Picture: rippleafrica.org – A fishing community in Tukombo, a fishing village in Malawi
By Catherine Banda
Although the Tukombo Fishing Camp is the food basket of Malawi and an emerging growth point, no public toilets have been built there in the 58 years since the country gained independence from Britain in 1964, despite four different and successive governments. If this is due to corruption, it leaves a sour taste. Why don’t governments deliver on such services?
Are they just being selectively blind? Could it be that the Tukombo community is helpless when it comes to issues of communal growth and development?
Tukombo village is situated in Nkhata Bay District by Lake Malawi in the Northern Region of Malawi. It comprises of Tonga speaking people under the Traditional Authority (TA) Zilakoma, which stretches from Mayaya to Dwambazi, and it is divided into Upper and Lower Zilakoma, which comprises 26 Group Village Headmen (GVH) and 125 Village Headmen (VH). Tukombo is considered to be the food basket of Malawi mainly because of its booming fishing camps comprising fishermen from outlying districts.
At first, it was indeed a small camp, and fishermen would camp there for a few months, and move to different fishing camps in search of better catches. As the business became more lucrative, it began to attract more fishermen, who decided to settle and build permanent homes to claim their spots to making money as Tukombo gradually became a famous fishing camp and trading centre and a place where dreams come true.
Tonga people are considered the most spick-and-span tribe in Malawi because of how they dress and keep their homes. For the past years, Tukombo fishing camp has been the pride and joy of the community from a business angle, thus making the area a growth point and a hub of development, attracting business people from across its borders to open small shops, restaurants, and even lodges at the Trading Centre, and a source of relish for the community and the country at large.
However, things have changed in recent years. The fishing camp and trading centre have grown packed with fishermen and business people from all over the nation seeking their fortunes in the thriving fishing industry. Unfortunately, this has come with unwanted implications to population growth. Overcrowding is typically accompanied by a lack of infrastructure, hastily constructed homes with inadequate planning and sanitation, and a breakdown in law and order. Inadequate or non-existent sanitation infrastructure have made the fishing camp a breeding ground for many illnesses, putting the health of the locals and the entire country in danger.
In the months I’ve spent here, though, I’ve voiced similar worries to the traditional authorities, only to have a cholera epidemic traced back to the fishing camp during our heated debates. The local clinic was bursting at the seams as the number of patients increased every day. The whole community, both inside and outside the nation, banded together to do anything they could to assist handle the situation and prevent further deaths. Most patients had to sleep outside with drips hanging from trees since there weren’t enough beds at the hospital. At some point, shelters in the form of tents were made available by various groups and the government.
Meanwhile, we organised a clean-up campaign for the fishing camp and trade centre, which inevitably did not take place due to a lack of proper protective gear and cleaning tools. The cholera outbreak claimed more than 10 lives in a very short space of time, and like wild fire, spread quickly to surrounding communities and towns. The situation was eventually managed, and the community slowly returned to its everyday life.
The Tukombo community in the diaspora is currently mobilising resources to extend the existing clinic into a hospital, with individuals contributing as little as US$6 with the hope that the government and other organisations will intervene and support the collective help effort.
The need for resources to build a better ‘’liveable’’ Tukombo is still on my priority list, and therefore sourcing funding and establishing a network of donors is the only route at the moment that my mind can conceive.
I wish for a better Tukombo in my lifetime and have taken it upon myself to bring as much development change as possible with the little efforts I bring together. No impact is too small, and the Nigerian proverb says, “if you do not know the effectiveness of a mosquito, then you have never gone to bed with one”. My mosquito efforts shall pay off one day for Tukombo village.
Catherine Banda is a developmental activist in Mzuzu and Former Radio Presenter at the 1873fm Johannesburg – firstname.lastname@example.org