Sunday, May 18, 2008

What shall Malawi be in 2036?

We are all prisoners of the past. What past will our children and their children have? This is a question for our generation.

It is human desire to look ahead and try to make sense of and shape the future. This has been part of human history through the ages.

I will be 60 in 2036, retired (perhaps?) and settled in some rural corner, not far away from the city of Blantyre, researching, writing, publishing and visiting universities to teach political thought and strategic communication.

My wife will be 55 and about to retire from the University of Malawi where she will spend years teaching and researching on ethics. Our daughter Ngeyi will be 32.

She will be teaching Medical Law and Ethics at the College of Medicine in Blantyre and writing on law, morals and ethics. Probably she will have a sister or a brother, a medical doctor, who will be 28. He or she will specialise in pyschiatry, a field that is crucial to every country’s survival but loathed by medical students in Malawi.

If you are 30 you will be 60, like me, in 2036. Our children will be our age today, in their late 20s and early 30s. What Malawi are we making for our children and their children?

Malawi of 2036 largely depends on our choices today; what we plan and achieve; the policies we put in place in critical areas of health, education, agriculture and the economy. Our choices matter because the future is in our hands. Shall our children and grandchildren look back and thank us for making Malawi a better place for them?

Or shall they blame us for all the problems on the door steps of their time? Shall our children find trees? Shall they have water shortages half their life? Will our children go to school for an education that will be meaningful to their personal prosperity and national development in a world that is becoming complicated with 21st Century challenges?

Shall I be able to live in the cool plains of Phalombe and drive to Blantyre on a safe, smooth Limbe-Chiradzulu-Phalombe Road to teach at the Polytechnic or present papers at crucial conferences? Or shall I fear thugs on the road who shall want to hijack my car and sell it in Mozambique?

So far, the prospects are hopeful. Malawi has food and, as we know, food is number one. A hungry man has no time to think and invent. A hungry person spends time hunting for food that sometimes might not be there.


I have no major problems with President Bingu wa Mutharika. His administration has challenged us to think anew, to put Malawi first and to aim higher, always. He has challenged law and made us realise that law, without reason and common sense, is not supreme. He has challenged the Judiciary, which lived untouchable.

In fact, Joseph Nkasa is right that Mutharika is Malawi’s modern Moses. This man of God who ‘saved’ Israelites from Egypt was a great leader yet imperfect.

Moses had ideas yet unable to articulate them because he was not good at speech. He was physically strong yet weak at anger that he could kill an enemy blocking his way. He was with his people yet not of the people; they could not understand his thought. He was a friend of God yet sometimes he didn’t listen to his Creator.

Told to strike a rock once, he hit it twice and angered God. Once Moses got two tablets of laws from God in the mountain and broke them soon before destination.

Mutharika seems the best leader Malawi has ever had. But—and this is true—he is not perfect. He has weaknesses. In fact, the world has no perfect leader. We do not need a perfect leader because we cannot survive such a leadership in this human state.

Mutharika has made mistakes, some shameful. The interconnection bill that was assented to before deliberations in Parliament, I am sure, was a plot by some weak minds in government. The pardon of Senior Chief Chikowi was a blunder that will be in my book on Mutharika’s presidency. Now people are not so much afraid to tamper with the subsidised fertiliser programme. The result is chaos.

And the list of the weaknesses is long. Some talk of a not-so-listening President, even in Cabinet meetings which sometimes turn into lecturers. Well, he is a human being.

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt but he did not reach Canaan. So, too, Mutharika. He has put Malawi on a journey to prosperity but he won’t be there in 2030s.

Like everybody else, he will have to go. It’s a sad thought but true. But he has solace from Moses. After all the failures, Moses appears in Hebrews 11 among the giants of faith in the Old Testament. So, too, Mutharika. Despite all his failures and weaknesses, the strengths are too big to go unnoticed, at least in honest history books.

But while we applaud Mutharika we must remember he is using our money to develop this country—whatever you consider to be development. Thus, there is no reason to over-praise him. The legitimate praise is to ourselves and to him as our servant—not master as some ministers preach—that he has been prudent with our pulse. After all, it takes one person to build or destroy a country.

My worry for the future is not with Mutharika—although I fear for his second term. My concern is after Mutharika. Everyone who wants to develop Malawi as president must look at 2014 because Mutharika will win in 2009. Who comes after Mutharika? Will he or she live the national vision?

Of course, the choice is ours at the polls in 2014. But that depends on the candidates political parties will give us. Is there anyone understudying Mutharika to take over in 2014? Is Mutharika himself mindful that he needs to groom several and let them compete at a DPP convention?

Does the UDF have a strategic plan to prepare someone to take Malawi to greater heights? Will the People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) with less than 10 MPs be a big party with legislators all over the country? What about the MCP? Will it be there? In what form? Any new parties?

The challenge for us today is to take part in politics in a way that will influence meritocracy in parties. That is one big way to make Malawi of 2036 a good place for our oldselves, our children and our grandchildren. If we remain in what we do as smart people and call politics dirty, forgetting that it affects us in big ways, Malawi of 2036 will be a bad place.

And, as usual, the media has a big challenge. Are we reporting and analysing issues, events, ideas and functions in a way that makes people think critically about their country? Or we just vomit what not-so-intelligent politicians say?


Aids is killing 10 people every hour in Malawi, meaning 240 a day and 87,600 in an ordinary year. Most of us will survive the next 30 years. But shall Aids still be claiming 10 lives every hour in 2036? Or shall we have defeated the epidemic that has become a pandemic for Southern Africa?

The disease has affected the psyche of our country. Challenges like extreme domestic violence are, mostly, health-related.

Violence needs a psychiatry explanation. Sadly, Malawi has one psychiatrist, Dr Felix Kauye. Luckily, he has dedicated his life to the civil service, working at the Zomba Mental Hospital and teaching at the College of Medicine. Another is still in school. Hopefully, he will come back home upon completion.

Life and death in 2036 depend on our choices today. If we fight Aids strategically, we will win and reduce prevalence rates to manageable levels below five percent. If we remain careless, HIV prevalence will be worse than today.

That aside, shall the country have enough doctors? Training is not the main challenge. Ten years ago, the College of Medicine was graduating less than 10 doctors a year. Now it is producing about 40 a year. But where are these? In some classes of eight doctors, all of them are outside Malawi, working, in search of greener pastures.

There are more Malawian doctors in Scotland than in Malawi. What should we do to make doctors stay? One, the first reason is within the doctors themselves. Money, as professor Kings Phiri likes to say, is not the only solution to life’s problems. Yet our doctors need money, no question about that.

They need good working conditions. Number two, and what we have missed, is that we haven’t made true what professor Brown Chimphamba likes to say, that "the best service one can give is to their country".

How does it feel to work outside Malawi for decades and return home to find a not-so-developed country?

We need to realise that our country is developing and patience is a virtue. But everyone must be seen to be patient. It does not make sense for an MP with a JC to get a lot more than a doctor who spent 15 years in college.


The University of Botswana is nicknamed University of Malawi Botswana Campus.
The reason is simple. The English Department was once made up of Malawians with professor David Rubadiri as head. Academics are well-paid in Botswana.

Any university is an academic institution, not an employment institution. Strikes are, therefore, not part of the academic culture. So, why do we have strikes?

Do we want the academic calendar to be disturbed by strikes in 2036? No. One, academic staff need to be compensated accordingly. They are people who steer development. Two, the academic staff need to find strategic ways of bargaining. They can use the parliamentary committee on education, science and technology, for example, instead of striking like labourers.

As a country, we need to pay our academic staff well because they are at a public university. Do we as people have an interest in education? Do we want our professors well-paid? Do we realise that we can lobby on behalf of academic staff?

The future of Malawi in 2036 depends on what we do with the dons now. We need reason and common sense in our country.

How come an MP with a JC gets over K200,000 while a professor gets less than that? Both MPs and academics are our employees and we need to fight for them. Why do we allow MPs to raise their salaries unreasonably sometimes and blame academics when they want 200 percent of the little they get?

The challenges of the academics are our problems. Let us fight for them. If the university is alright, secondary and primary sections of education will be fine.


We have had steady growth of 7.5 percent per year. But without meaningful production this growth will fall and Malawi will fly back into hopelessness that characterised the second term of former president Bakili Muluzi.

The growth will also depend on how much we invest in our children. What did you inherit from your parents? Most likely nothing. But they managed to send you to school, probably. This generation needs to do more than sending children to school.

Our children need to inherit some real estate. They will need to be employed. It is not prudent to be telling university graduates to think of employing and not being employed. That is not their problem. It is ours. We need to create employment for them.

One way is to make sure the companies that are in Malawi today survive the next decades. Of course, this is largely the responsibility of the companies themselves. Those who cherish in being chief executives have the duty to keep companies in business.

Here is one way. Two decades ago, my brother Phil, also known as Alstone, was working for the Churchill Road Branch of the National Bank of Malawi. Then, NB used to publish a quarterly magazine, Entry, and the moment it arrived home, my timetable changed.

I could spend days reading. The magazine made interesting time in addition to Moni and the Malawi Police magazines.

Now I am banking with the Chichiri Branch of the NB. It is my favourite and, as at now, only bank. The reason is simple. They appealed to me when I was a child.

Here is a free lesson for all managers. Any company that wants to be there beyond 2036 must hook primary and secondary school children. They will become customers in years from now. Failure to hook the children is failure to market for the future.

It is important to run competitions for present customers. But it is also crucial to engage children in dialogue, to make a life-time impact on their education.

One of the best ways is for companies to help the education sector. Companies have tried sports. Now it is time to try education. Will the chief executive officer of National Bank in 2036 look back and say, ‘George Patridge worked hard to make NB the giant of the next few centuries?’

The answer to this question depends on what NB, and indeed any other company, does to the education sector and the children of Malawi.


Let no Malawian be deceived. We are all prisoners of our past, especially the past imposed on us by those who lived before us. Let no Malawian be deceived that it is impossible to move this country from poverty to prosperity. Beyond that, we need to develop a tendency of rewarding merit which our grandchildren should inherit.

We must conserve the environment. We must adopt meaningful technologies including biotechnology for our prosperity. We must have faith in ourselves; faith that we can make it; faith that Nsanje can be transformed into a port city, even if it takes 50 years. We must know our history, where we are coming from and where we are going. In short, we need a cultural backbone to fall on.

This shall be a fine Malawi for our old age, our children and their grandchildren. This Malawi is where I want live when I am 60. But such a fine Malawi has to be made now.

End of reason and common sense

Will law end our problems? The practical answer is no. Law does not work on the mind. Reason and common sense do.

The road to Zomba is small, bumpy and makes a boring, yet wonderful journey. Soul soothing sights are spread almost throughout the road.

Children going to school in the morning, hundreds of them walking, barefoot, from Kachere to Limbe Cathedral where two primary schools are housed. They walk in pairs, trios, even more than quartets. Some walk alone. But most of them look ahead as if appreciating some distant future.

The clay pots market on the Magomero part of the road. This is a market whose wares remain on stalls 24 hours a day. All kinds of stories do rounds, from the pots cannot move without the owners to pots turn into wet clay when stolen.

And the big trees on Namadzi River, a body of water that is the boundary between Chiradzulu and Zomba. They are big mibawa trees planted over 50 years ago. They make the river look natural. They give hope, as well, especially to impatient travellers from Blantyre who get a physical feeling that they are about to reach the municipality of Zomba.

The bridge area is a cool place, always; trees prevent direct sunlight from hitting the soil and thus make it a comfortable place for domestic chores. But this might no longer be the case. Some of the trees have been cut down and people are making timber right in the river.

"They bought the trees from the Forestry Department," said Alines Lino, a resident of Namadzi who uses the river almost everyday. "They followed the law."

This may be true. Forestry officers have procedures for selling natural trees like mibawa. The timber business is legal, too.

But it doesn’t make common sense to cut down trees just on the bank of a river, especially scarce species like mibawa. Yet the timber makers are protected by law and this is the challenge because laws are supposed to reflect people’s reasoning abilities, common sense, hopes and fears.

Does the felling of trees in a river make sense? Reason and common sense say trees and all forms of vegetative cover protect river banks from being washed away. The trees protect soil erosion and conserve water, partly making a river like Namadzi flow almost throughout the year.

But, it seems, law (as on paper) does not worry about soil erosion. Law does not worry about natural beauty. Law does not think about rainfall. Reason and common sense do.

The felling of trees at Namadzi, however small an event this may be, is a powerful indication of declining reason and common sense.

Over 20 years ago, felling trees in strategic places was legal. But common sense kept the trees standing. Now there is a heavy reliance on legal instruments as the basis of policy and life, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.

What has happened to Malawi? Why do reason, logic, common sense and truth seem to be diminished in the way we are making important decisions?

These questions have answers. What is worrying is that no one is asking them. There is, of course, some mention of declining reasoning, but only a handful Malawians are worried and their concern is on the death of a reading culture. What they don’t say is that this declining reading life is part of the reasons behind low reasoning abilities and bringing an end to common sense.

Faith in the power of reason was, long time ago, the basis for life. Now the belief that people, being rational beings, can live happily and fairly by engaging in logical debate on the basis of evidence available instead of legal or political power is almost disappearing.

There is a strange emphasis on litigation. People, it seems, have lost what first President Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda called "contact and dialogue". This was just a name. In reality, Kamuzu was encouraging reason over litigation and violence. Sadly, everyone is rejoicing in suing. Further, what is legal has become good. We have forgotten that not all that is legal is moral.

The United States (US) has been a super power for more than a century. The foundation of the US was on reason and common sense. Founding leaders said wise words that remain inspiring even today.
This is no longer the case now. US leaders—from president to senators, even people—have abandoned reason and common sense, instead they have become a litigation nation, spending more money and time in courts and legal issues than research and development and there are real fears that the country is losing its position of world leadership.

Perhaps the US is at tertiary stage in a life span of a nation. They have almost everything—although they don’t accept that their public health service is falling apart.

Malawi, a developing or primary level country, is walking the US-way of law and litigation instead of running on reason, common sense and ideas.

We are adapting laws meant for countries that have developed and are seeking nothing but pleasure. We have abandoned our sense of umunthu and gone for the supremacy of law over umunthu. Our democracy is a product of the courts instead of being a system of government based on common good realised from meaningful debate.

Alliance for Democracy (Aford) has political conflicts that can be resolved at a political meeting. But instead of employing contact and dialogue (or common sense), the party’s factions are regular visitors to the High Court.
Over a year ago, some NGOs made noise for a law on domestic violence. They celebrated the passing of the bill into law. Has the law had an impact on people? Not necessarily. Rape and defilement are still reported to police stations, almost everyday. The solution is not in law, it is in umunthu and this is influenced by reason and common sense, not law as some activists want the nation to believe.

Some laws don’t make common sense at all. This confirms what one law professor likes to say, that law is unfair. The Constitution’s definition of marriage is a typical example. In Section 22(5), our supreme law recognises marriage "at law, custom and marriages by repute or by permanent cohabitation".

This means you or your sister or brother, even son or daughter, can be living with someone without making the union formal, that is to be recognised as marriage culturally.

The argument is that this protects those who love one another but are prevented from marriage by parents due to tribal differences, for example. The other reason is that this law helps women who are cohabiting in case of death of the man, often the bread winner.

Fine. But this section of the Constitution works on a wrong assumption, that culturally there is no room for bargaining. If all of a person’s relatives are against marriage, perhaps, it is good to listen. In fact such situations are rare. Some uncles and aunts might have no problem with a prospective wife or husband and a young man or woman can use such people to negotiate with those opposing a marriage.

There is a lot of bargaining room, culturally. The Constitution does not reflect this. Instead, it suppresses contact and dialogue or reason and common sense.

Section 65 which has been in courts for over a year is now over yet not over. The recent ruling is just a verdict, not a solution to the political problem that is Section 65. We have forgotten the world around the section, why and how this amendment was effected. It came into being because of a political problem. Political party leaders were supposed to discuss and identify a political solution.

That could have been common sense and, as Malawians are realising, this sense has deserted the streets and is rare. The result is that public discourse has become less focused, less clear and less reasoned. Has our discourse ever been focused, clear and reasoned?

Yes, but to an extent. Long before Malawi fell under the British, people reasoned together under trees. They debated, agreed and disagreed. Chokolo, for example, was for the good of the people arrived at using logical arguments. (This explains why we are losing the war against the practice because we are fighting a logical agreement of society using law instead of common sense and reason.)

Colonialism partly affected the existence of reason and common sense. The independence under one party era didn’t help matters, either.

The Malawi Congress Party (MCP), like any dictator, assumed that Malawians were not rational beings to make independent choices. The Executive arm of government decided what people should know. Yet, despite that lack of political reason and logic, reason prevailed on matters social and economic.

This was evidently present during the transition from one party to multiparty democracy. People reasoned together, mostly peacefully whether one was for or against one party system.
It is important to mention that during the transition, the print media was the market place of ideas. There were, at one time, over 30 newspapers in Malawi.

This is important and needs elaboration because the flourishing radio industry and the coming of television have, somehow, contributed to the scarcity of reason and common sense.

Forty years ago, media expert Marshall McLuhan described television as a ‘cool’ medium contrasting it with the ‘hot’ medium of print. Then, it was hard to understand because, as scholars explained later, the source of ‘heat’ in McLuhan’s metaphor is "the mental work required in the alchemy of reading".

But McLuhan was almost alone in recognising the passivity associated with watching television at the expense of activity in parts of the brain associated with abstract thought, logic and reasoning.

Former US vice-president and professor of journalism Al Gore, says the vividness experienced by television viewers is different from the vividness in readers.

In his senior thesis, Gore studied the impact of television on the balance of power among the three branches of government in the US. He pointed out the growing importance of visual rhetoric and body language over logic and reason, meaning television appeals more to emotion than reason. The same can be said of radio.

There is a visible lack of analysis of issues, opinions and ideas on television and radio, that kind of analysis that newspapers are giving readers. (There is a move from hard news to analysis. Did you see Ephraim Munthali’s commentary on the cost of Section 65 in The Nation.)

The remedy for our democracy is not simply a new constitution (as important as that is) or civic education (as Patricia Kaliati will now be educating us all), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way—a conversation of democracy in which credible ideas and opinions from individuals can powerfully attract logical responses.

Public broadcasters can do well by balancing their programmes to reflect the thinking of Malawians. One sided programming reduces the reasoning of listeners from that of human beings to mechanic beings.

Law does not haunt the conscious of people. Reason and common sense do. Law cannot stop people from cultivating on hills. Reason and common sense can stop deforestation. Section 65 cannot stop MPs from crossing the floor. Reason and common sense can analyse every situation as it comes. Law cannot stop rape, defilement and chokolo. Reason and common sense can stop the vices.

The place of reason and common sense should be repaired. Malawi needs to repair its public forum starting in our homes then move on to school and churches/mosques.

Television and radio need to go beyond hard news—hard facts. The Executive branch of government has actively promoted the strangling of reason, sanity, debate and common sense by allowing MBC and TVM to practise basic journalism: the government has said kind of journalism. The Executive does not gain anything by monopolising public media.

Instead, the country loses all and this is seen in the creation of Ministry of Information and Civic Education, a desperate attempt at restoring reason and common in Malawians—solving a problem we created.

Rule of law? Yes, but lawyers should not hold the country at ransom. What about rule of reason and common sense? This is much needed from the President down to people felling trees at Namadzi.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lack of ideas

A meeting of tourism experts recently blamed poor funding for the failed industry. Not true. Tourism is failing because of lack of will to implement brilliant ideas.

Lack of money for marketing, noted delegates to a one-day tourism review meeting last week, has plunged the country’s tourism sector into turmoil.

This, said Victor Curtin, is the reason the number of visitors to Malawi is decreasing. Curtin is a consultant from Tourism Intelligence International. He noted that withdrawal of flights to places like Mangochi, growing perceptions of health risks from bilharzia in Lake Malawi and failure of potential investors in the industry are the major factors resulting into stunted growth of the tourism industry.

This last challenge of investors is a real one. It is not that there are no investors willing to spend capital in Malawi. There is plenty money in the world. But Malawi must be willing to get this investment.

The case of Mangochi is a typical example. The Mangochi Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Project (MISRDP) is a people-centred organisation working for the development of the district. The ideas put forward are not new. Talk of elephants has been around for a decade now. The district has potential for tourism.

Lake Malawi National Park is unique, the only of its kind in the world. The lake’s rocky shores at Cape Maclear seem to be growing everyday. Yet they remain the same. That is the beauty of it all. The fish are rare, only found in Lake Malawi. It is still a virgin land, one not yet spoiled by industrialisation.

The national park can extend to Phirilongwe where a sanctuary will be constructed to protect about 70 elephants.

In the last 10 years, close to 15 people have been killed. This is the reason some government officials are opposing the idea of extending the national park to Phirilongwe. They argue—or say, because theirs is not an argument at all—that it is more expensive to construct a fence than transfer the elephants to Majete Wildlife Park in Chikwawa, for example.

What they don’t consider is that more people have died from preventable and treatable diseases and road accidents than from elephants.

The development project for Mangochi, according to MISRDP and the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), is not about elephants. It is about everything from health, agriculture to education. Aids, for example, is killing people and devastating families and the economy.

HIV rates in Nankumba Peninsula, according to OPC, are between 24 and 50 percent. Msaka Village, for example, has 50 percent HIV prevalence rates. This is a small fishing village whose history is interesting. Decades ago, people came to fish here and stayed for a few days. The area is part of Lake Malawi National Park and not meant for people. But as time went by, fishermen began to bring spouses and it became a village. Children are born here, they grow up here up to the age of 20 without going to Mangochi.

The HIV virus simply leaves one person and goes to another; from a boy to a girl, from that girl to a married man to his wife and to the wife’s boyfriend and so on and so forth.

These are the real challenges facing Mangochi and the development project caters for such issues. The people of Mangochi need a whole package of development. They need schools. They need clean water. They need to be empowered to say no to HIV and Aids. They need employment. Finally, the people of Mangochi deserve a better life.

The Phirilongwe national park is just part of the beginning of the projects. Now the road from Mangochi to Monkey Bay is under construction. Soon the roads to some lakeside lodges will be constructed as well.

This is the way to go. The people know what they want and that is the whole idea of decentralisation (people power).

One representative of the donor community suggested in a telephone conversation this week that "there is plenty of money for every project in Malawi so long the ideas come forth".

"What you lack is not financial capital," he said. "You lack capital in form of ideas." This is partly true. But the main truth is that we lack the courage or, put clearly, the will to turn ideas into action.

Sometimes this lack of will for national development as is the case in Mangochi is out of selfish reasons. Four weeks ago, three traditional authorities (T/As)—Nankumba, Chimwala and Mponda—supported the idea that elephants should stay at Phirilongwe. Government, they suggested, should construct a fence to protect people and their property.

"These are our elephants," they said.

Now, there is pressure from some government officials and the chiefs are wavering in their faith towards the construction of the sanctuary at Phirilongwe.

So, it is not lack of funds preventing development. It is lack of political will at middle management level in government. People in Mangochi want development. The Executive arm of government is in support of the plans. Donors are ready waiting for ideas.

But some senior managers—few, of course—are against development for no apparent reason. If elephants have killed about 15 people in 10 years, Aids has killed 10 every hour, and perhaps out of these one dies in Mangochi.

A complete development package will afford the people of Mangochi—and the whole Malawi—meaningful life, not bare existence as is the case now.

What is it making some government officials to block this development in Mangochi? This is a question under investigation and, so far, work is progressing well. There must be something stronger than development driving the opposition.

But it is important to quote President Bingu wa Mutharika on this: "It is appalling that some Malawians engage in corrupt practices as a way of promoting their personal, selfish economic and financial gains at the expense of national goals and aspirations."

Perhaps something close to this is happening in Malawi regarding the elephants at Phirilongwe and development in Mangochi.

Complete package of tourism in Mangochi

Geography, said Napoleon, "is destiny." He was wrong.

Our destiny is a lot more than where we live. Our destiny is shaped by our choices. It is especially shaped by the decisions of our elected leaders.

Napoleon was wrong because our geography, the part of the earth where we live, is mute. The earth does not speak. The earth does not go to Parliament. Our planet does not protest at a rally.
The earth or geography does not have a voice. It responds to man’s activities.

What we decide to do with our geography makes our destiny. The people of Mangochi are proving Napoleon wrong. They have realised that geography can give a people gold, but if they don’t dig it up, what destiny has that geography on their life?

The gold in Mangochi, and of course the gold for Malawi, is in the lake, the animals, the forests and, most importantly, the people—their way of life, their culture.

Lake Malawi

It is the world’s third deepest lake and has more fish species than any other body of water on earth: close to 900 species. Twenty eight years ago, the rocky shorelines and islands of Nankumba Peninsula were declared Lake Malawi National Park and elevated to world heritage site in 1983.

"Lake Malawi is a natural treasure of world-magnitude and it should be treated as such," say six authors of Lake Malawi National Park: World Heritage Site yet to be published.

Treasure of world-magnitude? Yes. The lake is the tenth largest in the world, 600 kilometres long and 80 kilometres at its longest width.

While there are admirable beaches and rocks all along the lake from Karonga to Mangochi, it is the southern tip in Mangochi that is probably the most attractive. The waters of Lake Malawi in Cape Maclear provide Nankoma, Maleri, Nakantenga, Mumbo, Domwe, Otter and Thumbi West islands.

Other sites range from the Zimbabwe to Tsano rocks. Together with everything else, Lake Malawi provides some unforgettable scenery.

I recently took a sunset boat cruise, gazing at the sun as it sunk into its home in the western side of the lake, leaving bright rays on the water—some bright cover over the earth, a real assurance of another day, a tomorrow.

The next day, John, a young man in his 20s put me on an hour-long swimming lesson. It was frightening yet I had all the underwater gear befitting an amateur swimmer. By the end of the hour I was catching up.

"Excellent," said John after several attempts. "That is all about swimming, nothing more. But the fear must disappear."

The last assignment was to swim underwater at Thumbi West Island. It was terrific. The fish, especially Mbuna, seen underwater, in their natural habitat; the rocks and the vegetation; the water and water plants, all wonderful.

Now, I realised the reason people in the West save for years just for a holiday on Lake Malawi. This is a realisation we need to value.

Mangochi district, especially the Nankumba Peninsula, provides, perhaps, the best complete package of tourism in Malawi. The peninsula has Lake Malawi National Park—a unique place declared special by the United Nations—and Phirilongwe Forest Reserve, meaning the peninsula provides a whole package for the growth of tourism industry.

Cape Maclear, the heart of Nankumba peninsula, is most likely the most beautiful part of Lake Malawi.

The lake at Cape Maclear is punctuated by hills that have attractive rocks. They are rocks that tell a story. The water is usually calm. The hills slow down heavy winds. But it is never completely calm on the lake. Mwera and Dzambwe winds, sometimes, bring small tides, a reminder that life has its own challenges that must be overcome.

Animals and forests

In his untitled manuscript, Steve Aipira, a lecturer at the Polytechnic recalls that Mponda Village in Mangochi had signs that read, ‘Beware of elephants on this road’. This was at Milambe near the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) transmitting station.

Elephants crossed the road as they walked from Nkhudzi Hill, down to the lake to drink and play.
"The giant mammals could be seen even during the day, walking majestically in groups, taking no cognizance of people," says Aipira in his book.

During those two decades, in the 50s and 60s, the elephants multiplied and, because of this, government declared Phirilongwe Forest Reserve covering the areas of T/As Chimwala Mponda and Nankumba.

Sadly, as years passed, greed took root in individuals. Man discovered that tusks were money.
Government failed to prevent encroachment into the forest reserve. People cut trees and opened gardens in what was supposed to be a protected area. Now the elephants have turned into enemies. They no longer look at people as friends. The reason is simple, says group village headman Chamba.

"We have," he says, "angered the elephants. We are injuring and killing them and they are revenging."

His voice, faint though, contains wisdom. He was born in 1932 and says elephants in the past passed by people’s homes, stared at human beings with people wondering at the huge mammals. "We lived peacefully with the animals," says Chamba.

This peace with the animals is what he and others with development eyes want back. Government has highlighted six broad priority areas that can help boost the country’s economy. Tourism is one of them and Nankumba Peninsula has been recognised as a potential for economic success in tourism and cultural industries.

The exact population of elephants in Phirilongwe is not known but some estimate that there are 70 animals.

Mangochi Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Project (MISRDP) is a non profit making community based organisation whose strategic plan is to work towards a complete tourism package in Mangochi.

Six people that make MISRDP want Lake Malawi National Park expanded to include Phirilongwe Forest Reserve.

The organisation recently visited three chiefs—Nankumba, Chimwala and Mponda—who want the elephants to remain in the forest reserve. (Some government officials were insisting that the elephants be taken to other game reserves.)

"These are our animals, handed over to us by our parents and we cannot have them moved," said T/A Nankumba three weeks ago.

Executive coordinator of MISRDP Henry Sinyangwe said in a recent interview that his organisation will work hard to have a fence at Phirilongwe because people have suffered long enough and that "it is time to benefit from nature".

"What remains is to meet the district commissioner who will help us to meet government officials at Capital Hill," he said.

The organisation believes that once the tourism industry in Mangochi is complete with the erection of a fence at Phirilongwe, development will flow to Mangochi. The forest reserve will come with a self contained town—health programmes, markets, schools and clean water.

The complete package means tourists will have water and beaches, water animals and rocks in Lake Malawi National Park; elephants in Phirilongwe Forest Reserve and lodges on both arms of the southern end of the lake in Mangochi.

Further, people’s crops will be saved from elephants. Not only that, people’s lives will be spared. Elephants from Phirilongwe have killed people in the past decade, mainly because the forest reserve is not protected.


It is not the water and the hills and the animals and the fish that make Cape Maclear the best part of Lake Malawi. The people and the beaches complete the cycle. The clear sands are good for beach soccer and all sporting activities that need sand.

The Chewa people in Nankumba Peninsula have a rich culture with gule wankulu topping the list. This is a culture we have not yet understood. This is a culture that might attract scholars to study the history and life of the people of Nankumba Peninsula because tourism is not about the earth and geography only, it is about people and their ways of life.

The people would benefit by this economic development because it means better programmes of education, health and agriculture. The roads are already under construction.

Secretary for HIV, Aids and Nutrition in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) Mary Shawa is leading a Capital Hill development initiative for Mangochi and she sees things in whole. She wants fish preserved, HIV prevalence rates reduced, Phirilongwe fenced, people resettled and agriculture improved.

The HIV prevalence rates in Nankumba Peninsula range between 24 and 50 percent. Shawa has a couple of faces: she is an agriculturalist, a rural development and health expert and looks at things from different perspectives. (Her life deserves a well-written profile of at least two pages.)

"This is not about tourism in Mangochi," she said. "It is about development in Mangochi and Malawi."

National picture

Mangochi is not the only story of tourism in Malawi. There is Mulanje Mountain and its peaks, Sapitwa being the most famous. There is Nyika Plateau and Livingstonia in the North. And there are game reserves, national parks and historical sites all over the country.

While Cape Maclear provides a wonderful sight of the setting sun, Mulanje Mountain gives a magnificent portrait of the rising sun, seen as if being lifted from Indian Ocean by invisible hands.

On the three occasions I went on Lake Malawi for sunset cruise, I saw the sun, bright and reddish, drop into the space behind the hills that make Dedza Mountain.

Now, I understood the reason our High Commissioner to Britain Francis Moto titled his collection of poetry Gazing At the Setting Sun. He grew up on the banks of Livulezi River in Dedza watching—no, gazing—at the setting sun, everyday of summer.

It is possible for a person to spend all their holiday in Malawi starting from Mulanje through Liwonde National Park, onto a boat ride on Shire to Mangochi and on the road to Cape Maclear and Phirilongwe and then via Kasungu National Park to Nyika and Livingstonia and Karonga, to move on to Tanzania.


I have been through the fjords and mountains of Norway, the highways and forests of Washington, the beaches of Mombasa and Accra, the mountains of Arusha. Where else? I have been in London, Amsterdam, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg and other places. I have flown over almost all countries in Africa, so many countries in Europe and over several states of the United States of America.

Some of these are beautiful places. But none of them has a combination like we have in Mangochi: lake, animals and people.

This combination is our gold. It’s not where we live but what we do with our geography. My nephew, a form three student, surprised me three weeks ago. If Americans, he said, were to be brought to Malawi and Malawians taken to the US, by the end of three years Americans in Malawi would be rich while Malawians in America would turn out poor.

He was, unknown to himself, proving Napoleon wrong. My nephew, young though, is brilliant enough to know that geography does not matter, our choices do.

This, it is for sure, is the wisdom the people of Mangochi have realised. Government needs to do its honest part and there is no better time than now to listen to the wishes of the people of Mangochi expressed through the three T/As. The rest of us need to lock hands with the people of Mangochi.

Malawi is our only home. We have no other land to develop and no other people—except Malawians—can develop Malawi.