Charles Mkula is a journalist who has worked for a number of newspapers and magazines in Malawi since 1998. He has also worked as a communications officer for the Secondary Centres Development Programme (SCDP), an urban development programme in Malawi set up with support from the German KfW to support urban development. Since his entry into the development field, Charles has been passionate about advancing rural and urban development in Malawi.
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Plugging Malawi’s infrastructure gap

LILONGWE – Up-to-date trade, energy, transport, telecommunication, education and health infrastructure are some of the structures that contribute to a country’s improved national Gross Domestic Product and living standards of the local population.

On the other hand, outdated, poorly maintained and at times lack of infrastructure peddle development backwards and pushes poverty to the fore.

According to the World Bank, worn-off infrastructure shreds away 40 percent of business productivity and two percent of Africa’s economic growth.

In an effort to stimulate the economic forces in the production and consumption sectors, President Peter Mutharika has pledged to change the face of the country through developing productive infrastructural facilities.

“I want to change the face of this country and by the time we finish, this country will no longer be the same,” he says pointing out that government has rolled out a number of projects to catalyse public and private sector service delivery and provide improved access to education, health, commerce and other sectors.

As a result, Malawi has witnessed increased focus on the provision of transport infrastructure, particularly the construction of urban and rural roads, which are said to be the lifeblood of every economy since they provide access to productive goods and services which in turn prompts mobility, trade, investment and employment.

 

Transport infrastructure

Transport infrastructure, among others, determines an investors’ decision to set base since companies opt for places where the cost of supplying or accessing raw materials is low and where the distribution costs for their goods and services are lower and customer access and mobility is satisfactory.

The transport system is also key to the transformation of both urban and rural economies as it links agrarian communities to market centres where farm produce are sold and industrial goods bought, transactions that stimulate further productivity and increased income. Transport systems links people to education and health facilities.

Faced with a number of socio-economic challenges that are exacerbated by the country’s landlocked geographical structure, Malawi is stepping up efforts promote ICT accessibility for national development.

The efforts have seen government leading the telecommunication sector into a number of reforms that have afforded the growth of the current telecommunications infrastructure though penetration rates stagger because of high tariff rates.

Government, through the Malawi Regulatory Authority (MACRA), is working at ensuring that internet accessibility, claimed to be an elitist privilege, serving the urban rich minority, reaches the larger population through a number of projects such as the Rural Tele-centre Project.

One way of modernising the ICT industry, more especially in making the internet available around the world, government, last year, launched the fibre-optic cable connection that will end up connecting a ring network topology to the submarine cable in the Indian Ocean through Dar es salaam, Tanzania.

This is a crucial development in this age of convergence, where telecommunications is increasingly merging with broadcasting and print media and as mobile phones and the Internet have become tools used by the media to produce and disseminate their content for citizens to access information and facilitate the general free flow of information in society.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding the accompanying high tariffs triggered by lack of competition emanating from a duopoly, mobile phone subscription show a steady growth and remains one of the fastest growing ICT sectors in the country.

President Mutharika also explains that government recognizes the importance of water in industrial, household and crop production uses as well as in the generation of electricity.   He however notes that due to erratic rains the country has experienced water shortages, a problem that affected households and industries as it also contributed to electricity shortages.

 

Water infrastructure

The president outlines some of the water infrastructure investment initiatives the government has to maintain and expand water generation and supply. Some of them include rehabilitation, water treatment works, upgrading of infrastructure at water board stations as well as comprehensive maintenance of plant and equipment to sustain current production;

Government also intends to tap water from Likhubula River in Mulanje to supplement the current water supply to Blantyre city and parts of Mulanje, Chiradzulu and Thyolo districts. It will also tap water from Lake Malawi to Lilongwe city and parts of Salima and Dowa districts.

On the other hand, through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development’s development arm, the Local Development Fund (LDF), government is stimulating the socio-economic development and growth of beneficiary local government councils by constructing various infrastructures across the country.

The infrastructure includes civic offices, markets, bus stations, SME factories, bridges, public buildings including offices, schools, hospitals and housing, electricity, water, road and telecommunication networks among others.

 According to Mike Moyo, LDF National Coordinator: “Through the infrastructure interventions we expect that once the whole infrastructure component is coordinated and functional, productivity will definitely rise so will the local economies which will eventually see costs falling and thus driving higher incomes and better lives.”

Charles Mkula is a journalist who has worked for a number of newspapers and magazines in Malawi since 1998. He has also worked as a communications officer for the Secondary Centres Development Programme (SCDP), an urban development programme in Malawi set up with support from the German KfW to support urban development. Since his entry into the development field, Charles has been passionate about advancing rural and urban development in Malawi.