Nthalire people’s fading hope

KAPIRA (right)—Some people are more
Malawian than others

In simple terms, an island of abundance in the middle of nowhere best describes Nthalire, an area isolated from Chitipa District in the Northern Region. Our reporter FESTON MALEKEZO travelled to the area and unearths disturbing challenges emanating largely from poor road network.

“It looks like some people are more Malawian than others. Why should we live in isolation if we are Malawian? Not surprisingly, we trade more with those from Zambia and Tanzania than those from Malawi,” said Sky Kapira, a trader at Nthalire Trading Centre.

At one point in time, the people of Nthalire, most of whom are agriculturalists, had hope that the 260-kilometre (km) Rumphi-Nyika- Chitipa Road would be constructed and connect them to the rest of the world. Overtime, while promises have been piling up, their faith in service providers has been eroding, so much that it is currently hanging by a thread. They are drained, dead tired and exhausted of political rhetoric.


There are two notable roads to Nthalire: the first one is the Rumphi- Nyika-Chitipa Road, and it takes one four hours and 30 minutes to travel from Mzuzu to Nthalire; the second road is the 96km Chitipa-Nthalire stretch, and it takes one about two hours and 30 minutes to get to the trading centre.

Through both roads, though, one must brace for countless bends, frequent bumps and whirling dust. For those who puke when travelling, this is certainly not their expedition!

When it rains heavily, Kapira, the community member, said they stay up to a week without moving out of their homes to go to either Chitipa, Rumphi or Mzuzu.


“There are a lot of farmers in this area and this is a busy area, in terms of business activities. We grow groundnuts, tobacco, maize, beans, among other crops.

“But, then, finding markets for our produce is a problem. We end up selling to Tanzanians or Zambians who do not offer good prices,” Kapira said.

The go-to mode of transport for people in the area is the lorry, which leaves the area for Mzuzu on Mondays and Saturdays only. The problem is that lorries are expensive.

“We pay K7, 000 to travel to Chitipa and not less than K10, 000 to get to Mzuzu City,” Kapira said.

However, traders like Kapira are not the only ones negatively affected by the problem of poor road network. Truck drivers are no exception.

“Because travelling through the road is generally tedious, we drive vehicles only on specific days because of the poor condition of the road,” said Wanangwa Nyirenda, one of the truck drivers at the trading centre.

Traditional Authority Thengatenga is bitter that his people have been neglected and excluded from national development programmes despite being made to believe that, after Malawi attained independence from Britain in 1964, they are in the promised land.

“It might seem funny but some have grown up here without even seeing how Rumphi looks like, let alone Mzuzu. They would love to do that but the road network is a thorn in our flesh because it makes transport costs higher than necessary.

“But this is a very important road because it is a shortcut for people travelling from Mzuzu to Chitipa,” he said.

During a recent engagement which State President Lazarus Chakwera had with traditional leaders from Rumphi District, Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe appealed to the president to complete roads that were abandoned sometime back; among them is the Rumphi-Nyika- Chitipa Road.

Chitipa District Director of Planning and Development, Macmillan Magomero, said the road would promote tourism as patrons discover natural resources “hidden” in Nyika National Park.

“It’s not a question of how much are we pushing to have the road done. It is a question of when are we ready to harness the potential of this road. It is an important road. If that road were done, it would help ease congestion in Chiweta [a section of the M1 Road]. Apart from that, the road will unlock the tourism potential of Nyika National Park,” Magomero said.

During a recent meeting in Mzuzu, Chitipa District received a positive appraisal from Vice- President Saulos Chilima, who engaged representatives of district, city and municipal councils in the Northern Region.

Chilima said he was particularly impressed with Chitipa’s idea to market the district. He cited Misuku, which he said would be an ideal spot to turn into a serious tourist attraction area.

Member of Parliament for Rumphi West Constituency Yona Mkandawire said he was frustrated previous administrations pledged to construct the road but did not follow through their promises. Today, there is nothing to show for all that talk.

Mkandawire said, initially, Mota Engil was tasked to construct a 20-km stretch from Rumphi Boma to Bembe but the works stalled.

“Apparently, the government has bankrolled the road project to start from Bembe to Hewe Turn-off to Thazima gate at the cost of K2.5 billion. But allocating money to a project is one thing and having the work done is yet another thing. For now, I would say there is political will to have the road done, maybe because the road also passes through the home of the First Lady [Monica Chakwera],” he said.

Roads Authority boss, Engineer Emanuel Matapa, said work on the first 20km stalled because of contractual challenges, where payments were being delayed.

Matapa said the project would commence soon but it could not be done at one go because everything depends on locally-sourced money.

It is estimated that the road would cost up to $260 million.

“The major issue was delayed payments between Roads Authority and the contractor. So the contractor was allowed to suspend some works because, with the provisional budgets we had been having, it was quite tricky. At least now, that we have a normal budget, the project will be revisited.

“The Rumphi-Nyika- Chitipa Road is one of the longest roads; so, we are using a phased approach in constructing it. This is being done to manage cash flow; so, we are doing 20km at a time. The second 20 kilometres will start from Hewe Turn-off towards Thazima gate. This has already been procured; we already have the designs and will use funds [designated for] the next financial year. Apparently, we are discussing with the Ministry of Finance to have designs for the whole road. It is government’s wish to have the road done,” he said.

Mota Engil spokesperson Thomas Chafunya said the 20-km stretch they were doing was partially done.

He said they were committed to having the job done and that, once resources were made available, they would mobilise themselves and complete the road.

“We have the capacity at any point and this is one of our positive attributes. We have never failed any project. Mobilisation to us does not take long; a week is even enough for us. If the finances are available, people should expect that we will finish the work that we started. As things stand, the road remains partially,” he said.

It was expected that construction works on the 20- km road, whose contract was awarded to Mota Engil, would be completed by January 2020.

During an interface with faith leaders in the Northern Region, where the issue of the road also arose, Chakwera said he understood that there were high expectations from the public and that the issues raised were pertinent and would be looked into accordingly.

“We are still looking for money outside the budget to complete projects that stalled. We want to have roads that would connect Nkhata Bay to Chiweta. We also have plans for the Rumphi-Nthalire to Chitipa Road,” he said.

Immediate past president Peter Mutharika launched the road in 2018, saying: “For so long, previous governments have made promises that they will construct this road but nothing has materialized. But, today, we are happy that construction of the road has commenced. This road will also connect Wenya and Nthalire rural growth centres.”

Mutharika said, once completed, the road would transform the status of Rumphi and Chitipa people, as they would now have access to better markets for their products. Employment opportunities would also be created in the course of constructing the road, he added.

The road would also ease access to Nyika National Park, which is one of the largest world life conservation centres with a lot of wild animals for tourist attraction, thereby enhancing its contribution to the country’s economy.

It is also expected that minibuses and buses will be introduced on the road; as such, passengers will be paying and spending less time on the road when travelling between the two districts.

Farmers would also reap the most as the road passes through crop fields, easing transport problems as farmers easily move farm inputs and produce from one spot to another.

All these hopes are pinned on whether, for once, policymakers can follow through their words.

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