Malawi: What about our cities, local governance?

In Malawi, one thing for certain is the rhetoric, from all corners, about the excruciatingly difficult circumstances of the rural masses. And I have a great appreciation of all that because I grew up in a rural setting and all my primary schooling was in a rural setting. And, of course, I seem to fully understand why many a politician want to exploit our rural difficulties to their political advantage.

For my primary school education I went to one school, Mjinge Full Primary School within the confines of Mzimba South West, only about 8 kilometres away from Edingeni, the seat of power for Inkosi “za” Makosi M’mbelwa, they have come and gone – hence the “za” and we are just about moments away to crown another one. As to how they have performed individually – and cumulatively for the betterment of Mzimba, and Mzimba South West in particular remains a topic of great debate.

On a good note, Mzimba South West has not been unlucky in as far as sharing the political power space is concerned. In the first multi-party session of Parliament, we probably had one of the best minds representing us in one Mapopa “Phopa” Chipeta (May his soul rest in eternal peace?). While I may have been relatively young at the time, I do vividly recall that when he stood up and spoke, we felt “here is a man and a half representing our interests in the best way he can” in the prevailing circumstances. If my memory is serving me right, he also served in a few ministerial portfolios in the UDF-led Government after parting ways with the then Aford Czar, Thom Chakufwa Chihana; on matters of principle, I guess.

Streets in the capital city Lilongwe
Streets in the capital city Lilongwe

Right now, we have a whole Vice President of the country coming from Mzimba South West Constituency, over and above Raymond Chatima Nkhata, he that boasts of being one of the very first few members of parliament elected on a PP ticket. For the record, and only in the view of this writer, the Vice President,  Khumbo Hastings Kachali, has not ended up in the second top office in the land by accident. He has, in the past, served in various ministerial positions including that of transport and infrastructure development as well as that of health.

Be that as it may for Mzimba South West, health facilities as well as infrstrcture including roads, are in – for lack of a better word, in a sorry state. Take the roads prism, for example, be it via Jenda-EMbangweni or via Mzimba-Boma-Manyamula stretches, getting to Edingeni, let alone to Mjinge is not an affair that one would want to repeat very frequently, the roads are bad.

These realities are vividly true for Mzimba South West – but, unfortunately, they are also realities for all constituencies, almost.

So when politicians, coming in all manner and fashion, masquerading in all shapes and sizes of visionary leaders – and they talk of putting in place plans to challenge rural poverty, to some degree, I understand them – and I agree with them. We definitely need realistic solutions for real problems and challenges that our people are going through, every day.

And, it is not just about roads, it is about all else – health facilities, school, teaching and learning facilities, social protection structures, trade and industry structures etc. It is time practical solutions were put in place to make the rural masses real participants in the real economy.

One would have thought that the realities in the rural settings are far removed from what life is all about in the cities. Not quite so, I’m afraid. I have been quite lucky that in the past four months also, I have set my foot on soils of all the four cities that the country purports to have i.e. the Capital City, Lilongwe; the Commercial City, Blantyre; the Green City, Mzuzu and the Municipality-turned-city, Zomba. A very quick glance on all of them sends chills of despondency and cheerlessness down one’s spine.

Take the Capital City for example and take yourself through the road off Bottom Hospital into Malangalanga market area and pass through MACRO into Falls Estate and proceed to Area 36 via Phwetekekele Market. The sad story of one’s journey in the city would continue if you took yourself to Areas 23, 25 & Mgona, area 24, the vast areas of area 49 & Ntandire, area 43 (the newer extension etc). Lilongwe City, viewed from the road infrastructural prism, ceases to be a city – and the challenge of the roads alone brings a host of other challenges into visible reality.

Well, let me not speak for you, but If you can come back from this long journey, via the routes I propose here and feel proud to be Malawian, at almost 50 years in as far as [political] independence is concerned, I would really “doff my wisdom heart” for you in awe!

Go to Blantyre. Take yourself through Shoprite, head towards Kwacha roundabout – and proceed to Kwacha studios of TVM – at the junction take a right turn and do not go far, enter Manja area take as many twists and turns there as you feel like and then end up in Soche East and head towards Chilobwe and go as deep into Chilobwe as you can.

Come back to Shoprite by whatever route you like. Do the same, if you would still have the energy, for the populous areas of Bangwe/Namiyango; Makheta/Machinjiri, Mbayani/Chirimba, Nyambadwe/Ndirande etc; and do as many twists and turns in those areas as you would have the energy to. If you will return to your base, sit back and say “yea, that was a satisfying journey”, I will definitely be puzzled by your take.

Before you head off to Mzuzu, take your journey to Zomba. Get yourself at the popular area called 3-Miles and don’t go further, take a turn into Sadzi and drive through the area as extensively as you can; and take yourself to Mpondabwino and take a good drive around there and take yourself back to wherever you might have started from by whatever route. If you will be happy to be called Malawian, 50 years into independence, you will be, definitely, my woman or man of the year in 2014.

Finish off your journey of discovery in the Green City, Mzuzu. By whatever means, start off from the newly built Shoprite Mall and take yourself through the road that will make you enjoy the elegant scenes of the Mzuzu Reserve Bank Building and take a turn into the road that will make you pass-by the magnificent National Bank Building; get passed Kawiluwilu House, drive on and deep into that residential area. You can take turns into Masasa or proceed on until you get to the main road around ADMARC.

You can also take your journey to Luwinga, the so called Mzuzu 2 and drive around the area and enjoy the scenes of Southern Bottlers and Auction Floors and drive around as extensively as you like. Before retiring, take a quick view of the Mzuzu Airport; go into Chibaci via the magnificent Saint John of God Centre and drive around Chibavi as extensive as you may wish. After all this, take yourself back to the Mzuzu City Centre (I do not know where this would be – may be where the many commercial banks are situated). Sit back, think and satisfy yourself to the “entertainment” that you would just have experienced.

Life in our cities, in very general terms, is as much a challenge as it probably is in the rural setting – much as the parameters may differ. As regards our so called cities, one never can avoid posing some naively serious questions e.g. why do we appear so disorganized and uncaring as a people? “Where are our city fathers [and mothers], and why do we pay them, after all? And if they exist and report to their offices day in and day out, what are they really up?

When I get a chance to attend political rallies, especially now that we are in the official campaign period, I try to look for substance beyond the deafening and sometimes utterly noisy “Pipiiiiii, yanyamukaaaaaas”; the “Kwachas”, the UuuuuuuDF motomotos,  and the “DDP Woyeees. I find the sloganeering quite some fun but most of the messages, beyond the slogans, are empty with no specifics on the “how” it will all happen.”

The major point I want to drive at is that you will see poverty in real terms written all over our cities – not just the poverty of “us” as a people in terms of resources, materials and amenities – but you will see poverty of LEADERSHIP in the way we manage our affairs, the affairs that have a direct impact on the people of Malawi. It appears, at least to me, nobody really cares about the welfare of the people and the accompanying improvement in the quality of the life we live and lead. Adding salt to injury, unfortunately, none of the major political parties, this far, has laid down a serious item on their agenda to strengthen local governance structures which will give power to the people in real political space and time.

In the view of this writer, we need, at the most minimum, an agenda that inspires people, Malawians, into action; but then, I ask, “shall we get that agenda beyond the election on May 20”? The probability is that we will resort to business as usual after the election. Let me be quick to point out, however, that I will be one of the happiest people if my pessimism will be proved 100% wrong.

It is my sincere hope that as a nation, we will clearly define the power demarcations – separation of powers if you like – of the three arms of Government, yes, but also, the local government apparatus. It is probably through well-defined terms of reference and points of action for the local government apparatus that will see us attending to some of the most obvious needs, requirements and plights of the common Malawian.

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