Rebirth of unkempt M1 Road


By Dumbani Mzale, contributor:

A new lease of life is stacking on Malawi’s main motorway (M1) and in particular along the section from Lilongwe to Rumphi.

Those with optimism are currently counting down a few months for the country’s most reliable road to embrace a total renaissance.


Those that hold a strong conviction that infrastructure is a catalyst for development would also attest to the fact that well-nourished road assets require that Malawi’s main road undergoes a complete overhaul to increase its efficiency.

Picture this: This is a road built about 42 years ago and is an economic lifeline with high-level traffic as it connects Malawi to neighbouring Tanzania whose port in Dar es Salaam benefits Malawi in so many ways.

This is the same national asset, which extends to Nsanje at the southern tip of the country and connects to several other auxiliary roads that connect Malawi to other nearshore or coastal countries.


Horrible statistics

For so long, most sections of the M1 Road between Lilongwe and Karonga have been in a bad state and have been described by many as a death trap.

Most of the accidents that have been recorded on this stretch have been christened by many as ‘avoidable.’

Due to the devastating nature and shape of this road, accidents have become a common occurrence over the years.

Not surprisingly, a 2019 Roads Authority (RA) study funded by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa condemned most parts of the M1 between Lilongwe and Karonga.

The report acknowledged that the road poses a danger to users.

Police statistics indicated that in 2020 the M1 accounted for about 90 percent of road accidents in the country.

Between June 2019 and June 2020 alone, dreadful 5,700 accidents occurred in the country and killed about 1,200 people.

In 2019, Malawi is said to have witnessed over 10,000 accidents while in 2018, the country also registered 5,821 accidents, statistics show.

And at least 616 people died in road accidents in Malawi in the first quarter of 2020, up from 281 in 2019 and 234 in 2018, during the same period.

This was revealed by Deputy Minister of Transport and Public Works Nancy Mdoko in November 2020 when she presided over the commemoration of African Road Safety Day which was held at Liwonde in Machinga.

She described the road accidents in Malawi as alarming and worrisome as they ranked ninth among the causes of death in the country.

“As such, there is a need for all stakeholders and the general public to work together in order to reduce road accidents,” Mdoko pleaded

Abandoned by regimes

In June 2022, the European Investment Bank (EIB) gave a ‘no-objection’ to the award of contracts for the long-standing rehabilitation of the M1 section from Lilongwe to Rumphi (extending over about 302km), almost three years after Malawi obtained a loan for such a cause.

In November 2019, the Malawi Government and the European Union (EU) signed a financial agreement for €139 million as a contribution towards the rehabilitation of the M1.

Out of the amount, €95.5 million euros was a loan from EIB and €43.1 million was a grant from the EU.

But the fact remains that rehabilitation of this road has not been implemented before, despite offers of help from Malawi’s development partners in Europe.

According to President Lazarus Chakwera, who presided over the launch of the rehabilitation exercise of the road on July 12, 2022, in Madisi, Dowa, it is evident that for far too long, past governments in the country have been preoccupied with things that divide than unite Malawians.

“It is evident that for far too long, governments in this country have been preoccupied with spending resources on short-term consumption than long-term production.

“But today [July 12, 2022], we are making a clear statement that a new Malawi is rising that aims to unite all of Malawi, develop all of Malawi, prosper all of Malawi and connect all of Malawi,” Chakwera said.

The rehabilitation project covers over 302 kilometres of the M1 Road from the junction with Kamuzu International Airport road to the turn-off to Mzimba Boma and from Kacheche to Chiweta in Rumphi.

Flourishing trade, realising Malawi 2063

Listening to the tone of Chakwera, Malawi is desperately in need of development projects that will last a generation, such as roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, institutional buildings, border posts, prisons and sports facilities.

To the first citizen, the rehabilitation of the M1 is also concomitant with Malawi 2063 (MW2063), which envisions an inclusively wealth and self-reliant nation as Malawian businesses move goods and commodities faster and safer between trading centres.

Simply put, MW2063 aims to transform Malawi into a wealthy and self-reliant industrialised ‘upper middle-income country by the year 2063 and infrastructure such as the main road cannot be discounted from this equation as it forms part of key independent variables in creating a wealthy state.

No wonder, economic infrastructure is one of the key six enablers of the MW2063 apart from mindset change, effective governance systems and institutions, enhanced public sector performance, private sector dynamism, human capital development and environmental sustainability.

Specifically, on road infrastructure, MW2063 clearly says: “We shall have a world-class, well maintained and expanding road network connecting the urban and rural areas to the local and international market.”

Minister of Transport Jacob Hara is also expectant that with the rehabilitation of the country’s backbone road, the country stands to create thousands of jobs created through the implementation of the project itself.

Hara also envisages a reduction in accidents and transportation costs incurred through the wear and tear vehicles suffer on bad roads and the length of time it takes to travel on them.

Economist Gowokani Chijere-Chirwa who teaches economics at the University of Malawi also projects enormous multiplier effects, saying other sectors such as tourism, agriculture, education, tourism and governance stand to thrive because of the ease of movement that the project will facilitate.

However, from a technical point of view, Lilongwe-based engineer William Chirwa warns against political interference in projects of such a magnitude and urges the government to ensure strict supervision of quality management so that the road lasts throughout future generations and generations.

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