Fuel crisis in Malawi

30 Jan

The M1, Malawi’s main highway, is quieter than Renault’s F1 test track*. A diesel crisis has seen to that. There’s hardly any fuel in Malawi. People queue their cars at the petrol station for one, two, even three days when they hear that there’s a delivery coming. When there is finally a delivery, it’s in the petrol station owner’s interest to sell most of the diesel on the black market. Because of the booming black market, filling jerry cans with diesel has been made illegal.

Driving from Tanzania with as much diesel as they can carry and enough money to bribe every policeman at every police roadblock, it’s the smugglers who are keeping Malawians motoring.

The diesel crisis is destroying Malawi, but there’s always a silver lining. And while prices of goods soar higher and higher, big businesses leave the country and people generally suffer and become poorer, the cyclists have the roads all to themselves. I rode from Rumphi to Mzuzu with only a couple of ambulances, trucks and minibuses to swerve off the road for.

At Mzuzu I stayed at Mzoozoozoo. Gerard, the owner, is a likeable old Belgian. He’s as scruffy and skinny as a mad professor, heavy on the whisky, heavy on the fags, and heavy on the Frank Zappa. We were joined by one other guest, a big bearded Aussie with a mission and a problem. His mission is driving a 1913 (yes, it was made in 1913) Ford something-or-other from Durban to Moscow. His problem is he’s not enjoying it and, more importantly, he’s incredibly boring. He get’s up in the morning at his guesthouse, loads the car with the 150kg of kit he apparently has to unload every evening, drives solidly for 8hours (which is like 16hours in a normal car, says he), stopping only for petrol. Not water, not lunch, too tricky. He chugs along with his 2 gears and mentally prepares for another evening of driving anyone unlucky enough to be having a beer in his vicinity round the bend. Although the car is pretty amazing: http://www.melbournetomoscow.com/engcar.html

Getting diesel proved to be just as difficult for the Aussie Driver as anyone else. He had waited long enough for the petrol station to be refuelled and decided to buy the black market fuel (which is twice the official rate – 700KW / £2.80 per litre). The guys who turned up with the fuel claimed to have driven from Tanzania. When I checked this with the staff at Mzoozoozoo they shook their heads and laughed, saying ‘no, they have taken that diesel from the petrol station’.

After watching this transaction and cleaning and servicing Dervla I started the 55km downhill ride to Nkhata Bay. Anyone who likes to luge, luge on this road. Especially during the fuel crisis.

*Jeremy Clarkson eat your heart out.


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