Isolated Likoma in K1bn transformation programme


Likoma Island is the larger of the two inhabited islands on Lake Malawi, the smaller being the nearby Chizumulu and together they make up the country’s smallest district, Likoma, which sits on a 28 sq km land.

Geographically, both islands lie just a few kilometres from Mozambique, and are entirely surrounded by Mozambique territorial waters but are both exclaves of Malawi.

Due to its location and topography, Likoma District faces a number of governance and socio-economic challenges some of which may not be there in the country’s mainland districts. For instance, there are no banking services in the district.


According to the district’s latest development plan (2014 – 2019), through a heavily consultative process with development structures at all levels, several challenges were identified and prioritised. They include food insecurity, declining fish stocks, poor water transport and road network, lack of security and judicial services and lack of banking services.

According to fisheries department, about 90 percent of the population in Likoma relies on fishing as a source of income. The declining fish stocks in the lake should thus be a great concern for the islanders.

The contribution of farm products to peoples’ income is almost negligible as a large part of land is either sandy or rocky leading to low land holding size for household.


In terms of transport, the district is accessible either by air or water transport. Ships and boats connect the 78 nautical miles stretch between the district and the mainland at Nkhata Bay. While the water transport may be fun to tourists and other travellers, it is a long and tiresome errand for service providers like magistrates who commute from the mainland to the island district to handle cases in ‘makeshift’ courts. Most vessels take at least eight hours to reach Likoma from Nkhata Bay.

The transportation challenge also presents a drawback not only to development and access of basic necessities, but also governance.

Nearly every sector on the two islands is affected by the ills of poor transportation.

Such is the challenge in the two islands which were declared a stand alone district from Nkhata Bay in 1999. Very little has happened to provide basic infrastructure. Thus the cut-off population remains largely shunned by both government, private sector like banks and non-governmental organisations.

Furthermore, the district also laments of undeveloped tourism potential, low council revenue, general poverty, poor sanitation in beaches, environmental degradation, increased number of orphans due to HIV and Aids, high infant morbidity and mortality rate, illiteracy among adults, high formal unemployment rate among the youths and inadequate and poor office infrastructures.

To deal with all these challenges, Likoma District Council plans to spend a whooping K1.023 billion between 2014 and 2019 through projects and programmes set in its development plan envisaged to transform the island district from its current status to become one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions in an addition to an improved socio-economic status.

“As a governance institution, our role in these development programmes cannot be over emphasized. Nice is fully present in Likoma district.

We will ensure that we play a significant governance role in all this as has been always the case,” says Patrick Chikoti, the district’s civic education officer for Nice Public Trust.

“Firstly, the programmes planned to deal with all these challenges faced in the district will need the full participation of the communities. As Nice, our civic education is ongoing. We are teaching people the importance of their participation in development. This will continue so that they fully take part in the programmes at all levels.

“Secondly, we are talking of programmes where public resources will be used and spent. In such cases, issues of transparency and accountability come to the fore. It is also part of our mandate to teach people to learn to demand accountability and transparency from their leaders,” says Chikoti.

According to Chikoti, Nice will also be involved in capacity building session for the district development substructures such as Village Development Committees (VDCs) and Area Development Committees (ADCs) so that there are coordinated efforts and full community participation in the activities planned.

Nice, according to Chikoti, will also continue with its capacity building initiatives for political leaders, traditional leaders as well as the various local government committees such as VDCs and ADCs to empower them with skills and knowledge to carry out their various functions “so that they become robust and people cantered.”

“I would say that already, the participation element is being seen.

For example, it was the ADCs and VDCs, through a participatory process and with guidance from council staff that identified the major issues/problems facing the communities that are outlined in the development plan for the district. Simply, communities participated in the development of the plans at every stage,” he says.

Group Village Headman Chamba concurs with Chikoti saying there has already been a change of attitude amongst the Island population in terms of participating in development activities in the district.

“A big chunk of the population here is made of fishermen. They are usually in the water because that is how they survive. But on the other hand, that has an effect as regards men’s participation in other development activities. However, we have seen some changes and the impact is great,” says Chamba.

VDCs traditional leaders, religious leaders, Area Executive Committees (AECs), ADCs, consultative forums and district executive committee (DEC) members formed core teams that produced the plans.

Likoma district has nine VDCs and one Traditional Authority (T/A) with 11 group village heads and 27 village heads and a population of about 16,000 (2016 projection).

Currently in its programme estimate two – a continuation of its first operational programme estimate one which covered the period March 2013 to June 2014 – Nice is focusing on need based interventions, networking, promoting social cohesion, conflict management and facilitating communities to raise voices of accountability that contribute towards improved democratic governance in their communities.

Thus, its activities in the current programme estimate centre on facilitating voices of accountability, capacitating duty bearers and rights holders on the local governance structure and how to use them effectively for the promotion of good governance. This includes capacity building for locals so that they are able to demand services from providers.

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