Below is Linda’s column for last week’s East Kilbride News
Scotland’s links with Malawi go way back to David Livingstone’s journeys from Blantyre to Lake Malawi in the mid-19th Century; the establishment of Church of Scotland mission; the Scottish campaign to maintain Nyasaland as a nation independent from ‘the Rhodesias’ leading to the formation of Malawi in 1964.
The Scotland Malawi Partnership (www.scotland-malawipartnership.org) calculates that today around 94,000 Scots are actively involved in a civic link with Malawi, with more than £40m a year being contributed by Scottish civic society for the benefit of more than 4 million Malawians and 300,000 Scots a year! There are school-twinnings, church-twinnings, University and business partnerships. Our own Parliament participates in an ongoing programme of support for Malawian parliamentarians and Civil Servants.
It’s not always easy; Malawi has had political issues historically, and there continue to be serious governance challenges in that region of East Africa. The most recent challenge was alleged corruption within the Malawi Government regarding the purchase of maize in 2016. It’s important to note that there is no evidence that any funds from Scotland were misused – Scotland generally funds direct to communities and projects rather than through the Government of Malawi. I am pleased that the President and the Parliament of Malawi ordered an immediate inquiry and criminal investigations are ongoing.
I am even more pleased that during 2016 when 6.5 million Malawians were facing imminent severe food shortages, the worst of the crisis was averted with no major loss of life. This was in part thanks to international efforts, including from Scotland. There are volunteers in East Kilbride, for example, who have worked tirelessly over the years to improve nutrition and education in the country.
On a more positive note, there was an excellent initiative recently, showcased in our Parliament, encouraging us all to ‘Buy Malawian’. Malawi operates a trade-deficit, importing more than it exports. The Scotland Malawi Partnership is keen to help build markets for Malawian exports to support livelihoods. Those involved in the Fair Trade movement in East Kilbride will know that tea, coffee and rice have long been exported from Malawi. There is a new initiative though – Fruit Wine! And, a fascinating Malawi/Scotland story.
When Rev Tom Colvin, an engineer and missionary from Glasgow took up the position as Chaplain of the new University of Malawi in 1965, he shared his passion for fruit wine making with Timothy Ngwira, a student of Chemistry and Biology. Timothy then married Margaret Gunn from Lennoxtown and the Ngwiras started wine making. After 40 years of hand-crafting fruit wine, Linga Wine is now exporting to Scotland!
Now it’s confession time – I’ve just found out that I have been written about in the Nyasa Times. No, not for any great political insight, or any academic treatise into the economic development of Malawi, but because I won the wine-tasting contest in the Scottish Parliament! There was a blind-tasting competition, trying to identify the fruit behind the wines. We had a video connection between Edinburgh and Llilongwe, with Timothy and Margaret Ngwira talking us through the tasting experience. Fascinating to note that all these years down the line, Margaret still sounds as if she’s just left Lennoxtown.
So, fame at last for me, and an initiative to help Malawi which I hope will be a big success. For those who haven’t been to the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre – well worth a visit to learn more about the history of the partnership between Scotland and Malawi.