Response to Tenthani’s dancing with disasters in Malawi

On January 25 this year the online publication, Nyasa Times, reprinted Raphael Tenthani’s article, “Dancing with Disasters in Malawi

Tenthani:  The muckracker

Tenthani: The muckracker

On reading the article I was initially impressed by what I found to be a refreshing view-point in Tenthani’s article. Unlike most of Tenthani’s other writings which usually have Mutharika (or anything Mutharika-like) as the initial premise, proceed to Mutharika in the subsequent premises and conclude with Mutharika; this particular article was different.
Indeed the article did start out with Mutharika and for the most part Mutharika remained the main addressee of Tenthani’s message. Still, the article did make some attempts to go beyond Mutharika by interrogating the apparent lawlessness in dealing with issues of environment and natural resources management by both the citizens and the officials entrusted with managing the environment.
Of course I did find Tenthani’s pleas laudable and I must add that it was his way of bringing into the dialogue the forestry officer at Zalewa roadblock, the cyclist laden with charcoal riding into the capital, the clever anyamata apa tauni who illegally demarcate plots, the city assemblies, the district councils and the lands Department – which gave his piece its fervency.
In keeping in tune with the question of lawlessness, Tenthani reminisced the days of old recalling how during the era of the one party dictatorship of Kamuzu Banda the country had strong national values which helped to foster a sense of ownership and protectiveness towards natural resources.
All this was before I came to the section where Tenthani begins to talk about the Lower Shire Valley story. “Hackneyed” to the point of becoming “almost boring”, Tenthani called the Lower Shire story. How dare the “marooned people” of the Lower Shire challenge a whole vice President with trite excuses on the request that they move upland (I rephrase some parts of Tenthani’s speech but the point remains that he was dismissive of the concerns raised by the people of the Lower Shire and found their arguments against relocation petty).
Tenthani’s solution to the perennial flooding that occurs in the Lower Shire and the subsequent disasters that the flooding brings on the people inhabiting the area:  “Let us do what is practical now: move people upland – by force, if necessary.”
Now, I have nothing against the people of the Lower Shire moving upland if they so agree and if government puts in place mechanisms that will guarantee the relocated people land ownership elsewhere and a sustained economic livelihood. It is also apparent to me that the people of the Lower Shire do not want to loosen the ties that make up the social fabrics of their communities and any relocation plan that is not well conceived risks disintegrating these communities.
The matter of the Lower shire is complex and in our search for quick and practical solutions let as not be rush and advocate for violence on whole groups of people. The complexity of the Lower Shire situation is well articulated in Levi Zeleza Manda’s“Why Shire Valleans Can’t Relocate”
In justifying the use of force on the people of the Lower Shire, Tenthani quotes Section 8 of the Land Act (Cap. 57:01) of the Laws of Malawi which states that “All public land is vested in perpetuity in the President” ( )
Tenthani reads the President in the Act as referring to government and its structures which have been authorized to lease land to citizens.
Tenthani’s reading of the Act echoes A.T.B. Mbalanje’s reading of the same section which Mbalanje interprets as the Act’s attempt at incorporating the president as trustee of customary land in the country. For Mbalanje, this incorporation of trust has important significance in that it gives government through its Department of Lands powers to deal with matters concerning customary land (I refer to Mbalanje’s Land Law and Land Policy in Malawi ).
Both interpretations of the Act by Mbalanje and Tenthani ignore the implications of what it means to vest powers of land in the President in a country where precedence has shown us that presidents have used powers vested in them to act in their own interests and they have at times even ignored the government structures which are supposed to keep their presidential powers in check.
In fact, it is this vesting of powers in the president that makes our presidents treat the country’s laws with impunity. The impunity that starts with the president, spreads to the ministers and by the time it reaches to the person on the street it has become a chaotic mass of lawlessness.
Once during the campaign trail, MCP’s Vice President, Richard Msowoya alluded to both the Land Act and Malawi Mines and Minerals Act citing the need for reform as the Acts have their foundation in the Life-president of the one party state (Ref. Nyasa Times
For Tenthani to unreflectively cite this piece of legislation and use it to advocate for the forceful removal of people of the Lower Shire is unhelpful, to say the least.
At this point one begins to wonder if the passionate pleas for national values which pervade Tenthani’s article are based on a sense of national unity which tolerates difference or if they are motivated by a wish to resurrect dictatorial and violent practices which achieve conformity by force.
  • The author of this article is a citizen of Malawi writing in her independent capacity.
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Ngoni wa pa Ntcheu, please be civil when you are writing, you dont know the people who are contributing and to call them Dunderheads is too strong and being very rude. If people can break into your posting and know your identity please be ready for a summon, other wise this is a public fora where people can write for and against, there is nothing personal and you have no right to attack people with different view. If you have anything personal with the lady or people of Nsanje come out in the open and declare yourself and you will… Read more »

You people who are saying lower shireans should move where exactly should they move to. have we not seen our so called upland areas like chilobwe being flooded? are we also going to say let’s take tear gas and trigger happy police and chase chilobweans away. Let’s seriously think about these issues and not just resort to violence. one thing for sure is that we need to build stronger structures and waterways which can withstand heavy rains and this is needed not only in lower shire but everywhere


Unkhutukumve ndi vuto

M'ngoni wa pa Ntcheu
Am surprised with the deepest myopic thinking this lady has displayed on public. Sure??? Do you mean people in lower shire should be left to perish and be in untold troubles when floods come because of so called rights and freedom??? Do you know how much money is diverted to assist these folks? Do you know that all the billions used to assist these fellas could have been used in development programs?? And some dunderheads are calling this good analysis? The lady seems to have personal issues with Tenthani or could be on payroll to do this evil. If Malawi… Read more »
Debora you are very right, what people fail to understand is the way floods flood the lowershire and what causes the floods. removing people from lower shire is a solution but not solving the problem. Ignorance is what is making Malawi not to develop, many countries sorrounding us are developing fast every year while we still remain stagnant as a country. If you read the article by ZELEZA MANDA He has clearly pointed out that in the World most of the well known Cities like London, Venice, New York and even Holland as a country are places that are flood… Read more »

Deborah you have a point: use of force may not be the best answer. But what is the proposed solution from your point of view? Otherwise your article may be classified as one of the spanners in the works.

Jelbin mk

I have picked up a very crucial point that most of the laws we are using now were enacted in the harsh regime especially about customary land of which we believe it belongs to ordinary people and yet the vesting of powers upon the president about customary land is tantamount to dictating citizens and manipulation of their freedom of possessing land in their own country


Tenthani,were u smokng wen wrtng this?Wamkulu sauzidwa kut wakhala ku uts.anthu a kushire valley anayamba n’kale kukana kuchoka pamalo kungowacya ameneyo,asova okha.

Jebison Slindine Nyoni
Jebison Slindine Nyoni

Deborah akutumani Ena ake?


This is an insightful and worthy reply. Bravo!

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