T he quest for improved tourism in Mulanje Mountain has seen the forestry office going for professional Tour Guides (TGs). Macdonald Nedi, secretary at Likhubula Forest office, says climbing the mountain without a professional TG is risky.
“We recommend trained TGs because they know what to do during emergencies. They are able to offer first-aid treatment,” says Nedi.
Likhubula Tour Guide Association (LTGA) chairperson Comster Supuni says by standards only trained tour guides should operate.
“We have standard fees. The untrained, therefore, offer the lowest fees to be competitive. Sadly, most tourists prefer those,” laments Supuni.
He reveals that many tourists have survived death by a whisker after the fake TGs failed to provide them the necessary first-aid treatment.
The practice at Lukhubula mirrors the situation on the ground. In parks and game reserves, including along Lake Malawi National Park, there are many bogus TGs, who defraud tourists while risking the clients’ lives.
On Mulanje Mountain, the practice is already breeding ugly results.
In a year, Nedi says they register an average of three cases of tourists fainting or dying as a result of fake TGs failure to give them timely first-aid treatment and other support.
Other clients get lost on the mountain after the bogus TGs miss the path to their destination. Nedi says this dents their reputation.
“We had an incident recently where a bogus TGs with a client climbed the mountain without our consent. The client was found dead the following day. Although we suspect it was a planned suicide, but the TG could have done better to intercept the suicide plan,” explains Nedi.
That is not all. On October 16, an America tourist died on the mountain.
However, a month later details about the client and what caused the death remain concealed. The case was not reported.
Nedi says the client did not pass through his office. The Nation traced the individual, who accompanied the client and 11 others up the mountain and found that he has never attended any training in tour guide. Nevertheless, he has been taking tourists up the mountain for over six years.
“He came through African Bible College (ABC). The incident happened on October 16, a day after arrival,” says Nedi.
He says after covering a short distance, the deceased asked for drinking water which he was given. Few minutes later, the man started shouting and died few minutes later.
“The team started talking with ABC officials and I remember them agreeing that the case should not be reported to police. I was told not to tell anyone,” explained the source whose identity we have withheld.
He admits that they neither registered at the tourist office nor paid the fee and get a recommendation on whom to accompany them up the mountain as required.
“I have my customer in US who refers tourists to me. These were also referred and since I am not registered, I could not go through the forest office,” he says.
Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) programmes officer Kondwani Chamwala says: “This boils down to the need of engaging professional TGs and obey the procedures. If these were observed, I am sure they could have noticed that the deceased was not fit for hiking.”
Lack of strict measures on hiking continues to risk lives of tourists. We found tens of men posing as tour guides at Chitakale Trading Centre. They were running after every face that appears to be new and trying to convince them if they are in for hiking.
We also established that some professional TGs take clients to the forest office and register that they are accompanying them, but later engage their relatives who are not trained. They later share the proceeds.
Both Nedi and Chamwala acknowledge the practice.
“This is risky. What if something happens? Will this person provide enough safety?” wonders Chamwala.
During the visit, none of the trained TGs had an identity card or protective clothing. They had a first-aid kit. There are no instruments to vet if one is fit for hiking. They also rely on cellphones for both lighting at night and communication, but there is sporadic network on the mountain.
“We need the two-way-radios for communication. Imagine one is lost and is in an area without network, how can they be saved?” wonders Chamwala. n