Chilukuni Village, almost 50 kilometres west of Rumphi Boma, lies near the Malawi- Zambia border along what used to be The Great North Road or simply “Cape-to-Cairo Road”.
Cape-to- Cairo Road was a dream of Cecil John Rhodes from whom Rhodesia derived its name. The road from Cape Town in South Africa passed through Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia on the way to Egypt.
In Malawi, we named the segment M1 and then diverted it to pass through Mzimba, Viphya Plantation, Mzuzu City, Rumphi and Karonga on the way to Tanzania.
If you are driving in Cape Town, just look for N1 and it will take you into Johannesburg and out to Cairo.
A great idea it was.
The gazzetted road through Katumbi from Rumphi Boma has rich history. Parliament is supposed to set aside budget allocations for gazetted roads.
The budget estimates are prepared by engineers at the Roads Authority (RA) for maintenance of the road.
This is either deliberately ignored or not allowed as instructed by the ogling eye of our political masters.
The bridge across Mzwawa River collapsed in 2006. Up to now, RA has not reconstructed it. Meanwhile, vehicles have to use a makeshift diversion.
Gone are the days of Public Works Department within the Ministry of Trabsport.
In 1994, it took an hour to drive the 50km earth road between Katumbi and Rumphi Boma. It now takes over two hours during the dry season and four hours when rains make the road muddy and gullied as RA either looks away or simply sits on the allocated funds.
It is even more disheartening when the grass cannot even be slashed for easy visibility of oncoming traffic. It appears RA officials are waiting for some divine force to come and tell them that the overgrown grass needs slashing.
Perhaps what is most intriguing about this historical road is the poor quality of the tarred sections being constructed near Chikwawa Trading Centre.
The thin layer of the tar is already peeling off, suggesting that the road will not last at all.
Any explanation about this substandard work? Should this be left to speculation about the political aura in the game of road construction? It seems the maintenance of the road is not in the mind of RA engineers.
What else can one say?
After getting rid of the Public Works Department, the idea of outsourcing services, including road maintenance, became more dependent on the brainwork of waiting for miracles.
We left the whole work of road repair to contractors with almost no supervisory provision.
Meanwhile, driving on our earth roads is a nightmare. We see our substandard tarred roads developing potholes and motorists swing from left to right as they avoid running into the pits.
We simply stand nonchalantly expecting donor countries to solve even the simplest of our problems of repairing roads and slashing the grass growing along the roads.
My last word is to ask those driving four-wheel-drive vehicles to drive through the great Cape-to- Cairo Road. I am sure they will enjoy the astonishing beauty of the Nyika Plateau on the east. But I really doubt if you will drive to Nyika National Park again.
I do not think you will ever think of driving this road again.
But farmers in Rumphi West still use the road every day because it is the only way to access markets, healthcare and other vital destinations. n