The Daily Times of February 24 2015, carried an article in which the residents of Neno were said to have thronged the district commissioner’s offices the previous day to present a petition on the bad state of the Neno road. The article added that the people had given President Peter Mutharika a 14-day ultimatum to act on the road or they would close Mwanza Border Post and Zalewa Roadblock “until action is taken”.
Empirically, ultimatums and threats, force and intimidation, have not been the solution to problems, and so the people of Neno cannot hope to use these to achieve their end. Even if these may have worked elsewhere, they cannot be condoned. Matters work effectively only through persuasion, peaceful dialogue and mutual understanding.
That said, however, one may understand the people of Neno. The people have waited too long for this road despite the many promises that have been made. The people must therefore be acting out of frustration. To say the least, the road to Neno is terribly pot-holed, bumpy and bruising, almost impassable and grotesque. Because of this condition, most buses no longer go there. To get to Neno, one must take a minibus from Blantyre to Neno Turnoff, and thereafter hitch-hike. Neno Turnoff to Neno Boma is only 36 kilometres, but it takes about two hours. If the road was tarmac, it would be a 20-minute drive.
You would need a robust four-by-four to venture onto the road from the turnoff to Neno Boma and beyond. And, because of the non-availability of a bus, those with private vehicles, mostly old Land Rovers, tend to overcharge. Perhaps it is not overcharging. The price may be a reflection of demand-supply forces, or of the risk the vehicle owners are taking. Whatever the justification, however, violence by the people of Neno cannot be allowed to come anywhere near in this matter.
During the era of Bakili Muluzi, Neno benefited from the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme. Today, the people of Neno have electricity which, among other things, lights up their mood in the night, driving away the gloom that comes with darkness. During the era of Bingu wa Mutharika, Neno was chosen as one of the districts to benefit from the Clinton Foundation Rural Growth Centre Project. As a result, Neno now has a modern hospital, and has seen a few other projects spawning.
In spite of these developments, however, the state of the road has remained the biggest concern, and if the administration of Peter Mutharika can crack this old problem, it will leave an indelible mark on the hearts of the people of Neno.
On another front, Neno has a great potential for tourism.
As you travel the bad road, you see to the west the Kirk Range, on which protrude the Dzobwe and Thambani hills, and a lot other little hills that number probably to over a hundred. The district has also other wondrous little hills, dotted around all over, interspersed with gorgeous valleys.
At Matandani Mission, the Kirk Range, rich in natural trees, comes close enough to touch, and drops into the Mkulumadzi River, from which the throbbing of the water can be heard.
When the people spoke of action within 14 days, I do not think they expect a road to be done within that period.
That would be a ridiculous non -starter. I think they expect to hear a firm word of commitment and an action plan on the road.
It is unfortunate that this is coming at a time when donor aid is not forthcoming. We are all aware of the road projects that are on the queue, each of which requires colossal sums of money.
However, the plea is that Neno should not be forgotten.
As observed by the protesters, it is probably the only district without a tarmac road.
Notwithstanding the financial challenges, government is a powerful thing, and cannot fail to do the Neno Road.
Setting aside the emotions, the request for a road by the people of Neno is an expression of their confidence in the ability of government.
**The author is director of finance and administration for Malawi Posts Corporation (MPC), and comes from Neno