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Islanders sigh of relief or another long wait?

Written by  Patrick Botha
A ship at Likoma A ship at Likoma

Likoma, June 18, 2017: Limbani Liwonde is a tomato and vegetable trader on Likoma Island. Every week she makes her way to Jenda in Mzimba to purchase tomatoes to sell at her bench in Mbamba main market on Likoma Island. 

Part of her journey involves risky acts of embarking and disembarking from a ship into and off the boats to the shore. It is a costly journey and a nightmare.

“As a business person, I have to incur extra costs on hiring a boat to carry my goods from the ship to the shore, which eats into the little profit I make.

“Sometimes I have to pay up to K3000 for a boat to carry all my tomatoes to the shore. If Likoma had a jetty, we would not have these problems,” says 28-year-old Liwonde with a sad look.

The absence of a jetty has always been a source of economic and social woes on Likoma Island.

When at the island, a ship anchors about 100 metres away from the shore. Passengers have to embark or disembark at that place of anchorage, resulting in many people incurring extra costs.

One of the businessperson heavily affected by this is 39-year-old Andrew Chisala. He is a local construction contractor and the journey to get materials reach the island is costly for him too.

“I have to hire a boat to take construction materials from the ship to the shore, which costs me K6, 000,” Chisala says.

He further says there are times when the lake accidentally swallows people’s goods during offloading.

“Sometimes you have goods like bags of cement dropping into the water when loading into the hired boats. So, this jetty issue is affecting us big time.”  

Chisala adds that additional costs on boat hire negatively affect them when negotiating contract prices with their clients.

“You have to factor in all these costs, which makes our quotations expensive and unattractive to customers,” Chisala says.

Jonathan Milanzi, a carpenter at Mbamba market on the island, shares similar sentiments
 “If we had a jetty, I would be enjoying my profits. The K6000 I pay on boat hire to carry timber for my trade is outrageous. I try not to think about it, but it pains. I wish government took our problem seriously,” the 35-year -old carpenter says.

Government institutions are not left out in this plight haunting residents on the island
Implementation of projects and programs under Local Development Fund (LDF) and the Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Programme (DAHSP), popularly known as Cement and Malata Subsidy, has not been spared from this nightmare.

Desk officer for DAHSP in the district Vincent Horowanya says implementation of the Cement and Malata subsidy on the island is costly than in mainland districts.

“For instance, in the first phase of DAHSP we incurred about MK690, 000 on casual labour only. They were charging us MK500 per bag of cement,” says Horowanya.

Since time immemorial Likoma has never had a jetty. The barge that used to help in the absence of the jetty broke down more than a decade ago.

Sigh of relief

On 5th May, 2017, in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in parliament, President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika listed the construction of the Likoma Jetty as part of the development projects in the coming fiscal year.

The news has raised hopes of many residents on Likoma Island including Member of Parliament for the constituency George Kamwanja.

In an interview with Malawi News Agency, Kamwanja confirmed that the budget presented for 2017/18 fiscal year has funds allocated for Likoma.

“We just have to keep our fingers crossed and wait for the budget to pass,” says Kamwanja.

The Reservation

Despite this good news, there are still reservations from some section of people who believe that talk about Likoma jetty has become another political discourse.

Since the island was declared a district 18 years ago, the issue of Likoma jetty has been a constant promise as one of the priorities in infrastructure development.

But oftentimes, the promises have not translated into visible action amid the hue and cry of residents on the island.

“We have been in this situation before, and for a number of times. We hope this time around it is for real,” says Limbani Liwonde, who anticipates change in her tomato business.

 

The difference

Legislator George Kamwanja believes this time the administration is different and that a jetty will rise from the sand, rocks and waters of Likoma district. He is so optimistic and appeals to the people on the island to trust the current government.

“There is a lot of political will right from the president to ministers of finance and transport. They are all highly supportive of this project. I cannot answer for what happened in the past.

But I am here responsible for what happens from now because I have always talked about the Likoma Jetty in parliament,” Kamwanja says.

A few months ago, Minister of Transport and Public Works Jappie Mhango visited the island for the official hand over of Likoma Airport to Airport Development Limited (ADL). During the visit, he emphasized that Likoma Jetty was a priority in government’s development agenda.

Likoma Island is a haven not only for business but for tourism too. The construction of the jetty has the prospect and potential of promoting trade and tourism on the island, which remains hugely underdeveloped in terms infrastructure since it became a district on 5th November 1999.

People like Limbani Liwonde, Andrew Chisala, Jonathan Milanzi and the rest of the 14, 400 islanders are waiting to see this jetty project come to fruition.