In the 1880s, European nations shared Africa like a cake, creating boundaries that disadvantaged Africans with shared territories, names, languages and cultures.
Citizens and authorities in Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania say the colonial boundaries hinder neighbours from moving freely and trading with each other.
However, some learners are defying the barriers created by the partition of Africa in Berlin, Germany.
Every morning from Monday to Friday, learners from Ileje and Isongole cross the Songwe Bridge from Tanzania to learn at Illomba Primary School on the Malawian side.
In the afternoon, they are seen returning home in groups.
The march across the colonial divide has become a way of life for them, personifying how neighbouring countries in southern Africa can work together and share resources to meet their peoples’ needs.
Article three of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Protocol on Education of 1997 requires all member States to cooperate in reducing and eliminating barriers to free and quality education and training by their citizens.
At least 20 of the 559 learners at Illomba come from Tanzania, says deputy headteacher Chance Mussa Kamuli.
“Most Tanzanians prefer the Malawi education system because the quality is better,” he says. “We learn in English, so parents prefer enrolling their children in our schools.”
Six-year-old Jack Boni and Chisomo Nyondo walk more than two kilometres from Ileje to Ilomba Primary School.
Their cross-border search for education mirrors the time-honoured peaceful coexistence and interdependence of the border communities in Chitipa District on the Malawian side, Isongole in Tanzania and Mafinga in Zambia.
The Sadc protocol requires member States to relax border restrictions for the free movement of learners, staff and education materials within the region for the purposes of study, research and training.
This is part of the push for regional integration.
Authorities at Chitipa District Council are working with their Zambian and Tanzanian neighbours to lessen shared challenges.
In the border zone, it is common to see patients from the two nations seeking health care in Chitipa.
“Our nearest hospital in Zambia is located 90 kilometres away from my community. The long travels are tedious, costly and time-consuming. Some patients die on the way. Pregnant women give birth before getting to the nearest facility,” says Smart Simfukwe, from Nakapelekese in Mafinga.
Chitipa District Hospital spokesperson Masida Nyirongo says it is difficult to distinguish Tanzanians and Zambians from Malawians because they share names, languages and history.
“Most of our neighbours access health care in Malawi, claiming that they hail from areas on the Malawian sides,” Nyirongo says.
This exerts pressure on limited resources budgeted for Malawians in Chitipa.
“When allocating resources to districts, the government looks at the district’s population. But we can’t send them back. They are our relatives,” Nyirongo explains.
He asks the government to increase healthcare spending for border districts to cope with population pressure.
Sadc promotes regional integration to accelerate sustainable development; achieve peace, security and economic growth; alleviate poverty; and enhance the quality of life of southern Africans.
Harry Mononga, former director of international cooperation and political affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malawi, says regional integration is critical because “no country is an island” and neighbours experience shared challenges”.
“Even islands have neighbours that work with them,” says the former diplomat: “When a country is landlocked like Malawi, you have to compensate your landlockedness with your neighbours who may have what you need but don’t have.”
Manonga, a lecturer at Malawi School of Government, urges against the perception that sharing educational and healthcare spending with neighbouring States depletes public resources.
“Our neighbours cross the borders because they need these resources and probably they may have problems accessing them within their own countries, but we are interdependent,” he explains.
For instance, Tanzanians and Mozambicans, who use Malawi’s health facilities, roads and schools, provide the landlocked country access to their coastal ports for imports and exports.
“We use their roads and ports without any limitations. If there is a need, we pay,” he says. “As a landlocked nation, we should have the goodwill to share its resources with neighbouring nations.”
Malawi enjoys cordial social and economic ties with its neighbours, who share bloodlines, tribal identities, culture and history.
“We want these people to continue being close to each other, visiting each other and interacting to strengthen social cohesion and peaceful coexistence,” Mononga says.