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Diverging interests

Fishermen against hotel owners

von Raphael Mweninguwe


Communities along the shores of Lake Malawi must be able to enter the water for fishing. With the building of hotels and lodges for tourists, many communities lose their access to the lake.

Investors are buying land along Lake Malawi to build hotels with a lake view. But local fishermen traditionally use the shore as a docking place for their fishing canoes and boats. They complain that they do not have access to the lake anymore and therefore cannot fish. “We are not happy with what these people are doing,” says Ackim Phiri in the city of Salima, which attracts tourists with its nice beach. The 38-year-old fisherman has been fishing in Lake Malawi since he was young. He supports three kids and his wife through fishing.

“We are not against building hotels and lodges, because locals get employment,” Phiri says, “but our livelihood is at stake.” Even the areas where people used to draw water and bathe are no longer accessible because the land is in private hands.

There are similar complaints by fishermen in other parts of the country. In 2015, village chiefs in the district of Mangochi in southern Malawi blocked the construction of a five star hotel. They were not against the hotel in principle, but refused to be relocated to another area. Leaving their native land would deny them their “right to fishing”, they argue – that is their livelihood.  

When the situation was getting out of hand, Malawi’s government set up a pilot project with communities along the lakeshore and installed district peace committees. The objective was to help resolve the differences between the local people on one hand and the hotel and lodge owners on the other over the use of Lake Malawi. The committees comprise of local chiefs, fishermen and other stakeholders at district level.

Maganga, a local chief in Salima district, explains that fishermen were not happy with hotel owners putting up fences to block people from using the lake. Stanly Lemani of Blue Waters Hotel in Salima maintains that hotel owners “understand the complaints by the communities”. However, the fence was erected around the hotel to protect the property against vandalism, he explains. Both sides put their hopes on the peace committees to find a solution.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.
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