Napoleon Dzombe is a great man. He is not the incarnation of that 18th Century famous Frenchman, Napoleon Bonaparte. But, even in a different field, he has the same ingenuity as that of the artillery commandeering citizen of France.
His war is different. His military hardware is different. His approach to the wars he fights is different. But his guts and wisdom and purposes aren't different.
Dzombe isn't leading a political revolution; he is leading a welfare revolution among his people in Mtalimanja Village in Dowa District.
Dzombe, a simple looking man, is unlocking the potential of his community by destroying the strongest of the chains that have shackled them to poverty for too long.
Here is his story, as he told it during the ‘Unlocking Your Potential’ campaign being run by National Bank of Malawi (NBM) plc.
Napoleon Dzombe was born in a family and community that were poor. His life was typical of many children in Malawi, a life of want and adversity and uncertainty. He grew up in an area that had no hospitals, no bridges, no maize mills and no good road.
His primary school was very far, such that the child Napoleon walked a total of 24 miles to and from his nearest school. That regardless, in 1977, he was selected to Dedza Secondary School.
"But my parents did not have fees. So I got help from someone else for my Form 1 school fees," he recalls.
If lacking school fees was a misfortune, it was also an adversity that began his path to greatness.
He was not going to rely on the generosity of other people for his education, so to raise money for his Form 2 fees, he engaged in a small business. He did not just struck gold; he saw light into much more gold deposits.
"In one month of business, I made far more money than I needed," he said.
That beat up the path he would take in his life.
"I said to myself: 'If I have made this much money in just one month of a small effort, how much more can I make if I devote myself fully in business?'" he said.
And so Dzombe dared the odds, possibly to the disbelief of a community that had long believed that young people in the area needed education to get out of poverty. He dropped out of school in first term in Form Two to concentrate on business.
The journey to a great future had begun.
With earnings from his business, he opened a maize farm in his village which he called ‘Nzeru za Abambo’ Farm.
In time, he diversified into transport business that also helped drive his businesses to success.
Yet, he kept wondering what had made Europe so successful. Therefore, he took a trip to Sweden to learn. There he discovered how value addition had propelled the European economies to great heights and uplifted lives.
On his return, he ventured into sawmilling business. He wasn't selling the timber. He was producing furniture such as desks. It was successful.
His maize farm was still thriving but now instead of selling the maize he was producing, he started processing it into flour and other products.
So far, he had taken his life out of poverty and his business empire was growing.
"So I decided to invest in the community I had come from to see how I can also help improve people's lives," he said.
His first initiative to unlock the potential of the community was to turn his Nzeru za Abambo into a community banana plantation.
A visit to Mtalimanja today finds a display of a vast array of Napoleon's magnanimity and wealth creation initiatives for his people.
What used to be Nzeru za Abambo maize production field is today an expanse of a promising banana crop owned and managed by the community -- under the guidance of the Malawian Napoleon.
To irrigate the farm, he constructed a dam, a project which took him five years to complete.
But this is a multipurpose dam because he is turning the area into a tourism destination of serious consequence.
Overlooking the expansive dam is a magnificent, high rise tourist infrastructure, the Kalipano Hotel.
“We want to generate revenue through tourism, conferences and weddings and the people of this village will be earning money from this investment,” said Dzombe.
The plan is to create a complete lakeside experience for visitors as they plan to put boats on the dam and other accomplishments to meet the taste of a waterfront adventurer.
Another outstanding infrastructure in the area is the School for Agriculture for Family Independence (SAFI).
Operational since 2006, SAFI enrolls 40 families from across the country at one single time training them in modern methods of farming.
Here, these 40 families are accommodated in institutional facilities equipped with electricity and piped water.
The institution takes care of their every day needs during their stay. For their travel to and from the place, SAFI transports them for free.
In 2017, he got villagers from the area to study rice farming in Nkhotakota. In the first year of production, the villagers made K26,000.
The following year, Dzombe supported them with tractors and allocated land to the villagers. They made a profit of K3 million. In 2019, they made a profit of a staggering K25 million.
"They are expecting revenue of K250 million in 2020,” said Dzombe.
Across the country, poor roads and lack of electricity are cited by experts as a serious impediment to the prosperity of rural communities which are the main players in agriculture in Malawi.
For long, Mtalimanja Village has suffered from lack of electricity and good roads. Dzombe has fixed the problem creating a passage of wealth into the community.
Together with Mtalimanja people, Dzombe upgraded a 26-kilometre road from the main M1 road, extending it to connect to another tarred road, the Santhe-Kasungu road. The works have included fixing all the bridges in between.
To get electricity to the area, they worked to tap ESCOM power from 20 kilometres away.
"In other areas, people are lucky that they have roads constructed for them and electricity brought on their doors (by government). Here, we have managed to do this on our own,” said Dzombe.
And people of Mtalimanja are benefiting. They have moved from grass-thatched houses to modern ones kitted with electricity.
NBM plc Marketing and Corporate Affairs Manager Akossa Hiwa said the ‘Unclock your potential’ campaign has managed to give hope to their customers and the public at large after listening to success stories such as the Napoleon Dzombe story.
“The engagement on Dzombe’s story alone revealed to us that our stakeholders and customers are in awe of how he is singlehandedly working to build his community and to build Malawians across the country through the provision of agricultural skills.”
“Many have been inspired to work on defining a path for themselves and for those around them. This is encouraging as the Unlock Your Potential Campaign was implemented to urge our followers to seek how best they can utilize the resources they have, both physical and mental, to significantly improve their current situation and status,” explained Hiwa.
Dzombe's enterprises have created jobs for over 1000 villagers.
But he hopes to create more jobs as he invests in value addition by introducing fish ponds, construct factories for maize, groundnuts, soya beans and fruit processing.
His plan is this one: “In five years to come, our products from here like maize, groundnuts, rice, soya beans will be processed here so that they fetch higher prices on the market."
And he foresees total transformation of the community.
"We will have many more houses with electricity, we will have built schools and constructed good roads and hospital. This is just to show that when one believes in an idea, everything is possible,” said Dzombe.
In his words, it is retrogressive to fear to step into unchartered territories.
"We should not fear to till untilled lands. It is up to us to withstand our situations and make good out of them.We have to have courage that we can change the face of Malawi. If we have courage we can change our villages to be better places for people to live in,” said Dzombe.
For a man now Group Chairman of Mtalimanja Holdings Limited that has invested US$18 million in a rice milling company in Nkhotakota, Dzombe knows what he is talking about.
He knows how to fight wars. He knows how to assemble the artillery. He fights formidably, methodically. And he wins!
By Mc Donald Chapalapata, a Contributor