The nation of Malawi was hit by the worst floods in the country’s history due to Cyclone Banski. A reported 200,000 people have been displaced, 4,000 people have been rescued, and 175 people have been killed. The government of Malawi has declared a state of emergency in 15 out of the country’s 28 districts. In all essence, this is Malawi’s “Hurricane Katrina” but most likely, this is the first time you are hearing about it. Malawi’s natural disaster is being under reported by international media and consequently, relief aid is trickling in.
Images are coming in daily of Malawian children wading in knee-deep water, trucks being submerged in water, shops being flooded, homes being flattened, entire villages submerged under water, roads caving in and bridges collapsing.
The face of the rescue efforts has been largely been local. The government has deployed the army and has been rescuing people using boats and helicopters. Local and international NGOs have assisted in the effort as well as the South African government and NGOs, but the situation is in need of larger support then they can provide. The relief providers are over stretched.
In the absence of a mass international response, Malawian citizens are quickly learning that they have to rely on setting up their own relief networks. Ordinary Malawian citizens have galvanized to help in the relief effort. They are donating their expertise, food, clothes and money to NGOs or to people in need around them.
Likewise, the Malawian Diaspora has also been rallying to raise funds and bring awareness to the issue in media outlets world-wide. They are also sharing stories about it on social media by creating groups on Facebook and though Whatsapp to coordinate the relief efforts between Malawians in Malawi and the Diaspora. Together, they are also raising awareness through Twitter and Instagram using hashtags such as #MalawiFloods and #Ndifeamodzi (‘we are one and the same’ or ‘we are together’).
The Malawi government has appealed to donors to assist in the cause. However, assistance has been slow. Some argue that the position of the government has played a role in the level of response. Much of the international aid to Malawi ceased because of “cash gate” – a financial corruption scandal that occurred during President Joyce Banda’s People’s Party (PP) cabinet. There has been little change in donor confidence since President Mutharika came to power because many of those linked to the cash gate scandal are in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
However, others see the response in light of other global systems of inequalities that privilege the bodies and lives of rich, mostly White Westerners. Simply stated, Malawi is a poor Black nation in the Global South and the lives of Malawians are not seen as ‘important’ as those of other bodies – #BlackLivesMatter. Unlike the responses we have seen to disasters and crisis in other nations, there has been little international coverage or support so far.
Although we can draw similarities with the slow responses to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort which prompted Kanye West to famously note that “Bush doesn’t care about Black People”, a key differences between with Malawi and Katrina victims is that victims in Malawi are Black, poor, and in the Global South. Therefore, their plights take longer to be acknowledged by the international media. This is indicative of a troubling historical pattern that privileges global North lives that resurfaces at times like this.
We saw a similar response to Nigeria’s recent mass killing, when Boko Haram killed 2,000 Nigerians. The Western media largely covered the Hebdo killing which was justified but then switched to secondary even “more pressing” issues such as puppies in need of adoption. Nigerian lives were simply not a priority – their deaths appeared as a foot note, if at all in primetime news. Nigerians took to social media to protest the treatment of their plight by creating the hashtag #Nigerianlives matter and #AfricanLivesMatter.
Now Malawi joins the growing parade of Africans who are wondering if indeed their lives do matter in the global hierarchy that is predicated on discriminatory ideas about whose lives matter. If a flood of this magnitude occurred in any country in the Global North – France, Germany, Bosnia etc…most likely, we would see a different response.
CNNs Anderson Cooper and company would have been on the ground in Malawi by now – braving the elements to bring the world the “hard” stories about the Malawi Floods. Instead, Malawians are grappling to see and hear news about the disaster and wondering if their lives and that of their countrymen matter? All lives should have value. Simply stated, Malawian Lives Matter – #MalawianLivesMatter
This latest national disaster is catastrophic and would cripple any country’s economy and society. To make matters worse, a second cyclone is expected to this the country in the next few days. Yet, the disaster is being treated like a routine event, man-made crisis or simply ‘business’ as usual.
Malawians are not receiving the level of international support one would expect from such a disaster. Malawi is a poor country and international assistance is needed. If the response that they are seeing now is indicative of what they are likely to see when the second storm hits. The future looks grim for the country and even bleaker for humanity.