Karissa Gall at moni malawi has a recent post about how more and more drivers in Malawi are women. This is cool stuff, and part of an overall rising tide of women’s rights that seems to be going on here, and advanced considerably by the nascent presidency of Joyce Banda. There is a long way to go – Gall cites statistics that place Malawi at the bottom of a number of league tables of women’s rights. But the theme of the article implies that the increase in the number of women learning to drive is being impelled by a range of economic factors, and those are trends that I expect to continue. It’s a pattern consistent with my Amartya Sen-esque view on the importance of economic development: it’s not incomes and jobs that matter per se but the freedom they give people to live better lives, according to their own standard of “better”.*
Some evidence for the continued process of economic development here comes from my own observations of drivers on Malawi’s roads. There are a disproportionate share of vehicles emblazoned with driving school logos here, and they uniformly drive almost absurdly slow. The huge numbers of student drivers are partly a good sign and partly a signal of some of the issues of corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency that I have heard plague driver’s licensing here. If you want a license, I’ve been told, you either need to take a long sequence of lessons, or you just pay the right person an extra fee and get one right away.
*I’m not particularly pro-consumerism, but I’m also deeply skeptical of a view of development as an insidious process of American cultural imperialism. It is very hard to find American brands here (other than Coke). More on this later.