A friend and I were facebooking when he said he was off to watch Barcelona. I thought I had an idea what he meant but I couldn’t resist asking him whether he planned to watch them in practice. Otherwise how was he going to watch Barcelona without watching United at the same time.

Incidentally, I need not have asked. As Jose Mourihno would say, I too saw only Barcelona. Where was Machester United, the pre-match favourite? I know the Mancunians were there somewhere on the pitch. It’s just that I couldn’t see them except in the first ten minutes. Those first ten minutes gave me false hopes that I could make it in football punditry. Hopes that were to be rudely punctured as the night wore on.

In those first ten minutes Barcelona couldn’t get out of their half as Christiano Ronaldo and company launched one attack after another. Then came the sucker punch. Out of the blue and totally against the run of play, a dazed Barcelona somehow negotiated its way out of the siege, the ball homed onto Andrés Iniesta’s boots who ventured forward before threading a pass to Samuel Eto’o who in turn charmed his way past Nemanja Vidic, brushed off the attentions of Michael Carrick before nursing a shot past the despairing arms of Van de Saar.

Exit Manchester United. Enter Barcelona.

Iniesta and Xavi Hernàndez, the two puppeteers in midfield,then assumed complete control. The mesmerising feet of Messi waved one magic wand after another that hypnotised the Red Devils into spectating zombies. Almost every silky pass that Barcelona wove homed onto a Barcelona foot, chest or head. All United could do was butterfly from one shadow to another. Thought the ball was here…no there…no, no, there!

So nobody was surprised when Xavi floated a tantalising ball into the box and a height challenged Messi soared into the air, hang there in defiance of the laws of physics, leaned back and with his temple plucked and nodded it into the net. Yes, the same Messi who had never before scored against an English club. What a way to break his duck.

It was game over. There was to be no repeat of 1999 when United came from behind to beat Bayern Munich in the last three minutes.

What went wrong? Had United grown lethargic because eleven days had passed since their last match? Had Alex Ferguson’s over the top praise of the midfield maestros, Iniesta and  Xavi, got to his players? Had the fact that Barcelona was missing several key players and Iniesta and Henry were just returning from injury lulled United into corkiness? Was the weight of history and experience that favoured United make them complacent?  Were Ferguson’s tactics wrong? Did United miss the suspended holding midfielder Darren Fletcher? What went wrong?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.  All I know is that on this particular night Barcelona was just too good for United. I also know that a season that had started with United’s harbouring dreams of a quintuple, was going to close with both the FA Cup and Champions League having eluded their grasp. Their hopes of retaining the Champions League and keeping their record of never losing in a European cup final had been put to the sword.

As for me, Wednesday night made me realise that the confidence that I could make it in football punditry was misplaced. I’m therefore doing the honourable thing, unlike some people I know, and tendering my immediate resignation as a rookie football pundit.

 
 

All those who knew that Bingu would win by a gaping chasm, please raise your hand.

You see what I mean? Everyone rooted in reality knew that John Tembo would be buried by a Bingu avalanche. Except the pundits. Or so they made us believe.


Personally I'm rather skeptical that they didn’t know Tembo had no chance of flooring Bingu. I’m totally convinced they knew but were just too chicken to voice the truth. Not that I blame them.

You see, polls, no matter how scientific, are anathema to Malawian politicians. Remember the criticism that accompanied the polls that predicted that Bingu would win by more than sixty percent? Yet polls are based on facts except, of course, when conducted by a totally biased entity like TVM. So what chance does a pundit’s unscientific opinion have? Whereas a pollster can take cover behind his statistics, a pundit and his opinion are totally exposed to elements of criticisms of bias.

For a change Rome’s Stadio Olimpico will host a contest that’s really too close to call, at least on paper. The teams meeting in the Champions League tonight have locked horns on nine previous occasions producing four draws, three wins for one team and two for the other. Therefore you’ve to be either a very brave man or a fanatical supporter of one of the two teams to willingly predict tonight’s result.  

Manchester United versus Barcelona. Ronaldo versus Messi. A dream final from the sound of it. Incidentally, for these teams it’ll be 1991 all over again. Of course, in this round the stakes are much higher than the Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup they were fighting for then. That night the Red Devils beat Barcelona 2-1. Will they repeat the feat?

I think so. Yes, I know I said the match is too close to call but I don’t remember saying that was my opinion, or did I? In any case, I’m no football analyst, or any other type of analyst for that matter. My reputation isn’t on line here. Thus I’ve no fear revealing that my gut feeling is that while Barcelona will have the majority of possession, Manchester United will carry the day.

Hey you, Sir Alex Ferguson is old enough to be a father to Guardiola’s father. In terms of experience, it’s no contest. Don’t they say what a young man can see standing up an old man can see sitting down? In any case, if Guardiola dares to stand up, his view will be obstructed by the many cups Ferguson has won over the years. These include three European cups that Machester United have one, which is one more than their opponents in tonight’s mouthwatering final.

Secondly, Barcelona isn’t at full strength. This is especially so at the back were three of their key players won’t be on the pitch. Rafael Marquez is injured while Eric Abidal and Dani Alves are suspended. Their midfield too might be a bit iffy without Andres Iniesta who has been out injured. Should he play tonight, he might be a mere passenger. So too Thierry Henry who when fully fit has been one third of a deadly trio. As for the other two assasins,Eto’o has been out of sorts recently and Lionel Messi has hitherto not scored against an English side.

Even more ominous for Barcelona is that Manchester United has won all the three finals they’ve played. Barcelona has played in four and ended up losers in two of them.

So to call a spade a spade, Ronaldo will end up with the winners’ medal with Messi as his bridesmaid, if you see what I mean. But my crystal ball is a bit murky so I can’t predict the scores.

Not very good news to a Liverpool supporter like me. But hey, the truth no matter how painful, is the truth.

 
 

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Malawian analysts agree that DPP wipers did an excellent job cleansing parliament of its opposition majority. They go on to explain that stifled as it was by UDF hands, the MCP black rooster couldn’t swallow the DPP corn. Starved to near death, it wasn’t difficult to pluck it off its perch as the biggest party in Malawi’s parliament.

How can they say that? How could they!

The unflavoured truth is that Loveness Gondwe and her NARC party won the election hands down. After all, I know for a fact that I wisely voted for her. So did millions of other Malawians who heeded the omnipresent advice voiced by Malawian papers, NGOs and clergy to vote wisely.

So when it became clear that she was being robbed of victory, Malawians assured her en masse —in person, via phone calls, text messages, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook and so on— that contrary to official results, all three million of us had voted for her. She isn’t normally a gullible woman, Loveness. However, this time she knew we were telling the truth.

Seeing our disappointment, she had no choice but to go on Zodiak radio to reveal DPP’s rigging modus operandi. And were we shocked at its evil genius.You see, almost all ballots given to potential Loveness Gondwe voters were pre-ticked in temporarily invisible ink. What is more, they had to vote using pens with ink that biodegraded into nothingness within one hour. As the millions of ticks for Loveness disappeared from these ballots, the previously invisible ones for Bingu would emerge.

How could her supporters be singled out, you're itching to know. No problem at all. There was no need to single them out because almost every Malawian voter had planned to vote for Loveness Gondwe! Only MCP’s John Tembo came close in terms of support.

Poor JZU. Poor Baba Tembo.

But then John Tembo should’ve known that even gods were against him when the wind blew already cast presidential ballots all over Mitundu. As if that weren’t ominous enough, Olympic records tumbled at Lilongwe City Centre polling station as high-heeled women and suited men darted to safety when a swarm of bees descended on them.

As every well meaning Malawians except DPP supporters know, those bees weren’t attracted by the perfumes worn by the voters. No way! They were genetically engineered in the labs in Mulanje with the sole purpose of chasing away people who had planned to vote for Baba Tembo.

Who doesn’t know that the ballots that blew away at Mitundu added to those that weren’t cast by scurrying voters at City Centre were enough for Baba Tembo to come a very close second to Loveness Gondwe? Unless, of course, you’re  a Zodiak radio presenter. These guys stumbled when announcing a number of district summaries. In Blantyre City South, for example, they said 8,081 people had cast their vote for JZU but a few minutes later went on to give 2,540 as the interim as his total for the whole of Blantyre!

One would’ve thought that even in Malawi Microsoft Excel is a well known tool even to radio presenters.

I know Baba Tembo’s knows that his retirement date has been postponed by at least five years. I’m also sure he would be the first to admit that other wounds were self-inflicted. For instance, he should never have let a Makiyolobasi anywhere near an MCP ticket. It isn’t as if he was unaware of the existence of the opposition bashing Makiyolabasi parody on the government controlled airwaves. Letting Makiyolobasi run had near fatal results. Justice Anastasia Msosa, the chairperson of the electoral body, almost died of laughter when she tried to read the number of votes that Makiyolabasi had garnered in his constituency. Thankfully, she recovered. But do you think she took any of your votes seriously after that?

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. After I had voted wisely, I visited a number of polling centres within Lilongwe just to get a feel of the voting numbers. The tour went well except at Chilinde Primary School. There I fell afoul of the security staff who didn’t quite like the fact that I was taking photos of a friend who was on a queue. Breach of electoral laws, I was told. They insisted that I delete all the photos I had taken. I also insisted that if that was the case they should arrest me instead. Mind you, I had seen no signs telling people not to take photos.

You would think that in this age of mobile phone cameras, it’s impossible to prevent people from taking photos at polling centres. Or airports, for that matter. As you know, at some airports taking pictures is a big NO NO. But when you get on a plane, you’ve a perfect view of the airport from your window seat.

Click! Click! I’ve taken a few such photos, if you must know. And airport security personnel have been none the wiser.

Anyway, I’ve to go now. I need to buy a better dictionary than the one I’ve now. As you may’ve heard, Nicholas Dausi is the newly minted MP for Mwanza Central. Obviously, I need to prepare to understand him when he makes his maiden speech in parliament.       

 
 

If we’re to compare newspapers, The Daily Times and The Nation newspapers would be to Malawi what the Washing Post and New York Times are to the US. They’re very independent and well respected.

But unlike their American counterparts, the two Malawian papers both have Achilles’ heels. Whereas American papers endorse candidates on their front pages, Malawian ones don’t. Instead, their columnists advise voters to go and vote wisely.

On the face of it, it sounds like pretty good advice, doesn’t it? But if you think it over for a minute, you’ll realise, it’s pretty useless advice.

Let me ask you, how does a voter know which choice is a wise vote? It isn’t as if the path to a wise vote is marked with closely spaced road signs displaying big and bold direction arrows. Besides, isn’t it a given that a choice that may be deemed wise by one voter may be anathema to another?

The voters need to be nudged, pushed even, towards the said wise vote.  Now who better than the media to light the paths to hidden wise choices? Otherwise, how are voters on their own expected to sift through all the candidates’ rhetoric, outright lies, stand-up comedy routines, vitriolic slander and other garbage that pass for campaign speeches just to find a wise choice?

Perhaps, I shouldn’t be too quick to condemn. After all, I know they’re afraid. Very afraid. And for a good reason. You see, they’ve seen many businesses collapse a year or so after supporting the wrong horses. In Malawi, businesses that align themselves with a candidate that happens to be on the wrong side of winning risks missing out on government contracts. Malawian politicians are very vindictive, you know.

You don’t need me to explain that in an economy like ours, any entity starved of government business finds the going very tough. Thus, until Malawi has media houses that are prepared to tough it out, we’ll continue being advised to vote wisely.

I, on the other hand, I’m not running any business so I’ve no fear whatsoever in endorsing…er… Mmm… I’ve thought better of it. My endorsement would be misinterpreted as campaigning when the campaigning period is already over. That aside, there are other factors besides business that would be at stake here.

So instead , I’ll just urge all Malawians currently resident in Malawi to go and cast their votes tomorrow. But in keeping with the culture of doling out useless voting advice, I would like to advise you to go and vote wisely!

Whatever that means.

 
 

Watching soccer in and at the various virtue stadiums that also serve as drinking joints, one is amused to find that the most vocal group of viewers is the so called aganyu. They chant and taunt to egg on opponents of their rival team, never mind that the noise generated doesn’t reach the players.

So it was when Manchester United played Tottenham Hotspurs the other weekend. Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool supporters were aganyu in the hope that the title holders would stumble. You can imagine the noise levels when Tottenham went up 2-nil. But as they say, a loser is an orphan. Immediately Man U edged ahead, aganyu went quiet and employed their mouths in more useful endeavours---drinking! What else could they do having realised that akwera yakuphwa? A bus with deflated tyres can’t take you anywhere, can it?

Anyway, things have moved on since then. By the time the Reds line up against Westbrom on Sunday, the Red Devils will have been crowned winners of the English Premier League, a fact some of us have known since January.

Of course, I won’t be celebrating . I don’t worship devils, red or otherwise. Furthermore, as a Liverpool supporter why should I celebrate when my bragging rights will have been punctured?  It used to sound nice to trumpet the fact that the Reds were the most successful team in the English league having won the title on eighteen occasions. By the way, wouldn’t it have been nice for the Reds to have a 19/19, nineteen titles after nineteen years?

Anyway, there’s always the next season. I know we’ve been saying that for the past eighteen years. But didn’t a quarter century go by before Man U won another title?

Incidentally, there’s a new species of wa ganyu in Malawi. If you’re barred from running for president, why not render your support to the candidate running against your political enemy? Sure it’s demeaning to see the way flags have been mounted on campaign vehicles. Yes, it pains to see that not only is your party’s flag mounted below but it’s also just a tiny fraction of the Tambala Wakuda. But what can you do?

Even though I know, I’m telling how this ganyu will pan out. But I’m sure Muluzi is praying that John Tembo is a roadworthy vehicle with properly inflated tyres. Otherwise, he’ll be left stranded.

Well, let’s wait and see. May 19th is only a few days away, after all. But I can’t help wondering what will happen to the MCP/UDF coalition should Tembo lose.

 
 

Jeez, why do things have to turn out this way?

You see, young men have no problems visiting all the popular drinking joints in town, then whistle-stopping at all their girlfriends and leaving behind beautiful smiles of satisfaction before finally proceeding home to physically remind their wives why marriage can be such bliss. Mind you, they fume whenever their attempts at playing husband result into instant headaches. Boy, they hate headaches that once in a while plague matrimonial chambers.  

On the other hand if you’re a man of a certain age, the years of insatiable virility are just dim memories. Now your wife struggles to coax you to let her play with the crown jewels. More often than not such attempts are met by protest. After all, you firmly remind her, wasn’t it just five days ago that she was moaning your name in ecstacy? Doesn’t she realise that short of hiring a crane to raise the flag even to half mast, a man needs a lengthy recuperation period? It isn’t as if you’re starving her on purpose in order to revenge all the fake headaches that used to attack her at inconvenient moments. Sheesh, where is a woman’s headache when a man needs one.

Like it or not, the biological clock ticks from the day you’re born.  One day you wake up and, to your horror, you discover that your vision is blurry. But after a visit to an optician you get even more shocked because now you can see you’ve been ambushed by strands of grey hair, and the mop on you head has considerably thinned. You now can see that nature has sculpted some wrinkles onto your face.

Sigh…you realise that the memory loss that frequently ambushes you is giving you not so subtle hints that senility will soon be banging at your front door. It dawns on you that you’ve developed an inexplicable intolerance for loud music even as your hearing has waned. You realise that every little thing is enough to set you off moaning, whining, grumbling and ranting. And as your wife has learnt, getting certain body parts to function has become a chore that you don’t really look forward to. Certainly not on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. The deterioration will march on, unrelenting, till the day you breath for the last time. Hence, my surprise at the endurance being shown by the two front-runners in Malawi’s presidential race.  Given their age, I don’t know how they manage to wake up every day at first light, assuming they sleep at all, and take to the road for campaign stops until dusk forces them home.

How do they do it?

Mind you, the majority of our roads aren’t tarred. They are dusty bumpy affairs. And even those that are tarred are so potholed they bother and exhaust even athletes in their prime, let alone octogenarians that are currently masquerading as our best candidates for president.

Is this punishing Malawi’s Next Leader road show really necessary? I’m not so sure. One thing I do know, however, is that it won’t influence who my friends will vote for.  Their minds are already made up, who to vote for already etched in stone, and nothing will shift them from their entrenched positions. Malawians tend to have very fixed opinions. Remember the man in Ntchisi, appreciating the fact that the incumbent president had given the district its first tarmac road remarked, “Koma Bingu’yu ndi wa bwino kwambiri…kutipatasa mseu wa tala. Ndiye nanji akatenga boma a Baba Tembo.”

So rather than futilely try to change my friends’ minds, I just listen as they extol the virtues of their preferred candidates and trumpet the evils of the rivals.

Yes, my friends agree on lots of things. I suppose that’s why they became friends in the first place. But when it comes to who to vote for, they are in no agreement at all. They are split into two camps with two thirds of them preferring one grumpy old man and the rest the other. In their sphere, the other candidates might as well not be on the ballot. My preferences also lie with one of the two grumpies. However, unlike my friends, I’m literally planning to vote for a candidate who doesn’t have a water droplet’s chance in hell of winning.

I can understand your shock but I can assure you I haven’t lost my marbles. At least I’m not yet certified. You see, it so happens that in the three presidential elections that I’ve participated in (as a voter, of course), the candidate that I’ve cast my precious vote for has, fairly or not, ended up not getting the keys to statehouse. And don’t they say we should learn from our past experience?

I’m by no means a superstitious person. In fact, I don’t even believe in witchcraft and my presence in amen corners is very rare since it’s only occasioned by a wedding or a death of someone close.  Yet, I can’t shake this nagging feeling that my vote is a poisoned chalice. I can’t help but feel that whoever I vote for will have the gates of statehouse firmly closed to him. It’s the last chance salon for these two, after all.

Having said this, you think I’ll vote for my old man’s rival, right? After all, I would be helping my candidate by jinxing his rival. However, while I see the logic in that line of thinking, I’ve other what ifs playing on my mind. What if this time round I managed to be on the winning side? How would I live with myself knowing I had voted into office someone I didn’t much like? I don’t want to tempt fate. That’s why I’ve conceived the ingenious solution of casting my vote for someone whose likelihood of losing is a hundred percent.  I’ll thus have no post election guilt should my preferred old man, God forbid, end up being floored by his rival.

So I’ll vote for either Stanley Masauli or Loveness Gondwe. And being a liberal soul who firmly believes in the equality of races, tribes and genders, I’ve no qualms whose presidential fantasies I help to shatter. But who between them? OK, in the interest of fairness let me just toss a coin. If it’s heads, my vote will go to Stanley. Otherwise, Loveness, I’m yours.

So here goes.

Oops! I’m really sorry, Loveness. It turned out tails so I’ll have to tick the box against your name. I was as fair as I could. In any case, if I were you, I would realise that I’ve been done a big big favour. Now that you know I’ll vote for you, you can immediately stop wasting any more of your resources and time on fruitless campaign schedules and just wait for the inevitable announcement that you didn’t win.

Wait, wait... I’ve just had a brainwave.  My vote for Loveness will also serve as a barometer of fairness in this year’s election. If my voting centre doesn’t report any vote for Loveness, not even one, the election wouldn’t have been free and fair, would it? Where would my vote have gone?

By the way, in a poll involving the majority of my friends, Bingu is ahead with 66 percent of the vote. No, there is no margin of error in this poll. And no, I’ve no intention of extrapolating these results onto the national stage. The sample size is too small. I’m discerning in the choice of my friends, you know.

But that doesn't mean I don't know who's going to win. I'm just not telling.

 

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    Children, too, can have profound thoughts
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    The Three Little Hills (Phiris)