Some people were genuinely shocked with the way the Democratic Progressive Party shamelessly turned the human disaster in Mzuzu into a political fist-fight with its opponents.
Such people either have been away from Malawi for a long time, are visitors or they have just have not been paying enough attention in the past.
When the disaster struck in Mzuzu (and other parts of the Northern Region), I knew this would be an opportunity for political exhibitionism as any.
Days after the disaster, Vice-President Saulos Chilima went and returned from Mzuzu to assess the damage and, perchance, solutions. If suggesting that affected people should relocate to safer areas (without identifying the areas) can be construed as a blot on his copybook, then he did exceptionally better than the mob that followed in his wake.
Minister of Information and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati and Minister of Home Affairs Jappie Mhango also went to Mzuzu and they left controversy in their wake to keep people entertained for a lifetime. It was more like they went to Mzuzu to cause mischief than to offer relief and words of comfort and assurance to affected people.
But we have been here before. After all, Malawi seems to be caught in one endless loop of disaster with brief periods of respite. If it is not floods and famine, then we are torching down markets as if the country’s name—Malawi, flames of fire—is one mirthless curse we brought upon ourselves.
And politicians just seem to love disasters—especially market fires that seem to start inexplicably—because they give them a ready-made platform to show their political clout and, oftentimes, their heartlessness. So, ordinarily, we should be immune to such politics in times of times of disaster because we have seen it before.
What has been galling about the Mzuzu disaster is the realisation that, as nation, we are still keen to dance on the graves of the recently departed without feeling a tinge of guilt. We still seem yet to learn to separate politics and grief. All we seem to have learnt in abundance is to take stupidity to a whole new level. And it is frightening.
The disaster in Mzuzu, as far I’m concerned, was indiscriminate and, bar a few, that could be said of all disasters in Malawi. It rendered DPP members destitute as much as it did People’s Party’s. Tumbukas were rendered homeless just as were Yaos, Ngondes, Lhomwes, Chewas and others. Moslems, Christians, animists, atheists all felt, with equal measure, the full wrath of nature’s vengeance. They were equals in disaster, why should they be any different in relief? People’s politics, religions, ethnicity and such other matter that drive a wedge between people should be cast out of the window when they are grieving.
This profiting on people’s misery will give people enough reason to suspect that the reason government does not act on risks that could lead to disasters is to create political opportunities. But political exhibitionism should be a way of government not feeling guilty about how it has put citizens in vulnerable positions.
Government must be central to messaging non-political messages during disasters, not perpetuating divisions.
Ecuador has experienced an earthquake that has killed several hundred and destroyed property and vast areas of land. There is much to be desired in the response of their president, Rafael Correa, who has, according to international media reports, announced a series financial measures, including short-term and one-time tax measures to help the country rebuild from the disaster, which he has acknowledged will take a long time. And he has also said the government will sell some of its assets.
Meanwhile, the Malawian President has just taken out his begging bowl, while his ministers are playing on the graves of the Mzuzu disaster victims.