Motorists and passengers are going through turbulent times on the pothole infested roads of Malawi. With no single iota of shame, two toll gates collect money day and night at Kalinyeka in Dedza and Chingeni in Ntcheu along the M1. Last year it transpired that the toll plazas collected more than K5 billion, which was sadly lying idle somewhere.
At the time, Roads Fund Administration (RFA) claimed that they were working on procurement and contracting modalities for hiring firms to fix the dangerous potholes. It is as if government started collecting the fees without proactively coming up with an advance plan on what should happen with the funds the moment the first vehicle passed through the barricades.
RFA needs to be held accountable for subjecting motorists to rough rides each time they drive on these perilous roads. The tendency of being too quick to collect money and too slow to fix the roads must be condemned. Motorists drive straight into potholes the moment they leave the toll plaza.
The state of potholes has become pathetic as our roads have become death traps. Some of the potholes have grown so wide and deep so that it is almost impossible even for the most skillful driver to dribble around these pits. Many roads have become dangerous zones that make driving wearisome and burdensome. Chances of head-on collision and side to side friction are high as drivers make desperate attempts to negotiate these deep gullies.
The extent of damage to vehicles is another cause for serious concern. Vehicle owners are shouldering high maintenance costs. Each road trip comes with it significant wear and tear. Each moment a car hits a pothole thunderously, the damage is almost discernible. It is common nowadays to come across convoys of vehicles that have broken down by the roadside because they have suffered different forms of wreckage.
Common damages on vehicles caused by large potholes include burst tyres, broken tyre reams, damaged shock absorbers, deformed suspension parts such as ball joints and rack ends. Sometimes, vehicles suffer damage that cannot be immediately detected such as loose bolts and nuts on movable parts, leakages on oil, water and coolant chambers, just to mention a few. The financial cost of these damages are high and can be a source of deep stress especially in times like these when cost of spare parts as well as vehicle maintenance expenses have sky-rocketed.
The potholes are also a security risk to drivers and passengers that often get stranded on dangerous stretches. The risk is higher when vehicles plunge into potholes at night when highway robbers and criminals are more active. Motorists run the risk of being attacked, hacked, and have their precious belongings stolen by highway gangs that sometimes camp and hide within the vicinity of certain notorious potholes.
There are certain roads and routes which are most dreadful and can break the backbone of drivers and passengers. For example, the M1 Road from Lilongwe to Kasungu could make it in the Guinness Book of Records as the most dangerously bumpy road in this part of the World. More notorious potholes are generously located along the road from Chingeni to Blantyre stretch while the road to Liwonde and Zomba via Balaka is another death trap. Now, as if tourism is no longer a priority for Malawi, the Lakeshore Road to Salima via Mtakataka, all the way to Nkhotakota and Dwangwa are famous for apocalyptic potholes, broken bridges, razor-sharp edges, and narrow passages.
Meanwhile, senior government officials, the President and Cabinet ministers drive on these same bumpy roads on a frequent basis. However, recently President Chakwera has opted to travel by air.