Updated: Jan 21
56 Malawians have been confirmed dead as a result of the devastating impacts of Cyclone Idai. More have died in Zimbabwe and its direct hit, Mozambique. The love and empathy of friends from near and far have been indispensable to quell the anguish that our nations would have suffered in dealing with exhuming our dead from the flooded grounds or, more troubling, catering to the many that have miraculously been spared but left with little or nothing to their name. The joint efforts to save scores of people displaced and still in danger has been grand, yet the needs have appeared to be too many, too deep for a part of the continent where such events are expected to be an annual phenomenon. Come 2020, a smaller or larger cyclone or flood will surely come again.
Gauging by the amount of effort it’s taken to manage the humanitarian crisis to where we are, with thousands still condemned to temporary shelters for the indeterminate future, our situation would have been more dire than it is were our eyes not to look elsewhere for help. The stricken appear to have little option but to leave their fate to the coincidence of ready support as it has happened many times in the past. Neither their plight nor their independent solutions change much when disaster intends to strike them again in the future. True, the extent and intensity of the damage cannot be underestimated nor predicted with accuracy. However, one thing for sure is that the occurrence of a cyclone on our part of the continent frequently makes landfall to make it a natural part of our lives. So, according to this website, perhaps it’s high time our own, homegrown preparedness was given a boost.
To not be able to adequately take care of ourselves during and after disasters is a mentality we must rid ourselves of at all costs. In many ways, it starts with us. Then it spills over to the personas that our governments will take in the face of the glaring promises of aid. Let’s start with our individual limitations.
Since 2000, Rosita Mabuiango has been the miracle story of birth in a tree as a result of a pregnant mother’s predicament led her to seek shelter in a tree as she watched angry floods sweep away everything her life had known on the village beneath her. Rosita lives, in part, because of a courageous rescue party that never lost hope looking. Today, Rosita is a healthy nineteen-year-old who is out to claim her full rights, with a loud voice. She decries her government’s false promises to provide her with a scholarship and to maintain her house, which the same government of Mozambique built for her family. She has not spared the Americans either, for not following through with their promise to fly her to the United States. What Ms. Mabuiango would do once landed in the United Stated remains unclear.
Rosita’s lamentations reek of a troubling African mentality. They represent an element of expectation that touches every dimension of our responsibility to act on our misfortunes. We have mastered the politics of pity and have become experts at selling our poverty as the most valuable investment for a financial gain or, in Rosita’s case, more fame, no matter how limited. Our misfortunes seem to grant an entitlement to shift the burden of care into someone else’s hands while we parade our misery as a weapon to safeguard our wellbeing. Although we may have some good reasons, like we do in parts of the Lower-Shire valley that experience seasonal floods, the repeated damage and humanitarian effort to help the affected every single year are unjustifiable. Being a recurring statistic on national vulnerability assessments seem not to bother us enough to either act on preventing damage or to permanently shift to areas that will allow us to prosper with some sense of predictability.
But the Rosita mentality becomes more complex as it extends to the personalities of our governments. It easily goes without saying that, like the individuals that cash in on humanitarian assistance, our governments can easily appear to share in on the eating. To elaborate on this, the rescue helicopter and soldier that lifted Rosita and her mother up were South African government operatives. Malawi and Zimbabwe also received support from neighbors and distant donors, where the South African government was presently active in rendering its help too.
For decades, we have known that our unfortunate geography in the Lower-Shire valley means that some life forms can never be sustained in the long-term and that any profitable agricultural activity that can take place requires a different approach than a hoe and mighty Malawian hands.
Yet, when the will to act is aroused, we content ourselves with dykes that are two-feet high. Mostly, our governments do nothing. And this comes with frequent calls for assistance, which are followed by huge votes of thanks for the selflessness of other countries. Where we cannot escape it, our home-bred solution, a.k.a. the humanitarian fund, gets touted so much that borrowing from another source becomes the natural recourse. Honorable men and women awake every day, feed handsomely, and drag themselves to work in suits to make these decisions year in, year out. That’s what is puzzling.
This year marks nineteen years since the last major floods affecting our countries. In Mozambique, another tree baby has been born. If nothing is done by Mozambicans, climate-induced weather events might soon honor us with another baby born under similar circumstances. It will be a shame if it has to be another helicopter from South Africa to rescue the new addition to Africa’s population. Even worse, it will be worrying if another youth will take a leaf from Ms. Mabuiango twenty years from now and call on the world to drop everything else so they can get a spot on Oprah.
And, as long as there are trees and expectant women (the making of which is a sport our men and women hardly disappoint in) in Malawi and Zimbabwe, this incident may soon hit much closer to home!