In February 2015, Abiti Joyce (MG 66), the Most Paramount Native Authority Mandela, AlHajj Sheikh Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD) and I, the Mohashoi, used statistics and community cases to tell this country and the international community why the people of the Shire Valley could not be forcibly relocated. We urged politicians to think like human beings and make only those policy proposals that make sense and are implementable.
It does not make sense, we reasoned, to reserve swathes of prime land for animals and other wildlife and leave people to live along the banks of the crocodile infested Shire River. We argued against the folly of passing laws that encourage the multiplication of crocodiles while we control the human population. We feared that one remote day Malawians will be outstripped by the wild animal population.
We warned Malawians and the international community against mooting policies that ask people to move upland without their government identifying and procuring land where these ‘internal refugees’ would live. We called for some political wisdom and argued that human resettlement works better and effectively where the government has put infrastructure in place.
Last February, we proposed that the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) should be taken seriously by being more resourced than it then was. However, this month, our fears that politicians think robotically have been confirmed. Had they acted then, this year’s El Nino related disaster would have been better handled.
The idea behind the establishment of Dodma was to ensure that Malawi was prepared for eventualities. To ensure that it received the highest political attention, Dodma, like HIV and Aids, was placed in the Office of the President and Cabinet and therefore under the direct supervision of the presidency. However, that placement is also the source and cause of the failure of Dodma. We will tell you why.
Understand us properly; we are not insinuating that the President and Vice-President are poor managers. We are not hinting that the public servants in that department don’t prepare well for disasters, which unfortunately have become a regular feature in Malawi. Actually, the presidency and the civil servants are victims of Dodma design. They are victims because while Dodma is a critical department it is underfunded.
Apart from salaries, Dodma does not have its own funds to spend. Perchance, Dodma does not have its own plans to execute. Apart from office space, it has no infrastructure to call its own. It may have a budget and project strategic plan, but it has no political power to source funds and implement its plans.
Dodma relies on goodwill. It relies on NGOs, the police, the army, journalists, volunteer doctors, and many others. And that is the problem. Dodma is a very large bird without wings. It doesn’t fly because it can’t fly.
What we propose today is that Dodma should grow wings because that is the only way it can fly. In short, Dodma should be upgraded to a full ministry with its budget-line, a substantive principal secretary, deputy principal secretary, directors and, of course, a minister and other civil servants. It should be delinked from the Office of the President and Cabinet hic et nunc.
We can hear enemies of change and development cry wolf. Yes. Cry wolf, they must. However, we maintain that it is better to spend resources on better preparation than to see what we saw during the Mpoto floods where the Vice-President was left to merely pose Rambo-like for press pictures and strut in the mud with very little to show for and give to the afflicted.
It is better for Dodma to become the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Management Affairs than to hear Inkosi ya Makosi M’mbelwa telling Kabunduli’s people in Masasa, Nkhata Bay to go home. It is better to have a full ministry to take charge of disasters than to hear the Vice President requesting people to relocate to nowhere to avoid future disasters although in February last we explained clearly why people in disaster-prone areas may not easily move out.