Those who have lived in Blantyre City for more than one decade will agree. The Michiru area in Blantyre City West constituency is one of the fastest developing areas. Stately mansions and townhouses are sprouting out at an unprecedented pace. To access this developing low density area, you can fly, walk, cycle, or drive.
However, using a car is tricky and can be expensive. Only one road takes you from the Blantyre Central Business District to the Michiru area. Take the road to Michiru Nature Sanctuary at Ryalls Hotel and go down the tarred road to a settlement called M’bwerera (you will come back). The tarmac ends at M’bwerera River. Thereafter, you are on an earth road that leads you to Michiru Nature Sanctuary, through Blantyre International University and other institutions. Michiru Nature Sanctuary is potentially one of the best tourists’ areas in Mayor Ndipo’s Blantyre City. After the sanctuary, the road takes you to Karibu Academy and joins the road to Chileka Airport.
A walk along this road into the sanctuary tells a story. A story of neglect. The road is bumpy, stony in some places, gullied here and there, and with rocks jutting out in some areas. There is no sign here that the Michiru road has ever drawn the attention of city authorities in the immediate past. Yet, utility providers, politicians and city authorities use this very road, regularly. How and why they are blind to the quality of the road is surprising.
But the walk to Michiru Nature Sanctuary tells another story. A story of patriotism and commitment as personified by the 32-year-old Frank James.
Frank James lives in the Mulunguzi Township, also known as Chibwana Village, TA Kuntaja in Blantyre City. Those who regularly use the Michiru Nature Sanctuary road must have seen James digging soil and rebuilding the road, creating water drains all by himself using a hoe, a grass slasher, and plenty of determination. For almost a year now, James says he has been responsible for maintaining the road section stretching from what is popularly known as pa (Jaan) Sonke through Blantyre International University to Likhubula River bridge, a stretch of approximately three kilometres.
But why is James doing what politicians, city authorities, and other better-to-do people are failing?
“I am poor. I am married. But my wife and I don’t have any opportunity, job or business, to find money to buy provisions for ourselves and our child. So, I decided to start rebuilding this crucial road as a pastime and to remind people about the state of the road. Some kind-hearted people drop a few Kwachas which I take home to support my family. On a good day, I go home with K1500. On a bad, I go home empty-handed.”
Frank appeals to the Malawi government, particularly the Ministry of Tourism, to consider rebuilding the road to attract tourists to the Michiru Nature Sanctuary.
“I hear the nature sanctuary in Lilongwe was privatized,” says James before timidly proposing, “perhaps, it would help if the Michiru Nature Sanctuary was also privatized because, I believe, the private company would take better care of this road; but”, Frank says jokingly, “the government does not listen to poor young people like me. I know nobody will care about my suggestion.”
He pauses, then asks: “Why don’t we have an access road connecting this area with Likhubula, near the SIMSO filling station on the highway? Why should someone driving from Zomba go to Ryalls Hotel before going to Michiru Nature Sanctuary? Which tourist would be interested in doing so?”
After a long pause, he says smilingly, “I am a young man of faith. I believe one day someone will see sense in my proposal.”
Our leader of delegation, Prof. Dr Joyce Befu, MEGA-1, saw sense in the proposal and commanded us to alert our listening Minister of Tourism, Hon Michael Usi, and authorities responsible for national and city of Blantyre tourism development to do something about this road and James’ proposal.