Mangochi declared a town… finally!

It took a while but it has finally happened. Mangochi has been elevated from a district council to a town status by President Joyce Banda, a step aimed at making the lakeshore town a bustling tourist city. This elevation makes it more than likely to receive more development funding that it has been previously receiving from the national budget. I argued back in March that former president Bingu wa Mutharika’s priority of making Nsanje a city may not have been a well thought out one. Or at least, a hurried one.

Pivot to tourism

Malawi has for the past few years been talking about finding an alternative foreign exchange earner to tobacco, and tourism has been on top of those alternatives. However, there was very little to show that efforts were being made to grow this industry. Many tourism facilities in the country are not really up to international standard but because of a lack of effort. In the past decade or so the national road network, and especially that to the lakeshore areas, has been greatly improved as has the recent hotel grading initiatives that have seen an improvement in lodging facilities. There have also been efforts by the Department of Tourism to market the country albeit not at the same level of quality as our neighbours Zambia and Tanzania. But then again, our industry is not as developed as theirs. There is a lot more that has to be done however and I think this declaration is a positive first step.

The case against Nsanje

President Mutharika conceived the idea of the Nsanje inland world port and Shire-Zambezi waterway project in 2005 and officially inaugurated the first phase of the project in 2010. The main idea of the project is to open the country to the Indian Ocean on one end and connect it to among others Nacala, Beira, Mtwara and TAZARA corridors on the northern end. The project would eventually see Nsanje being turned into a city with an airport, shopping complexes and other real estate developments. Not a bad project!

Since the announcement and official inauguration of the port, however, there has been a scramble for land and … er, pretty much nothing else! There have also been moves by Mozambique to torpedo the project (or at least delay it) arguing among others that Malawi never carried out a feasibility study or environmental impact assessment, or both. There are also unconfirmed reports that if the project was to become reality, Mozambique would fail to build a bridge over the Zambezi River south of Malawi (currently Mozambican heavy trucks have to drive into Malawi through Mwanza and exit through Mulanje as there is no bridge on the Shire River stretch south of Nsanje or on the Zambezi river stretch south of the Tete bridge. Traffic through Malawi means more toll fees from our neighbours, something perhaps the authorities in Maputo frown upon).

Lake Malawi, Mangochi

Mangochi shoreline of Lake Malawi

Mangochi town always made sense

With such uncertainty surrounding the immediate success of the inland port and waterway project, is it really worth investing our efforts and financial resources in this project at this time? Wouldn’t the effort that went and continues to go into Nsanje have worked wonders by now had it been done in Mangochi or Salima or Nkhata Bay? What Mangochi really lacks, in my opinion, is a modern airport cable of handling large aircraft. Mangochi already has resorts and hotels, banks, a small port (of sorts) and fairly good access roads. Nsanje, on the other hand, has very little, if anything other than the port, to start with. It is basically starting from scratch!

The enthusiasm in the industry to make tourism work is there! A little more policy formulation here, the right incentives put in place there and construction of basic infrastructure like a modern airport could open up so many possibilities and accelerate investment both from within Malawi and from abroad. Mangochi could also act as a hub to other tourism sites like Likoma Island further up on Lake Malawi, South Luangwa Game Reserve in eastern Zambia and Niassa Game Reserve in northern Mozambique. The potential for medical tourism and development of the fishing and agricultural sector is also there, boosting our ever-dwindling foreign exchange earnings.

It is my hope that the Malawi government will throw as many resources, political will and effort towards upgrading Mangochi, maybe even more, as it did towards Nsanje to make the new town world-class.

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