An imposing transformer, replete with shiny copper wires, stands against the darkness at Mtsamika Trading Centre in Mwanza, some nine kilometres from Mwanza District Council offices. More than anything else , however, the transformer and copper wires are nothing more than a promise: they have been there for two years without being useful to the people of Kapisi 1 and Kapisi 2 villages in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nthache area.
“When Escom officials erected the polls, they promised that they would connect us to the national hydro-electric power grid within two months. It’s now two years,” says Michael Sambo, a motorcyclist I hired to take me to Kapisi 2 Village, which serves as the border between Malawi and Mozambique in Mwanza Central Constituency.
Still, in spite of the fact that the transformer and copper lines serve as both a promise, and symbol of the broken dream of hydro-electric power to the people of Mwanza Central Constituency, the transformer still shone against the moonlight last Sunday evening. The sight was mocking to the eye as, instead of transforming its own power and supplying it to the people, the transformer could only shine against the light emanating from the moon.
Ironically, the constituency is the abode of some of the country’s political heavyweights, namely Davis Katsonga — the current Member of Parliament — and Nicholas Dausi, the National Intelligence Bureau director.
Indeed, one can see Dausi’s village, and the iron-roofed houses that adorn it, from Kapisi 2. The iron sheets shone brightly against the noon-day sun. The fact, however, is that the houses are not connected to the national hydro-electric power grid. The transformer that imposes itself against the darkness at Mtsamika Trading Centre serves as the last line between darkness and hydro-electric power.
“They use their own power [in Dausi’s village]. You talk of solar power and the like,” Sambo informs me.
But electricity is not the only issue here. Health wise, the act of accessing healthcare services is akin to sacrifice.
“Expectant women bear the brunt of public service neglect here. To access public medical services, they face the choice between a rock and a hard place. For example, they either have to go to Kunenekude Clinic, which is located between seven and nine kilometres from here, or Mwanza District Hospital, which is reachable across steep slopes and mountainous areas,” says Patrick Thukuta, one of the chief’s advisors in Kapisi 2 Village.
“Either way, it’s hard for women, and for all of us. We, really, need health facilities that are accessible,” he adds.
One of the women in Kapisi 1 Village, who identifies herself as Mayi Chatsika, says women are sometimes compelled to rely on herbal medicine for diseases such as Malaria, pneumonia, influenza, among others.
“Sometimes, especially with malaria, things get out of hand and some women are forced to go to either Kunenekude clinic on Mwanza Health Centre because of deteriorating situations. People often die of Malaria plus-plus here because, surrounded by mountains that are rich in natural forests, the temptation to forsake scientific medicine and opt for herbal medicine is high,” says Chatsika.
And, against these precarious health conditions, and, even when hydro-electric power remains a dream for the people of Kapisi 2, comes the problem of refugees.
People fleeing the conflict in Monjo, Mtengechiti, Chisanja, Chinyanje, among other areas, in Mozambique have found refugee in the so-called shortfalls of Kapisi 2. Only four families out of the 18 families I found last Sunday only had medicine for health ‘troubles’ such as headache, pneumonia, but not for Malaria and other diseases.
But, at least, they found the smiles and warm-heartedness of the Malawians in Kapisi 2 Village comforting and, perhaps, beyond the fear of ill health and darkness at nightfall. After all, the darkness and shortage of medical drugs are less lethal than the swiftness of the bullets they have fled back home.
“You see, things are getting worse back home. Unknown people are now torching people’s houses and killing those they find in the houses. Things have become worse since warring factions heard that some people have started fleeing to Malawi. So, we accept whatever situation we find ourselves in,” says one of the female refugees from Mozambique.
She speaks typical Chichewa. She understands Chichewa. Malawi must be home, her second home.
“That’s the most important thing; being safe, being free from fear. The other things will definitely fall into place,” she adds.
While healthcare delivery and the provision of hydro-electric power remain a challenge, however, the same cannot be said of schools. From Mwanza District Hospital to Kapisi 2 [along the paved, dusty road, that is], one comes across three primary schools, including the one at Mtsamika Trading Centre close to the Catholic Church.
“We cannot lie about education challenges; we have schools, we have teachers, and we have willing pupils. Just recently, the government posted teachers to Mtsamika,” says Thukuta.
Same district, different challenges
While T/A Nthache’s subjects hope against despair that things will one day change for the better, those under other traditional leaders grapple under a different challenge: stalled development projects.
For instance, Sub-T/A Govati last year complained that the rate at which development projects were being abandoned was alarming.
“We have a lot of white elephants in Mwanza. From Thambani, which falls in my area, and other faraway places, we simply have so many of these. Politics seems to be perpetuating the trend,” Govati says, adding:
“We had a situation at Thambani (Trading Centre) where two houses meant for health workers remained uncompleted for years. Again, at Kalanga Primary School, a teacher’s house built through the efforts of the Area Development Committee (ADC) did not reach window level some three, four years after the project begun.”
Govati is not alone in the situation, though. T/A Kanduku recently raised concerns about the same issues.
“For example, we have the case of Futsa Community Day Secondary School. Construction of a school block, courtesy of the European Union, started in 2009 but, up to now, nobody knows when the school will open its doors to our children because there is no tangible progress. In fact, some people are using the school block as a hall,” Kanduku says.
As a result, pupils bear the brunt of the neglect. For instance, those from neighbouring areas such as Tulonkhondo have to cover a distance of more than eight kilometres to access education facilities at Thawale Community Day Secondary School in the district.
But this, as many other stories, could just be a tip of the iceberg.