dealings with authoritarian African
On the other hand I am concerned with the West's concern over China's
rising power in Africa for severals reasons.
First and most generally I, as a member of the Malawian expat
community, dislike the knee-jerk tendency that I have noticed in many
African expat communities to deride..... To be cont.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Must read article

"The fate of an African chaebol: Malawi's Press Corporation after
democratisation" by Jan Kees van Donge in The Journal of Modern
African Studies.

Unfortunately i can't link to an open source copy of this article but
it gives a fantastic, if a little dated, history and analysis of
Malawi'sPress Corporation by comparing it to South Korea's (in)famous
chaebol. Clearly written and hugely informative for anyone interested
in Malawi's economic history.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bwana part 2

Suspect that she has probably lost some of their respect. Will my
reluctance to embrace my "bwana-ness" hinder my ability to work
effectively with my employees too? And is it oddly culturally
insensitive of me to expect them to respect me if i refuse to embrace
the status to which they feel respect should be given? I don't know.
And then there is the issue of how much i will be paying my employees.
The amount is quite good by rural malawian standards but by any
western standard it is shockingly low. And yet paying them more is
simply not economically possible. Nor is firing most of them so that i
could significantly increase the salaries of those left over.
Business-wise i would be fine, but malawian law stipulates that i
employee a certain number of locals. Certainly this must be an
instance where something is better than nothing, but that doesn't
change the fact that i am paying my employees a salary which affords
them a material lifestyle that is many, many, many times lower than my
own. Does this make me an asshole? I don't know.

The trouble(s) with being a bwana

So i was buying some kampango (african catfish) this morning on the
beach and the fisherman called me "bwana" which means "boss."he had
several kampango with him but i only wanted to buy one because a. Id
never eaten the fish and wasnt sure id like it and b. Our fridge is
almost full already. In half-jest the fisherman replied "youre a bwana
now, why dont you buy the rest of my fish for your employees?" i
replied that i am not a/their bwana yet. This is technically true
since all the legalities regarding our business havent been finalized.
But the encounter made me uncomfortable. The special status that
whites are accorded in africa has always bothered me. Whether we like
it or not, take advantage of it or not, or are victimized because of
it or not, all white (and likely non-white) foreigners in most parts
africa have to figure out how to deal with being a "bwana" to some
extent or another. After living for a few years in various african
countries i still struggle with this. Now that i am (will shortly be)
a business owner with malawian employees learning how to manage them
effectively and in a way that is sensitive to their cultural and
ethical norms is going to be a challenge. In some ways many of the
african cultures that i have encountered, including malawian, are more
authoritarian and hierarchical than i am comfortable with. I just
finished reading tony wood's article entitled "capitaos and chiefs:
oral tradition and colonial society in malawi." in it he discusses how
the "capitaos," native farm managers on foreign owned estates, were
often remembered to have been more brutal than the actual foreign
owners. Yesterday i spoke with an australian who is volunteer teaching
at a malawian primary school. She remarked how she was uncomfortable
with her students calling her "madame" and how she had convinced them
to call her by her first name instead. I sympathized with this but at
the same time wonder how much her students understand why a "bwana"
would insist on being so informal with them be cont.

Malaria sucks, but im kicking its ass.

I was (and do forgive me for not capitalizing my "i"s i havent quite
figured out how to type properly on my phone) quite lucky in that
afters years in africa i never caught malaria. Well that luck ended
last week. The bastard sucker punched my liver pretty hard. But i
swung back early with some coartem 20/120 and after a few days of
duking (how do you spell that one?) it out im happy to say im well on
my way to recovery. My advice; if you are just visiting africa, take
the preventitive pills. Find the one that works for you. There are a
bunch of them. But if your going to be living here its probably not
worth the hassle. Just monitor yourself and when you get it, medicate
hard and fast.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


So one of the few downsides to living on the shores of lake malawi is
poor internet connectivity. But ive managed to get my cellphone hooked
up, sort of. So for the time being ill be posting through it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Making Babies, cichlid style

This is from Ad Konings' invaluable book "Malawi Cichlids in their natural habitat." These little fellows are kinky.
" In species where the eggs are fertilized inside the female's mouth the sequence is different. At first the male leads the female to the actual spawning site and, once arrived, positions himself in front of and at right angles to her. He then lowers his body and presses his anal fin against the substrate. Quivering of the fins (especially the anal) accompanies this posture. While the male discharges sperm (which is sometimes visible (e.g. in Copadichromis borleyi) the female mouths the crease between his anal fin and his body, thus picking up sperm before she has deposited a single egg.
Next, while the female remains in position, the male turns around and nudges her anal region (or caudal peduncle), coaxing her to start circling around. After one or two rounds the female slows down and deposits some eggs."
I'm going to try to use the phrase "caudal peduncle" at least five times today.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

At the beach and in the news

Well we have arrived at our new home Kande Beach Malawi. We've been slowly settling in over the past week and I've gotten Joy into the water for her Open Water Diving Course. It is beautiful here. The frequent but short-lived rains are cooling and invigorating and the calm clear waters of Lake Malawi just seconds from our doorstep are always warm and welcoming. We have found a real gem here in the Warm Heart of Africa and I invite all my readers to join me here, at least for a little while. There is so much to discover and experience and we ourselves are just starting that adventure. We have spoken before on this blog about our intention to start a volunteer-powered research center here on the lake and that goal is still alive. Check our the Maru Institute for more details on it. But for now we are going to concentrate on settling ourselves into the Kande community, making sure the diving end of our adventure is operating smoothly and that we have gone through all the neccesary legalities.

This morning we went for a dive at Kande Island and saw a beautiful array of cichlids. Out further we dug our hands into the golden sandy lake floor and could feel the heat of thermal springs bubbling just below.

Last night we had the chance to meet chief of this area and one of the so-called T/As, Traditional Authorities, of Malawi. He was calm, welcoming, and dignified gentleman with whom we hope to have many more conversations.

In the news Malawi has just recieved 350 million USD from the the US government to upgrade its eletricity network and power plants. The bulk of this money will go towards fixing up Malawi's only hydropower plant at the southern end of Lake Malawi. There is also real interest, and tenative plans, to start building a coal burning power plant in the country. For most of its history, colonial and otherwise, Malawi has been considered a mineral-poor country. Agriculture rather than mining has been its chief economic concern. However with the opening of a uranium plant a couple years ago and with the continued coal mining in the north of the country many Malawians are hopeful that more minerals can be found under their fertile soils.