Proper town planning is an important aspect of national development. It ensures maximum utilisation of land and other resources.
I recently visited Monkey Bay in Mangochi District, where I noted various problems in terms of proper town planning. This is one of the country’s hottest tourist destinations which should have been properly planned in terms of structures.
It appears the problem is due to the fact that the majority of land in the peninsula is under customary law and controlled by traditional leaders.
One would expect the government to quickly move in and identify future town and city boundaries and buy customary land from the traditional leaders. This would also reduce skirmishes that ensue regarding displacement compensations when the government wants to undertake a public project.
When Malawi’s first president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda decided to move the capital city from Zomba to Lilongwe, he knew that traditional leaders and their families had to be relocated elsewhere.
That was a bold decision to make. Even though it might have been unpopular politically, it still made economic sense. Of course, there is the argument that, during the one-party rule, it was difficult for anyone to oppose Banda’s decisions.
Still, it does not mean he never faced any resistance from traditional leaders and even the international community.
The Capital City Development Corporation w a s established to spearhead the development of the new city. Town planner Timothy Msusa was the first Malawian tasked to produce a layout of the city; hence, proper zoning of residential sites, government buildings, commercial and industrial centres, the sanctuary and road networks.
The government had, therefore, enough land to turn Lilongwe into a modern green city, one of its kind in Africa. To date, there are clear spots where more development can take place within the city.
How do we expect Mangochi District to develop with only 40 percent of its land belonging to the government? That includes forest reserves and national parks.
The Department of Lands and the Malawi Housing Corporation, in consultation with town and city planners, should produce a master development plan, showing residential, commercial/ industrial and government plots.
This should be the case with other towns, especially those along the lake.
This master plan may attract private investors and property developers to put up modern structures (factories, hotels, lodges, shopping malls, recreation centres, among other) befitting Monkey Bay.
President Lazarus Chakwera, speaking recently at the launch of a six-lane road project along Kenyatta Drive in Lilongwe, appealed to Malawians not to compromise on standards in whatever they are assigned to do.
But in Monkey Bay, it appears following proper standards in construction ventures is not a priority.
Different kinds of buildings are being constructed on both sides of the road to the bay, some without following laid-down procedures.
Most of them are substandard, begging the question of whether they meet the requirements by the National Construction Industry Council.
Developers who have acquired pieces of land from locals are erecting commercial structures in haphazard fashions. There is no proper plan which is being followed.
One wonders what authorities at the district and town councils are doing about this. In fact, it is a problem everywhere across the country.
Only in our cities are council officials and other stakeholders serious about developers following by-laws and Acts of Parliament in their projects.
On the other hand, there are roads to tourist spots in Monkey Bay that are in bad conditions and need immediate attention.
There are minimal maintenance activities. As such, tourists sometimes turn back and go elsewhere after finding that the road to their first destination of choice is in bad state.
All in all, it is important to pay attention to what is happening in Mangochi, in terms of public and private infrastructure.
It is refreshing to hear that the National Planning Commission is considering the issue of land tenure and ownership as a crucial one in terms of development.