Usisya, an underdeveloped area with potential for tourism industry in Nkhata Bay, might not be an ordinary hard-to-reach area in the district. As JOHN CHIRWA writes, its unique topography accounts for both its spectacular scenery and transport challenges.
Sandwiched between the foothills of Nthwezulu and the shores of Lake Malawi, Usisya is a low lying area with some hills jutting into the lake.
Apart from these features which add beauty to the area, Usisya has also the deepest point on Lake Malawi, 230 metres below sea level or 704 metres deep, a feature critical for tourist attraction.
But, the mountains offering travellers the best view of the area have been both a blessing and a curse.
The 63-kilometre road to the area from Mzuzu perilously meanders through them, making it a dangerous expedition to the area.
On the way to Usisya, travellers have to brave the crumbling mountain walls on one side of the road while on the other side of the road steep slopes are the major cause of deep gullies on the road.
As if that is not enough, the road is also criss-crossed with running streams which render it impassable during rainy season.
Group village head Chikondo says the bad condition of the road has deprived the area of many development activities.
“For instance, the market government is constructing here failed to start off in time because contractors were unable to transport building materials to the area due to the poor condition of the road and the unreliability of the MV Ilala,” he says.
Government, through the Local Development Fund (LDF), is constructing a market worth K80 million.
Director of public works at Nkhata Bay District Council, Onances Nyirenda, says the project was supposed to start in January this year but it failed due to poor condition of the road.
“Construction of the market was supposed to start in January and end in July. But because of this challenge we have extended the construction period by six months. We hope the market will be completed by December this year,” he says.
In the absence of the market, life is expensive in Usisya. Basic commodities such as food and groceries are sold in homes. This has killed competition among sellers such that commodities have varying prices from home to home.
People in Usisya depend on land and water transport. But during the rainy seasons, there is no public transport to the area. Vehicle owners are usually afraid of accidents.
In the absence of road transport, people depend on water transport.
But business people who buy their commodities in Mzuzu say this route is longer and expensive.
“We go through Nkhata Bay Boma to board vehicles for Mzuzu. Sometimes, we incur more costs through accommodation and food in Nkhata Bay,” says Bellings Ziyaka.
As a result, shop owners charge more than is expected. For example, an airtime scratch-card worth K50 is sold at K60 whereas a bottle of Coca-cola worth K130 is sold at K200.
That aside, with the constant breakdown of the MV Ilala, people of Usisya are just as good as cut off from the rest of the district; an ‘island’ on a mainland.
However, this will be addressed. The council is in the process of rehabilitating the road in a project that will take at least five years to complete.
Nyirenda says the council needs K120 000 to rehabilitate 1 cubic metre of the road. This means the council will need K7.7 billion to work on the 63 km road to Mzuzu.
But due to lack of funds, Nyirenda says they will only pave 20 km of the road with concrete from Usisya to Bula. This means the council will need K2.4 billion.
“These are huge sums of money which we cannot manage. We will be doing this in phases for a period of five years. This is because we receive K20 million per year from the Roads Authority for road construction. This is not enough. So, we have decided to work on the stretch from Usisya to Bula because that is the most dangerous part of the road,” he says.
Despite these challenges, Nyirenda is optimistic that Usisya will develop as per plans of the council.
“We have developed an Urban Structure Plan for stakeholders to follow when coming up with activities to develop the area,” he says.
Nyirenda says some of the developments that have come following the Urban Structure Plan are a tele-centre, piped water, mobile networks, Usisya Community Radio and a market.
Next: Despite transport challenges in Usisya, a local non-governmental organisation, Temwa, has been implementing projects in the area for 10 years, and plans to continue working in the area for the next 10 years. What has been their motivation?