After noticing that men were shooting without missing, Eneke the bird was deeply distressed. Determined to live on, he decided to do something about it.
After a lot of thinking, he realised that he had to find a way of making himself a difficult target to hit despite men’s increased proficiency in hitting targets.
He made one fundamental change to his fly-style, started flying non-stop, without perching.
The one man I know who is oblivious to Chinua Achebe’s wisdom, is the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda.
He was on Monday blocked from visiting a proposed intake point for Blantyre Water Board (BWB) on Mulanje Mountain by residents in Likhubula, Mulanje.
Community members, under the Citizens for the Protection of Mulanje Mountain (CPM), blocked the road to Mulanje Mountain where the water intake point is.
The fracas started at Likhubula where the minister, his Principal Secretary (PS) Erica Maganga, Mulanje District Commissioner (DC) Fred Movete, Mulanje Pasani Member of Parliament (MP) Angie Kaliati—Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and BWB officials had gathered prior to visiting the project site.
When he and other officials arrived at the scene and sat under a tent erected at Likhubula Ground, people started chanting songs whose lyrics were against the function intended to initiate the K17.1 billion project to support BWB to pump water from Mulanje Mountain.
Chaponda, after persevering several minutes of the protest chants, invited the group’s leader to explain what was happening.
And this far, so good.
David Majeweta, reportedly CPM Secretary General, explained that the group was not against the project but wanted some issues to be addressed first.
He said: “We are not happy that water should be tapped from Mulanje Mountain in its state. We first would like government to plant trees over an area covering 3 500 hectares to make sure water coming from the mountain is enough.
“We also want to benefit from the potable water that will be pumped from Likhubula to Blantyre. We are ready to work with government in the planting of trees. We are concerned about the future.”
These concerns, from whichever perspective, are valid and pertinent.
So, two things—environmental conservation issues that, after Malawi’s experience with Kayerekera and Chikangawa, Chaponda should not be hearing from villagers about, and the rotten habit of disregarding local communities when exploiting natural resources—were the matter.
It would appear that Chaponda, when inviting “Mapwiya” Majeweta to air his concerns, was just going through the notions so as to earn a “visa” to the project site.
Having gone through the notions of a “listening bulldozer”, he tried to pull a fast one by dashing to the project area, and then like those legendary wise men from the east, use a different return route to fool the crowd much like the Magi deceived Herod.
The gospel of “you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time” has now been programmed into Chaponda’s medulla oblongata, thanks to the people of Likhubula.
As the officials went to board their vehicles for the adventure, people blocked the road with stones and tree branches. Some went one up, started pelting the vehicles with stones.
Chaponda’s official vehicle, a Toyota Prado, was not spared.
Now get me right, I am not against the project per se. And, believe me when I say I would be the last one to inspire people of Likhubula, or anywhere for that matter, to take the law into their own hands on ministers that insist on behaving as if they were shareholders of Malawi Inc. while the rest of us are tenants.
Look at this: Chaponda’s reaction, after getting pelted by the irate people, explains why he was, in the first place, the perfect candidate for pelting.
If he wants to go far, like Chinua Achebe’s Eneke the bird, he needs to rethink his outlook on other people and change.
Instead of soberly examining the valid, intelligent and patriotic concerns of the people, which any environmentalist worth the name would not hesitate to back, Chaponda directed his wrath at police officers of Mulanje Police Station, blaming them for “underrating the situation”.
“Officer-in-Charge you didn’t help us. You could have sent a lot of your officers. You should not have underrated the villagers,” Chaponda said in his address while seeking refuge at Hapuwani Lodge, 10 kilometres away from the scene of his chastisement.
Chaponda, get this: it’s not the police, stupid! You were pelted because of taking the people for granted vis-à-vis environmental degradation concerns and unequitable sharing of natural resources. Full stop.
If Chaponda had talked to and listened to BWB officials before embarking on this abortive mission, he would have—like Eneke the bird —learnt that BWB had been trying to convince the locals and that nobody was playing ball; and like Eneke the bird, he would have preceded the “project inspection tour” with a fact-finding mission and hence saved himself unparalleled but deserved embarrassment.
Point is: people of Mulanje and many parts of Malawi now want to be heard and not to be dictated to all the time.
Coming to BWB’s “plans to plant trees in the mountain in the next tree planting season”, the people of Mulanje would be the last to believe such nonsense.
Budgets, in case you have forgotten, have been passed for various developments in Mulanje, loans borrowed and spent elsewhere, for many, many years—without Mulanje benefiting.
Hence Chaponda can plan all he want, BWB can dream all they want, but no-one will touch Mulanje Mountain before the environmental risks are mitigated, and certainly not before the community becomes an active partner in the whole project and benefits from the project.
I will now conclude by paraphrasing “Mapwiya” Majeweta: come rain or sunshine, this project will not commence until government plants the 3,500 hectares that Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) ruined.
And back to good old George, it’s not the police, stupid; it’s your lackadaisical approach to environmental issues that led to your embarrassment.