Promoting Malawi’s Tourism sector: Lessons from São Miguel

A hiking path on São Miguel

São Miguel is an island located in the North Atlantic Ocean about 1,500km off the coast of Lisbon and 3,900km from the east coast of North America. It is one of nine islands and the largest of Portugal’s autonomous Azores Archipelago.

As an island that covers 760 km2 (290 sq mi) and has around 140,000 inhabitants, São Miguel (which earned the nickname ‘Ilha Verde’ [Green Island]) is a major attraction that draws visitors from around the world who come to see its beautiful nature, volcanic scenery, hot springs, characterful towns and rich marine life, among other attractions.

The island cultivates food staples and crops such as tea, pineapple, and tobacco and has established fishing and diary industries. In the past, Sao Miguel was known for exporting oranges to Europe (mainly to Great Britain).

A pineapple plantation in São Miguel

Tourists can explore Graça Market, visit the blue china shop, take walks around the streets of Carvalho Araújo, Pedro Homem and D’Água (in Ponta Delgada’s historical centre), visit the Arquipélago Modern Arts Centre, go bike riding, or go shopping in Louvre Michaelense – São Miguel’s most beautiful store. If water activity is your thing, you can go kayaking, canoeing, bathe in hot springs, whale spotting (several deep-sea species swim next to the coastline, including sperm whales, several species of beaked whales and dolphins) or even go swimming with dolphins.

A selection of hotel rates in São Miguel (October 2020 via Google)

Most hotels are clean and affordable, and there’s something to suit every budget. Travellers on Trip Advisor report of good standards, lovely food and plenty of activities to suit different tastes.

Two lakes at Sete Cidades

The twin blue and green lakes that fill the base of the Sete Cidades caldera in the west of São Miguel are another beautiful attraction that draws thousands of tourists each year. You can hike around the lakes themselves or do the 12km loop around the caldera rim.

Why does it matter? Why should we care?

Last week the Vice President of Malawi met officials from Kasungu, Salima, Nkhotakota and Mchinji. Chilima said his reforms were aimed at repositioning and preparing the councils of these owns to effectively and efficiently execute service delivery to the people of Malawi.

“It is the goal of the administration to establish secondary cities that would have village industries, processing plants, and organised marets, a conceptthat his Excellency has tasked the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development and Public Sector Reforms and the Ministry of Local Government to implement with urgency” the Vice President said.

He said the councils needed to identify areas that will drive their financial sustainabilityand improve service delivery with the aim of improving the livelihoods of Malawians. This sounds like a call for specialisation. I.e. what can our districts do, and encourage for there to be increased economic activity, and for us to be self-sufficient?

Chilima said: “I have emphasized to specific councils to leverage tourism. For example, Nkhotakota has seven lakes and a game reserve which if promoted would create opportunities for expansion into water transport and sustainable fishing”

Since it is the case that when commentators highlight countries like Rwanda, or Botswana as countries which Malawi should aspire to follow; or when the developmental trajectory of a city such as Dubai is brought up, it seems to some like the comparison is quite a large leap- and the criticism is along the lines of you’re comparing apples with oranges, then surely considering what a small island has done (or continues to do) – to encourage tourism (never mind other industries) has got to be a much fairer comparison?

Artificial Water holes


I watched the Africa documentary on BBC the other day (can be seen here) and during the part where Sir David Attenborough talks about the death of animals including elephants due to drought, I found myself wondering why artificial water holes had not been created to help provide the much-needed water to the struggling animals?

After all, humans have interfered (or to give the correct word ‘intervened’) in other aspects of nature, often helping where their input was somewhat necessary, including creation of conservation forests/ animal sanctuaries, game reserves, breeding centres for endangered species and other measures which are all designed to protect and enhance endangered species and other high risk plants and animals. Why then wouldn’t an artificial waterhole be important?

Well, if you ask the spokesperson at Kruger, they’ll tell you that intervention in the form of artificial waterholes creates numerous ecological problems such as erosion and other environmental degradation?? including creating grazing competition between small rare herbivores and abundant herbivores. So much so that Kruger have begun demolishing a number of their artificial water holes they created.

While they claim to have made their decisions based on ‘continuous research data’ – which for now we can assume to be of a scientific nature, somehow I find myself protesting against the very rationale behind closing the water holes.

How can an artificial waterhole designed to help provide water to animals create ecological problems such as erosion and environmental degradation? Is it because it was in fact not constructed properly, or probably not on the right sites, lacking complete thought and foresight as to their purpose? Or is it that the waterholes were not innovative enough – which begs the question: what is an innovative water hole? Isn’t their decision merely a cost-cutting exercise?

Without considering the data – which could hold water, and they could be right – it would be immature to jump to conclusions, but even though in such circumstances it’s difficult to create the ideal solution that caters for all animals, I find myself questioning this ‘continous research’. Maybe it’s because as a trained Engineer – my thinking  is inherently biased to finding technical answers to technical problems, whether others have tried in the past and failed.

A different research here, titled Neotropical dry forest wildlife water hole use and management conducted by Christopher Vaughan and Kelly Weis in Costa Rica – a country that generates in excess of US$1 billion from Tourism annually – suggests artificial water holes can be properly managed.

In my view, artificial waterholes can be created in a way which would positively support nature. Just as nuts, grain and seeds are often placed in feeders outside houses to help birds and squirrels get through the cold winter months in some parts of Europe and North America, artificial water holes are probably essential for the survival of some species in the African wild. Depriving them this simple solution is an oversight on the part of humanity when human activity including destruction of huge swathes of natural forests is largely responsible for the decline of other species.

Whether it’s digging a borehole fed water hole which is powered by a solar pump that is controlled by an electro-mechanical contraption – one that monitors the water levels in the water hole, and responds accordingly; or whether its diverting water from other water bodies such as rivers and lakes using underground piping and solar pumps, there must be other ecofriendly ways of creating artificial water holes that would support and enhance biodiversity in the African wild.

Some Links

Sanctuary to get artificial water holes#

Game Effort : Artificial Water Holes Bring Relief to Wildlife Left High, Dry in Forest

Artificial Filling of Waterholes Decried – Wildlife First Writes to CWW, Karnataka

Visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation


Yesterday an update appeared on the Malawian president’s Facebook page, in which she informed her social media followers that she had participated in a ‘.. Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls’. The topic for discussion at the forum was ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

Considering that the themes of infrastructure, airports and increased cross-national trade within Africa have popped up several times in discussions and articles on this website (for example here, here and here), I think her angle on the issue is commendable, and deserves a mention.

Recently, the Sudanese Billionaire, Mo Ibrahim expressed his displeasure during his address at the 11th Nelson Mandela lecture, with the visa regimes in Africa, saying:

“..The second issue is African economic integration. Only 11% of our trade is amongst the Africans. We refuse to let our people travel from one country to another. We always need a visa. And l also say, sadly, although being Sudanese, whenever l travel in Africa l always carry a British passport, because l am welcome.

My colleague here, a Member of our Board, had huge trouble in getting a visa to be able to join me here. He was a Secretary General of the United Nations, a board member, just to get a visa here is a major trouble. But with my British passport l am welcome here through your immigration lines. Is that acceptable?..”

One can only hope that these kinds of initiatives — which clearly will have a tangible economic benefit to Africa – do eventually get implemented by the countries concerned, and do not end up onto the large pile of broken promises by political leaders past and present.

The full update on the Facebook page is as follows:

Good evening my friends

Today I attended a Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia where I addressed participants on the topic: ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

I addressed participants that our continent possesses many places of great beauty and I went on to talk about our beautiful country, Malawi, which happens to be one of the most beautiful countries for tourists attraction as we are blessed with a large freshwater lake, surrounded by white sands and full of a diversity of fish species and country boasts of wide open skies, beautiful rolling hills and mountains that offer rare experiences to climbers, bird watchers and adventure enthusiasts.

I made it clear that Malawi’s description as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ does not just refer to our inviting climate or the deep red of our sunset. It aptly describes the welcome you will receive from all Malawians as we are indeed very friendly and “warm hearted people of Africa”!

While talking about tourism I addressed participants that , tourism promises immense opportunities for growth of our economies and job creation; however millions of people continue to face unnecessary barriers to travel. These barriers include complicated and expensive visa processes; difficult and therefore expensive transport connections, lack of integrated border management systems and security threats.

For example, according to research by the United Nations WorldTourism Organisation; and World Travel and Tourism Council, facilitating visas among the G20 countries alone would create an additional five million jobs by 2015. This is a clear indication of the impact simplified and user friendly visa system can have on our economies.

It is my view that Visa Facilitation has the potential to enhance regional integration, intra-regional trade and easy movement of capital and people between countries and regions.Therefore, visa policies and procedures are among some of the most important instruments influencing tourism and investment. The development of policies and procedures for visas as well as other travel documents is closely linked to the development of tourism. Furthermore, the quality, reliability and functionality of visas have a direct correlation to number of arrivals at a destination.

In lieu of the above reasons I am calling for regional interconnectivity amongst our nations which may entail improving the current state of transport and telecommunications infrastructure and facilitating institutional improvements to optimise the efficiency and capacity of road, rail, water and air transport and the social sectors in education and health.

I believe that this in turn has high potential on enhancing economic growth; thus contributing to overall objective of poverty reduction. The link between tourism and poverty reduction is well known as one of the fundamental contributions is job creation which is part of our government’s economic recovery plan that my government is pursuing.

Thank you all for your support and prayers

May God bless you!

Good night!

Dr Joyce Banda
Republic of Malawi “

Reshaping the African Politician – Nick Wright

reshaping-african-leaderIn my quest to find progressive views and forward-thinking ideas which if embraced could potentially improve Malawi’s economic situation, I found myself interviewing Sir Edward Clay, the former British Ambassador to Kenya, whose interview will be posted on this website soon. He spoke about some very interesting things, including introducing me to another individual, a  British historian in the form of Nick Wright, who has spent several years in Africa, including some time in Malawi. It is my pleasure to share with the readership of  this website his insightful observations:-

1. You’ve had some exposure to Malawi and Africa in general… if you were to summarise your experiences, what has been your African experience?

My wife spent several years as a physiotherapist in Mulago Hospital, [in] Kampala. We had several Ugandan friends from that experience. After leaving our jobs in Australia, we enrolled in the (British) Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO): I as teacher of English in Chimwankhunda Community Day Secondary School in Blantyre, Malawi; she as physiotherapist at Malawi Against Polio (MAP), also in Blantyre. We were there for two happy years. I became interested in Malawian politics at that time and started as Malawi correspondent for the London-based Africa Confidential. Journalism of this sort continued for several years after our departure from Malawi in 2001 and obliged me to make several return visits to Malawi in order to conduct interviews. I met the leaders of all major Malawian political parties and the heads of some government departments, foreign embassies, aid-agencies, newspapers and business enterprises.

2. Most of the African countries in which you spent time in gained their independence around early to mid-1960’s. And at the time, Pan-Africanism was probably at its peak, with a freedom fervour sweeping across the continent, something that can probably be compared to what we recently witnessed in North Africa with the so-called ‘Arab spring’; It’s now close to 50 years since those ‘glorious days’, but to what extent in your view have the goals or overarching expectations of ‘independence’ conceptualised by the founding fathers of African countries been realised for the majority of their citizens?

Nkrumah’s pan-African ideal of the 1960s was never adopted because arrogant African presidents, like Hastings Banda, were (and still are) too attached to the trappings of a threadbare sovereignty to be able to surrender all the flags, palaces, UN flummery, and motorcades. I think the Western powers had an interest in divide and rule, too.

I once wrote an article which mourned the collapse of the East African Federation for just such reasons: “Central Africa’s Sovereign Issues”. Regional federations, as stepping-stones to wider unions, make good sense for Africa – especially for land-locked, resource-poor, Malawi – and they must not be allowed to remain the modern taboo that Kamuzu Banda made them.
This is another example, I’m afraid, of too much power in the hands of Presidents who scorn institutions like Parliament, the Judiciary; the printed media; the Civil Service, the Constitution which are set up to be their “checks and balances”. Presidents are told by everybody around them (until they are toppled) that they are God Almighty, and they come to believe it. Only Nyerere came close to the ideal of a model, modest, president, and his modesty was treated with contempt by the others

I developed a healthy respect and liking for individual Malawians but a very strong feeling that Western aid policies were failing Malawi badly. Why? Because: (1)they fed complacency, idleness, irresponsibility and corruption within the Malawian elites; (2)they fed arrogance amongst the expatriate community who were forever in the company of grateful and respectful poor people; (3)they created passivity and feelings of helplessness in ordinary Malawian people, including those in government who had their responsibilities taken away from them. Whilst being aware of the many individual benefits brought to poor Malawians by individual aid- projects, I felt that the real beneficiaries of aid-money in Malawi were: (1)state-presidents and their family members, friends, and hangers-on; (2)the staff of a multitude of NGOs and aid-agencies, and (3)expatriate consultants expensively employed by DFID, the EU, the UN etc to write expert reports. Bingu wa Mutharika was on the right track with his angry denunciations of Western aid but his protestation was undermined by his own lavish personal spending and his grotesque toleration of corruption. How can a person who makes all the decisions in Malawi and whose immediately previous experience was in minibus driving and in the corrupt bureaucracy of COMESA(Bingu) or small business (Muluzi), be trusted to act solely in the public interest of Malawi? Bakili Muluzi was more likeable as a man than Bingu but identical in his failure to distinguish between personal and public.

3. And if such goals and expectations have largely not been met, what are the main reasons as to why they have not been met?

Far too much unchecked power is in the hands of individual Malawians, especially the President, because of the “Big Man” [similar link here] culture which prevails in the country and the weakness of public institutions. The independent national newspapers, like The Nation, do a reasonable investigative job but are easily intimidated by threats to their advertising revenues and by their own lack of resources; the MBC public broadcaster is entirely under government control and biased in favour of government; the Malawian churches retain a sporadic consciousness of their responsibility as “public conscience” of Malawi but are often distracted by their own factionalism. The Parliamentary committees occasionally exercise oversight on public spending but only when in session and they are often starved of vital evidence by government departments and tend to divide on party-lines. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is widely considered to be only for “small-fry” financial criminality, and firmly under presidential control where corruption itself is often centred. Western embassies, (individually and collectively), sometimes exercise a restraining hand on the presidency through their aid-policies, but their staffs are usually too comfortably entrenched in their own luxurious lifestyles, and too suspicious of each other and of China, to risk serious confrontation with the president. The Executive arm of government (effectively the President) is overwhelmingly powerful in Malawi, and this patrimonial model of government filters down to all levels of administration. “L’etat c’est moi”

4. While there has been visible progress in some parts of Africa, when one travels in other parts, especially the rural areas, the story of suffering is the same. If it’s not wars and ethnic violence, then it’s disease and poor healthcare, or famine and hunger, else it’s lack of resources, poverty, corruption…the list goes on.  After over 50 years of foreign intervention and billions of dollars in aid, what in your view is preventing Africa from getting its act together?

Aid is ruining Malawians’ self-respect and their natural honesty and capacity for hard work. Its gradual removal will cause as much consternation in Western donor capitals (“What will Bob Geldof say about all the hungry people?”) as it will in some of the poorest households of Malawi (“See how our politicians can’t provide “Development”). But it is a “bullet” that must be “bitten” for the greater long-term good of Malawi. The Fertiliser Subsidy (FISP) which absorbs most of the agricultural budget has become a millstone around the neck of Malawi’s agricultural development.

The subject of overseas aid is a very important one and for the reasons explained above. Why should the presidency take note of competing institutions when the Executive is virtually guaranteed free money from overseas? Why should government departments do their jobs properly when overseas experts with university degrees in International Development seem to know all the answers? Why should Presidents feel the necessity of proper financial accountability?

All aid should be phased out. The endless tinkering between “good” and “bad” aid will not do for Malawi any more. It is ALL bad! If its abolition means the collapse of Western-style democracy in Malawi, then let it go. It will return in a different, better, African, form!

5. One of the problems that has been cited as holding back the growth of African economies is the relatively low levels of Venture capital investment into Africa, when compared for example with the Venture capital investment that has been flowing into Asia or South America. Do you agree?

Venture capital is largely absent from Malawi, except in uranium-mining at Kayelekera, and in tourism (i.e where Malawian control and profit-taking is minimal)

Nick Wright has worked in the History Department at Adelaide University (1975-1991) and for Africa Confidential as its Malawi correspondent (2003-2010).

Other Articles by Nick Wright:


Mauritius ‘not an act of divinity’


[Published with permission from the author: Professor Roman Grynberg]
Original content Source

The fact that the small island nation is relatively prosperous is the product of a fortunate history.

The world-famous Nobel Laureate in economics and former vice-president of the World Bank, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, flew a great deal and his feet rarely ever touched the ground—and when they did, it was only for brief moments to advise the great and the good, and sometimes the not-so good. The intensity of the lifestyle that such people have usually gives rise to two dangerous effects—cardiac arrest and superficiality.

Earlier this year the professor paid a visit to Mauritius and wrote a piece about “the Mauritius miracle”. In economics there have been so many “miracles”—indeed, Botswana has often been referred to as just such a miracle economy and even Japan was considered a miracle economy in the 1980s. But miracle economies, like items of fashion, come and go.

Stiglitz’s article pointed out the fact that Mauritius not only had excellent, free education and universal healthcare, but also high economic growth rates of above 5%. For a United States economist, high growth rates appear to be like a distant Asian mirage or something that, more properly, belongs in the previous century.

Americans are accustomed to a first-class but patently unfair healthcare system: until President Barack Obama’s reform it was not universally available to all working citizens. They are also used to an education system that works only if you live in a good area or are rich enough to afford a private school.

For Americans, Mauritius must seem like something of a miracle, but it is man-made. If Stiglitz had stayed just a bit longer on the beach and read about Mauritius’s economic history, he would have discovered that the country, since 1975, could sell almost every tonne of sugar it produced to the European Union at prices normally between two and three times higher than the world price. No other country in the world was ever granted such a rich and generous commercial legacy by its former colonial masters, and nothing is as important as the EU sugar ­protocol in explaining why Mauritius has the surpluses it does to invest in its own people.

The sugar protocol created massive surpluses in the hands of the sugar plantation owners, the so-called “sugar barons”, as they are known in Mauritius. After 1980 these mostly European and mixed-race planters were handed a business environment that allowed them to diversify rather than hide their surpluses in Swiss bank accounts, as happened in so many other developing countries. Being only a night’s flight from London and Paris, the sugar barons developed a successful tourism product and used their Asian connections to develop a garment industry prior to the liberalisation of the world garment trading system in 2005.

They also used their abundant tuna resources to develop a canning industry, using the high EU preferential market access of 24% for canned tuna from countries such as Mauritius and Namibia. Because Mauritius is a small island state and therefore has a very high cost structure compared with its Asian or even African neighbours, everything it produced for export was under one trade preference system or another, and even its tourism sector was geared towards high-end travellers who could afford its high prices.

Mauritius’s relative prosperity is no act of divine intervention – it is the product of a fortunate history and clever leaders who took advantage of what little a small, remote island could offer. They then invested it, as Stiglitz rightly pointed out, in their one real, renewable resource—the people.

But the generosity of the former colonial powers in providing surpluses in this equation cannot be overlooked. Although it may have made no difference in some of the strife-torn countries of Africa, one can only wonder: if the EU and US had agreed to pay overly high prices for African maize or cotton for an entire generation, instead of providing aeroplane loads of $1 000-a-day consultants while subsidising their own farmers, would there not be more countries on the continent that looked a bit more like Mauritius?

Professor Roman Grynberg is employed at the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis. He writes in his personal capacity.