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.