Maoni Village in the area of Traditional Authority Nkalo in Chiradzulu district will forever be engraved in the hearts of everyone with passion for the construction industry in Malawi. This is where Charles and Vivien Chiotcha, owners of the blossoming Maoni Building and Civil Engineering Contractors trace their origins.
“We knew each other over thirty years ago. When Mr Maotcha and I were still boyfriend and girlfriend, we used to go together to Nkando Market to sell second hand clothes and other products together as a couple. We seemed to both have business interests”, narrates Mrs Maotcha when a team from The Construction Magazine visited them at their Blantyre offices.
The story of Maoni Building and Civil Engineering Contractors started in 1997. This was after Vivien Chiotcha had resigned as an attachee at the Works Training Centre and registered the business.
“We started small – just like any other business venture in Malawi. Some of our earliest projects include the Salima, Mwanza and Mulanje Post Offices; the Makwasa and Mangochi Telephone Exchange complexes; the Blantyre Youth Centre fence; as well as Kaphatenga Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Salima which was constructed under a DANIDA [Danish International Development Agency] project”, says Vivien.
She adds that when she looks back at how much those first project values were, she thanks God that she has managed to grow the business to where it is now.
“Our first project contact – I think is the Mwanza one – was worth K98, 000. The Mulanje project was for K214, 000. We then started getting bigger projects such that the Salima Post Office one was for K900, 000, while the Makwasa Telephone Exchange contract was for K1, 400, 000 and the Kaphatenga CDSS project was for K2, 400, 000”, explains Mrs Maotcha.
As of the 2021-2022 register of firms registered with the National Construction Industry Council (NCIC), Maoni Civil Engineering (for civil works) is registered in the K1 Billion Category; while Maoni Building Contractors is registered in the Unlimited Category.
On his part, Charles Chiotcha who runs Maoni together with his wife Vivien, says his first academic/professional qualification after his secondary education at HHI Secondary School was a Certificate in Construction and Quantity Surveying obtained from The Polytechnic, then under the University of Malawi but now under the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (MUBAS). He did this course between 1991 and 1995.
After obtaining the certificate, Mr. Chiotcha worked as a Buildings Supervisor then as an Estates Officer for Press Properties Limited, a subsidiary of Press Corporation Limited up to 1998 when he joined Malawi Housing Corporation.
Meanwhile, Mr Chiotcha says he was picked by The Polytechnic to be teaching Diploma in Quantity Surveying classes.
“You can imagine what quality of education we got from The Polytechnic in order to be entrusted with teaching Diploma students despite just having a Certificate myself”, challenges Chiotcha with a smile of pride beaming.
He adds that realizing that their family business as Maoni Building and Civil Engineering Contractors was growing and that further skills might be needed in order to successfully run the business, Charles Chiotcha enrolled for a degree programme at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth South Africa in 2003. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Construction Economics in 2006.
“After getting my bachelor’s degree, I enrolled for a Master of Science in Built Environment with an emphasis in Project Management at the same Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University which I did between 2008 and 2009. All these years I was away for further studies, my wife Vivien was running Maoni Building and Civil Engineering Contractors”, says Chiotcha.
Not wanting to be left behind, Vivien says she is also a qualified Quantity Surveyor, a qualification she says has been very instrumental in moving Maoni Building and Civil Engineering Contractors.
“I did my secondary school at Stella Maris Secondary School, and then did a Diploma in Quantity Surveying at The Polytechnic from 1994 and 1995. That is where I met Charles, my husband. Between 1998 and 2000, I was attached to the Ministry of Works at the Working Training Centre. But in 2003, I resigned and went back to school at The Polytechnic where I did a Bachelor of Science in Quantity Surveying, graduating in 2006”, says Mrs Chiotcha.
But looking back, the Chiotchas say they are proud at the long list of successful construction projects that Maoni has executed.
“Apart from the ones I outlined earlier on, Maoni Building and Civil Engineering Contractors has also constructed the Chapananga Water Scheme in Chikwawa; Thangadzi Bridge in Mulanje; Namitambo Bridge in Phalombe; Matawale Ring Road in Zomba; Chiradzulu/Mpenga to Nasawa Technical College Road in Chiradzulu; fourteen staff houses at Kamuzu Barracks in Lilongwe; Liwonde CDSS in Machinga under the African Development Fund (ADF 4) of the African Development Bank (ADB); fencing for the Monkey Bay Stadium in Mangochi; the Neno Stadium in Neno district; the Neno District Commisioner’s house; Neno market; Kachebere bridge in Mchinji; Likudzi Bridge at Ndonda in Ntcheu; all bridges on the Mwanza-Thambani road; and various bridges in Kasungu, Salima and Mchinji districts – among others”, says Mrs Chiotcha.
Over the years, Maoni has gained valuable experience and lessons which the proprietors say will propel the business to even greater heights.
“As Maoni Building and Civil Engineering Contractors, we have learn’t that quality infrastructure is our most powerful marketing tool, and we guard it jealously. We do not compromise on anything when it comes to the issues of quality. Vivien here talked about the Matawale Ring Road in Zomba as one of the projects Maoni has executed. I can challenge you that if you go to see the road today, six years after we handed over to the client, no single pothole exists on the road. We are proud to have been the contractor for that road”, says Mr Chiotcha.
Mr Chiotcha adds that through hard work and re-investments into the company, Maoni Building and Civil Engineering Contractors has now amassed a lot of equipment and machinery which makes them capable of undertaking any construction work in Malawi and beyond.
“At the moment, we have one grader, one patching machine, three tippers, 3 lorries ranging from two-twenty tonnes, two JCBs, one 10-tonne ballmark, two pedestrian line markers, and one concerete mixer. Besides, we have a dedicated team of professionals including our dedicated and fulltime quantity surveyor who supervises all others in the field”, challenges Chiotcha. At the moment, Maoni is constructing the Monkey Bay-Cape Maclear road, a stretch of about 17 kilometres in Mangochi. The Chiotchas also run God’s Grace Academy in Blantyre as part of their family business interests. And the structures housing the academy were also constructed by Maoni Building and Civil Engineering Contractors.
Among the many challenges construction firms face in Malawi, Mr Chiotcha pointed out that the playing field is never the same between foreign and Malawian firms.
“One important factor for successful execution of construction projects is readily and continuous availability of resources on site. It should be noted that in Malawi, the cost of borrowing from banks and other financial institutions is very high – hovering around 30% in most cases. However, we have some foreign construction firms which have been coming into Malawi with access to very cheap loans in their respective countries of origin. This puts Malawian firms at a huge disadvantage in that we are not able to compete with such companies”, says Chiotcha.
Looking forward, the Chiotchas want to have Maoni as the best construction firms in Malawi, and possibly the southern Africa region. A tale that started with tow lovebirds selling Kaunjika at Nkando in Mulanje, is now bearing bigger fruits in the construction industry.