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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5 years ago

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.

Makola kwalimwe
Makola kwalimwe
5 years ago

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

5 years ago

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… Read more »

5 years ago


5 years ago

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

kay done
kay done
5 years ago

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

5 years ago

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

Viyazi Tembo
Viyazi Tembo
5 years ago

Malawi, a sorry nation till the end………

5 years ago

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.

5 years ago

Kkkkkkk inu Malawi sadzathekanso inu nkhani mkuba basi.

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