Powerful Akatswiri rules Mulanje mountain

…Island in the sky under threat from mining, short cuts

…tour operator’s raise SOS

…Public officials break the law for Akatswiri

Tourism Minister Vera Kamtukule latest effort of dancing and naming Mulanje Mountain as a tourist destination might be in vain as behind her back, the Department of Forest under her predecessor Micheal Usi and assisted by several government departments are surrendering the tourism gem to a mining explorer- who is being allowed, officially to break environmental laws of Malawi.

Chambe basin on the verge of being exploited

Politicians and businesses with links to politics have over the past two decades been trying to strip the mountain, buy it and now the little ecological spaces left are under threat as a company named as Akatswiri Minerals and its allied firms Geo-Global Exploration and Akatswiri Rare Earth- which is alleged to have links to President Lazarus Chakwera personally, is cutting corners to explore rare earth and bauxite on the mountain.

While charcoal sellers and other ordinary Malawians faces hefty fines, confiscation of vehicles and even prison sentences for cutting trees, destruction of Mulanje Mountain seems to have official consent and government- through relevant departments are now neglecting their official duties to aid and abet destruction of the same environment they are paid to protect.

The Investigator Magazine can name the Department of Forestry, Malawi Environmental Protection Agency and District Commissioner for Mulanje as the triumvirate that is allowing damage to the environment including unsupervised exploration of the mountain.

Exploration that risks water, damage of 500 rare species

Hundreds of Malawians rely on Mulanje Mountain for their source of water, but politics and power seems to have gone to the heads of those responsible that exploration by Akatswiri Holdings started long before any of the steps in checking and guaranteeing safety was done.

The Akatswiri mining went into the mountain unsupervised, and the communities were never consulted according to the environmental law and the bauxite exploration is near wetlands which poses a threat to water sources for most parts of Mulanje and Phalombe districts.

The environmental and social management plan request from the department which was ignored

“Akatswiri mining are already on the site effective 28 November 2023 working unsupervised on what they call exploration and they have already started damaging rivers, vegetation, and air. They are already misusing cottages- Francis’s cottage,” reads an SOS was sent on 13 December 2023, by Tourism Association of Mount Mulanje (TAMM) a group of accommodation and tour operators who rely on the mountain to the Malawi Environmental Protection Authority.

The exploration, which includes heavy scrappers and excavators will cover 100 hectares of the mountain and threaten water for hospitals such as Phalombe Mission and Mulanje Mission Hospitals and schools who depend on the same water source.

“Mulanje Mountain is one of UNESCO heritage sites in the world, and accredited biosphere reserve with over 500 species of animals and plants. Already operators are experiencing cancellations due to mining activities. We demand a stop until assessments reports are issued,” says the letter which has gone unanswered.

Tea picker on his way through a tea estate on Mount Mulanje, Malawi, Africa (Photo by Michael Runkel / Robert Harding Heritage / robertharding via AFP) Mulanje Mountain is one of UNESCO heritage sites in the world, and accredited biosphere reserve with over 500 species of animals and plants

MEPA tries to hide illegal process, holds consultation in Blantyre not Mulanje

The MEPA and government officials after realising that there would be protests over the start of exploration without following the law, they quickly started to cover their short cuts by trying to implement parts of the steps required by law.

They started with public consultation- away from Mulanje and Phalombe. The “consultative meeting” not to ask opinion but announce that Akatswiri had two exploration licences was held at District Commissioners office in Blantyre, some 60 kilometres away from Mulanje mountain.

The “consultative meeting” not to ask opinion but announce that Akatswiri had two exploration licences was held at District Commissioners office in Blantyre

The Mulanje District Council claims it approved the mining activities on April 2020 with District Executive Committee meeting attended by a few people and also  a community consultation meeting meeting with a grouping known as Citizen for Protection of Mulanje Mountain held on 22 February 2020 at Wadonda.

Parliamentarians, councillors and even some community representatives including stakeholders such as Tour operators were not invited and the cover up by MEPA was shocking to the people of Mulanje and Phalombe.

The MEPA and Mulanje District Council failure to consult the public is in contravention of the Environmental law which stipulates that every person required under written law shall takes steps and measures to, “promote public awareness and participation in the formulation and implementation of the environmental and conservation policies of the government.”

The environmental policy itself is clear on means of public consultation which includes community meetings, which have been deliberately skipped to accommodate the exploration.

The Department of Environmental Affairs guidelines accessed by The Investigator Magazine shows that Environmental Impact Assessment are by law a requirement and public consultation is a must.

Mineral prospecting requires Environmental Impact Assessment

All mining of minerals, expansions to mines, mining exploration activity, minerals prospecting activity, gravel puts and removal of sand or gravel from shoreline’s require an Environmental Impact Assessment, according to the law.

But Mulanje Mountain, a very sensitive ecological site seems to be being neglected by the same public officials that the law is being bended despite fitting both the nature of activity and the proximity to historical, cultural and world heritage designation.

EIA is a must also for projects near water bodies and a major source of drinking water. Chambe basin is part of water source with rivers starting around  it.

However, without any of EIA reports and consultations, Akastwiri Mining managed to get a licence from the Department of Forestry dated 17th November 2023 valid until 31st of March 2024.

It gives Akatswiri authority to operate in Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve, “prospecting rare earth elements and bauxite.”

Their proposal documents of 2020 clearly show the need for Environmentantl and Social Management Plan which could have formed the basis for decision making by all relevant stakeholders.

Akastwiri grows under current regime

Those close to Akastwiri have commented that the company has suddenly become big and rich since President Lazarus Chakwera came into office, one of the few productive ventures in a country where the economy is collapsing.

Registered in 2015 in Nkhatabay by one Hilton Banda as in the copy we have in possession

“It was a mining consultancy and worked on different projects. The company now has grown from consultancy to a Holdings with interests beyond mining,” a close associate of the company’s registered owner Hilton Banda told The Investigator Magazine.

Genera receipt as proof of payment for company registration

The expansion some are tying it to the State House.

“The Department of Forest is being asked to issue a letter that Akatswiri does not need an EIA to conduct the exploration. Everyone is laughing at the attempt to cover up. They have in their proposal a team of people who were supposed to conduct, and the findings made public. Nothing of sort happened, what is happening is illegal and will be challenged later,” said a senior Department of Forest official.

The Investigator Magazine was informed that the company uses state security and litigation to threaten those that have questioned its bulldozing of exploration at Mulanje Mountain.

According to its introduction on 23 July 2020, the Akatswiri Holdings comprises of Akatswiri Mineral Resources, S &A Resources Ptv Ltd, Akatswiri Logistics, Akatswiri Farms and Properties, Global Geo- exploration and Akatswiri Rare Earths.

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