Monkey Bay may have lost a bit of its lustre and glory, but this is not enough to dissuade residents from pursuing their interest to have the port town in Mangochi declared a standalone district.
Steady infrastructure development and a wide base to generate enough revenue to administratively support itself add muscle to those demanding the upgrading of the famous bay from a mere trading centre to a full district or sub-district council.
Rallying the call, Monkey Bay ward councillor Chinkwita Bulirani says he intends to move a motion in the next council meeting, proposing that government considers raising the status of Monkey Bay.
“Monkey Bay is now a fully grown baby ready to stand on its own feet,” he says, adding;
The lake port is one of the fastest growing settlements and epicentre of Malawi Lake Services as well as Marine Services.
“This is a strategic destination for both local and foreign travellers wishing to establish trade and leisure links between the mainland population and the shoreline communities,” says JSK Marine Supplies owner James Mnkhunga.
The businessperson, who sells swimming gear and spare parts for water vessels, migrated from the northern district of Karonga at the age of three in 1959.
His family migrated having been convinced they would earn enough money catching and selling the primed Monkey Bay fish species to buyers from across the country.
Mnkhunga says apart from government offices, widespread tourism destinations, the shipyard and the port, much of the rise of the modest hive of activity is a tribute to decades of hard work by local Malawians.
The port is the lake’s principal commercial cargo and passenger traffic centre.
To him, Monkey Bay is fully equipped with all political, administrative, security, commercial, judicial, tax assessing, transport, public works, housing and emergency systems including medical.
Monkey Bay’s contribution to the country’s political economy is unmistakeable in the small-scale industrialisation by small and medium enterprises, cooperatives, influx of people migrating from the rest of the country in search of trade and investment opportunities as well as leisure.
Noting the socio-economic shifts and existing physical infrastructure, the economic growth potential, trade opportunities and potential for job creation in the area, the Malawi government with financial support from the African Development Bank (AfDB) in 2013 initiated the Local Economic Development (LED) Project under the Local Development Fund (LDF).
The project, established specifically to respond to the self-initiated socio-economic well-being of the local population using participatory approaches, conducted detailed economic assessments and value chain analysis of four growth centres, including Monkey Bay, to identify investment opportunities likely to spur growth.
LDF development and communication specialist, Booker Matemvu says LED is one of government’s interventions in its integrated rural development initiatives to keep rural-to-urban migration in check and to ensure that local councils generate their own income to spur development.
In Monkey Bay, the project has led to formation of business associations, commodity groups, multipurpose cooperatives, community savings clubs and market linkages for entrepreneurs.
They have also established a telecentre which the community demanded to facilitate business and social network using modern communication technologies such as Internet.
“We have also provided a fish landing space where fish can be processed and stored before distribution,” says Matemvu.
Responding to community demands, the project provided a rice milling plant to add value to the produce so that it can favourably compete on the market.
Add an ultramodern market and it is clear why Monkey Bay will never be the same.
This is enhancing trade with surrounding areas.
To facilitate easy transportation of goods and people, LDF has constructed a bus station. The facility connects Monkey Bay to vibrant trade destinations like Blantyre almost 253 kilometres away and Lilongwe, nearly 206 km northwards.
The socio-economic forces ignited by the project have jolted the once isolated area to wear a new face.
According to councillor Buliani, government has recently provided the centre with civic offices to undertake all political, administrative and fiscal operations in the area.
It is believed that through these additional infrastructures, the growth centre will be able to attract outside investment and generate enough revenue for further growth.
Famous for its world acclaimed tourist attraction, Lake Malawi National Park, Monkey Bay is dotted by numerous resorts offering luxurious accommodation, memorable sailing and marine sporting activities.
The national park, a Unesco World Heritage Site located inside the tropical lake at Cape Maclear, is home to a variety of ornamental fish species, including multi-coloured mbuna.
“Monkey Bay is socially and economically fully fledged and equipped with all facilities required to be called a district,” says Bulirani.
He points to the existing banks, a police station, the marine arm of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) and a rural hospital with modern surgery and diagnostic equipment.
Mangochi district commissioner James Manyetela concurs that Monkey Bay has all it takes to stand on its own.
But he has some buts.
“For an area to be declared a district, the Local Government Act requires the head of State to make such a declaration,” Manyetela explains.
Some years ago, government announced that Monkey Bay will soon have a five-star hotel, a marine college and an international airport. n