Road logistics in Malawi are by any measure a challenge. The Chinese, out of the goodness of their hearts, have upgraded some sections of major single carriageways to some very acceptable standards; coincidentally between nodes of Chinese commercial activity. Traffic police, who are usually devoid of any transport of their own, keep themselves usefully occupied at the many road blocks, and administer on the spot fines for major misdemeanours including our Toyota Quantum’s slightly sun-faded insurance disc.
With this attention to traffic detail, it is heart breaking to witness an articulated lorry inverted on a lazy bend. Treadles tyres displayed their canvass construction pointed skywards. Reactive maintenance, combined with long unmonitored driver hours, conspire in a deadly cocktail.
Invisible to the traffic police, is the ability to overload ageing vehicles to levels that defy Newton’s best efforts. Bush taxis rarely leave an internal square centimetre unpopulated; whilst trucks way beyond their sell by date, lean precariously with unbalanced, partially tethered loads stacked to impossible heights vying with others in a form of moving super Jenga.
Pick-ups or ‘Bakkies’ are in class of their own. A free-style load of people and cargo, often comical in appearance, have their inevitable tragic consequences.
Like the lethally loaded lorries, a Kwacha handshake makes them invisible.