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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44 thoughts on “Response to Tenthani’s dancing with disasters in Malawi”

  1. sunderstar says:

    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 be assisted thoroughly.

  2. mutu says:

    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

  3. winston says:

    Unkhutukumve ndi vuto

  4. M'ngoni wa pa Ntcheu says:

    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 will nurture this evil thinking like of this lady, expect nothing better than totally failed state as is now.
    You lady, dont wish our bretherens and sisters in lower shire a miserly life lest it will backfire you

  5. sunderstar says:

    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 prone Areas and some are below sea level places. Malawi has a capacity
    to harvest the flood waters by stopping them and damming them and stop the floods down lowershire and other low lying areas like Karonga. One thing people should know is that flooding is very unpredictable, Water uses different tributaries every time it floods depending on the force and source of the flood, Who ever thought that people in Ndirande, Chilobwe and Mulanje Nkando would die due to the flush floods?. Please dont comment out of ignorance or you have heard people talk negatively about lower shire take time to visit the place and interview the people there, also know why there are always floods in the lower shire now than the way it was 40,30 and 20 years ago

  6. makito says:

    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.

  7. Jelbin mk says:

    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

  8. Chitseko says:

    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.

  9. Jebison Slindine Nyoni says:

    Deborah akutumani Ena ake?

  10. Funzo says:

    This is an insightful and worthy reply. Bravo!

  11. victim Chamkhuni Lwazazi says:

    I agree with what Tenthani said. We are talking about people’s lives not human rights.
    We are talking about children of Shire Valley (not lower Shire) whose lives get lost
    just because of what you call ‘social fabric’. We are talking about loss not only personal property but national limited resources to rescue, feed, shelter and cloth our adamant brothers and sisters from Shire Valley. Our own tax, and foreigners’ taxes.

    These things can be avoided. It’s like somebody refusing to take an ill child for treatment
    or healing prayer. It’s like somebody refusing polio or tetanus or missiles vaccine due
    to family huma rights. I think we go too far with the human right issues – at the expense of life!!! Yes those who are adamant and against their own survival should
    have senses pumped into them.

  12. chikoya says:

    What a journalist! What a woman! Supporting that pple must continue living in death traps when idle land is there upland? Unbelievable! Do u know that almost 200 pple were suddenly submerged in water within 5 minutes and lost their lives there and then? Which is wisier, losing lives by refusing to go upland or saving lives by forcing the pple to go upland? Tenthani is very realistic and patriotic. Take note that this wk,lower shire flooded again heavily but its no longer news bcoz all pple shifted away. So, u woman, u wish pple went bak and be suddenly swept away again? Kodi ndiwe mfiti kapena chani?

  13. Nyakoko says:

    This article is too shallow and so cheap!

  14. bongozozo says:

    In other words all you are saying Debora is that the Lower Shire people must remain in these flood prone areas? They must continue to bother us with “relief items” year in year out? Tell us about the lasting solution to the lower shire floods. I find your arguments myopic and only aimed at tarnishing the image of the best journalist on the land. I would have loved to hear alternatives if you think Tenthani’s way of thinking is out of order.

  15. George Lihoma. says:

    Good that the parlimentarians are opting for the disaster policy.This will in future empower the right personnel to relocate these people in the lower shire uplands if need be by force to avoid floodings and deaths. Look here,wokwera njinga yamoto amayenera kuvala chipewa chanjinga yamoto.Akapanda amaimbidwa mulandu,koma the idea is to keep him/her safe AND not the traffic police safe.Do you see my logic?Amenewanso achotsedwe,asamatilembe job za zii.Thank you Deborah for a well analysed story on this difficult to write topic..

  16. Nkhombokombo says:

    At least Tenthani came up with proposals and suggestions, koma inu mai muti bwanji pa nkhanii? In actual matural sense your article gave way for provocative responces. Keep reacting!

  17. If these people invaded protected land unlawfully, what is wrong with using harmless, lawful force to remove them from land which is not rightfully theirs? I thought thats what we are supposed to do with those who break the law? Did some of these lower shire residents nit break the law by moving into protected land without the government’s authirisation? One of the main reason why Kamuzu’s governnent mad this land protected was so the environment is well conserved to avoid natural disasters that end up displacing the very same pple who act carelessly or are unconcerned about future consequesnces of their actions. Yes government should use lawful force to move these people upland and AID them in building their new settlements

  18. brutsha says:

    What the lady has articulated here sounds palatable in the eyes of academicians. But truth be told, what Tenthani wrote is far much better because it suggested a practical solution directly in view of the problem at hand. What the lady has done is more of a scholarly paper. I would want to agree with what other readers have said that perfection is the enemy of progress. “Muvi woyang’anira suchedwa kulasa m’maso” It’s costly for government to be incurring expenses on natural disasters which would effectively be prevented once and for all by a bold political decision.

  19. spenxer phiri says:

    The article suggests you hold a different viewpoint to Tenthani’s but it has not come out clearly. Having disagreed with muckcracker, you should have at least offered what you think is a solution.

  20. Wawa says:

    Trying to makee bread on Tenthani’s original and practical writing.

    Do your own story, Debs Nyasulu Chipofya.

    Muckracker is damn right.

  21. waliji mboni says:

    Tenthani ndi kawawa. He writes others follow. Kodos big man.

  22. jedi says:

    The only reason water cause so much disaster is because we choose to build in its path…

  23. clement says:

    Debora, if Shire Valley people cannot be forced to relocate, they will become another fatal statistics next floods. At times you need to use a whip to correct your son, or else he will perish. Its also better to come up with subject articles than responding/attacking to someone’s input. These days readers are not ready with references. Just say it. And when you are contradicting Ralph, be a man/woman. (Gender has been imposed without solving certain meanings)

  24. KUKHALA says:


  25. Zosautsa says:

    This piece lacks objective analysis and does not provide any convincing alternative as to how the perennial challenges can be averted in future. You seem to attack Tenthani’s article yet yourself are empty of appropriate solution to the lower shire perpetual flooding. Provide alternative if you want us convinced otherwise yours is total trash.

  26. kabula says:

    So what are you responding to! There is no substance in this article except attacking Tenthani… what is your contribution on how the Shire relocation of people should be handled! That is what we want to hear not attacking Tenthani

  27. Mmtumbuka opusa says:

    Deborah, excellent advice to Tenthani. Your article is a typical academic analysis with all the reference to support arguments , something Rafayelo Tenthani fails to do . He is dictatorial and non analytical to challenges facing MALAWI ..what a brilliant article and a shame to a BBC reporter

  28. frank says:

    Tenthani whoza””””

  29. kanchenga. says:

    I read through your article and see only one point you two must agree to disagree. You are right to people who don’t believe in facing problems head on. Mr Tenthani is right for people who hate seeing things going bad and doing nothing about it. I prefer Tenthanis point of view. Effective and problem solving. Not sleepy one like yours.

  30. Drain says:

    My quote of the day – “In our search for quick and practical solutions let us not advocate for violence on whole groups of people”. It is good that journalists are now debating seriously on national issues. this is the way to go

  31. Jozza says:

    There is very little if not none sense in ur story. Next time consult others b4 putting a story here. Thax for ur trial.

  32. MBWIYACHE says:

    Tenthani, nkhope ngati mfiti.

  33. Bob says:


  34. Chabecheker says:

    Tenthani is right;most of the land in lower shire where floods are most vicious were declared by dr banda to protected areas for development in 1969/70. By order no person was allowed to plant any plant or tree or garden or build house in those areas. But people invaded the declared areas when intended development took long to come;they offended the law;kamuzu invoked section 31 of the land act;see such orders to schedules of the land act

  35. special advisor says:

    Mama wayowoya. Kweni mwakoleska sukulu pera apa. Rafaelo ivyo wakayowya, the substance still holds. Lawlessness needs to and can end. It requires practical affirmative action, not excuses or esoteric expositions. Hard decisions are difficult to make let alone to implement them. But the lack of change and progress is as a result of leaders that are afraid of making hard and timely decisions. Someone do something. Doing the right thing wrong is better that dilly dalying, waiting for the perfect conditions, to do things night. Perfection is the enemy of progress!

  36. wa ku lower shire says:

    Amayi inu mulipO!! I read tenthani’s article in the papers and I never quite saw what you are talking about. This is a very insightful reading of Tenthani’s article, it has opened my eyes. it was wrong for Tenthani to call for force on lower shire

  37. kumunda says:

    Good writing Deborah. .. we need this kind of writing and analysis in Malawi.

  38. Achimidzimidzi says:

    Good reasoning, but ma section sindkwanitsa kuwatsata.Ku School ndichokako pa break basi.

  39. Salijeni Chimbuto says:

    Brilliant piece Deborah!

    1. Zamadula says:

      “Brilliant??” Are you for real? This lady is offering no solution at all to this perennial problem – and you have the audacity to call that brilliant? You and Deborah think it is okay for some Lower Shireans to die each flooding season, a few thousand to be displaced and local and international donors will always be on hand to assist – all because it is the democratic right of these people to live in these lowlands?

      Deborah needs to write another article in which she should spend less time trying to belittle Tenthani, and instead concentrate on alternative solutions to this annual problem. She cannot just stop at affirming the right of the Lower Shireans to stay where they are or move upland only when THEY want. To assume that local and foreign aid will always be forthcoming each flooding season is, to put it mildly, rather daft…

  40. Mr Tenthani, you are an excellent journalist. Here is my advice for you in this new year. Please, please, please Tenthani, stop drinking. You are a fine journalist but somehow, you produce these brilliant articles whilst drunk. I would rather have you alive my brother, please. I wish there was a rehab clinic in Malawi where we could take you until we wean you off alcohol. As we look at these pictures, your liver and kidneys are in serious trouble.

    1. Tengupenya says:

      Ku Mzuzu rehB centre yiriko, for those who may need it.

  41. I salute Tenthani. He addresses real issues…

  42. Dapa says:

    You have made too much reference and the little that you have contributed is to attack Tenthani and never given any alternative to his idea.So I still salute him for at least contributing something and I denounce your plagalistic behaviour.

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