For the past two years, I have been harbouring ideas to start sharing with the Malawi nation information on why this beautiful country is not developing despite several positive interventions and influx of donor support. However, I want to admit that until today, I was like every other Malawian who has great business ideas that could potentially develop their families, but as Dr Mathews Mtumbuka put it in his Rise and Shine column “taking a first step is our major disease”. But three events that I encountered provided me with the much-needed impetus to come out of this dangerous cocoon.
Firstly, I attended a church service at Lilongwe CCAP where a young man preached about the great commission. Reading Ezekiel 33:6 (NIV) which says: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood,” was like hammering a six-inch nail in my heart. I felt this does not only apply to the word of God, but any other information that will change people’s thinking towards the better. Read the verse and I am pretty sure you will feel the same way.
Secondly, my wife and I planned a visit to Mitundu Trading Centre in Lilongwe to buy maize for our family’s consumption. We started off as early as 5am from our home in the heart of the capital city. My heart started bleeding anger as soon as we hit the Mitundu Road from Bunda Turn-off. I counted over 120 people with bicycles carrying heavy loads of fuel wood and about 70 people carrying over three overloaded bags of charcoal each. As I was arriving in Mitundu around 6am, I asked myself whether this country will ever develop and if at all a common person like me has ever heard about the issue of sustainable development.
Before I could figure out why all this is happening, another thing struck me: I have never seen any other market that is highly populated like the one I saw on May 4 at Mitundu. It took us over 30 minutes to move a distance of 100 metres. People were all over like a multitude of ants fighting for a small piece of bread. There were people of all age groups—from children, the youth and to the elderly.
However, I noticed that over 80 percent of all the people are those at childbearing age. I immediately thought of the hidden momentum of population growth and connected it with the heavy loads of fuel wood and charcoal I saw when coming to this market. What is the country doing to control it and enhance development?
My conclusion was that unless something is done to control population growth, this country will not develop at all. It does not require one to be highly educated to notice that our country’s population is growing so fast that our natural resources and the environment, which we all depend on, can no longer support it. This is why people have now turned into protected areas such as the Dzalanyama Forest. Take it or leave it, this is a fact because when land is no longer able to provide needed food to people, they always turn to the environment which provides a free alternative to the poor people.
The last even happened on Monday, May 6. I was travelling to Zomba for my work engagements and when I reached Bunda Turn-off, I thought of buying a newspaper to read along the way. Coincidentally, my first flip of The Nation copy took me to page 16, which had a clear heading: “The looming environmental catastrophe”. In this article, Dan Msowoya tackled the issue of the massive, unrestrained and wanton cutting down of trees in Viphya and Nyika forests. This was the last straw that has broken the camel’s back. Instantly, I connected the three events and told myself, it is time to start telling Malawians that sustainable development is in our own hands.
—The author is a development practitioner working with the American Embassy in the Self-Help Section.