When natural disasters strike the poor, as cyclone Idai did in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, unsympathetic and bias narratives emerge.
The context on the ground and the global factors which give rise to such disasters get less attention. Inevitably, the effects of Idai could be placed in a historical context.
A significant number of Africans were consigned to rural areas and depended on subsistence agriculture to cater for their families. By necessity, this situation compelled rural Africans to settle along areas that ensured a steady supply of water. Needless to say, in the event of natural disasters, areas around sources of water are most vulnerable.
A knee-jerk reaction to this dynamic could be the evacuation of Africans from such areas and a massive urbanisation drive.
This is an understandable temptation considering that the 2017 UN Economic Report for Africa reports that “urbanisation is one of the defining forces of the planet’s 21st century development. In 1950 the urban share of the world’s population was 30%, but by 2050 it may well be 66%. Nearly 90% of the increase will be in Africa and Asia”.
Against a rash and frenzied clamour for urbanising Africans looms the fact that working the land is a crucial ingredient for Africa’s development. The 2014 UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs lists economic development, social development and environmental protection as the main pillars of sustainable development and multi-dimensional urbanisation as their crucial enabler.
However, lest Africans be tempted to embark on a grand-scale rural-urban drift, African governments should not only make it attractive for Africans to work the land, but profitable too. However, this would require fortifying countryside existence against devastating natural disasters such as Idai.
Beyond the scope of national responsibilities, regional initiatives such as SADC’s Climate Service Centre should be equipped with requisite resources needed to predict the patterns of a globe that is perilously warming up. Even at the global level, initiatives such as the Paris Agreement are laudable attempts to mitigate the velocity of disasters that are an attendant consequence of global warming. It is thus disappointing that the US has walked away from the initiative.
The world has a jaundiced pattern of development and hence wealthier nations have, by nature, more formidable safety measures against the effects of natural disasters. It is also established that such nations contribute more to carbon emission. The result of this is that the effects of pollution, largely wrought by wealthier and more industrialised powers, is often felt by poorer countries.
While the contribution in personnel and material from the UN and others is commendable, a more durable solution is to improve Africa’s lot in terms of holistic development.
The picture typifying Africa has often been one of devastation. The dire state of Africa is a consequence of historical happenstance. However, successive African governments have also failed to shatter the socio-economic and political structure that was instituted by colonial dictatorship.
This brings into perspective Frantz Fanon’s prescient concern that post-colonial leaders will fail to engender a revolution which differs, in substance rather than in colour and personnel, from the colonial edifice. Rural Africans still remain on the fringes of priority.
They are only paid fleeting attention during campaign trails or when emergency humanitarian intervention is needed, as is the case in the aftermath of Idai. There is no dignity in living such as life.
Natural resources will have to be harnessed in such a way that they will enhance development rather than be dreadful sources of danger to the people who depend on them.
* Monyae is co-director of the University of Johannesburg Confucius Institute.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.