The trouble that has befallen Malawi gradually is environmental degradation. This being the year of reckoning (Malawi @51), those of us who have stopped to reflect on what happened to the beautiful green Malawi can only be shell-shocked. While the fish on Lake Malawi has almost disappeared completely, unnoticed, what is more visible is the disappearance of Malawi’s vegetative cover (and the fauna); and the drying up of rivers.
All this because the so-called God-fearing Malawians are plunderers reminiscent of pre-Christian savages. Namulenga River, where I drank from, ate from and relaxed at since I was born up till I was nine has become a huge gulley for rain water to pass through at ferocious speed on its way to Thuchila, Ruo, Shire rivers and consequently the Indian Ocean.
Today, you only see water during the rainy season. During the dry season, you would find pools of stagnant water or some trickle in form of algae. All this because all trees are gone. It’s not just here, even upland at Chikowa and Nsoni Hills, between which the river is born you can only see rocky outcrops!
This is the story for most of Malawi. Since the trees are gone, the water is gone. Simple!
This is Malawi of today: bare and brown where it was green and grown at independence, all year round.
It is claimed that this started with multiparty democracy. I beg to differ because even in Dr Banda’s era forest officers gave licenses to careless businesspersons to harvest mostly along the rivers and in the hills, or did they just give it a blind eye and never enforced the law? At first it was timber and sawyers, now charcoal makers have joined. So much for ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ Malawi.
Where do we go from here? Is it charcoal makers or users? As usual, in our nature as an irresponsible lot we look up to government.
Dubiously, successive governments seem clueless. Harry Thomson, during the reign of the UDF, literary threw in the towel declaring that there is nothing that could be done as there was no substitute affordable to the ordinary folk.
I can state however, without a blink in any of my eyes that it is not just the ordinary folk who are the culprit; four by four vehicles line up Magalasi and Zalewa road hoping to buy cheaply high grade charcoal for braii, I assume.
Seriously, this issue is a kin to American war against dangerous drugs. The government policy of fighting the supplier and not the user.
Both charcoal users and suppliers don’t want to take responsibility. Both go further and blame lack of alternatives for livelihood to justify their irresponsible activities, which is surely, to dry up Malawi to death.
To me, when situations reach crisis levels, as the case with Malawi, the solution can only be a drastic, revolutionary and militant approach. Government must mobilize every village immediately to plant appropriate trees along all rivers and hilly areas. Each house should must have own plantation of not less than 30 trees of acacia or citreous fruit trees for domestic use. Not bluegum. The youth should be responsible for tending these new plantations
The Malawi Defense Force (MDF) should take over all the major forest reserves and declare them no-go areas. Any intruder will be dealt with as an enemy. There should be joint liaison committees of the army and surrounding villagers to create modality for them to collect dry firewood and harvest honey, fruits, bamboos, etc.
Government and private partners must invest immediately in wind and solar energy generation for rural electrification and low income urban dwellers. With these measures, many rivers and streams will be revived to such an extent that they would be utilized in small – scale hydro-electricity for use in the catchment areas. n