In this episode of “Jamaicans to the World”, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy speaks with speaks with Lincoln Bailey. He is a Jamaican living in Malawi.
Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican living in Malawi? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, and
today I’m talking to Lincoln, who is a Jamaican living in Malawi. Lincoln, good afternoon, how are you, my friend?
Lincoln: Good evening, Xavier. I’m very fine, thank you.
Xavier: Good, good.
Lincoln: We’re seven hours ahead of you.
Xavier: Yes, yes, yes, we’re seven hours ahead. Not too bad, you know, I’ve had some interviews where folks are like twenty-two hours and that can be very interesting.
Lincoln: Yes, indeed.
Xavier: What part of Jamaica you’re from?
Lincoln: I was born in Saint Thomas.
Lincoln: In a small village called Mount Lebanus near Trinityville, but I’ve got family all over the area as far as Morant Bay, Seaforth that kind of thing. So I was born in Mount Lebanus, right on the foothills of the Blue Mountain.
Xavier: Excellent, excellent and now Malawi. Had you ever heard of it while you were in
Lincoln: No, okay let me take you back. I left Jamaica at the age of nine (9) to go to UK (United Kingdom). Even UK, it was some distance thing where my parents were, but Africa was not on my radar at all and I knew nothing about Malawi.
Xavier: How did you. Tell us the story of how you get there?
Lincoln: I usually tell my friends that I took a British Airways and unfortunately it was the
last flight and I missed the return journey, but that’s not really. I’ve been in Africa for 40 years. I left the UK after university in 1979. I went to Kenya, where I went to visit my girlfriend, who I met at university, a Kenyan girl and low and behold, it was just a mind blowing experience, it’s fantastic and it was December ’79, just over Christmas. After Christmas, I wanted to return to UK and a friend of mine who I’d studied at university with; a Kenyan guy. Why don’t you stay, go and see the Chief Economist and see what happens. I made an appointment, I went to see the Chief Economist and I was with this guy for about two hours talking. At the end of it, he says, “I want to offer you a job”. Oh, I said I was quite surprised. He offered me a job in a new ministry, which the government of Kenya was about to set up; the Ministry of Energy. So I joined the Ministry of Energy right at the start, and I was one of the guys who set it up and I wrote, in fact, the Kenyan government trained me in energy. I’ve got a Masters in Economics, but I didn’t really specialize in energy. They sent me off to short courses in the US (United States of America) and in Europe, along with my Kenyan colleagues and I became an Energy Economist. I wrote Kenya’s first energy policy and I worked for the government of Kenya as a civil servant, by the way, until 1984 where I joined the World Bank as an Energy Economist. I still worked in Kenya and Tanzania and a bit in Uganda and then before the bank sent me off to Botswana to be the Energy Adviser to the government of Botswana, where I stayed for four years. But in that time, I also worked, did short consultancies throughout Africa and Asia. I worked in Vietnam, Thailand, Liberia, Ghana, Ethiopia, all over the place, which was really, really good.
Xavier: You have travelled quite a bit.
Lincoln: Yes, yes, indeed. And then I came to Malawi in 1992 as Energy Adviser to the government of Malawi and I did that project up to 1994, where I was supposed to go on to Uzbekistan to do something similar, but by that time I got fed up and tired of travelling. I decided Malawi, the people are very friendly, very poor and I think I would like to make Malawi my home. I’ve stayed there ever since and I went private sector and I am an established businessman in the Malawi private sector. I’m into coal mining.
Lincoln: I own a large coal mine here, I supply coal to Malawi industry. The main industry in Malawi is tobacco, we grow a lot of tobacco and my coal is used to cure the tobacco. I supply coal to the cement industry, poultry, anybody who want to read steam use my coal. I owned, I started an insurance broking firm twenty-four years ago. It became one of the largest and I’ve handed it over to the staff as a means of empowering them. My big project now, is I’m working on a 100-megawatt coal fired power plant. It’s been difficult to raise capital from the normal Western Financial Institutions. I’ve been working very closely with the China Eximbank, Sinohydro is my EPC contractor. I’ve got POWERCHINA to make an equity investment in the project. The idea is first phase is to deliver 100 megawatts into the grid to boost power, base load power in Malawi, which is a big problem. Recently, this new government, the president has appointed me to the board of the Malawi Revenue Authority.
Lincoln: I sit on the board of Malawi Revenue Authority. Can you imagine a Jamaican, so that must say something.
Lincoln: Okay, and then last week the High Commissioner, The Jamaica High Commissioner in Pretoria sent me a note to say that the government of Jamaica has seen it fit to offer me the position of Honorary Consul in Malawi, which again is very good.
Xavier: The people, you talked a little bit about the people. You said they are poor, you also said they are very nice, they are very friendly. What are some of the customs there that you absolutely like, about the people? What are some of their customs and some of the things they do that really are, is welcoming?
Lincoln: Okay, let me qualify what I’m saying, Malawi is a poor country, it’s probably ranked the fourth poorest in the world. But living here, it’s difficult to actually see that and why Malawi should be at that position is it can do far, far better. The last 24 years, in fact prior to 1994, we had it was a single-party rule under Kamuzu Banda for close to 30 years. And then we had a new dispensation in 1994 with democracy, liberal democracy, multiparty democracy. But in many ways, one can say multiparty democracy failed Malawi because what we saw and is actually in was lots of corruption and mismanagement of the economy. That really caused that problem. But Malawians are very friendly people, incredibly welcoming. From day one, in fact one of the reasons why I took the job is because Malawians are very, very welcoming people. I feel much at home here. I feel like I’m amongst my people.
Xavier: [laughs] What do they think a (of) Jamaicans, well, I’m from originally from Jamaica. What do they think?
Lincoln: You know, Jamaica as a small island, it punches above its weight. In terms of our culture, our music, it has pervade the world and in Africa in particular. Post-independence Africa, our reggae music, our culture, the youth have taken it up. And Jamaica and Jamaicans are held in very high esteem and when I go through this country, I always show my passport and I’m always very welcomed and Malawians think highly of Jamaicans.
Xavier: That is great to hear. Food; tell us a little bit about the food there. What’s the food like in comparison, don’t want to compare, but what’s the food like?
Lincoln: Okay, Malawians, and in most of this part of Africa, the staple is maize or corn, cornmeal and it’s a white maize meal. Where people eat it with what they call relish, which is would be a vegetable sort of or some fish. In fact, fish is the main animal protein in Malawi because we got a very large lake. A lake that is larger than the whole of Jamaica. It’s a beautiful lake, from that lake Malawians harvest fish, which they dry. There’s a small Kapenta fish, which it’s a very popular which they eat with the maize meal, on a daily basis. I think, what’s her name, Denise?
Lincoln: Clarke from Zambia.
Xavier: Yes, so we…
Lincoln: She talked about the exotic foods that people eat here and things
Lincoln: She talked about people eating mice, these are field mice and Malawians catch them after they harvested the maize because those mice, they were the ones that eat the maize. So when they’re clearing and doing land preparation, they burn the ground and the mice run out, they kill them and then they boil them and put them on skewers like kebabs and they sell them by the roadside. Now, let me tell you a funny story. Back in 2003, there was a drought in Malawi and it was a severe drought. So the BBC came down, send some guys down to do an interview, look at the situation here. So they landed at Lilongwe Airport and they were driving to town and by the roadside, these guys were selling these field mice on skewers. So they stopped and asked, what is this? The driver told them they are mice. That evening on the BBC and the announcement was, “Things are so desperate in Malawi that people have resorted to eating mice.” I laughed not knowing that those things are delicacies. They also catch these little birds as well, tiny things. They’re also delicacies. But there are other things like cassava.
Xavier: Yam, is there any yam, is there any yam?
Lincoln: And potatoes, yams are here, but it’s not very popular. You find it in certain places like in the South, but the varieties are not the same as Jamaica. But what I’ve managed to do myself is I managed to bring some seeds, yam seeds from Jamaica and I plant them on my farm.
Xavier: What type of seeds you brought was it yellow yam or white yam. Which type of yam?
Lincoln: Both, yellow and white and they grow pretty well here. On my farm, I also grow Ackees. I live in Malawi, so I got to make this my home. I have lots of goats, I keep goats, I keep sheep, I grow yams, I got Ackees. The only thing I don’t have yet is the breadfruit, but it’s next door in Tanzania and a Jamaican lady living there and I’ve asked her to send me some suckers, so I really like to plant them, because I’m sure they’re grow very well here.
Xavier: It sounds like the place to be Lincoln is your farm because you have goat, we can have the curry goat, the manish water, the yellow yam, the ackee [laughs].
Lincoln: Yeah, indeed. I eat my Jamaican food very regularly, and what I do is when I have a lunch at my home I invite my friends. We live in an international community here and I’ve developed my culinary skills, I’m pretty good in the kitchen. Man I make some wicked curry goat, other things, rice and peas, everything man and they enjoy it.
Xavier: Working and getting there to have a visa and to work in the country. Is it a difficult process, a long process? If a Jamaican was thinking of coming there, is it very bureaucratic? What is it like?
Lincoln: Jamaicans do not require a visa to come to Malawi.
Lincoln: You don’t need a visa to go to Zimbabwe, Kenya, any of these Southern African Commonwealth countries, it’s visa free for you including South Africa. These are countries that I travel very frequently, and visa is the last thing on my mind. I just show my passport and I enter.
Xavier: That’s great.
Lincoln: Yeah, the thing I would say is that traditionally Jamaicans and the Caribbean people as a whole, used to look for North America and UK as a place to go. But as we’ve seen over recent times and it’s really been exposed by this present administration in the US (United State of America). US is not a very safe place for people of dark skin. It shows the judicial system, police, it’s just. The whole thing is racism is institutionalized there and accepted and you’re really treated as second class citizen. But I would say if you got skills, if you’re looking for opportunities, you need to look for Africa. Unfortunately, what has happened through colonial times is that from 1884 when the Berlin conference, the colonial powers divided up Africa into Interstates. Some of them really uneconomical and unviable, and it was done deliberately and for the Caribbean people, the connection with Africa was severed. You look to Britain as the mother country, no it’s not. I would say to Jamaicans, if you’ve got skills and you’re looking for opportunity, look to Africa and one of the countries, I would say you can, you would be more than welcome, come to Malawi. And one of the things I would like, we need to establish direct air travel links between the Caribbean countries, Jamaica and Africa and again, as a colonial legacy. When I do consultancy throughout Africa, you know go to countries like Senegal, up until recently or Mali. There were no direct connections between these countries. You had to go fly to Europe and then from Europe, you fly down to those countries.
Xavier: Oh wow.
Lincoln: And that’s the legacy of colonialism, internal ground travel. We don’t have many real connections between countries and it’s deliberate. So these are things the African Union and Diaspora need to work on to bring closer linkage within Africa and Africans living in their diaspora.
Xavier: It’s so true.
Lincoln: In terms of trade, there is great trade possibilities and we must make that closer connection, Jamaica with African countries like Malawi.
Xavier: True, you know, I had a friend that was from the continent and said one of the biggest things was, you know, you had to travel north to come back south in some cases because there was no direct flights. And then they were happy when, you know, I don’t remember what airline it was, what country, when there was a direct flight and they were like they were just extremely happy because now the connections are starting to form and you know, those flights in between are starting to come together. So that’s just great, you know.
Lincoln: Yeah, now we’re very happy because Ethiopian Airlines, they are making Africa their home and you can through Addis you can fly to many places in West Africa. Kenya again, Kenya Airways is also trying that. South African Airways was, but they seem to be having some issues now with this Covid and their survival is a threat. But we need to increase the air linkages across Africa, the road linkages and trade.
Lincoln: Within Africa itself and between Africa and the Caribbean.
Xavier: True, true. So what, if someone was visiting not to live, but just to visit, what would you say is one of the things that they must come and see? It could be the lake, you know, it could be something that you’d say you’d enjoy this.
Lincoln: Yeah, Malawi is part of the Great African Rift Valley and within the Great Rift Valley, we have many lakes and Malawi. Lake Malawi is the southern-most and it is one of the smaller ones, but it’s extremely pristine, it’s beautiful, and that is a must and in many ways you’ll think you’re in the Caribbean. White sandy beaches, palms, everything is there but it’s just a beautiful body of water.
Xavier: Great, will be sure to include the beaches.
Lincoln: And again and again you see Jamaicans, we are big in tourism. We have expertise and skills in that.
Lincoln: The lake has potential for tourism development. So we can have Jamaicans coming in and investing in hotels and resorts along the lake and the government here would be more than welcome. You bring the investment into Malawi, you’ll get residence permits, no problem.
Xavier: Your family, do you have family there? Do you have family that come and visit? Tell us a little bit about the family dynamic.
Lincoln: Okay, my spouse, she’s Kenyan.
Lincoln: Because of this Covid situation, she’s been stuck in Kenya.
Xavier: I see.
Lincoln: My son is an Engineer. He works in London for one of the rail companies, as a Project Manager. My daughter, she followed me. She’s an Economist; she works for one of the big European consultancy company. They do, execute projects for the European Union and DFID from the British government. In fact, because of Covid, she was managing a project in the eastern Caribbean, but she had to return to Holland when this pandemic broke out. So I’m not sure when she will return to that part of the world or whether the project itself will continue. But she is based in home office in Holland.
Lincoln: I have two kids; I have a son and I have a daughter. They love to come out to Malawi. I’m currently in Malawi on my own, my family is spread all over the place.
Lincoln: We utilize Zoom regularly to communicate. but at the same time my extended family, they’re mainly in the UK.
Lincoln: My brothers, my sisters, they all love to come out to Africa because they have great experience out here.
Lincoln: I have very strong connections with Kenya where my wife comes from and where I started my Africa journey.
Xavier: I see.
Lincoln: Fantastic game parks, fantastic, absolutely beautiful and breath-taking. Jamaicans you need to get on a plane and go and visit those places.
Xavier: Oh, you make me want to get out there. You make me want to come out there. Language; in terms of language, what’s the language spoken?
Lincoln: Okay, the official language, again, because colonial legacy is English, but, the main local language spoken is Chichewa. Most Malawians…
Lincoln: Chichewa, yes.
Lincoln: The language most spoken by Malawians, but at the same time we have many other regional languages in the country. You have smaller groups speaking different, Tumbuka and other things, but for me, and it’s a sore point, because Malawians, the people I deal with on a daily basis all speak English, is very little incentive for me to learn Chichewa. But it’s something I need to, all these years I’ve not done, but I need to do it.
Xavier: [laughs] But I’m sure, I’m sure you’ve picked up a few of the Chichewa terms.
Lincoln: Chichewa, yeah.
Lincoln: Yes, yes. I did a bit of Chichewa, a bit of Swahili, these two countries where as I said I have very strong connection.
Xavier: I now know you are the person that, if a Jamaican is looking to come over there to Malawi, they need to make sure they know who you are because it sounds like you are doing great things. You’re a mover and shaker there, empowering the people as you said. That was incredible that you built this company up and then turned it over to the employees, as you said, empowered them to move forward.
Lincoln: Yeah, development is what I’m about. I live in Malawi, and I would like, my aim is to work with Malawians to bring this country up to medium income level. It is very possible, but unfortunately, I said past regimes have been focused on other things rather than bringing the, developing the economy. So, I am an Economist, I’ve been in the development field for a very long time and where I can make a contribution, I’ll make that contribution towards development because this is where I live. I would like to make sure the lights are on all the time, that people have jobs and the economy is growing.
Xavier: Great, great.
Lincoln: It benefits everybody.
Xavier: That’s excellent and the power plant. What’s your projected ETA based on where you are to get that online?
Lincoln: Okay, I’m now in the process of about to negotiate the power purchase agreement with the power company, the single buyer. Once I’ve completed that and we’ve agreed on the tariffs, then financial close on that project will be six months thereafter and then from the time we break ground to commissioning is 24 months. we’re looking at 2022 to get that project up and running.
Xavier: Okay. Well listen, you provided some great information on the country and some and of the great things you’re doing there, really appreciate the time. Any final thoughts, any closing words for the audience?
Lincoln: My thoughts that Jamaicans need to not just romanticize about Africa, but look at engaging with Africa. There are business opportunities here, there are opportunities to link and grow together. Not just in the diaspora, but diaspora and Africa, growing together, integrated. Jamaica need to, talking about coming back to Africa is you’ve got skills, this continent needs those skills and you bring them, you bring your investments and you will profit.
Lincoln: That’s what I have to say.
Xavier: Lincoln, thanks again for joining, again you have opened our eyes up to the possibilities and opportunities. Thanks again for joining and we will be in touch, all right.