International bus terminals – Malawi’s far-fetched dream

An argument erupted in an international bus from Roadport bus terminal in Harare, Zimbabwe, heading to Lusaka, Zambia.

One of the 'terminals' for Lilongwe - Jo'burg buses in Lilongwe pic. Pic. By Kondwani Magombo

One of the ‘terminals’ for Lilongwe – Jo’burg buses in Lilongwe pic. Pic. By Kondwani Magombo

South Africa bound buses captured at one of the open makeshift terminals in Malawi capital, Lilongwe Pic. by Kondwani Magombo

South Africa bound buses captured at one of the open makeshift terminals in Malawi capital, Lilongwe Pic. by Kondwani Magombo

The subject under debate made this writer sink deeper into his seat, hiding behind the day’s copy of The Herald newspaper.

Two ladies, apparently a Zambian and a Zimbabwean, were outshining each other on how best international bus terminals in their respective countries were.

“Lusaka’s Intercity Bus Terminal cannot be compared to Harare’s Roadport – in all aspects!” said one lady, probably a Zambian from her accent.

“And we have a new state-of-the-art terminal under construction in Livingstone that will be far much better than Intercity,” added the lady, and so the conversation began and went on and on.

Roadport bus terminal, situated in Harare, is a hub for international buses to Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, among some regional destinations.

It is well organized with food facilities, booking offices of different bus companies, and departure lounge, just among other necessities.

On the other hand, Intercity bus terminal in Lusaka is a hub connecting Zambia to the surrounding countries such as Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, DRC, Botswana and Mozambique among others.

Although their infrastructural structure may not be exactly the same, the two terminals serve the same purpose and they all have basic requirements for the convenience of travelers and their goods.

The reason this writer from Malawi sunk deeper into his seat feigning lack of interest in the subject was obvious: Malawi, does not have one – not even a dilapidated one.

International buses from Malawi cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu to surrounding countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and South Africa, operate from gas stations, outside lodges, behind markets and in some open spaces available in the cities’ streets.

Shelter, security, and sanitation at these improvised terminals are completely non-existent, not to mention other basic requirements such facilities demand.

A spot-check in the region singles out Malawi as one country among very few with no terminals for international transport.

But in the wake of the much touted regional integration campaign, both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) regional blocs need, among other things, sound international terminals in their member states to achieve the campaign’s goal.

In their paper The geography of Transport Systems – The Functions of Transport Terminals, Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue and Dr. Brian Slack, of Hofstra University, USA, describe terminals as central and intermediate locations in the movements of passengers and freight.

The two authors emphasize that such locations often require specific facilities and equipment to accommodate the traffic they handle.

“With one exception, passenger terminals require relatively little specific equipment,” write Rodrique and Slack. “… Certainly, services such as information, shelter, food and security are required.”

The authors further argue that because they jointly perform transfer and consolidation functions, terminals are important economically because of the costs incurred in carrying out these activities.

The traffic they handle is a source of employment and benefit regional economic activities, notably by providing accessibility to suppliers and customers, the authors observe further.

In an interview with Malawi News Agency (Mana) via questionnaire, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) Director of Infrastructure, Dr. Abu Sufian Dafalla, stresses on the pivotal role infrastructure plays towards regional integration.

“Infrastructure development improves and connects the economy, the cost of doing business goes down, competitiveness increases, new investments are stimulated, foreign customers are more satisfied and new markets open,” explains Dafalla.

“Concerning the movement of people using buses, normally there should be a bus station with all the facilities and for all the service providers; the station should be for picking and dropping the passengers.

“It is also important that along the route there should be specific stations for passengers to eat and drink as well as fuelling the bus. All the passengers’ needs, route of the buses and the stations should be stated in the passenger movement agreement/protocol signed between two countries.”

Dafalla observes that bus stations play a vital role in strengthening the volume of traffic as well as in providing better services to the passengers.

He further advises that the bus service undertakings, especially in the public sector, should come up and encourage the emergence of the bus station management as an independent discipline in the field of traffic management.

Currently, COMESA is working on the Trans-African highway Cape to Cairo transport infrastructure, especially roads, and Malawi is connected to the Highway through the COMESA-facilitated road projects of Lilongwe-Jenda and Songwe-Karonga, according to the regional body’s Director of Infrastructure.

With such connection, the need for sound infrastructural structures, especially terminals for international buses, is long overdue in Malawi.

“The lack of good quality transport infrastructure will create a barrier for socio economic development and regional integration,” observes Dafalla further.

“The poor infrastructure will increase the transport cost and therefore increase the cost of doing business in Malawi. The transport cost for landlocked countries in Africa is around 40 percent which may have negative impact in attracting the investment.”

Malawi continues to get more open to the world with a number of players supporting the country’s transport network.

On November 28, Malawi government and the World Bank signed a MK41 billion (US$69 million) loan with the World Bank for the construction of four one-stop-border posts and improvement of the country’s backbone road, M1.

This is envisioned to improve the country’s trade with the neighboring countries as observed by WB Country Manager in Malawi, Laura Kullenberg.

“Malawi, being a landlocked country needs to be well-connected to ports and key cities through good quality roads to help reduce transport costs which are one of the major obstacles to increasing trade and economic growth,” said Kullenberg during the signing of the loan.

The funds have been provided by the International Development Association (IDA) under the second phase of the Southern Africa Trade and Transport Facilitation Programme, which aims at easing the movement of goods and people along the North-South Corridor and at the key border crossings in Malawi.

The border post component will improve trade facilitation at Songwe on the Tanzania border, and Dedza, Mwanza, Muloza border crossings on the Mozambique border.

With such easy flow of people and goods anticipated, it is only proper and ideal for the country to have formal and standard bus terminals to ease international travel.

While accepting that the construction of such facilities in the country’s cities falls under her ministry, Public Relations Officer for Local Government and Rural Development Ministry in Malawi, Muhlabase Mughogho, referred Mana to individual city councils saying the issue at hand falls directly into the hands of the councils.

In an interview, Blantyre City Council acknowledged that the need for standard terminal for international transport was long overdue in the city.

“The need for such facility in our City cannot be over-emphasized,” the Council’s PRO, Anthony Kasunda, told Mana. “Blantyre City Council has plans to have a modern bus terminal for both local and international buses including train.

“However, as you may be aware, such structures need huge investment and that is why there is deliberate move to engage private sector participation through Public Private Partnerships, PPP.”

Kasunda said the council was exploring that path of engaging private sector through the PPP arrangement to construct a modern bus terminal in the City.

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17 thoughts on “International bus terminals – Malawi’s far-fetched dream”

  1. unknown says:

    kuphunzira simkalasi monkha abale mulikutsogoloko mbomamu, you have to pay visits to neighbouring countries by road also not nthawi iliyonse pangetu, tiphunzireko zimene anzanthu akuchita. Zikuoneka kuti tilibe chidwi. Ndizochititsa manyazi kuona mmene alili mabas station mdziko muno. Visit our borders its a shame. Lets move our bodies from officies and see how your fellow Malawians are suffering while crossing our own borders. Dont get used to hear from reporters always.

  2. Makola kwalimwe says:

    let the chinese govt assist in planning,financing and construction of these projects.

  3. levelheaded says:

    Bus terminals are a problem everywhere even in the developed countries like south Africa. The problem has been that bus operators shun these places due to congestion and choose to operate behind gas stations so that customers should get used and find them without problems. Governments have tried to erect these structures but have proven to be a resource drain. Its something like vendors and flea markets.

    I have been to Lusaka,Harare,Maputo,Darlesalam, Kampala & many cities but the situation is almost the same. Am telling you brothers and sisters others should not pretend to be from better to do countries when they are here on our soils. Infact there are no rich countries in Africa persay.You will notice a change of life when you at least go overseas.

  4. John says:

    WHAT ABOUT LILONGWE CITY AND MZUZU CITY? WHAT PLANS DO THEY HAVE ABOUT BUS TERMINALS? THE AUTHOR SHOULD ALSO HAVE ASKED MAYOR CHAPONDERA TO GET HIS REACTION. I DOUBT IF CHAPONDERA HAS ANY PLANS WITH REGARD TO THAT ISSUE. HE IS TOO SLEEPY!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Benjones says:

    Malawian have taken a dose of chamba and are fast asleep.they will wake up on dooms day.

  6. kay done says:

    How do expect to have a stadium without a proper bus rank shame.

  7. Mchewa says:

    Nanga poti kwathu ndikuyang’ana kuti atumbuka akupita angati ku university…basitu.

  8. Viyazi Tembo says:

    Malawi, a sorry nation till the end………

  9. Sapitwa says:

    What is more critical; the terminal or the bus you board?
    Even some airports are below standard: Ndola, Chileka even Kamuzu International Airport, Maputo etc are all below International Standard. This nevertheless does not matter as long as the plane can land and take off.
    If government has money to upgrade, I would urge them to channel it to improving the Borders: Mwanza, Mwami etc because these are the places through which revenue is more collected.

  10. DZIKANYANGA says:

    Kkkkkkk inu Malawi sadzathekanso inu nkhani mkuba basi.

  11. Nankununkha sadzimva says:

    Before I had the chance to travel outside Malawi, I had the impression that Malawi cities are better than that of our immediate neighbors. I was wrong. Lusaka, Maputo and Dares salaam are far much better. The major determining factor in all the challenges Malawi face is leadership at all levels. One thing I also noted when I was arriving at Kamuzu I. Airport at the domestic arrivals section was an A4 size print out in black and white piece of paper secured to the rafters by sello tape, written, “Welcome to Malawi” Then I said to myself; wow! this is the immediate face of Malawi and is this the best we can? That’s how unambitious we are as a nation.

  12. Mrs Malawi says:

    The toilets at wenela are pathetic water logged disease hub. They do not deserve any user fee at all. They need to be shut down or given to people who can do a good job. There is no electricity you use candle. Kodi loan munadutsitsa mu parliament mutangolowa m’boma inu a DPP mukati mumanga ma toilet zili pati? The architectural design for bus terminals must change now. They look like zigafa za fodya zofolera ndi malata. Kuchititsa manyazi. Inu ku city ko ku park station simuona zomwe ziliko kuti muphunzileko agwape inu?

  13. mp says:

    Ofcoz this bus depot dream maay not be the current priority Mwi has. Ok?

  14. vvwa says:

    All is all Malawi is poor country

  15. redeemed says:

    The last time I was in Malawi was in 2012, my sister in-law drove me to Wayenela bus depot to book a bus ticket so I could travel back to RSA, I must admit that I was disappointed at the current state of Wayela bus depot considering its potential economic activities prevailing in that area. It took us almost half an hour to find our way out to the road way home due to the massive congestion in the area. The very last time I was there prior to that time around was back in 2004 and I must admit that the condition has since deteriorated in acceptable state. The question that keeps wavering my mind is, don’t our leaders learn a thing or two from countries abroad where they are privileged to frequently visit like as if its a local market at the expense of taxi payers money?. Even though I was a youngster during the reign of the late former father of Malawi Dr H Kamuzu Banda, I still recall some of his constant speeches and I quote “classroom isn’t the only method of learning but also traveling.” From what I saw at Wayenela I realized that this teaching did not benefit many Malawians.

    From where I stand at Wayenela bus terminal lies a fortune to be discovered. If I could make one dream come true it could be to rehabilitate Wayenela bus depot into a world class bus terminal that could transform many lives both economically and psychologically. But since I do not have what it takes to fulfill this burning desire, I can only hope that some day someone with the economic capacity will adopt this dream and turn it into a reality. Remember, great minds think alike.

  16. choka phiri says:

    Iam glad someone has written about failure of bus terminals in Malawi. I went to Zambia by bus. I was impressed in Lusaka How they have build bus and mini buses terminals. Lusaka is large town than Lilingwe and Blantyre but The city found a way to build These terminals. Why is lacking in Malawi????? Dont tell me its money. W people pay city rates. In Lilongwe they dont even collect dust bins. Malawi used to be the cleanest country during Kamuzu compared to Zambia. Its stealling resources. Malawi have ben getting AID and more AID since 1994. Where is the money? In luxury cars and mansions. SAME that our neighbours are laughing at US.

  17. Emmanuel says:

    Malawians are behind with development and they deny the so called development and technology. Who ever Malawian visited in Zambia can tell reality especially if you embark at Lusaka international bus terminal so called Intercity bus terminal, will amazed how it has been stratured.Very neat, executive and a very pride city,you admire not to come back.Look at Malawi bus deport check what are happening around the premises. Malawi can not go far with development. Ndife okanika kachasu, chimbuku, ma rida fodya ndi chamba basis.M’Malawi sazatheka

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