Area 23 in Malawi’s administrative capital is just some 20 minute drive from Lilongwe Central Business District, popularly known as Bwalo la Njobvu.
It is also 10 minutes away from capital, the seat of the government in Malawi.
Being within the nucleus of the Capital City, many would expect Area 23 to have the type of streets that reflex the swagger associated with a capital. But this is a direct opposite.
Mary Chilikumwendo lives in a location called Kuthanki in Area 23 and works in a Chinese shop in Bwalo la Njobvu.
Every day, she has to travel on a bumpy road from Area 23 passing through Chilinde, Kawale and Nchesi to and from work.
“Travelling on this road every day is a nightmare. Too many potholes. Most of the times you reach your destination with a backache,” she says.
Julius Phiri, a minibus driver operating on the Kawale- 23-Kuthanki route concurs with Chilikumwendo that the road is terrible.
He says the problem has resulted in wearing out of vehicle suspensions due to too many potholes.
“It is pathetic. Often times our vehicles have to go for service to fix the suspension. This raises our cost of operation as spare parts for fixing the vehicle suspension are expensive.
“Unfortunately, we cannot raise the fares to factor in the costs of repairs because the people cannot manage,” Phiri says.
A physical count of potholes from Lilongwe CBD to Kuthanki revealed 534 potholes. That is minus the very small ones.
The situation in Area 23 is just an example of how terrible roads have become in Malawi’s capital.
The situation is not different in locations such as Area 49, Area 25 and Kawale.
For example, a less than one kilomitre stretch between Kamuzu Institute for Youth and Kawale Filling Station has 136 potholes.
The physical count also revealed over 50 potholes on a 200-metre stretch leading from Lilongwe Mosque to Lilongwe Bus Depot.
The situation was even worse on a road from Lilongwe Bus Depot to Wulian Shop near Lilongwe Bridge.
A visit to a number of townships in Lilongwe revealed youngsters between the ages of 15 and 25 years throwing debris and rocks in the potholes to make the roads passable again.
The groups of youths usually have a cashier who collects money from motorists using the improved roads.
However, it was observed that fixing the roads with mud and other objects only provides a temporary relief as the potholes resurface every time it rains.
Roads Authority Public Relations Manager Portia Kajanga said the roads in the city are a responsibility of the Lilongwe City Council.
She, however, noted that the Roads Authority is responsible for the M1 Road passing through the city.
Lilongwe City Council Public Relations Manager Tamara Chafunya admitted the poor conditions in the city and added that the council will in liason with the Roads Authority work on some roads and rehabilitate others.
Chafunya cited the Area 23 from water tanks to around Mpaweni and a street from Mzimba via Chipiku to Kagame.
“Some roads tend to turn out as poorly done because they were designed as low volume roads and yet are receiving high traffic. Another factor is that the patchingefforts of roads in the city are not yielding good results as the base for most roads are worn out.
“So yes we are in agreement with the issue of repatriation of roads as a contributing factor to the poor state of our roads in most areas. There is need to redo such roads,” Chafunya said.
Human Rights Consultative Committee Chairperson, Robert Mkwezalamba, says authorities need to move with speed to address the problem of bad roads in the capital city.
Mkwezalamba says some of the roads have been overpatched to the extent that they don’t qualify to be tarmac roads any more.
He says the other solution could be for the authorities to remove the little bitumen that is remaining on the roads so that the roads become weather roads.
But commenting on his facebook page, Lilongwe City South East lawmaker, Ulemu Msungama, recently said since becoming an MP for the area which includes Area 23, he has tirelessly pushed extra hard for the upliftment of Area 23.
“The Area 23 road is not budgeted in the current fiscal plan. Inspite of this, I still pushed extra hard and exhausted other avenues for financing it. More importantly, I opted against minor renovations as such state of the road needs a complete overhaul.
“In view of this, I met senior officials from the Roads Administration Fund and Roads Authority. Reckoning the fact that Area 23 is a major contributor on fuel levy, agreements were made to construct a topclass asphalt road after the rainy season. This is a top class road with a 15 years lifespan that will not only be cherished by us but by children and other generations to come,” Msungama says.
He adds that besides these, plans are in the pipeline to develop a strategic plan for the constituency.
“This plan will not only tell us our priority areas but also provide pathways for achieving them. This process will be consultative and a technical model for achieving this is already in place,” Msungama says.
In October 2013, former South African president Jacob Zuma opened a can of worms when he poked fun of the roads in Malawi.
This ended up in Pretoria apologizing to Lilongwe for the derogatory remarks.
Malawi might have successfully made South Africa to apoligise in 2013 but today, some eight years later, the conditions of the roads in the capital have worsened.