Letters from Malawi
by William Mitting

Reference: Index

This is an article from Management Today, downloaded from their web site:
External link - www.managementtoday.co.uk www.managementtoday.co.uk

Letters from Malawi: Lessons in rural economics

Rural Malawians are among the poorest people in the world in terms of financial income. The lion’s share of these villages, which host 85% of the population of Malawi, have no electricity, paved roads or running water.

Living in a city, albeit a small town by UK standards, it's not often I get to see rural Malawi. But the other day I was invited to visit the village of Enyezini, about 20km west of Mzuzu to write an article for my magazine on the rural economy.

It was absolutely fascinating to see how business operates under such conditions and the huge difference small changes could make to the economy of a village. Take the case of Mr Chikoza, a resident of Mzuzu, who two years ago decided to start running a taxi service linking Enyezini with Mzuzu.

The economy of the village was instantly transformed. Local traders told me that before, they had to bring goods in by bicycle from Ekwendeni, a small trading town 12km to the north, and as a result the volume of goods was limited to just a few bags per visit, which meant products had to be small and portable. With the taxi service, they can now bring in a huge array and volume of goods, and shops have sprung up all over the village selling everything from paraffin to clothes.

Chugging along in Mr Chikoza's battered old Land Rover (that not only looks like it was manufactured during the Second World War, but also appears to have had considerable front-line service), it's hard to see how he makes any money from the service. He charges just K200 (about 70p) for the one-hour, 20km journey; chugging along, chatting amiably with his passengers as he peers through the cracks in the windscreen with a jerry can of petrol between his legs connected directly to the engine via a small pipe. You're basically traveling in a very jolly bomb.

But with the aid of the service, the village has big plans. It wants to establish itself as a trading post for the smaller villages in its surrounding area and is building a mobile market for that purpose. Shops are springing up everywhere and it's easy to agree with the traders' optimistic views on the economic growth of the village.

These small steps are vital to the growth of the economy of rural Malawi, and it struck me how we view development as multi-billion dollar aid donations when in fact so much can be achieved with a small initiative such as Mr Chikoza's taxi service.

That's not to say that the village isn't crying out for infrastructure development. When I asked the chief of the village what three things he would ask for from the president, he replied: 'electricity, roads and water'.


Letters from Malawi: the trials and tribulations of life as an entrepreneur in one of the world's poorest countries.

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Copyright © 22 July 2010 William Mitting
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