On mini buses and development in Malawi

The role of the transportation sector in the development discourse has been widely recognised and covered. For example, we all know that efficient movement of people and goods is very critical to attain several development goals.  Research findings confirm that due to poor road infrastructure, rural communities fail to access important services and products. In the same vain, farmers have been facing challenges to transport their produce to access better markets.

Recent case study of failure to provide alternative water transport is resulting in loss of good and even life especially those travelling to and from Chizumulu and Likoma Islands. This article aims to inform the reader some of the problems I have observed in the passenger transportation sector in general and specifically the mini buses that require institutional interventions. Then the article will provide some of the suggestions that relevant stakeholders could consider to support and regulate mini bus industry.

Mini buses are on my list when it comes to noise pollution especially in urban areas. For example, at Senti in Lilongwe City, mini buses and their call boys start to hoot for customers as early as 4.30am. In addition, to this noise, the mini buses tend to hoot throughout their business period. Some of the noise comes from their radios which are usually on full volume. They don’t care whether they are close to a hospital or a funeral site.

Minibus on Malawi roads

Failure to observe traffic signs and laws is highly observed among mini bus drivers. This has not only put the passengers at risk but has resulted in critical accidents, affecting third parties. They stop anywhere, and they enter the roads without considering other road users. In some cases, they actually stop on the middle of the road blocking other users.

Just like in many poor countries, most of the minibuses are not road worthy. While traffic officials care about the vehicle certificates and taxes (which are corruptly obtained), they care less on chairs, tires, vehicle fenders, wind screens and even the smoke that pollute both passengers and outsiders.

Over speeding is another meal on the menu of mini bus operators. Even where they are not supposed to cruise (residential areas) or other places, minibuses take these areas like car racing tracks affecting innocent people.

Unnecessary overtaking is very common among mini buses. This is either to rush for customers or lack of consideration to other road users, foolishness, idiocy, imprudence, ignorance and mostly under alcohol influence.

Lacking several requirements including travelling with insufficient gas or travelling with petro while carrying passengers. In some cases, they don’t have fire extinguishers. Passengers have suffered due lack of seriousness among these operators and drivers even conductors are extremely rude to the passengers.

The implication of the above observations is that it directly affects development efforts at country level. The more accidents we have, the more constraints we have on health services including personnel especially in districts with poor medical facilities. We have lost experts who could have supported our development goals.

In addition, the tourism sector has been affected. For example, many tourists from EU countries are strongly advised not to use public transport whilst in Malawi. This is putting us at an awkward situation since most travellers can not afford car hire thereby loosing revenue that could have been used to meet other development goals.

Due to noise pollution, many people are disturbed including students and professionals. This has resulted in school going students fail to do well in class. Most of the experts fail to achieve their deadlines to provide critical reports to the government and other development partners.

These observations can easily be addressed if relevant stakeholders start playing their roles in the sector. For example, most of the ills caused by the mini buses can be checked by the passengers themselves. They have the right to their lives and property. They should inform the driver when ever is breaking some of the laws.

The Minibus Association of Malawi must make sure that the operators are empowered through short courses. Those given the opportunity to drive mini buses must have additional certification approval. Punishments must be given to those breaking the laws. Mini bus owners must also attend capacity building courses to make sure that they are responsible in controlling their workers. It could even be ideal if one agency was recruiting mini bus drivers.

The Road Traffic Department and those responsible for enforcing road laws must avoid corruption to allow minibuses that are not road worthy to ply their businesses in Malawi. Minibuses must pick passengers from designated picking points. In addition, City authorities have the role to make sure that mini bus operators are operating within city regulations including those on noise pollution.

The long term strategy is for the provision of reliable public transport to be controlled by the central government. It is always the duty of the government to provide safe transport and protect the property and lives of its people.

In conclusion, there is need to critically analyse mini bus transportation sector. The sector must be revisited to make sure that it is operating within the required policy environment. Key stakeholders must make sure that the sector is contributing to the development of this country and not destroying the efforts that are already in place.


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