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My Take on It: The Easter Sunday boat calamity: lives lost, people probably living in fear

 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. Judges 16:30

The legendary strongman in the bible, had been brought out to entertain a three thousand strong (no pun intended) Philistine audience.

They wanted to mock Samson because he had left an ugly trail of deaths in Philistine, and the local residents were tired of him. So they captured, tied and bundled him into prison; before all this, they had gorged out his eyes. And so, he was quite a sight, and the crowds enjoyed to see him wonder about in the courtyard and obviously in pain.

And they mocked him. Moments before his death, Samson prayed to his God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moments before his death, he had prayed for strength; so as he pressed apart two giant marble pillars, thousands of people perished with him and the giant amphitheater crushed under his renewed strength.

The bible records that Samson killed more people that day than he did when he was alive.

Such a large number of people perishing, could supposedly have been declared a national disaster. Not only by the numbers, but also the circumstances and the heated anger of those that were spared and remained to tell the story.

There must have been questions surely abounding; why such senseless mass deaths of so many people took place; why didn’t they bring ho to the middle of the courtyard instead of by the pillars? Etc.

When we fast forward a couple of centuries and some kilometres southward to Malawi, specifically on Lake Malawi and around Mlowe in the traditional authority of Mwamulowe, in Rumphi district…the tragic accident on Easter Sunday as 70 passengers of the now ill-fated boat returned from Easter services, the boat capsized, and five people lost their lives.

There were 50 people rescued, 20 are still missing and presumed dead.

As a nation, this is scary; we must pause to consider how such a calamity occurred, how it can be prevented in future, and how to console the bereaved and the affected. Among the reactions of the ordinary Malawians, of course the scene is crowded with the ruling governors (executive and opposition), and the church (Livingstonia Synod CCAP) whose members perished.

While not commenting on every aspect of the tragedy, some mention is required on some of the actions and reactions.

The first is the outcry by ordinary citizens and specifically residents at Mlowe, that have to trek to their place of worship and other to-dos, using a boat; the road is in severely bad condition. The outcry for the road is an urgent one and needs government and other stakeholders to take swift reaction.

While the government (which controls the use of taxes it collects from the people), needs to urgently release money to construct a good road between Mlowe and Nkhata-bay, it is futile to put the cause of this tragedy on the Government. The calamity occurred, lives were lost and people are living in fear.

That is a fact. Government can do something to prevent future calamities where a person’s only means of getting to the center of activities (such as markets, church services, hospitals etc.) is a boat, and many times, and over-crowded boats that could capsize like Sunday’s ill-fated boat.

However, responsibility of this accident needs to be taken by numerous stakeholders, not only the Government. Although the Government is among the stakeholders, the other politicians in the room, other than just calling on Lilongwe for action, could themselves start with community mobilization of resources; for example during the dry season, embark on a community road repair exercise. And we all know how the honorable Kamlepo Kalua can raise a storm and make this a media-crazed event.

Raise a storm by raising the consciousness of the people; then shame Government into action.

The CCAP church, on its part, should consider a 70-jam-packed boat with the majority coming to church, shows there is a church-planting exercise it should conduct in Mlowe. If 50+ Mlowean people are taking boat rides to come to church in Nkhata-bay, why not take church to Mlowe?

To the “what shall we call this accident” exercise, perhaps the number of deaths may not warrant calling the accident a national disaster, however, in defense of the CCAP, there is potential for collating action with the light shining on Mlowe, and indeed all other areas around the Lake. It is also called a “National Church Disaster.”

In the words of MCP President Lazarus Chakwera, the cap CCAP has never experienced such a calamity – for the CCAP, it is a national tragedy, a national disaster.

Government, through their Disaster Management spokesperson Paul Kalilombe, the Director of Foreign Response and Recovery in the Department of Disaster and Management Affairs (DoMA), is grossly wrong when he said that the CCAP does not have the mandate to declare the tragedy, a ‘National Church Disaster.’

A minor reminder to Director Kalilombe, the CCAP is a national and in fact even regional entity: the acronym  CCAP stands for Church of the Central African Presbytery. It’s membership stretches from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The CCAP can call it a National Church Disaster, Regional Church Disaster if the they do wish to; definitely, all CCAP members in Malawi, are affected.

As a scholar of history I take you back to 1965 when 150 people, including many women and children, drowned when a ferry overturned on the Shire River near Liwonde in southern Malawi, on Sunday May 23, 1965. There were 57 survivors.

According to the country’s history annals, most of the passengers were returning from Fort Johnson (Mangochi) on the southern tip of Lake Malawi, where they had heard Prime Minister Dr. Hastings Banda (the former late President ) address a political rally.

In the immediate aftermath of this disaster, Prime Minister Banda instructed transport minister John Msonthi and his team to construct the Liwonde Bridge, that comes complete with a barrage (to allow for opening and closing of the barrage as a water control measure).

Needless to say, as much as then Prime Minister was concerned about so many needless losses of lives, it was not called a national disaster, BUT swift action was taken to prevent future calamities of that nature. The Liwonder Barrage from the 1960s up to today, serves as a national throughway that is our national pride.

Let all stakeholders converge and come up with the appropriate solution on an urgent matter. This coming Sunday, the Mlowe village people will need to go back to their place of worship; maybe some will stay away for fear of another accident. Such fears need not be the way of life for anybody.

A stick in time, saves nine.

Janet Karim
Janet Karim
Author, high school Learning Disabilities Teacher, candidate Master of Education Special Education, Mason University; highly organized, charismatic and persuasive Communications Specialist and accomplished Journalist, Editor with 41 years in the communications field, offering expertise in all phases of print, broadcast, telecast, and social media productions. Enthusiastic story teller. Highly-motivated and trained media professional possessing exceptional writing and editing skills with ability to draft engaging and effective content; Opinion column contributor for leading national dailies (Maravi Post - 2015-PRESENT; Nation Malawi - 2015-PRESENT; Times Malawi (2004-2007). Other areas of expertise include grant writing and NGO project management. Highly trained in international, regional and local lobbying and election skills. Collaborates with international companies to initiate development policy change and foster public awareness, with deep commitment to social justice and health care equity; especially in work towards women's political, economic, and social empowerment; ending child, early and forced marriage; and promoting the human rights of the elderly. Advocate for highlighting climate change its effects on the planet. International development work experience with the United Nations headquarters (10 years, and two years UNDP field work); field experience (Malawi) - Oxfam, UNDP, UNICEF and UNESCO. Superb public speaker who communicates effectively with target audiences through strategic one-to-one or large audiences, expert in event planning and PR campaigns. Conscientious, diplomatic, and tactful in all communicationsg.
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