This blog is a recording of the Credit Union coaching assignment for the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) to consult with Credit Union Managers in Malawi Africa. This is the second year of a two year commitment. I am part of a team of six Credit Union Managers from Canada going to Malawi.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Good bye Malawi

Well our last day in Malawi started off good since this is the first night I slept through the chanting. We met for breakfast and decided since we were leaving some of our stuff behind because of weight restrictions we would see if we could get anything for them at the market. I had a pair of sandals and a pair if Adidas to bargain with. So off we went I was not in an aggressive bargaining mood so I didn't do as well as I could have if I spent some time at it. I also didn't have much space left so I bargained for small items.

Markets in Lilongwe

My main goal for the morning was to video the market and I have some great video of Dennis and one of the merchants. The video also shows how aggressive the merchants are, it is not the best quality but it gives an overview of the atmosphere of the markets. When we returned to the hotel I finished packing and asked about a scale and went to weigh my bags. The big bag was just under the limit so I was good to go.

Sylvester and Dixon were right on time to pick us up and the road to the airport was a beautiful drive except for one spot where we passed a big passenger bus in the ditch on its roof. Apparently it happened the night before and it was down a sharp embankment, by the looks of it the driver veered over to far and couldn't pull the bus back on the road. In the two weeks we were there this was the second big bus accident we heard about and we also heard about three other mini bus accidents. I don't remember there being that many bus accidents last year, but we were up north and there are not as many vehicles as there are in Lilongwe.

We cleared security in Lilongwe and when we boarded the bus to go to the airplane I had one more look around and wondered if I will ever get to return to this beautiful country. 

                                                           Lilongwe Airport

When we arrived in Jo-burg we had to disembark down the stairs to a waiting bus which I was happy about since it got us out in the warm sunshine one more time. At Jo-burg we got our tickets right through to Toronto, we now had six hours to kill which didn't take long since the airport in Jo-burg has a lot of interesting stores and sites to see. The eleven hour flight to London went by ok I didn't get much sleep, maybe an hour in different cat naps. We arrived in London a bit early so we had to circle for ten minutes and then landed at terminal one. Once we got off the plane we had to transfer to terminal three by bus, now it was minus six and my jackets are in my checked luggage. The temperature didn't bother me as much as I thought because the plane was so hot it was nice to have the cool air.

When we were going through security we discovered that Robert and Bruce were on a later flight than the rest of us, we were scheduled to leave in 1 ½ hours and they were three hours after that. Bruce has and interesting story on the London security check points which you can read on Bruce's Blog the link is under interesting sites to the right.  We didn't realize this fact until we compared out flight numbers so we flew out of London leaving Bruce and Robert to catch up with us later. This flight was a lot more relaxing since it was also only half full so we all had no one beside us and I actually slept for 2 ½ hours. We arrived in Toronto where we will debrief with CCA for two days before returning home and as luck would have it all our luggage also arrived.

My time in Malawi was an experience I will never forget; I met some great people and hopefully helped the Credit Unions that we here working with. The Credit Union movement in Malawi is growing and if they can stay profitable they should continue to help their members for years to come.

Children in Dwangwa 

Rural Malawi

Staff at the Sunbird Lilongwe
Fisherman on Lake Malawi

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Last Day at Fincoop

Today is our last day at Fincoop, we put the finishing touches on our Board Report and all there is to do today is retrieve some policies that I had emailed to me, thanks for your help Connie and Amy. Bruce and I got the report printed off and we gave a copy to Blessings I also gave him the policies that were emailed. Bruce and I went back to the hotel where we changed and decided to brave the markets one more time; we were a little more savvy this trip since we have a sense of the cost of the items. It takes time to get the price you want to pay you must be patient, stay in a good mood, smile and be prepared to walk if you don't get your price. One of the main things you need to be able to say a lot is no thanks, this has been essential since our route from the hotel to Fincoop takes us right through the heart of most of the street vendors and one of the markets.


Just after breakfast the phone rang and it was Davison checking to see how we were doing. I ask him about his trip back to Dwangwa and he said it was good and he was back at work. His daughter is feeling much better (she had malaria), he then wished us a good trip and we said good bye.


Paul and Robert returned to Lilongwe around noon and we met them to catch up, they had some interesting experiences. We decided to go down to Fincoop early since Bruce wanted to visit with Tocho who was in the women's mentoring program and was stationed at Bruce's Credit Union. She was not there yet so we went up to the MUSCCO office to visit with Dixon, we talked about the program and set a time for the meeting tomorrow morning. I had forgotten something in the room so I went back to the hotel and Bruce went to MacDouds for a Fanta. On my way to MacDouds one of Bruce's market buddies found me and stated that he had the necklaces that Bruce was looking for, so he accompanied me to MacDouds. Bruce made his deal and we set out for the meeting.


The meeting with the Board went well, they asked questions and we had a good discussion on a number of issues. At the end of the meeting we made arrangements to meet the Board and Management for supper at 6:30 pm. The evening was a lot of fun, there was good food, good conversation and a lot of laughs.

                                                 At Fincoop's Wrap up meeting

                                             Fincoop's Mobil Banking Unit

They drove us back to the hotel because they would not let us walk because they said it was not safe. This is a prime example of the hospitality we have been shown in Malawi; they do not want you to have a bad experience. When we returned Dennis and Niki were at the hotel so we all had a good time reminiscing about our time here and swapping market stories.


On Saturday we had a debriefing meeting with the MUSSCO management which went well. They are a forward thinking group that is working hard to see the SACCO system survive and thrive. The meeting went well and when we were done we went back to the hotel to change and set out to concur the market. We all did not too bad and I think I may have bought too much stuff so my luggage might be overweight. I guess we will see tomorrow.

 Paul presenting Sylvester with a gift on behalf of CCA and the Coaches

We are meeting with the MUSSCO staff tonight for a farewell supper. I will be sorry to leave Malawi so soon, I miss Canada but I could stay here for another couple of weeks. This year has been real enjoyable. This will be my last blog entry until I return to Canada and then I will add more pictures to the previous blogs and update the blog. So I will catch you on the flip side (Canada). 

                                                        The Sunbird Hotel In Lilongwe

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 3 at Fincoop

I know I kind of took the day off yesterday by just posting pictures but it was a holiday in Malawi and I am working on Malawi time. The one thing I want to go into a little more detail on was Adam my Caddie for the round of golf Bruce and I played yesterday. He helped me with my short game with a few tips on my stance and swing although my score sucked I was able to hit my irons with some consistency by the end of the round. Walking with him on the course I asked him how he got involved with golf. Adam stated that he grew up in the area and they would sneak on to the course when it was not busy with their home made golf balls or ones they found in the rough and the sticks they used for clubs. He said they could usually get in two to three holes before security found them and chased them off the course.

When he was a little older he got a job as a ball boy for the tennis court since the club also hosts a tennis court and swimming pool. Then he landed the job as a Caddie and the Pro at the time took an interest in Adam and taught him the game. He progressed enough to make the Malawi National Golf Team and he has travelled to most southern African Countries. He brought back memories for me when we said that he had golfed the Royal Harare Course since I golfed that course back in 2000 when I was there consulting for CCA for three weeks. So why do you ask is he still working as a Caddie well the National team is an armature team and he does not have the fund needed for travel to turn Pro. He is saving money and I hope Adam achieves his dream of becoming a Pro Golfer.
Adam on the course with Bruce in the background

Today (Thursday) was a productive day for us at the SACCO we finished our report for the Board, we are meeting with them tomorrow (Friday) and then we will join them for supper. The rest of our group Paul, Bobby, Dennis and Niki should all show up tomorrow and it will be good to swap stories with them. Any way back to Fincoop, we worked for part of the morning and then Blessings Kam'mambala the Finance and Administration Manager came in to where we were working and let us know it was time to go visit their Market Branch. We drove to the Branch and it is almost right in the middle of the market, we met the Branch Manager Mavis who has been with Fincoop since its inception. After visiting the Branch Blessings then took us on a driving tour of Lilongwe which was great to see. We have only really just seen the road from the airport to the hotel because the road coming in from Mzuzu is the same road as the airport road. We toured the Capital City Area, the Government buildings, the place where the first president Banda was buried. Malawi has made a shrine for Banda and it is quite impressive.

Blessings and Bruce at the Market Branch

The president Banda Memorial

                                                              President Banda Memorial

The people of Malawi are taught the four principals of being Malawian they are Unity; Discipline; Obedience and Loyalty. The words are written on the four cornerstones around the shrine. Those are good principles to live by and it puts how we have been treated by our Malawian friends, however I don't think the obedience principle would go over to well in Canada. We like to criticize our government way too much. From there Blessings took us to the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre where we saw a Lioness, some crocodiles a leopard and other animals.

on the road to the government offices

Back to old town where we are stationed we decided to take Blessings for lunch since her had been a good tour guide so with our confidence back with the Summer Park Restaurant we went there. Big mistake Bruce received his order within 10 minutes, I received my order 10 minutes later and Blessings received his order 15 minutes after me. So two bad experiences (one last year) we have decided to boycott the place.

After lunch we finished up our report and I got a preview of the new banking system from the vendor. It looks like it will fit their needs and has some good features they can add in the future. I am excited for Fincoop because once it is up and running it will solve a lot of the issues they have.

It started to rain again just before supper and I say again because last night it came down so hard I am glad we are staying on the second floor. The rain reminded me of last year in Karonga, I don't know if the soil is that sandy or they have a great drainage system but there was no water lying around this morning. We ate at Don Bryonies and the food was excellent, now that is a hopping place it was packed with people having a good time.

Got to go and put the finishing touches on our report for the Board catch you soon.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lilongwe in Pictures

We had a day off today because it is Martyrs Day in Malawi Bruce and I went for a round of golf at the Lilongwe Golf Course. The round was not that good but it was a great time with the shot of the day was my chip in from the edge of the sand trap on hole number two that salvaged an eight. After golf we braved the markets and Bruce and I both made some deals that may have been good or not so good depending on how our colleagues have made out.

So I thought I would post some pictures to show you some of the sights around Lilongwe.


MacDouds we stopped there for Pizza

The restaurant at Sunbird Lilongwe

Adam my caddy for the round he is on the Malawi National golf team

one of the markets in Lilongwe

Mini Bus Stop by the golf course

cutting the grass on the golf course

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fincoop day 2

I heard the chanting again this morning if this keeps up they may convert me, since although I don't know what they are chanting about it sounds interesting. This morning at Fincoop we met with Moses Nyamwera their IT Manager. Bruce and I already knew Moses from our time in Karonga last year where he was working he had just moved to Lilongwe in December. We kidded him that he had heard that Bruce and I were coming back to Malawi to work with Fincoop and he had to get a job with Fincoop because he missed us. Actually his wife is a nurse working at one of the government hospitals and he followed her to Lilongwe. When we were meeting with Anthony yesterday Moses came into the office and Bruce said we have met before, I turned to get a good look at him and said hi Moses, I am not usually good with names but his came to me right away.

We worked with Moses for part of the morning; since he is busy with his banking system conversion he didn't have a lot of time. We then met with the Internal Auditor Andrew Tembo who is new to the position but is very knowledgeable in the audit field. We stopped at noon and tried to go to Don Bryonies for lunch but found out they are only open at supper time so we decided to try the Summer Park Restaurant. This is the restaurant we went to last year and ordered fish and chips and the fish came with the head still attached and the bones still in. I ordered the chicken and thankfully it came without the head attached. It was southern fried and it has rivaled any fried chicken I have had, so the Summer Park has redeemed their reputation.

Fincoop's Internal Auditor Andrew

 Summer Park Restaurant

After lunch we had a little time to kill so we went back to the hotel for a few minutes and then ventured out to the store so Bruce could support the Malawi tobacco growers. I also took the opportunity to exchange some dollars to Kwacha man do you feel rich when you get MK 17,000 in bills. On the way back to Fincoop Joseph Banana tried to sell Bruce a painting or two, yes his name was Joseph Banana and he wore a yellow vest. If you had read the banking in Africa blog by Robert Christiansen last year you would have read his account of the preacher who stands on the corner on a cement block and yells his sermon from the top of his lungs to the people passing by. He was on his pulpit in the morning when we first walked to Fincoop and he was still there at noon with a horse voice but still enthusiastically preaching the good word. You have to admire this man's commitment because he was not collecting Kwacha as there was no collection plate; he was preaching it seemed to me because it was something he loved.

Back at Fincoop we finished the afternoon with Andrew, started to work on our report packed up and headed back to the hotel. Wednesday is a holiday in Malawi it is Martyrs Day so we don't come back to Fincoop until Thursday. A friend of Bruce's Wyatt Buck who is heading up the mine expansion in Karonga will be in town tonight and we are meeting him for supper. Wyatt showed up and we ate at an Indian Restaurant called the Hut, the food there is great they cook it the way you want. The owners came over and we talked for a bit, their two sons are living in Toronto so we had a good conversation about Canada.

When we returned to the hotel the street was almost deserted so it was a peaceful walk back to the hotel. 

With tomorrow being a holiday we will have to find something blog worthy to do, stay tuned.

Fincoop day 1

Woke up this morning to the sound of chanting there is a prayer site close by and I heard them real clearly, it was interesting to listen to. After breakfast we walked down to Fincoop to start our day. We met with the General Manager Anthony Ngwira who has been with Fincoop almost since it started in 2004. He started as Manger under a contract from MUSCCO in 2006 and was hired full time as Manager in 2009. The Sacco has grown from 323 members as of December 2004 to 29,315 members as of December 2009. Their assets have grown from MK 7,189,000 in 2004 to MK 770,291,000, that is rapid growth and it has propelled them to the status of the largest SACCO in Malawi. Their best growth years were from 2006 to 2007 when their membership went from 5,217 to 11,028 and from 2007 to 2008 when their membership grew from 11,028 to 23,354.

Fincoop has a good mix of members with 17,723 being male, 10,180 being female and 1,412 being groups or businesses. They have made an effort to attract women members over the last two years and their efforts have paid off since the female members have grown from 3,531 in 2007 to 10,180 December 2009. They have adopted an innovative approach as they now have 4 mobile banking units that travel to the rural areas of the country to provide loan and deposit services. The units are crew cab trucks with secure caps on the truck bed; there is also a safe in the cap for the money. The truck travels with a Police escort and they have an arrangement with one of the banks to store the money overnight if they are staying out in the country. With this means of service they are reaching 95 mobile branch centres over and above their four branches.

Banking hall at Fincoop

The four branches are located in Mzuzu, Blantyre, in Lilongwe there are two branches one in Kawale Market and the head office on Mandala Road where we are spending the majority of our time.

We broke for lunch and walked to MacDouds where we found sanctuary from the rain yesterday and ordered a Hawaiian pizza which we had a choice of chicken of beef as a topping we chose chicken. The pizza was tasty though and since we split one between us it was the first meal since we got here that I didn't over eat. When we returned to the SACCO we met with Blessings Kam'mambala the Finance and Administration Manager for the afternoon.

                                                  Fincoop's Internal Auditor Andrew

When work was done we decided to brave the markets. If anyone has been reading the banking in Africa blog by my colleague Robert then you will know that it is a test of wills. This year when we got over there they seem to be a little more aggressive than last year I was not going to buy anything since we would be here until Sunday but I gave the merchant a low ball price on some items and he accepted the price. So the next merchant had the same item and I went down a little more than the last merchant and he accepted that price as well. Now I am out of Kwacha and everyone is after me to buy from them so I had to make a break for it and return to the hotel.

Bruce was already back there since he baled on the market as soon as he found the merchant who he bought from last year that brought his inventory to the hotel. When I got back Bruce and the merchant were sitting in the restaurant dealing on some items, so I dropped my stuff in my room, picked up some more Kwacha and joined them. It was fun to watch and in the end they made a deal, he still had some items left over so with the price already set it was easy to make a deal with him as well. This is a more productive way of doing business but does not give you the adrenaline rush the markets do.

For supper we went to the Chinese Place across the street from the hotel, Bruce ordered two dishes and I ordered two dishes one of mine was the pork spare ribs that looked good in the menu. Bruce warned me that the pork was not good here based on last year's experience; I thought they had a year to fix it they should get it right this time around. Sure enough the ribs were not good all gristle no meat, Bruce then said I told you so and I have to admit he did but nothing ventured nothing gained which in this case was more weight since we didn't eat the ribs.

After supper we met in the lounge for a game of crib first one this trip, last year we had the cards wore out by now having a computer and a blog to update must keep us busier this year.

The street outside our hotel

Our work area at Fincoop


Monday, March 1, 2010

Now on to Lilongwe

We started out for Lilongwe at 9:30 am after a great evening in Mzuzu, I was happy we were able to visit the city again it brought back good memories from last year. The trip went smooth we did see some interesting things on the road. First there was an over turned semi in the ditch, the truck did not make the corner he was going too fast. One of the other interesting things we seen on the trip was a guy taking his goat for a ride on bike, actually he was pushing the bike and the goat was riding on the bike. They use their bikes to haul everything from people to wood and yes I have seen them hauling goats.

on the road from Mzuzu to Lilongwe

Davisons car

We made it to Lilongwe around 1:30 pm and after we checked in (I got the same room as I had last week) we then took Davison out for a farewell lunch at Mama Mia after Lunch we was going back to Mzuzu that day. I will not forget the hospitality that Davison has shown us he is a remarkable individual.

Bruce and I decided to walk to the golf course to have a look, but we only got half way and the skies opened up. We made it under an awning to wait it out, however after 20 minutes it was not letting up so we went next door to MacDouds which is a knock off of MacDonald's to have a Fanta and wait it out some more. It still was not letting up so we ran back to the hotel.

the rain that kept us fro the golf course

Since it was still raining so we ate at the hotel restaurant and called it a night.

Leaving Dwangwa

We returned to the Lodge after the Board Meeting and went right to our rooms as everything was closed at the Lodge. I was tired so I went right to bed but at 3:30 am was awaken by a big storm. The wind was so strong coming off the lake it was blowing the rain right into my room; it was coming through the screen as a fine mist. The wind lasted twenty minutes then went away just as quick as it came, but while it was blowing I thought it was going to blow the room over. When it was done I was treated to a great lightning show over the lake, you gotta love the rainy season in Malawi.

When I got up for breakfast it was still raining but the Lodge left an umbrella on my porch so I made it to breakfast without getting wet. I met Sandy and she stated that this was only the second time she has seen the wind that strong since she moved here 18 months ago. She also said the wind swamped their boat it came to shore and is full of water. 

The boat after the sorm

baling the water out of the boat

The rain stopped around 8:00 am and the sun came out and it got humid. We packed up and waited for Davison he didn't show up until 10:30 am since the bridge washed out he travelled down to the Kotta Kotta game reserve to see if it was passable. He said there were two spots that we were going to have to get pulled through by a tractor. Bruce and I decided not to take a chance going through the game reserve so the only other way back to Lilongwe was through Mzuzu. So rather than spend the whole day driving down to Selima where we were booked into we thought if we could get into the Sunbird Mzuzu we would stay and visit with Dennis and Niki. So we said goodbye to Chris and Sandy and started for Mzuzu.

We stopped at the junction between Nkata Bay and Mzuzu to barter for some souvenirs, I bought a few items and it seems if you buy volume you get a better deal which holds true in Canada but I didn't think it applied to souvenirs. So I am bringing home a few of the same items.

I had forgotten how amazing the drive from Nkata Bay junction through the mountains to Mzuzu was that 46 km stretch of road if the most beautiful drive I have seen. I took lots of video of the drive which has some good music playing in the background from Davidson's stereo.

We were able to stay at the Sunbird so we checked in and went for lunch with Davison. Niki and Dennis were actually at Nkata Bay for the day so Bruce and I walked down to the markets to explore. It had not changed much from last year, the good thing was the hotel staff made me take an umbrella since as soon as we got down to the markets it started to rain. We found the leisure centre we visited last year and stopped in again.

We got back to the hotel and Niki and Dennis showed up shortly after and we went for supper and had a good visit with them.