Yesterday a group of Kusamala staff and interns went to USAID’s Feed the Future kick off party. The main attraction for most of us was the anticipation of seeing President Joyce Banda, one of only two African heads of state. As close neighbors of the statehouse, we were also hoping to invite her for a tour of the centre.
We walked into a sea of bright green chitenges (Marie’s husband Matt designed them for USAID). There were custom shirts for the men, dresses for the women and table clothes for the agrobusinesses lining the red carpet, specially laid out for the president. Unfortunately we arrived too late to obtain our own souvenir chitenge.
At first, we were told not to step on the red carpet as it was for President Banda’s feet only. With slight trepidation Pierre was the first of us on the carpet, luckily with no negative repercussions. As we wandered down the line of booths we noticed a common theme: large multinational corporations, large Malawian corporations and very little representation from NGO’s or environmental groups. They must have misplaced Kusamala’s invitation, an unfortunate oversight.
Slowly people started to file into seats. President Banda’s People’s Party ladies were seated front and center, sporting custom-made orange and purple dresses. They would periodically enter into song and dance. When they lined up near the booths we all anticipated President Banda’s arrival, we would have wait awhile for our first glimpse.
It was worth the wait. She was head to toe in the green chitenge – yes, Matt designed the president’s dress. Awesome.
She slowly made her way down the red carpet to talk to each booth (this would have been our chance to befriend our neighbor!) and then finally made it to the stage, just in time for the event’s scheduled end time (11am). It would eventually run 2 ½ hours late.
Per tradition, we started with a prayer and words from the Traditional Authority. Moving on, we heard speeches from the Agriculture Minister, the Chief Economist of USAID, the US Ambassador, and finally President Banda herself. She first gave a short speech in English on how the US government had impacted her life and moved on to a more politically energized speech in her native language, Chichewa. Periodically different parts of the crowd would start into song and President Banda would have to wait to continue her speech.
Eventually, as the roar from our collective stomachs started to compete with the singing, President Banda stepped down from the stage and joined the women in a traditional dance. When is the last time you saw your President bust a move?! All in all it was a long but interesting day.