In chiTonga, the language of the Tonga of Malawi, Malawi stands for three things. Firstly, Malawi is that protected name that defines the geographical entity, the nation, called Malawi, formerly called Nyasaland or land of the lake (nyasa).
Secondly, Malawi refers to the flames of fire. It is from this meaning that Malawi, the nation, derives its name, according to Malawi’s first president, His Excellency the Life President, Ngwazi Dr H. Kamuzu Banda, although some people claim in hushed tones that our nation’s name is derived from the ancient kingdom of the Maravi people. The name of our national football team uses as its alibi, Ma fulemuzi, means the flames in this second sense of Malawi.
Thirdly, in chiTonga of Malawi, Malawi means south as opposed to north, west and east on the compass. The four major directions are Nkhondi (North or Mpoto in chiChewa), Malawi (Malawi or Mwela in chiChewa), East (Vuma) and West (Zambwi). For a Tonga in Tongaland, kuMalawi means south of. Now, you know, ipso facto, what kuvuma and kuzambwi mean.
Our indefatigable leader of delegation, Genuine Professor Dr Joyce Befu, MEGA-1 has directed that we discuss the third meaning without fear so that our nation (Malawi) heals. Presently, it is very sick.
Since Malawi gained its independence from Britain, there appears to have been a deliberate policy from the people of Malawi (south of the Northern Region) in Malawi (the nation) to exploit the resources in the North and give back nothing in return. As a nation, we Malawians (nationals) have been too cowardly to address this issue. Today we must.
Ten years or so after independence, Malawi was meant to have a pulpwood project in the Northern Region (Nkhondi or Mpoto) but it has not, up to this day, been implemented. No explanation has been formally given. Some guess that the project was not implemented because environmental impact assessments indicated the pulpwood project would pollute the lake (Nyasa) and Malawi (the nation) would benefit very little economically. However, some people, Nkhondians or Mpotoans, still believe the project has been shelved this long because it was meant for the wrong region of Malawi.
When the plans to establish a sugar plantation and factory at Dwangwa were mooted, the district boundary was shifted further north to Dwambazi River so that, some Mpotoans or Nkhondians still believe, the sugar plantation and factory should not be in the Northern Region. How correct this is, we are not sure, but the coincidence is suspicious.
For years, Kaziwiziwi and Mchenga produced thousands or millions of tonnes of coal from Rumphi district. Guess what? The headquarters of Kaziwiziwi and Mchenga Coal mining were in Lilongwe; not in Rumphi where the coal was being mined; not even in Mzuzu. For years, Kaziwiziwi and Mchenga did not have a health facility, not even a primary school. Nothing in the name of social responsibility, the late Simbarashe Mungoshi wrote in his Master’s thesis.
Studies on the effect of coal mining at Kaziwiziwi and Mchenga indicate that communities surrounding the coal mines suffer a lot of pulmonary ailments as a result of the coal dust they inhale to this day.
Thanks to President Bakili Muluzi’s ‘madness” Nkhondi or Mpoto started changing. He converted the Mzuzu Teachers College into what is today proudly called Mzuzu University (or Mzuni). He also introduced auction floors and a third Southern Bottlers plant at Luwinga. But the investments in Nkhondi ended there because his political colleagues reminded him about the folly of developing the Northern Region. So, funds for the Karonga-Chitipa Road went back to Malawi (south of Nkhondi). The 2002 plan to develop top-class tourism facilities at Manchewe Falls in Rumphi and Kande Beach in Nkhata Bay failed, deliberately.
Rais Bingu wa Mutharika oversaw the exploitation of uranium in Karonga. A mine was erected at Kayelekera. Some have argued that several Nkhondians were employed at the mine; which is true. But also true is that almost all the money made from Karonga did not develop Karonga or Mpoto. Another truth is that several people got disabled due to uranium radioactivity. And some have not yet been compensated to this day.
Also, the same Rais Mutharika decided to open up the Viphya Plantation (also known as Chikangawa) for timber. Like was the case with Kaziwiziwi and Mchenga coal mines, the people in whose area the plantation is located benefitted almost nothing. Nothing in Nkhata Bay. Maybe one negligible thing in Mzimba. The biggest beneficiaries of the exploitation and destruction of the Viphya Plantation were not Northerners. You know who they were and are.
The promise of a new university in Mzimba—the Mombera University—remains a promise almost 15 years since it was conceived. That it can be built is possible. That it will not be constructed is more possible.
Despite a decade-long strident outcry about the need to repair the M5, the Great Kamuzu Lakeshore Road, and expand its bridges, nothing is happening. An attempt to patch the road ended near the Lozi Turn-Off in Nkhotakota. Why? Nkhondi does not deserve a decent road.
But the Nkhata Bay-Mzuzu Highway is one of the best in Malawi? Yes, it is. However, do you know that had the funders shivered during the recent past regime and undone their original plan, the funds for that road would have been diverted to another “more economically productive’ road in Malawi (south of Nkhondi)? That’s how Malawi underdeveloped the Northern Region. Unless polarising the attitudes and unwritten policies change, Nkhondi will remain the least developed region of Malawi.