It is tourism month in Malawi. Government and other stakeholders are all over persuading local and international holidaymakers to patronise breath-taking spots in the country.
Usisya is one such area. It is found in Nkhata Bay, a lakeshore district described by Lonely Planet as ‘Caribbeanesque’ and a ‘lush tropical indent’.
Usisya is sandwiched between the foothills of Nthwezulu and the shores of Lake Malawi.
But transport challenges dampen the resolve of tourists intending to reach this inlet along the shoreline of Africa’s third largest freshwater lake.
“Beyond tourism, because of the poor road network, even Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation fails to optimally serve people here,” says Group Village Head Bununkhu of Usisya.
The low-lying stretch, with some hills extending into the lake, boasts of notably the deepest zone in Lake Malawi, with some spots running up to 230 metres below sea level.
The numerous hills surrounding the area make travelling on the final section of the 65-kilometre road extending from Mzuzu City to Usisya a nightmare.
Locals say the road is impassable most of the time.
At some point, heavy rains put paid to several crucial activities in the area: farming and businesses came to a halt; even charity organisations had to think twice before visiting Usisya.
Bununkhu says people in the area continue being denied their right to economic progress.
He recounts that, at some point, an ambulance carrying an expectant woman from Usisya on referral to Mzuzu Central Hospital got stuck in the middle of the road.
She breathed her last.
“Everything is tough during the rainy season. Drugs cannot be brought here in time. Two years ago, I was in a meeting with the vice-president and the late Traditional Authority M’bwana where we were assured that the government would work on the road.
“I know they are trying their best. But my appeal remains that they should hasten the process. We also need to have a share of the national purse; otherwise, we feel sidelined,” the traditional leader says.
An assessment that was done in 2014 indicated the road would require about K7.7 billion to be rehabilitated to bitumen standard.
The gradual depreciation of the Kwacha obviously means the amount has shot up.
Roads Authority says the Mzuzu-Usisya Road is classified as a secondary road and, according to Nkhata Bay District Council, the rugged stretch is in their pipeline for rehabilitation.
The council’s director of public works Elias Mkandawire says, in the meantime, resources are not available for the works, which would expressively elevate the status and value of Usisya.
Mkandawire concedes the cove’s backdrop is far much better than the beaches at Nkhata Bay Town Centre.
Currently, people of Usisya openly say they are tired of waiting for the government to rehabilitate the road.
They have started putting resources together and work on the road has commenced.
Harrison Kalua, a member of the taskforce championing the community-led initiative, discloses they have so far mobilised around K8 million.
“We have also experienced a lot of accidents on this road just because it becomes very slippery when it rains. That is why we decided that, while we wait for the government, we can start with some small acts,” he says.
The prayers of people in Usisya—who often turn to accident-prone boats when they want to visit Nkhata Bay Town Centre—is that the government should come in quickly.
Kalua hopes their little efforts will attract the attention of higher authorities such as Vice-President Saulosi Chilima, who two years ago decried the conduct of previous regimes that had denied Usisya a decent road which would significantly open the area to the rest of the world.
“Our area has a lot of potential even in agriculture. Coffee and citrus fruits do well in environments like what we have here.
“The challenge is that venturing into such businesses without a proper road network may turn out to be unprofitable. It is not easy even to bring the inputs here,” Kalua states.
Mkandawire insists the road is “seriously” in the council’s plans and hails the proactiveness of people of Usisya in the development of their area.
“Our submission, as one of the reform areas, has been approved. What remains is for us to lobby for funds. We know that sooner or later this road will be rehabilitated,” he says.
In the meantime, without an upgraded road to Usisya, the place will continue to have its full worth and wealth unexplored.