It is common in Africa to see a newly elected President behave as if he/she is the only person of the people. As it were, maintaining this self-given importance is not cheap because in one way or the other tax payers need to pay in building the President’s personal legacy. When they leave the State House, they want to make sure that they leave behind landmarks pegged to their name. It might be a special bridge here, a building there and so on.
Some people may agree that there is nothing wrong with what is stated above because this is what a development-conscious President is supposed to do. Fair enough. However, what is not right is to support projects which are just aimed at promoting the popularity of the so-called person of the people or leader while at the same time such projects are not a priority to the people.
Therefore, they are expensive for nothing, and usually just end up as white elephants. A clear example in Malawi is the Nsanje World Inland Port and the Shire-Zambezi Waterway.
Meanwhile, there was a sad story in Weekend Nation of April 22 2017 about the crumbling of the Nsanje World Inland Port on the Shire-Zambezi Waterway. The Port now stands chocked with weeds and looks abandoned while vendors are stripping it down. It has no signs that it was once opened by Bingu wa Mutharika and witnessed by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and President Rupia Banda of Zambia.
The most pertinent question to Mutharika and his government was: Which countries in the world did they have in mind that would prefer sailing through the waterway and use Nsanje Port, instead of their traditional route of coming to Malawi?
As it were, the first foreign boat to sail after the port was opened was a small Mozambican registered boat, which unfortunately, was allegedly caught smuggling maize. This was a sign that the waterway was simply a conduit for smugglers and not meaningful business as such.
At the moment, it seems the talk that neighbouring countries as well as the whole Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region being interested in the waterway is just a mere wishful thought for hood wicking Malawians.
It is needless to say that Malawi’s neighbours already have have established routes to the ocean, then why should they come and waste resources in the so-called waterway? It does not need a genius to know that this waterway project was just too ambitious for the poor economy of Malawi. It was just there to serve Mutharika’s personal interest—to promote his legacy and popularity. Hence, it is now just a white elephant despite his brother President Peter Mutharika promising to continue it to the end.
In fact, the waterway was not/and is still not a priority to Malawi. The Mtwara Corridor looked much more feasible, though the idea was unceremoniously abandoned for reasons best known to government.
Currently, there is a road repair boom in the cities and towns of the country. What is worrisome is the quality of the works. The President has also complained about the shoddy work. One is forced to think that the concern from the leadership is mere window-dressing; otherwise, government should not be paying such bogus road contractors. This is not done. Probably it is deliberate that come campaign time for 2019 such poor roads will be used to promote and the profile of President Mutharika.
Leaders need to be reminded that it is the people who create and showcase the good legacy of a leader. This comes about if the leader can recognise people’s priorities. It is totally unacceptable for a leader to waste public resources by building self-made legacy. Malawians may be poor, but intelligent enough to know the capabilities of their leader.