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Reflecting on Njamba Park

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By Anthony Gunde, Phd:

In December last year, as Malawi President Peter Mutharika led a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of China-funded Sogecoa Business Park in Blantyre, he cited a litany of development projects his government has put in place for the commercial capital including dual-carriageways, uplifting of Chileka International Airport and a state-of-the-art sports stadium at an environmental conservation area, Njamba Freedom Park.

Then, I thought the issue of Njamba was just one of the intentionally vague and ambiguous pronouncements political leaders craft to entice potential voters into their fold. But prior to the reopening of Kamuzu Stadium recently, Sports Minister Francis Kasaila reiterated that the governing regime is committed to turning Njamba Park into a sports stadium. This should be of great concern to environment and culture-conscious Malawians.

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In this piece, I argue over a political rethink of turning the environmentally sensitive Njamba Park into a sports stadium.

It is well documented that Malawi lags behind most African countries with regards to sporting and recreational facilities of international repute. It would be taxing for any Malawian to point at any recreational facility in the country that could host, say, some Commonwealth games.

Only last year, experts from the Sports Ground Safety Authority in the United Kingdom described Kamuzu Stadium as old and obsolete. Save for the Chinese donation of Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, we surely need enviable modern arenas across the regions of the country.

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Nevertheless, should such thirst be quenched at the expense of an environmentally sensitive habitat like Njamba Park?

Njamba Park is a natural wetland with grassy marshes and has a diversity of plant species, thereby serving as a habitat to beautiful types of rare birds, insects, animals and reptiles.

Housing and land management authorities are well aware that Njamba Park, as a swampy and environmentally sensitive area, ought to be retained as such and not drained into a construction site; even, more so, turned into a stadium.

Some of us might recall that when the late Bingu wa Mutharika ascended to power in 2004, he stamped his authority by issuing a directive to demolish infrastructure that had been constructed within the catchment area of Lilongwe River during the United Democratic Front regime. This bold move was made not only for safety reasons but as a clear illustration of being environment-conscious.

Those who have lived in the Limbe area, including myself, from a tender age, have witnessed the depletion of beautiful marshy parks, particularly during the post-1994 political period such as the one from Limbe-Thyolo Road roundabout to Misesa, now turned into a fish farm by an influential Asian businessman.

Additionally, during our youth days, we would visit and play in recreational parks run by the City of Blantyre: Hynde Park, off Tsiranana Road in Limbe, now a cement-block factory and Sunnyside Park, currently a run-down haven for robbers.

The issue of being environment-sensitive should not only be considered from the viewpoint of the sustenance of wetlands but the multi-faceted repercussions of a sports stadium to the surrounding residential area of Njamba and Kwacha.

Among other things, there would be traffic-chaos already witnessed at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe. Then let us think of the noise. Many developed cities classify noise as a characteristic of environmental pollution that may have adverse effects on humans. In other words, Njamba Park is not ideal for a sports stadium due to the aforementioned factors.

One thing that ought to be observed is that the City of Blantyre appears to be developing from within rather than going beyond the old city boundaries, which is a path that the Lilongwe City Council has taken. For such huge projects, why, as the custodian of land, not consider a stadium in the peripheries of the city such as Nguludi or Lirangwe, among others?

In this context, considerations would be made consultatively with regards to space and job creation and, more importantly, the growth and development of the city beyond the existing boundaries.

The last thing the city and housing authorities in Blantyre should do is to cow down to hegemonic power at the expense of a potential combinations of an ecological and recreational park.

It would be detrimental if the current seemingly politically-inclined plans for Njamba Park would be revisited. Instead, we must restore the beauty that Blantyre had in the 80s without depleting the wetland into a stadium.

Anthony Gunde is a Senior Lecturer in Media, Communication and Cultural Studies at Chancellor College. He has lived in the Limbe area of Blantyre City most of his life.

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