On January 25 this year the online publication, Nyasa Times, reprinted Raphael Tenthani’s article, “Dancing with Disasters in Malawi” http://www.nyasatimes.com/
2015/01/25/dancing-with- disasters-in-malawi-tenthanis- muckracking/.
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” http://mwnation.com/shire-
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” (http://www.malawilii.org/mw/
legislation/consolidated-act/ 57-01 )
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 http://archive.unu.edu/
unupress/unupbooks/80604e/ 80604E09.htm ).
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 http://www.nyasatimes.com/
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.