I knew Mai a Ganizani around 1987. Every time I travelled from Lilongwe to Blantyre and back, the favourite stopping place to buy vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes was Mapira village. This is the market situated after Lizulu as you drive from Lilongwe to Blantyre. After I bought my first car in 1990, I started visiting Mapila village quite often and introduced my family to Mai a Ganizani. She was my “customer” and I was her “customer”. Ganizani was probably less than a year old. Mai a Ganizani even arranged for us a nanny called Dorothy who cared for our daughter Vinjeru before she returned to Mapila village.
Shopping at Mapila village was basic. Products were laid on papers, plastics, leaves, mats, baskets or in basins. Cars would pull by and the sellers (majority are women) would recognize their “customer” and unless you were new, they would either let you go to your “customer” (vendor) or they would in unison call out like, “ Amai a Ganizani, a customer anu abwela”. (Mother of Ganizani, your client is here) Between 1990 and 2001, I was a regular visitor of the market in Mapila village. It’s amazing that I never ever saw a water-tap, toilet, shade, storage place, shelves or market structures. This was a market of “Dog eat Dog”. Despite Principal Secretaries, Ministers, Chief Executives, (me included as I was CEO for MIPA), donors, Members of Parliament and senior officials planning Malawi’s development always shopped at the market; there was no one who cared or noticed as to whether women in Mapila village were moving up the development ladder. No one noticed the lack of infrastructure or the potential that existed to upgrade these women (and sellers) and the community of Mapila village
22 years later, (January 2013) I visited the market at Mapila village. What has changed is that Mai a Ganizani has lost all her teeth, Ganizani is married and has kids, Dorothy has 2 kids, Ganizani and his 5 siblings are all in the same vending business selling vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes at the same market, Dorothy sells Chinese cabbage and “mpilu” at the same market. I remember in 2005, Dorothy had the same yellow basin selling Mpilu at the market. I wished I had bought the mpilu and the basin. When I arrived at the market on January 2, Mai a Ganizani pleaded with me, “A Mkandawire, chonde mukandigulira mano, tawonani mano onse anapita”. (Mr. Mkandawire, please go buy me new teeth. See I lost all my teeth).
What has not changed is that the women sell the same, type, quality, quantities of vegetables, from same size of baskets. They sell their products on the dusty or muddy ground. There are no shelves, no shades, no toilets, no storage space, and no cooler rooms. Twenty years ago, Mai a Ganizani was selling one basket of tomatoes in 2-3 weeks. She sells same amount if not less. In other words, twenty years later, these are still subsistence vendors. I asked the women whether their Member of Parliament has ever visited. “Yes, during campaign”, they said. I would be surprised if the market at Mapila village has ever been on the MP’s agenda.
My view is that the market (and the women) at Mapila village needs support. The women in Mapila village work hard and they have potential to supply their organic vegetables and beautiful tomatoes to the middle class and supermarkets in Lilongwe. They need to be supported by being organized into a co-operative and assisted with infrastructure and access to markets. Given an opportunity, within 6 months I can turn Mapila village market into an admirable market worthy stopping and shopping and more importantly turn these women entrepreneurs into a force to reckon with in supply of vegetables. Women in Mapila village, like women at Jenda, Njuli, Bwengu, Zalewa/Mwanza junction don’t need hand-outs. They need support to make them viable. This is why we elect politicians – But as we have discovered, not in Malawi.
Who will take on this challenge?