Former Malawi Vice President Khumbo Kachali Speaks Out offering solutions to current problems

Malawi’s former Vice President during the Joyce Banda administration between April 2012 and May 2014, Khumbo Kachali, speaks on Malawi’s various development endevours. He cites among other things his entry into politics, the disproportionate distribution of development initiatives among the country’s three regions, road and rail connectivity and the status of agricultural productivity.

Kachali is credited with being the first vice president from the Northern Region of Malawi. 

“I have had quite an experience in politics. Some of us, young as we were in 1992, found ourselves in underground movements.

The first meeting that I attended was with Dr. Denis Nkhwazi and Mr. Chipimpha Mughogho at St. Paul’s  in Mzimba in 1992. I was privileged to be invited to attend basically because late Chipimpha and Dr. Nkhwazi knew me during my time at Phwezi Secondary School in Rumphi. It was not easy because we were all suspicious of each other but by the grace of God we succeeded in our efforts and multiparty democracy was ushered in in 1994. We looked at the injustices that were being perpetrated on the citizens of this country and some of us remember our relatives who were not even allowed to come to Malawi and some of them were even assassinated. I remember my fathers’ close friend and relative who could have been the first head of police in this country, late Sweetman Mwenda, including, later, my late cousin, Frackson Zgambo, all died for the cause.

All those things and more gave us an impetus to say this is not what this country should go through. So that’s how my journey into politics began and the rest is history.

I was privileged to become a member of parliament in Mzimba at a tender age under the UDF banner which was practically impossible in the north.  Within a month or two I was elected Chairperson of the Defence and Security Committee. And after a few months I was drafted into cabinet as Deputy Minister of Defence deputizing the President himself. I held several cabinet positions and my motto was to have something to show for within six months if not then you question yourself whether you are adding value to that ministry or not. That’s how I actually conducted myself.

There are a number of milestones I achieved as Minister of Transport and Public Works. It was in my time that we implemented the Karonga-Chitipa road. There were a lot of skeptics but when I was appointed minister I made sure that the project is implemented. So I was extremely happy that the first Chinese Ambassador to Malawi, His Excellency Lin Songtian, was very helpful that we actually implemented that project.

I would also mention the Shire-Zambezi Waterway Project as another milestone although it has stalled. It was a very difficult time and a difficult project too because we as Malawians under the late President Bingu wa Mutharika said whatever happens we need this project. So it was incumbent upon the minister to make sure that that project is realized. The challenge we were facing with the project was funding. Most of the donors were not forthcoming. I met the president of the PTA Bank, Michael Gondwe, who I thought was going to help but unfortunately he didn’t. So I proposed to President Bingu wa Mutharika to let us approach the African Development Bank and meet President Donald Kaberuka who was then President of ADB. He accepted. So I went to Tunis together with the minister of Finance at the time, Ken Kandodo. I was extremely pleased that President Kaberuka accepted to fund the feasibility studies. I was truly happy because we commenced what was a difficult project at the moment the feasibility studies started. How it ended, I don’t know because the political administration changed. I have heard, however, that the current State President is looking at how to revive that particular project. I would like to commend him for that because even the environment is very conducive unlike the environment we were operating in. 

The project in my view could be done in part or piecemeal or wholly because as of today our colleagues in Mozambique have done the railway on two sides of the project area. One leaves Tete coming into Malawi up to Nkaya passing through Liwonde and another one passing through Mozambique at a place called Donna Anna. So those are the areas that we can just connect with. 

But we need to develop a culture of finishing the projects regardless of who has initiated it or which government has started the project.

I can also mention the road from parliament building to Capital Hotel Roundabout. It was a concept that I and Eng. Kulemeka who was Chief Executive of Roads Authority mooted. I invited him to my office and said the road would be very narrow when the parliament building is completed and people would like to access other facilities within the city centre and other areas. The new road would decongest the street. I went and presented the issue to the president and he said “that’s excellent, go ahead.” So there are a number of other issues that I can mention like the Jenda – Edingeni – Euthini –Mpherembe – Vyaza up to Chikwawa then Nyika – Nthalire up to Chitipa road. The dream will be realized because at least it’s something that started. So I thank God for that privilege of having worked with the Ministry of Transport and Public Works.

However, I for one, would say for the north to be very well connected to the entire country we must look at the existing corridors like the Sena Corridor in the south, the Nacala Corridor then let’s look at the Mtwara Corridor. When we look at Mtwara Corridor, I am glad that the Nkhata-Bay – Mzuzu road is well refurbished. It is part of the Mtwara Corridor development initiative. Our colleagues have already done a lot on the other side of Tanzania so what we need is to develop the Port of Nkhata-Bay from where the road connects to Mzuzu and from Mzuzu we need to develop the road so it connects to Embangweni then into Lundazi in Zambia. Our colleagues in Zambia have already worked on the road from Chipata to Lundazi and they are continuing it from Lundazi towards Chama so that the Mtwara development Corridor is fully realised. So in doing that we would have opened up Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. Mtwara is key to development in the connectivity of the country. Then let’s look at the connectivity that we need in terms of transporting goods from Tanzania. Our colleagues there have already done it from Dar-es-Salaam up to Mbeya. What we need is to take it up from there to Malawi. From Mbeya we can take the goods by road up to Chilumba port. The port can handle both wet and dry cargo and then easily ship the cargo into Chipoka. From Mbeya Tanzania is connecting rail to Lusaka. What we need is just branching off from Mbeya and get the rail to Chitipa then into Mzuzu and onwards to Lilongwe. Then the country is effectively connected.

On the other-hand I feel very sad that the North does not have a road that effectively connects it to our neighbouring countries. We need road connectivity from Chitipa up to Nakonde on the Zambian side. The same goes with the lakeshore road. We need to redo it. There is no way an international road can be in a pathetic state as it is today. And you feel sad when you get to Enukweni because of the poor state of the bridge and yet heavy goods trucks pass through there.

I am sorry to say that we haven’t done much as a unitary state. That is why some people are agitating for other systems of government. But is it a solution? We have Mzuzu University, for example, which was just a teachers training college and look, we have taken that to become a university. Soche Hill too was turned into University of Malawi but they later built Chancellor College and the Polytechnic. Why can’t we do the same? Mzuzu Teachers College was a starting point as a university and a place was already identified at Choma where a proper university could be built. I was in government when those plans were being made and we were waiting for implementation. Now we are talking about M’mbelwa University. We are glad that the then president had plans for that university. They constructed the perimeter roads way back but there is nothing else up to now. The question is are we going to have the M’mbelwa University (Mombera) taking shape? It is my prayer to see these projects come to realization. Above this I do not see any infrastructure that warrants Mzuzu to be a city in terms of modernization. Even the civic offices are pathetic. If we have a foreign visitor like a head of state to be welcomed in that city, to which civic offices are you going to take that president? We don’t have a civic centre worth the name. And we need to have a good stadium too. The one in Mzuzu was built by prisoners. We will not forget that history. We have an airport where no bigger plane can land. Government should boost the North by bringing infrastructure that would also warrant Mzuzu to become a city. There are a number of issues that we need to get from Central Government and I repeat our system is unitary government. Decisions are made at Capital Hill which does not give us any opportunity to grow and to help the north or Mzuzu City to grow. We should not have piecemeal development. There is infrastructure of course that can be appreciated like the Reserve Bank of Malawi offices. 

If developments were evenly distributed, I don’t think people would have been calling for a federal state. So, in my view I would like to see the central government come up with a deliberate policy considerate of developing Mzuzu and the North so that people there can feel that they are really part of the country. Otherwise people are talking of federation today, tomorrow they will be talking about cessation because they are fed up and will say let’s go this route.

On another note  Government should be championing the development of shipping on Lake Malawi. Privatising lake services without making sure of its viability remains a questionable decision. Instead of boosting lake transportation we are actually killing it. Why, for example, should I go to Durban when I want to enjoy a cruise when we have our own lake? So the challenge is, I think, the privatization that was done regarding Lake Malawi shipping services should have gone through some good homework. This is also true regarding railway privatization. My humble request is that the current government should revisit the privatisation of Lake Malawi shipping and railway services, find a way of improving the situation and do an evaluation of whether we are improving or retrogressing.

Where agriculture is concerned the current scenario is that Admarc just exists by name and has made farmers poorer. They were better off then, than now. I am a farmer, if I have to declare my interest. Farming has become just a hobby. You can’t even break even because of the enormous challenges. The inputs are quite expensive, the road infrastructure is very bad so transportation costs of commodities are very high. There are so many middlemen affecting commodity prices which lack uniformity. Poor farmers get loans for farm inputs and other accessories but they are unable to pay back those loans. We have to revisit the way our markets are structured. It is government’s obligation to make sure that its citizens are protected. I am sorry to say that farmers are being exploited.

Another problem is that we are not even mechanizing our farming methods. Our farmers are still using a hoe and a handle. We are still digging boreholes like the way the Egyptians and Indians were using the shaduf and we are encouraging farmers to use treadle pumps. That’s what people were doing in the Stone Age era. And this is what we still want to be doing today? No.

I am glad that they are now looking at establishing more health centres. But I would love if they were employing more health personnel and then consider adequately equipping our hospitals so that if I am at Edingeni I should have the confidence of going to Edingeni Rural Hospital where I will get the required treatment. I should not be looking at the nearest aerodrome so that I can be flown to South Africa to get my treatment. The infrastructure is there but we don’t have the right equipment. How many scanning machines do we have in Mzuzu or Blantyre or Lilongwe that are even functioning and how many doctors have we trained in specialized fields? This is food for thought.

Lastly I am still a politician in Malawi and it is very difficult for me to leave at this stage because I believe Malawians have invested a lot in me and I don’t think it would be right for me not to impart the knowledge I have gained to the generations that are coming or the generations that are around. I also believe that, God willing, with the energy that I have, I still want to participate in the politics of my country to make sure that the country benefits from the exposure that the country has given me in the past 20 years. So I am willing to share my political experience and indeed my experience of government.

Malawi is the only country that God has given us and it is my sincere hope that we will continue to love it. We hear so many stories that are not productive to this nation. I feel sad when you hear about things like corruption, projects stalling, the health situation deteriorating. It’s my prayer that with God’s guidance we shall one day live to cherish our beloved nation because Malawi had taken two steps forward and now we have taken three steps backwards. Our neighbouring countries have completely overtaken us”.

Note: A unitary government is one in which all the powers of administration are vested in a single centre. The centre (Central Government) is omnipotent. A unitary state may be divided into small units for the sake of administrative convenience but the units do not have any constitutional status of their own.

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