President Lazarus Chakwera likes foreign trips. The other day, he attended the Conference of Parties (CoP27) in Egypt a couple of months ago, Cabinet ministers were also in attendance, as was the whole host of close to 200 Malawian delegates, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated the warning that climate change is now ravaging the globe with devastating disasters.
CoP27 was not short of evidence from droughts in Kenya to floods in Pakistan. Cyclone Freddy is also a climate change-induced disaster in Malawi.
In his speeches, Chakwera, as usual, mesmerised as the international audience gyrated to his poetic antics punctuated with rhetoric. At the very moment Chakwera spoke on the need for developed countries to honour their obligations under various climate protocols, dozens of charcoal merchants were cycling out of Kasiya, the President’s home village. This is an area of Lilongwe rural west that harbours other well-known rural trading centres such as Kabudula and Nsaru.
The area also borders with Santhe, another famous trading centre in Kasungu District. Santhe is connected to Lilongwe City through the newly-constructed tarmarc road. The road has facilitated easy movement of charcoal from Kasiya and the surrounding villages. The charcoal from Chakwera’s home area sells like hot cakes in the rapidly growing Lilongwe City.
The other day I counted the outflow of charcoal loading bicycles from that area. Thirty cyclists each carrying, on average, four bags of oversized loads of charcoal passed by my counting post every hour. They cycled with apparent anticipation to make a sell to waiting customers in the city. The cover of darkness is a favourite time for moving the charcoal as cyclists do not have to worry about the sweltering heat from the blazing sun. Some of the cyclists carrying the charcoal move long distances all night long as they hail from the far-located hinterlands of Kasiya.
The story is not too different as the trend is seen in Blantyre City and parts of Mzuzu and Zomba is no exception. Troops of charcoal loading bicycles bellow from different locations and villages. They compete like Olympic cyclists while others push their rugged bicycles for many hours into the cities.
When ministerial statements were made at CoP27 in Egypt, one would be left thinking Malawi is a champion and pacesetter at exemplary practices on fighting environmental degradation. However, the truth is that Malawi senior government officials cannot even stop charcoal-burning wantonly practised in their constituencies.
Parliamentarians watch helplessly as hundreds of charcoal bags burn right under their nose. They even participate in the trade as some legislators have no shame in buying charcoal just minutes after passing legislation for cracking down the malpractice.
Current state of energy crisis is helping to worsen the charcoal problem. Kasiya charcoal burners smile when Escom releases load shedding programmes.
Power outages are motivation for cutting down of trees and wanton destruction of forests at the promise of availability of ready buyers in the cities. Charcoal-burning is given a boost by the acute shortage of fuel. Apparently, there is no more remorse or fear of the law as more bags of charcoal flow in large numbers into our cities. Meanwhile, President Chakwera and Cabinet ministers continue to deliver flowery speeches on climate change when more charcoal is burning right in their home villages and constituencies. Malawi is almost turning into a charcoal economy.
With Mavuto Bamusi