Jean-Philippe and I are now in Chinthechi, the former capital or administrative headquarters of the Nyasaland district of West Nyasa, renamed Chinthechi, re-renamed Nkhata Bay. While the headquarters of Nkhata Bay district is at Nkhata Bay, where on 3rd March 1959, the British massacred innocent protesters and buried them in unmarked graves, Chinthechi is still today referred to as BOMA; which, in today’s parlance, denotes government and point of authority (POA).
Despite its rich history, Chinthechi is an area that multiparty Malawi has ignored. It used to be really vibrant until His Excellency the Life President, Ngwazi Dr H Kamuzu Banda, father and founder of the Malawi nation, decided to chase away from rural areas all Malawians of Indian origin or are they Indians of Malawian origin? On paper, the policy was meant to promote local businesses. However, its effect was catastrophic. Hitherto buoyant rural towns like Chinthechi virtually collapsed. Thanks to the Burundians, Nigerians, and the Chinese, a semblance of business life has returned to rural Malawi.
The Malawian businessmen and women who replaced the Indians did not tick; essentially because this country’s education system does not teach people entrepreneurship skills for them to stand on their own. Consequently, to succeed in life or to find a decent job in Malawi one needs to befriend politicians. Since Malawi’s political parties are essentially tribe-based, one’s tribe or ethnicity matters in one’s employment, promotion, demotion, dismissal, and horizontal transfer.
Despite its rich history, Chinthechi today has no bank, no fuel pump, and no rural growth centre. The lakeshore, though, is littered with lodges, hotels, inns and cottages, which, for most of the year have no guest; essentially because the Malawi government banned lakeshore government-funded conferences, the major source of lakeshore hotel business and local tourism.
As soon as we arrived at Chinthechi from Nkhotakota, we drove down to Chigumbuli Cottage for a drink and a meal. We found about six young men in the bar taking haram drinks. As soon as Bubile, the cottage keeper, served us, we took our drinks to the beach. There Jean-Philippe wanted to call Annie, that friendly Commercial Bar Service Provider (CBSP) we met at Kariba Beach, Linga, in Nkhotakota. There was no mobile telephone service.
“What does this mean?” Jean-Philippe asked.
“Maybe the service must be down.”
“So how do I contact Annie?”
I asked Jean-Philippe to follow me to the bar. There, I asked Bubile to allow Jean-Philippe to use the ground phone.
“It’s not working,” she said.
“When Joyce Banda and Bingu were fighting, she and her husband, ada Mwanabola, used to come and spend their days here. Then the government came and took away the telephone exchange equipment. I understand, the telephone exchange facility at Domasi was also uprooted at the same time.”
I explained to Jean-Philippe what Bubile had said in Chitonga.
“Which Joyce Banda? The President?”
“The same one.”
“But she is the President now. Why doesn’t she command MTL to return what duly belongs to Chinthechi?”
Before I could answer, one of the young men said he and others were actually mobilising people to join the January 17 demonstrations.
“You also want the President to stop travelling internationally and locally?”
“No. We want our telephone exchange facility back. We are ready to march up to Kamuzu Palace for it,” the young man said.