From atop a hill about two kilometres north of Jenda Trading Centre, the view of this sprawling town-in-the-making certainly thrills the heart and reminds us once again that dreams have a way of obeying those with a powerful resolve.
Jenda is not a new trading centre even though formal history might have very little about the place in its folders despite that its bustling life has always been noticeable.
Today, every spot at the trading centre matters. Things are significantly changing and most young people who were migrating to South Africa from Mzimba, in search of greener pastures, now have the nearest destination ever.
So, if you want to frustrate the migration of people, who are in their prime, to South Africa, start a huge local project, open doors for them to come in and then allow them to be the ultimate beneficiaries at the end.
They will not need much persuasion.
Jenda Trading Centre is undergoing, perhaps, the most tremendous transformation in its history, and the makeover – much as it might still be in its infancy – is a perfect testament of hope for posterity.
And, of course, hope for the present generation too, for 33-year-old Joseph Moyo of Mzimba Luwelezi’s painstaking dream of returning to South Africa, having worked there for a good three years, got thwarted after he realised the little that he had could be invested at this busy place.
And within four months, his tale has inspired many other young people from Mzimba and other places who now see Jenda Trading Centre as a hub for their socioeconomic breakthroughs.
For those who took advantage of the project from its inception, life slowly turned around and continues turning around.
Hindsight must obviously blow as noteworthy in accounts of this nature, especially in Malawi where development initiatives have their own ways of leaving a trail of never-ending footmarks – a stubborn symbol of how we fight less to grow.
But within four years, Jenda – trapped on the edge of a blurry border of Kasungu and Mzimba but belonging to the latter, and not far from Zambia – has defied times gone by.
Ten formidable structures, with most of them now fully in use, have seen the light of the day and particularly add splendour to the trading centre which has now almost doubled the amount of revenue it remits to M’mbelwa District Council.
Mzimba District Commissioner, Charles Chirwa, says the new modern market and the bus depot have the potential of further amplifying the revenue that the council collects from the trading centre.
“Over the past three or four years, the business population has tremendously increased at this trading centre. We had quite a number of energetic men trekking to South Africa but since this project started, the migration has significantly lessened,” Chirwa says.
He attributes the change to the space in the project which has been allowing the young people to take part while also improving their socioeconomic development.
In fact, the United Nations has for a long time recognised that imagination, ideals and energy of young people are vital to the development of the communities in which they live, and Jenda is witness to this.
So, for these young people to realise their full potential, it sometimes simply need a small opening into a huge project but where their efforts will obviously pay the best dividends.
“Even those that were planning to go to South Africa have changed their minds because they have seen that the place is slowly turning into an economic hub from which the community can reap maximum benefits,” the DC adds.
Apart from the two structures, two schools, the bypass road, the hospital and the telecommunications centre are among the newly constructed facilities that, from the northern hill which bears a huge concrete water tank, now make up the new Jenda.
The tank itself, which gets underground water from three holes drilled at the foot of the hill, and then supplies it to the trading centre, is part of the 10 facilities.
Chirwa envisages that in the next five years or so, the solar-powered pumps will be able to feed the whole trading centre.
Of course, the K2.4 billion project which is being funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) through the Local Development Fund (LDF) is probably worth its stake but, on the other hand, the DC is worried that there are some hiccups which are inhibiting its full capitalisation.
He looks at the waterless slaughterhouse in the market as something that needs immediate attention apart from the now overpopulated Chamayembe Primary School which, albeit easing the problem of some pupils walking long distances to school, still needs more blocks.
When the school first opened its doors in 2014, it enrolled around 500 pupils for its Standard One to Five classes. Now the pupil population stands at over 1,000 against 11 teachers.
“Another thing is that after these pupils have passed their Standard Five examinations, they are supposed to shift to another school, meaning the problem has not been fully solved. The school committee may use another LDF window to request additional school blocks,” Chirwa says.
But what appears to be the biggest regret even to LDF officials and members of the Parliamentary Committee on Local Authorities and Rural Development – who recently toured the Jenda project – is that a new completed hospital structure is not being used even though it is fully equipped.
At the hospital, patients continue being admitted into poorly ventilated rooms that do not even have beds, apparently because the new structure, which is far much better than the old one, does not meet the standards of the Ministry of Health.
The parliamentary committee’s chairperson, Harry Njoka Chipeni, wonders why a complete structure that has already seen the light of the day is failing to start benefiting the community whose members are placed in pathetic rooms every moment they fall sick and require extended monitoring.
“The project is impressive, especially looking at our history of rarely completing investments of such magnitude in time. But the few hurdles that are there are a concern to us but we will continue engaging relevant authorities so that they are ironed out,” Chipeni says.
His qualms are shared by other members of the committee including former minister of Local Government, Tarcisio Gowelo, who is also worried that some structures have not yet been connected with electricity despite an application having been made to Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi long time ago.
Gowelo says: “I know that huge projects of this nature are bound to be met with those who would want to pull you down. But there is need for continuous pushing so that everything is fully operational at the end.”
He further advises LDF officials to consider engaging relevant parliamentary committees if, on their own, they fail to make any tangible progress in making sure the aid of other departments comes in the soonest.
LDF Executive Director, Charles Mandala, is a proud man that such a project under his leadership has already started changing the lives of communities around and at Jenda Trading Centre.
But he, too, would like the few bottlenecks to be cleared so that the ultimate fruits of the AfDB-funded project become a reference point for similar endeavours elsewhere across the country.
“We have been encouraged by the committee’s observations,” says Mandala, addressing the lawmakers. “You have promised that you will link up with relevant authorities so that this development produces tangible results.”
And that is what AfDB – which is becoming a major financier for development in Africa – always desires: that every development produces tangible results so that it fulfils its continuous mandate of reducing poverty and promoting economic and social development in Africa.
In fact, Jenda Central Management Committee Chairperson, Panson Mithi, views the multidimensional project as the latest saviour for the trading centre and Mzimba at large.
He echoes DC Chirwa’s assertions that the council expects that it will be raking in over K1 million a week in revenue from the stagnant K200,000 which was possible before the project started.
“In turn, the money will develop other parts of the district and, of course, the country. For instance, there is the tomato sauce-making factory and the telecommunication centre which are not functional but there will be more revenue once these start working,” Mithi says.
Even the yet-to-be-finished Kasungu Stadium which KfW of Germany is funding through LDF is also billed to boost revenues of the municipality while ensuring that young people stay away from immoral behaviours.
And, perhaps, that should be the essence of any form of local development: it must be broad enough to include the demands of everyone – and have a deliberate self-sustainability concept which will birth even more for posterity.
After all, emerging development theories for Malawi conclude that nothing can work if locals are thrust into the periphery of projects taking place in their communities.
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