The road to Makanjira could be a crucial highway towards turning around Malawi’s economy. But as YOHANE SYMON writes, successive governments have continued to ignore it.
Former president Peter Mutharika—during his time as Malawi’s leader—pledged that his government would construct the road to Makanjira from the turnoff along the Mangochi- Chiponde stretch.
“We have already secured funds for the project and we will also construct a state-of-the-art international airport in Mangochi and a five-star hotel at Cape Maclear,” Mutharika said on January 4 2015 at a whistle-stop tour on his way to Lilongwe after spending his Christmas holiday at Chikoko Bay State Lodge.
Previous presidents had made similar promises during campaign rallies in the lakeshore district.
During the campaign in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election, major political parties pledged to construct the road billed to exponentially open Mangochi as a tourist destination.
However, as things stand, it appears users of the road will have to wait a little longer before it is constructed.
No project about it is appearing in the 2021/22 national budget as one of this administration’s priority areas.
Sam Munthali has been using the road almost twice every day the past six years and he is worried that the government is not clearly indicating when it will start constructing it.
“It takes about four hours to finish a 101-kilometre trip on a car because of the poor condition of the road. In normal circumstances, it would take roughly an hour,” Munthali says.
During the rainy season, several stretches of the road are impassable.
Vehicles sometimes get stuck in mud for hours before they are ‘rescued’.
“I have seen people dying along the road because ambulances or any car ferrying them to the hospital fail to do so in time,” Munthali claims.
The road also has dilapidated bridges and worn-out pavements, making driving on it even riskier.
Almost every rainy season, vehicles get washed away at Litisa River, whose pavements do not have side shields to secure it.
During the just ended rainy season, an ambulance belonging to Mangochi District Hospital and two other vehicles were separately washed away at the river on their way from Makanjira.
The ambulance, according to health officials and the police, was rushing to the district hospital with a critically ill patient.
The condition of the road also means costs of wear and tear are transferred to travellers who are forced to cough out exorbitant fares.
For instance, a distance which would normally cost K5,000 costs K9,000 per passenger as car owners have to meet regular maintenance costs.
Civil servants at Makanjira cut travel costs by sending one colleague to draw money from banks at Mangochi Boma.
In an interview, Traditional Authority Makanjira had no kind words for governments that have failed to live up to their promises of constructing the road.
“The road is used as a campaign tool. Politicians talk about it every time they seek votes but abandon us the moment they rise to those seats,” the chief charges.
He asks the government to just consider constructing the road in phases to at least give his people hope that something is happening.
Makanjira says vendors purchase farm produce, fish and other items from people in his area at very cheap prices because they factor in the high costs of transporting them.
“They are buying maize at K50 per kilogramme (kg) because they know we cannot take the produce elsewhere. It is like we are not living in Malawi,” he says.
Government set K150 per kg as the minimum buying price for maize.
Makanjira further wonders whether the government is serious about boosting the country’s tourism sector when his area, which he says has several tourist attraction sites, remains largely inaccessible.
According to the chief, even investors are not willing to buy land in the lakeshore area on which to construct hotels and recreation centres.
“We have a lot of good land along the lake but no one seems attracted. Instead, developers are scrambling for the land along the other side of the lake because of the good condition of the road to Monkey Bay,” he laments.
Member of Parliament for Mangochi North, which covers Makanjira, Benedicto Chambo, admits that the poor condition of the road is negatively impacting lives.
Chambo believes Malawi can benefit a lot in terms of revenue if the road were upgraded as investors would be flocking to the area.
“Three years ago, the government failed to construct a five-star hotel in Mangochi because people in Monkey Bay refused to release their land. There is land on the other side of the lake which can be easily utilised if government constructed the road to Makanjira,” the lawmaker says.
According to Mangochi social and economic profile, the district can triple its revenue if the road is upgraded because it will open the area to the economic world.
Yet, at the moment, the road is not there in the existing infrastructure master plan which the Ministry of Transport formulated in collaboration with the Treasury.
The development is infuriating some residents of Mangochi, who feel used by politicians they accuse of seeking votes without really willing to fulfil their promises.
One Wellington Mangulenje is coordinating a group that intends to petition the government, demanding answers on why the road to Makanjira and several other projects are not being prioritised.
“We will deliver the petition to the President because we have seen that Mangochi is being neglected. There is no mention of the road in the next budget. This is not fair; development must be distributed equally,” Mangulenje states.
An engineer working with the Roads Authority, who did not want to be named, indicated that government may find it difficult to construct the road using local resources as that would be too costly.
They say international financiers would need to be brought in.
“The road has over 80 pavements and bridges which need to be constructed. This means the government would have to spend over K250 billion on a single road, which is practically impossible looking at the size of our economy,” the engineer says.