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Flipside of motorcycle taxis

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By Bishop Witmos & John Chihana:

REACH PLACES CARS DO NOT ACCESS – Motorcycles

Isaac Sibale, 23, from Sanjemuleke Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwaulambya, gets up at 3am every day and hits the road on his motorcycle.

He is one of the many youths operating motorcycle taxis, popularly known as T-Betters, which are forming a vibrant part of the transportation network in Chitipa District.

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The growth of this business has been largely credited to the ability of motorcycles to reach areas inaccessible by vehicles.

Due to Chitipa’s mountainous terrain, many areas along the border with Tanzania and Zambia are inaccessible by vehicles.

As such, motorcycle taxi operators boast of huge profits and the business is attracting many people, especially the youth.

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That early Saturday morning, we found Sibale at a motorcycle taxi rank at Chitipa Boma Market.

He had just arrived from Kanyala Border Post between Malawi and Zambia where he dropped a passenger.

The smile on his face tempted us to conclude that he had a profitable trip.

“This business has improved my livelihood because it has a huge reward. On a good day, for instance, I go home with a profit of close to K15,000,” Sibale said.

Mary Mwambene is a businesswoman from Ichinga, about 25 kilometres from Chitipa Boma, and she comes to the Boma once every week to purchase commodities for her grocery shop.

Mwambene is a regular user of the motorcycle taxis and says travelling on them has always been a pleasure.

“I always use them because they are readily available and, apart from that, cars do not reach where I come from,” she said.

Just like Mwambene, other businesspersons travel on motorcycle taxis to Tunduma Township in Tanzania for shopping.

Commodities are said to be cheap in Tunduma in that some people travel from Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Karonga and other districts.

Chitipa Motorcycle Taxi Association Welfare Committee Vice-Chairperson, Frank Ndimbwa, said quite often business people who travel on Nakonde Road through Kanyala Border to Tunduma, use motorcycles because the road’s condition is too poor for vehicles.

“Most of them prefer travelling on motorcycle taxi because it is fast, such that if they start off at 6 a.m., by 8 they are in Tunduma,” Ndimbwa said.

However, beyond the boom and gloom of the motorcycle taxi business in Chitipa lies huge risks.

Sibale said he almost lost his life in August this year, on the way to Mafinga Hills along the boundary between Malawi and Zambia.

On that fateful Saturday, at around 7 pm, Sibale was stabbed twice in the back by his passenger who wanted to rob him of his motorbike and money.

“The passenger asked me to stop saying he wanted to urinate but when I stopped, he stubbed me twice on the back.

“However, I fought back and overpowered him. I rode fast back to Chitipa Boma where I was admitted to the district hospital,” Sibale said.

He added that he spent two weeks in hospital nursing the wounds until he was discharged.

“I was, however, readmitted for shortage of blood in my body. I lost a lot of blood during the incident,” Sibale said.

Following Sibale’s fate, the motorcycle taxi operators in Chitipa met to map the way forward.

“We met in September after noting that the attacks on us were on the increase and resolved to stop operating at night unless one knows the customer, personally,” Ndimbwa said.

Apart from negatively affecting operators, the motorcycle taxi business in Chitipa is also becoming a security concern to Malawi as a nation.

MKANDA – At night, they use motorcycles

Chitipa Immigration Officer-in-Charge, Felix Mkanda, warns that Malawi is sitting on a time bomb as some motorcycle taxi drivers are used to traffic illegal immigrants.

‘‘The illegal immigrants take advantage of our porous borders to use the motorcycle taxis on unchartered routes and it becomes difficult for us to catch them,” Mkanda says.

Every month, there are stories about illegal immigrants, especially from Ethiopia, caught entering Malawi through Chitipa.

Some of them, reportedly ex-soldiers, use Malawi as a safer passage to South Africa for greener pastures.

Mkanda says the situation is alarming as some Malawians living close to the borderline in T/A Kameme provide accommodation to illegal immigrants before they relocate to areas deep inside the country.

“A few weeks ago, we were alerted that there were over 100 Ethiopians around Titi area on the borderline with Tanzania.

“However, we failed to arrest them because, during the day, the foreigners are always housed in homes of some Malawians,” Mkanda says.

He adds: “At night, they use motorcycles…a development which is really handicapping our work because mounting a road block in order to apprehend them does not work at times.”

A Zodiak Broadcasting Station reporter in Chitipa, Masozi Kasambala, says cases of cross-border crime are worsened by inadequate patrols along the porous borderline.

“If the patrols were vibrant, the vices could have significantly declined,” he says.

But Mkanda says Chitipa Immigration Office does not have an official vehicle and that officers from the station use their personal cars for duties.

Additionally, despite bordering Tanzania and Zambia, Chitipa District depends on the Police Mobile Service stationed at Ipyana in Karonga District, a distance of over 100 kilometres away.

Chitipa Police Station publicist, Gladwell Simwaka, acknowledges that the motorcycle taxi business is fuelling crimes in the district.

“It is difficult for the police to follow up on the issues because, in most cases, they are not reported to us. However, we are committed to working together with the motorcycle taxi operators to arrest the situation,” he says.

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