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Thinking development

By Christopher Guta, PhD

This column was inspired by the third verse of our beautiful National Anthem.

As a reminder, it reads: “Freedom ever, let us all unite; to build up Malawi. With our love, our zeal and loyalty, bringing our best to her. In time of war or in time of peace, one purpose and one goal. Men and women serving selflessly, in building Malawi.”  Since independence, we have had four polities including the current one. Polities are frameworks within which agents (politicians, civil servants and members of society) make decisions that impact on people’s welfare. Since last Saturday’s entry, I have interfaced with two forms of Malawi’s communication infrastructure that are vital for our welfare. They raised mixed emotions in me. First was a flight on Malawian Airlines from Johannesburg to Blantyre. The second was a drive from Blantyre to Mangochi via Zomba.

I have flown on the Johannesburg-Blantyre route before. This time, however, I was taken aback by two people who raised my emotions regarding our air traffic infrastructure. First was a gentleman whose name I did not ask.

On entering the plane, he said to the welcoming flight attendant that he thought the plane to Malawi would be small but added that: “I did not think that it would be this small.”

In other words, it was smaller than he thought! The second person was a Norwegian lady named ElineTrengereid who sat next to me. Eline was the first person to openly tell me how scared she was to fly on the aircraft usually servicing this route.

I did my best to calm her fears. At her request, I not only made a promise to that effect; I went further to make a pinky promise to her. By God’s grace, as in the past, we landed at Chileka. The gentleman disappeared and I made no effort to find him fearing more hurtful emotions if he were to comment on the size of our airport and its quality of facilities.

Now to the drive from Blantyre to Mangochi via Zomba. I have in the past raised concerns regarding the delayed completion of construction works on the stretch between Limbe and Kachere. The stretch from Kachere to Zomba was fine. Not so between Zomba and Kamuzu Barrage at Liwonde. Although this road was relegated from M1 to M5, its quality needs improvement. Then came the stretch from Liwonde to Mangochi Boma. Marvellous! Accepting that we cannot tell a book by its cover, the contractor has done a good job with respect to International Roughness Index – a measure of road quality.

One passenger in the car said that the road was very good but added: “I wished they had made it a dual carriageway.”

Important economic factors are taken account of when deciding the size of aircraft to procure or lease, the size of airports and roads to build. That aside, I would like to suggest that those who make decisions regarding various forms of Malawi’s infrastructure need to take into account the varying needs of end-users along the dimensions of time and space.

Think of our Chichiri Shopping Mall and contrast it with malls in Kenya let alone South Africa. Think of our international airports and contrast them with say the airport at Nampula, Mozambique let alone Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenya. Bigger economies, bigger infrastructures you may argue.

But that is the same as arguing whether it is the egg that comes first or the chicken. I believe in both fitness and purposefulness.

Past polities led by Kamuzu Banda, Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika (whose term was completed by Joyce Banda) have perched us where we are today on the League of Nations regarding the quality and size of our infrastructure.

As we continue “to build up Malawi”, can we also aim at “bringing our best to her”? I know that, at this particular point in time, other Malawians are expressing, through demos, their positions regarding the words “Freedom ever” in the third verse of our National Anthem. When this is settled, hopefully sooner rather than later, my cry is for politicians, civil servants, usinesspersons and all other citizens to “serve selflessly, in building Malawi. With our love, our zeal and loyalty. In time of war or in time of peace, one purpose  and one goal”.

In 2008, I met a Kenyan lady in Manchester who, when describing directions to a place I wanted to go to, introduced me to a Swahili-English term: ‘Timaphanya road’.

Yes! Let us not always build and celebrate ‘Timaphanya’ roads, aircrafts and airports. ‘Phanya’ is the Swahili word for ‘rat’ and I am using the term ‘Timaphanya’ to denote size. I am not a disrespectful person by any standard. I am just ‘Thinking Development’.

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