The fearful mudslide in Katesh is not the first natural disaster we have faced in our country. The number of dead is appalling but so is a similar number of dead from a deadly bus or train accident. We have faced floods (annually), earthquakes and other disasters.
Even in the current el nino (for which we don’t seem to have prepared despite plenty of early warnings) already more than ten people have died. Even since the appalling mudslide we have had floods in Kilosa and the burning down of market stalls in Mwenge. We are beset by disasters to which we have to respond in one way or another.
However, I would argue that the tragedy of Katesh is on another level altogether. as shown by the painfully wonderful video interviews conducted by The Chanzo. Whole communities have been decimated. People have lost, not just a family member but the whole of their extended families, together with their farms, their houses and homes and everything within them, their livelihoods and any means of restoring those livelihoods are buried beneath the mud that shattered their lives.
When individuals are affected, the community rallies round and supports those affected but what happens when, as now, the whole community is affected and there is no one or almost no one left in the community to help the most affected to pick up their lives again.
I cannot imagine the physical and mental devastation people are facing. They are resilient; you can see it in their faces as they talk; they want to pick up their lives again but where is the supporting hand?
On this, I have to salute the political parties and their organs for showing some effort to support. Materials and money have been collected and I hope and pray they reach the affected as quickly and humanely as possible (no photo ops please!!). But for such support, where is the government? I know they have offered thoughts and prayers, flown over the site with sorrowful faces, and visited the affected and injured.
Good. I admit that in such situations, it is very difficult for leaders, especially those directly responsible. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you don’t go to show your commitment, you are blamed for insensitivity and if you do go, with your bodyguards and your entourage, you are also blamed for just distracting those on the ground trying to find the lost ones, retrieve the bodies etc.
Once one of the biggies appears, work has to stop somehow as attention is shifted to the biggie and his entourage. So there is a problem of when and where to visit the scene. I remember Trump lobbing toilet paper to relief workers. He had gone to show his concern after Hurricane Katrina, yes but he was lambasted for the insensitivity of his concern. To him it seemed just a game. Overflying the scene does not disturb the workers on the ground but are you then guilty of just wanting a photo op. As I think Biden did for one disaster. What concrete support have you given?
Probably the biggest concern here is precisely that. How sensitive really is our concern? I have seen a procession of V8s wending their way through the mud which, to me, is the most savagely ironic picture I have seen for some time. Just the petrol from all those V8s could have made a big difference. Yes, I have seen the humanitarian support to helping the bereaved to bury their dead. Well and good. But where is the plan to restore the shattered lives of those left behind?
And what about us? Is it really just the work of the political parties to make the contributions? Where are the religious denominations, the professional associations and civil society organisations?
When I ask these questions, I am faced by another damning fact. People have lost faith in nearly all these organisations, particularly the government. If the government sets up a disaster fund, who will contribute to it when memories of what happened after the Bukoba earthquake are still fresh in our minds. Money given specifically for the victims, even by our neighbours in Kenya was appropriated for use by the government.
That is what people are asking on X (previously known as Twitter) Republic. They no longer trust the government to handle these funds and provide them to the affected. They also ask what happened to all the disappearing billions highlighted by CAG? So, they say, let’s leave it to the government as it is their job even if, in our heart of hearts, we don’t believe that the government will respond rapidly and effectively to support these communities as it should. Our trust has turned to cynicism and once you tear out the page of trust, how do you restore it? And meanwhile the victims of the mudslide continue to suffer.
However, I believe there are still people of good will (even myself I hope) who are happy to see others supporting, who would like to hold the government accountable to provide the support they should, they are obliged to, but who would also like to give what little support they can despite their daily struggle to make ends meet.
But it is clear, we don’t want our contributions to be linked to this or that party, and we don’t trust the government. Are there no other ‘honest brokers’ who can fulfil that role? I am sure our religious denominations had their churches and mosques in those communities. Can they not collect and challenge support directly to those community members? I am sure there are CSOs working in Hanang. Can they not play such a role? Is there not an association of Kateshans or Hanangans who could lead a relief drive?
To conclude, let me repeat. There are many natural disasters, and man-made disasters we have had to contend with and all victims of these disasters should be given the support they need. But the Katesh disaster is on another level as individual support from friends and relatives is overwhelmed by the fact that even those friends and relatives have also had their lives destroyed. I humbly suggest this is the time to find a way to show our compassion and commitment, institutional and individual, to offering some hope and support to our fellow Tanzanians.
Richard Mabala is an educator, poet, and author. He is available at email@example.com or on X (Twitter) as @MabalaMakengeza. These are the writer’s own opinions, and they do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.