A quiet moment at the end of the day on one of Lilongwe’s (the capital of Malawi) main drags. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
We here at Streetsblog have been known to complain about the state of Los Angeles’ transportation infrastructure from time to time.
And while it is true that we do have a ways to go in making the streets more hospitable to those that do not travel by private automobile, I am often reminded that we’ve got it pretty good here, comparatively speaking.
In my previous life as an academic, I spent quite a bit of time traveling in remote areas of developing countries where the obstacles to mobility also constituted major obstacles to economic development, growth, and pretty much everything else you can think of — health, education, communication, relationships, proper governance, and access to resources.
Nowhere did this seem clearer to me than in Malawi, also known (deservedly so) as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” an East African nation of about 16 million people.
While Malawi is a recipient of significant amounts of aid, donors prefer not to fund infrastructure projects, seeing them as opening the door to corruption (if funds go through government agencies) and cultivating dependence, among other things. So, paved roads — limited even within the capital — are scarce in rural areas. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
During the three summers I spent doing research on international development aid organizations there, I did my best to travel as the locals did. Which meant that I spent a great deal of time on foot.
I made the choice, in part, because my research budget was quite small, private transport could be exorbitantly expensive, and “public” transit was not always reliable.
Petrol was in extremely short supply (and expensive) during my last visit. People hoping to feed vehicles and generators lost entire days waiting at stations for fuel that often never arrived. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
This was especially true when I was last there, in 2011, and petrol was in extremely short supply.
The shortage hit the economy hard. People lost entire days waiting at filling stations, hoping rumors about the arrival of fuel shipments would not prove baseless. And it slowed agricultural production by causing a decrease in the distribution of fertilizer (via the government subsidy program) and limiting the ability of farmers to get products to markets or mill their maize.
It also sent transportation prices through the roof — a 10-minute taxi ride across town could cost more than 2,000 Malawi Kwacha (about $5, or almost a week and a half’s pay at minimum wage, for a Malawian). And it drastically reduced the ability of people to access transit, as minibuses — the privately-owned vans that serve as public transportation — struggled to keep their vehicles topped off with fuel and on normal schedules.
Privately operated minibuses, serving as de facto public transit, wait for the end-of-the-day rush in the capital. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
A trip into the capital from an outlying district that normally took an hour and a half now took several hours.
If you were lucky. Read more…