We have just arrived at Nsaru, Lilongwe. We are preparing to meet Chief Kabudura before we can foray into the Republic of Nsaru to do what all great tourists do internationally. Meanwhile, we have been reading the messages a few people have written to us in the past few days to explain what ought to be done to improve our lot. Some people have wondered why we fail to look after ourselves. We struggle to feed ourselves despite having some of the freshest water bodies in the world. We fail to speak strategically despite being some of the most vocal, sorry, noisy in the world. We fail think progressively despite having 16 million brains. One commentator, whose credentials we will not reveal even if we get charged with treason-cum-sedition, recently sent us this:
“Thank you for the issues you have raised about the economy. Malawians are not born lazy. Malawians don’t lack the capacity to export to support our currency. Apart from exporting our highly trained medical doctors, Malawi as an agricultural country has a lot of export options especially in these times of climate change, lack of land and labour in other countries.
“However, the reason Malawians are not exporting enough rests with the Malawi government. Have you, for instance, tried to export? There are a lot of bottlenecks that an ordinary Malawian faces: from lack of capital to the paper work that one is required to have to get one’s goods across the border. Otherwise, many small holder farmers would be exporting. Getting an export licence is not easy and, by the way, it has to be processed at Capital Hill and sometimes with the minister’s approval. How easy is it for an ordinary Malawian to get access to a Malawian Minister? If government is serious about promoting exports it should decentralise licensing to the districts where the farmers can access licensing officers easily.
“As for tourism, I dare say, we are not lazy; but we are simply not ready. In Malawi, we can only have ‘Malawian tourists’ because an outsider can’t tell where what is in Malawi. We have no signposts at all. Tell me, when you get from the Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe, can you tell where the T junction you encounter from the airport leads you to? Is the left going to Kasungu or the right to Lilongwe city? There is no signpost.
“In every city you have roads clearly marked at every turn allowing visitors to get to their destinations without asking anyone. Last time around 7:00 PM a white couple stopped somewhere around Chilinde to ask me about the road that could take them to Capital hotel having missed their way somewhere around Petroda on the M1 road – do you now agree with me that it’s only Malawian tourists that can tell where they are going in Malawi?
“The state of our roads is a problem, too. By the way, if tourists had a choice between different destinations why should they choose Malawi only to endure bumpy rides to parks? Most tourists use good roads in their countries and there are many African countries with standard roads going to tourist sites. So, any sensible tourist will strike Malawi off.
“If we were serious about tourism we would have already invested in such strategic areas as road infrastructure leading to our hotspots in Kasungu, Nyika, Nkhotakota, etc. By the way the lakeshore road going to Nkhokakota is gone, only a neck is remaining. Do you think the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve can compete favourably with other reserves in African countries with good roads?? I would rather we invest in road infrastructure going to the tourism hotspots than in stadiums in Karonga and Mangochi.
“By the way, where should we prioritise investment – in areas that can make us money like tourism or stadiums which merely provide entertainment? Even as a household do you start by investing in entertainment over essential areas especially those that can generate income for you?
“In addition, I hear there is a lot of need for labour in the Middle East (Dubai) for hotel and catering staff – why can’t we train more of our young men and women loitering and riding sacramentos in Mzuzu and elsewhere for this possible market? We can decentralise the school of tourism from one in Blantyre to one in each region. Our universities should start offering degrees and diplomas in this money spinning area. Our young men and women are filling up the streets of Jo’burg because they have nothing to do in our narrow economy. This Dubai thing can be an alternative and it should be supported formally and legally to protect our young people from abuse and deportation.”