It is guaranteed that Israel has what perhaps is one of the richest histories on earth. Jericho is the oldest continuously occupied city in the world, for example. Apart from that, Israel has preserved many sites and artifacts from thousands of years ago. A sycamore tree stands in the centre of Jericho, nicely preserved from more than 2 000 years ago. Tradition has it that one diminutive Zacheus went up that tree one day to see Jesus who was passing through the city.
Many other places associated with the life and teaching of Jesus have been preserved. Roman Catholics have played a leading role in this preservation drive.
As a result, thousands of tourists throng into Israel everyday to see the preserved sites and artifacts. The Israeli tourism industry is alive and well. The hotels are always full and the transport sector is ever busy 24/7.
We have our own historical sites here but we have not been serious enough to develop them into tourist sites. Five years ago I wrote about the Chongoni rock paintings and bemoaned the lack of infrastructure there. Not only are there no proper roads leading to, or lodging facilities at, the rock painting sites, but elaborate signage to announce to the visitor that this is where you branch off the M1 to get to the sites hardly exists,
We also have a number of cultural sites which should have been developed and preserved for posterity. We should have had elaborate shrines at Khulubvi in Nsanje and Msinja in Lilongwe in memory of the religious figures Mbona and Makewana, respectively.
In the recent past there has been a plan to develop a tourist centre close to Msinja, in honour of Tsang’oma Mwale, the official who used to beat a special drum to relay messages to the surrounding villages each time the Makewana received oracles from Chauta (God). We need to firm up on such plans as this one.
We do not need to be partakers in, or practitioners of, these traditions to participate in the development or running of the sites. In Israel, many Christian holy sites lie within the Palestinian controlled territory. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, for example, lies in the Palestinian controlled West Bank, and yet it is as vibrant, perhaps more so than, as any other site within the Israeli controlled territory. Many shops in Bethlehem, owned by Palestinians, who are Muslims by religion, sell nativity souvenirs (memorabilia associated with the birth of Jesus) and cash in big time on the thousands of tourists who pour into the town every day.
When it comes to natural features, Malawi has a great deal more potential than Israel. Much of Israel is desert where hardly any trees grow. Here trees easily grow literally everywhere in the country, prompting Michael Sauka, the composer of the National Anthem, to include forests as a feature of natural beauty in one of the verses: “Wood and forest, plains so broad and fair, all beauteous Malawi”.
But, sadly, we have not been endowed with the gift of looking after our forests. As I grew up at Nkhoma Mission there was a reasonably thick tree cover on Nkhoma Mountain to harbour hundreds of baboons. There is not a single baboon left now because the trees have been razed and none planted to replace the felled ones.
If Israel had half our capacity to grow trees, they would turn the whole country into a forest and would thus complement their holy sites with a natural attraction to boost further their tourism industry.
Neither are their water bodies naturally attractive. It is not without a good reason that the Syrian General, Naaman, expressed his misgivings about dipping himself in the Jordan.
“Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.” (2 Kings 5: 12).
Indeed, apart from its sentimental value, being the river where Jesus was baptised, the Jordan is a very ordinary river, nothing compared to our Bua or South Rukuru or the Shire.
The activities of Jesus were concentrated around the Sea of Galilee and for that reason the inland lake has great attraction, but our Lake Malawi is much bigger and much more naturally diverse. In fact, Lake Galilee is smaller than Lake Chilwa.
What this boils down to is that we have infinitely more tourism potential, in terms of natural features, than Israel or other countries, but we are not doing enough to develop this God-given potential to its fullest extent.