One of the most economically backward districts in Malawi is Dowa. This is so despite the district boasting a number of very proficient businesspeople. In short, Dowaâ€”and I would hasten to add Malawiâ€”is a district/country full of ironies.
A Dowa native called Mr Kondowe partly owns the Kangâ€™ombe Building which towers above all buildings in its vicinity at the City Centre in Lilongwe. Only the newly constructed Five-star hotel located about 300 metres away is taller. Mpico may hold the majority shareholding in Kangâ€™ombe Building, but initially, the project was Kondoweâ€™s brainchild.
Kondowe also owns a hotel called Kalikuti (literally meaning â€˜where is it?â€™) located in Biwi Township. A fellow Dowa business magnate, Mr Chimbeleko (deceased), attempted to answer this question by constructing a leisure centre at Mponela and calling it Kalipena (it is somewhere).
Yet, another interesting character from Dowa is Napoleon Dzombe. He owns an internationally recognised agricultural school right at his village in the district. I am told sometimes he hires lecturers from Bunda College of Agriculture to deliver lessons at his school. Dzombe is also the proprietor of Blessings Hospital at Lumbadzi in Lilongwe.
Recently, Dzombe has been dreaming big. He has gone into the reserve of the likes of Tiny Roland by embarking on sugar production. His Mtalimanja project located in Nkhotakota will be the first local competitor to Illovo sugar. Apart from sugar, Dzombe has plans to go into production of bio fuels soon.
I can mention other Dowa people like the late Chibwana (proprietor of Mfitiidzafanso business chain) or Mr Kadzako, but I want to focus on a much less-known historical figure called Mshamboza.
At the end of the 19th century, Mshamboza, a relation of Dzoole, set up his village at Chibanzi, to the east of what is today known as Mponela. At that time, Mponela was non-existent. As a young man, he demonstrated his immense skills in hunting and in administration.
What is perhaps more interesting is that Mshamboza, urged by nobody but himself, undertook a trip on foot to Bandawe after learning that white missionaries were running schools there. He wanted to meet them and ask them to come to Chibanzi to establish a school in his village, albeit not for himself. He knew that he had gone past school-going age himself, but hoped the young people from his village would benefit from the facility.
On reaching Bandawe, he was told that he need not have walked that long distance because, justÂ a few kilometres from Chibanzi, Dutch Reformed missionaries, under Rev Robert Blake, were establishing a mission station and a school at Msitu-wa-Nthulu on the foot of Kongwe Mountain.
Upon his return from Bandawe, Mshamboza did not hesitate to go to Kongwe to meet Robert Blake. The missionary was both surprised and impressed that for the first time a native had asked him for a school. Blake promised that he would send somebody to Chibanzi to establish a church and a school.
Probably Mshambozaâ€™s greatest prowess was in agriculture. Without politicians, extension workers and education, Mshamboza embarked on crude irrigation at Chibanzi, growing such crops as maize, onions and wheat. He used to sell his wheat to white missionaries and administrators at Nkhotakota, Dowa, Mvera, Malirana in Dedza and right into Mozambique. Today, we are dreaming of one day turning Malawi into a producing and exporting country. Mshamboza achieved it 100 years ago.
The tragedy for Dowa and for Malawi is that nobody followed up Mshamboza. There has been no deliberate effort to find out how he did what he did and what could be done to improve on what he achieved. Apart from one S. J. Nthara who published a book on Mshamboza, nobody else has researched into this Dowa gem of yesteryear. Our students today do not know anything about him or any of our local heroes. They know more about Vasco da Gama thanÂ Mshamboza, more about Marco Polo thanÂ Zintonga Gomani of Ntcheu and, yes, more about Christopher Columbus than the â€œboy who harnessed the windâ€, William Kamkwamba of Kasungu. Shame!