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‘Failed’ airport project leaves people destitute

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Sometimes, communities surrounding projects which have not reached conclusion levels find themselves on the receiving end of sins they did not commit.

That is what people in Lusangazi outside Mzuzu City are experiencing. The community members have been pushed into poverty and destitution by a failed airport initiative which started four years ago. The people were told to stop all infrastructure developments as the place was reportedly earmarked for an airport.

Affected – Lusangazi Clinic

Former president Peter Mutharika, speaking to people in Chitipa in 2016, outlined his plan to construct a modern airport in Mzuzu and that at that material time, government was looking for land for the project. The land was identified in Lusangazi on the outskirts of Mzuzu City.

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To stamp his commitment to the project, in July 2017 Mutharika made a sudden inspection of the land on which the modern airport would be constructed.

Residents of the 90-acre site were not told about the development and the line ministry—transport – was also not tipped in time about Mutharika’s visit so that they could properly prepare for it. This could be where things began to get wrong.

Processes moved fast; a headcount of affected people, land and property were evaluated and before long they were told to stop various developments on the land, including farming, as they would be relocating soon.

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According to the evaluation, 112 families are expected to be displaced costing the government about K1 billion in compensation payouts. A visit to the area on Thursday found few pockets of land not cultivated—confirming fears that the people are yet fully migrate to their normal lives.

Lusangazi is an agricultural area with over 30 fish ponds and most households rear cattle. Moses Mwanza from Timoti Mwanza Village Traditional Authority Kampingo Sibande says the project came at a time most community members had started initiatives such as drilling boreholes to improve their water sources.

Such initiatives stopped. The people can’t move. But also they can’t development their land. So they continue to access drinking water from unsafe wells.

“What hurts most is that they stopped us from conducting our farming activities because we were to be moved to another land. We are living in very sorry houses, we cannot maintain them because the houses were already valued by the government. The government could have just come to tell us what to do. They should tell us that the project has failed and we revert to our normal way of living. Or if they want to continue with the project they should compensate us and give us another land where we can rebuild our lives,” he said.

Tereza Banda is among those expected to be displaced by the project. She says when the project was coming to the area, her first born son was 17 years old. Now he is 21.

In Limbo – Tereza Banda

Traditionally, the son was supposed to move out of her house and build his own house next to his parents’.

“But we are not sure when the government will come to vacate us form this land. So building that house will be a waste of resources because it is not included in the evaluation list,” she said.

She added that raising a family has become extremely difficult especially for women. Similarly, Madalitso Mwanza said they live like captives in their own land.

“What we want is that the government should just free us. We are living like captives in our own land. The government should come out clear, give us another land to build on and compensation also,” she said.

Some of the structures earmarked for demolition include Lusangazi clinic built by Ndundundu Community Based Organisation. The worry on this is that the people have not been told anything regarding whether where they would be relocated to an areas that has a health centre also.

We took the people’s concerns to Ministry of Transport, spokesperson Andrew Nthiko who said the delay to commence the project is because there is no money at present. But then when Mutharika inspected the site, government officials indicated that there was funding of about K14.6 billion from Exim Bank of China.

And it looks like the people will stay in the agonising limbo a little longer as Nthiko said because time has passed, there is need to go back to the drawing board and evaluate the project.

“For us to compensate them we need to do another evaluation. So evaluation is usually done by the Ministry of Lands who are experts. To identify the people and the property and we will pass-on the requirement to the Ministry of Finance for funding. So because there is no money we cannot start now to work on the designs, the type of soil, gauging airflow among others.

“We are yet to identify resources to constructing the new Mzuzu airport. But considering that there are people who were to be affected by the project, we planned that we would compensate them. We will engage the Ministry of Lands so that they reengage the people that are affected to inform them that the project is still in the planning phase. When the government is ready to roll out, they will be told,” he said.

Human rights activist Charles Kajoloweka said that people have had their social and economic rights violated by the project’s failure to take off.

“The people here have their hands tied in terms of participating in economic activities. The government as a rights holder in this context and one key institution that should protect the people’s rights should not be in forefront violating the same rights.”

The site is about 10 kilometres from Mzuzu Central Business District and about three kilometres from Lusangazi Roadblock to the west. Government wants to construct the new airport since the current one is situated parallel to the Mzuzu-Karonga M1 Road and close to a residential area.

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