Of charcoal and potholes – the road from Harare to Lilongwe via Tete

2 borders, 2 temporary import permits, 2 car insurance licences, 3 currencies, 10-12 hours and countless bags of charcoal lie between Harare and Lilongwe if you travel by road. Tich and I are on this road trip because Air Malawi have canceled their flights between Harare & Lilongwe and we have a training workshop to run before the end of the month.

Thanks to advice from more seasoned travelers we were well advised of how to find currency, what rates to expect and where to try and scrounge for fuel in preparation for the shortages currently bedeviling Malawi. In comparison with my experiences of the Beitbridge border crossing into South Africa, the Nyamapanda & Dedza border posts were straight forward and relatively painless. Currency dealers, sim card sellers and professional 'border agents' all cooperate with the officials to smooth the way. Let's hope the return journey is as painless.

At the Zimbabwean border post at Nyamapanda I was delighted when the first official to scrutinize my paperwork asked of my organization, "..Kubatana, as in kubatanablogs?" Kudos to Bev & Amanda for the amazing reach they've developed for us over the last 3+ years.

Crossing the Zambezi River at Tete was another pleasure - it's a stunning river and a lovely view from the bridge.

Less enjoyable are the potholes that make sections of the road between Tete and the turn off to Angonia really tricky to drive. Cars have to break suddenly and swerve all over the road trying to dodge the sharp edges of the treacherous holes. Turning off the Tete-Blantyre road at this point was a huge relief as the road from here to Lilongwe is in very good shape.

The really big downer was our growing appreciation of the scale of the environmental destruction associated with the ubiquitous production of charcoal along much of the road from Nyamapanda through Mozambique's Tete Province and into southern Malawi.


The scale of environmental degradation is well on its way to devastating. Attempts to replant could be seen in a small number of areas, but nothing like the scale required to restore what's been removed. The cut and burn tactics are merciless as trees are reduced to stumps and then burnt out to just below ground level. What kind of legacy are these communities leaving for future generations? Who is coordinating the distribution of bags, paying producers, transporting and selling the charcoal? And who is consuming all of this charcoal? As Tich, my co-driver said, "This is a national disaster".