Malawi and Mozambique are facing current challenges but have bright long term futures if the right decisions are taken now. That's my view, after short visits to both countries this month. Mozambique has seen a rise in internal political tensions and violence, whilst in Malawi, drought followed by floods, has led to a food crisis. The UK Government had already given £10million to support those affected and I was able during my visit to announce a further £4.5million to help those most in need.
The focus of my visit to the Mozambiquian capital of Maputo, was to help develop the links between Aberdeen and the fledgling gas industry there. Gas reserves found off the coast could make Mozambique the world’s third largest gas producer and present huge opportunities for businesses from Scotland. Discussions were encouraging and it is hoped a formal agreement will be signed later this year. The High Commissioner kindly hosted a reception for me and it was amazing to hear the skirl of the bagpipes in the African night and see scenes from Macbeth performed in her garden.
Malawi has strong links to my constituency, through schools and hospitals. I was delighted to get the chance to visit again. I had formal meetings with the President and Vice President as well as the Speaker of the Parliament, other political leaders and businesses. I have been a supporter of the Scotland- Malawi Partnership and so it was great to meet up with its sister organisation the Malawi Scotland Partnership, which promotes links to Scotland in Malawi.
Looking to the future, I chaired a lively video link up between the Scottish Youth Parliament and aspiring young politicians in Malawi. Although the population of Malawi is very young, the young politicians feel their voice is underrepresented in their Parliament.
Education is obviously key to the Malawi’s future. I helped launch phase 3 of the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms project which as the name suggests links up schools in Malawi with schools in the Uk, many here in Scotland. Teacher exchanges are an important part of the programme and it was great to meet Malawian teachers like Boneface Chilongo who felt they had benefitted so much from coming to Scotland
Mary’s Meals is a great charity that many local people support and I was not only pleased to see for myself their project at Phuti Primary School, I was humbled by the warmth of the welcome I received. From the welcoming posters the children had drawn for me to singing and cooks, who prepare the food, to the little girl who recited a poem for me, I was really moved.
What was clear from the teachers, the local elders and the pupils themselves that having a meal at school really helps not just encourage children come to school but, with full stomachs, makes their time there much more productive. The UK Government is matching funds raised by Mary’s Meals themselves and after visiting Phuti primary I am even more sure it's money well spent.
I also visited a health centre and a family planning facility supported by our aid. The latter is always harrowing with so many people looking for help. It always gives me perspective on any complaints we have about our NHS, but again UK Aid is making difference, particularly in providing much needed drugs or, like at the clinic I visited, a purpose built pharmacy store.
So, of course, the challenges in Africa remain great and there aren't simple solutions, but our country and ourselves can make a difference. I hope in my own small way I have done so.