DO NOT lose hope when neglected. God, the Almighty, might be keeping some angel to save you right at the hour of need. Too scriptural to be worldly true? No. This is exactly the story about Neno district. It has been and, sadly, continue to be neglected by almost all political players on Malawi’s political playground. But thanks to the angel Partners in Health, Neno can see the bright side of itself.
The story of Neno’s getting neglected started with the father and founder of the Malawi nation late Kamuzu Banda who labeled it as the backward area in the country. He is widely reported to have said that he found the people there “literally naked.” But Neno, which became a district in 2003 under the leadership of first president in the multiparty democracy, Bakili Muluzi, is still looked with disdain to this day.
Even if Kamuzu were still alive today he would find an amusing statement to describe the district especially this rainy season when its pitted and axle-snapping dirty roads prohibit free movement of goods and people to and from the remote areas of this district.
Up to now, Neno remains the only mainland district without a tarmac road – with dust rolling and settling on every structure at its main administrative centre, and vehicles stuck in muddy ruts during the rainy season.
One might be tempted to think life is cheaper in the district but that is not the case. Every item transported outside the district is a hot business. A snapshot survey by Maravi Post found that businesses charge exorbitantly on their merchandizes to such an extent of making 100 percent profit.
However, the residents have no option owing to the transport costs that businessmen incur if they go to the neighbouring district of Blantyre and Mwanza to buy their merchandize.
The residents of the district have all the reasons to direct their anger at the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cognizant of the fact that from 2003 up to now the district has been for 10 years under the DPP administration. And since 2009 the two constituencies of the district have been held by Members of Parliament (MP) who belong to the DPP.
As the year is coming to an end, Neno people thought they would be saying bye to the dirty roads after being promised that the roads would be under construction by now but as it stands, visiting the district is still at owner’s risk.
Speaking to Maravi Post in a telephone interview on Sunday about the tarmac road, Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango made the same promises which the district’s residents are apparently fed up with.
“Neno district is in government plans. We have already constructed a 10-kilometre tarmac road from Neno Turn-off. We are still negotiating with the Chinese government and in 2017 the people of Neno should expect the construction of the road up to Tsangano,” said Mhango.
However, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Kondwani Nankhumwa speaking on MBC on Sunday evening, did not mention Neno when he was mentioning districts which are earmarked for tarmac road in the forthcoming year.
Partners in Health, the angel
Despite the blue lies they get from the authorities, the people of Neno can at least afford a smile since Partners in Health (PIH) in conjunction with Clinton Hunter Development Initiative opened its doors in the neglected district in 2007. PIH has completely changed the face of the district and the young generation can fervently resist the scorn in Kamuzu’s statement that he found people in Neno “literally naked”.
PIH, which came in the district to provide health services to the community, has proved to be an angel for the residents in different areas. The United States of America (USA) based organization built a new earth road which connects the district with Zalewa trading centre and it is the most used road as it is the shortest comparing with the one which passes through Ligowe up to Neno turn-off.
The Global health organization, has also invested a lot in health infrastructure. It built a magnificent Neno District hospital, which apart from giving hope to the patients also beautify the isolated district. First class Dambe health centre was also opened in a hard-to-reach area, and many youths who could be languishing at home due lack of jobs are now working with the organization in different areas.
In an interview with this reporter, Francis Phiri, one of the residents in the district commended the organization for its effort to transform the area.
“Honestly, without PIH some of you couldn’t accept to be here. 10 years ago Neno was just like a bush not even befitting a trading centre. But soon after Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo came, the district has changed completely.
“The only problem we have now is the road. This area is inaccessible but when people visit the place they appreciate that Neno is progressing. We have many well-educated civil servants now, a thing which could not happen even six years ago,” said 47-year old Phri.
One of PIH workers who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “The organization came to provide health services but I can say that economically the district is also benefiting a lot. Many youths like me have also are employed thanks to this PIH. We could be at home or doing some immoral behaviour but PIH has exposed us to a lot of things,” said the worker.
Some of the senior members of staff also confided to this reporter that plans are in the pipeline to construct state of the art institution of higher learning for health personnel.