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Tales of Time: A normal stench

The way we play oblivious to some crucial matters in this country is quite shocking. It is like we are all in a long trance and are waiting for the ecclesiastical last trumpet to wake us to the reality of things.

In the The Daily Times of Thursday, there was this story that, in a normal country, would have made people shake in their seats but, since this is home, I do not expect anything from those responsible. I will not rehash the whole story but the brief of it is that Lilongwe—which ironically happens to be the Capital City of this damned country—is now reeking with streams of raw sewage that are flowing all over as well as garbage that the city authorities no longer give a damn to collect.

The same week, we woke up to the disturbing news that one life was needlessly lost at Mzuzu Prison on Monday when inmates were scrambling for tiny spaces in a cell. What we are told is that the prison that is meant to hold just 150 inmates at a time now keeps an outrageous 600, which is four times over.

If you flip back the files, you are likely to be stunned to learn how many times prison authorities have lamented the extreme congestion in the country’s prisons yet no one seems to care about it. The bureaucrats that are there to make sure prisons are reformatory places are obviously disinterested and after learning how full prisons are, all they do is go home, have their coffee, and at the end of the month pocket huge salaries and allowances.

That a whole life has been lost is nothing to them. After all he was a prisoner, they are likely to say.

I once visited Zomba Central Prison in my exigencies of duty in 2014. The moment I stepped inside, the first thing that greeted me was the revolting smell that punched my nostrils and almost kept me off-balance. Most of the prisoners looked thinner and with shrivelled and scaled skin. When they looked at me with eyes that were sunken in their sockets all I saw were a group of hollow men lined up to their deaths other than reformation.

There, the prison chief once told me that they could not do anything about the situation and all they could do was to wait until government deemed it right to intervene. Ironically, the then Principal Secretary II in the Ministry of Home Affairs Beston Chisamile visited the prison on December 6, 2013 where he saw for himself the dire situation at the prison. All he left was a note in the visitors book that read: “I, B.W Chisamile PS II in Home Affairs visited Zomba Central Prison. The Challenges noted: Limited funding, inadequate food, outstanding debts,” and he continued with a rather promising recommendation, “we need to support the wonderful job being done despite limited resources. Keep it Up !.”

But if you visit Zomba Central Prison again, you are likely to find that nothing has changed. That visit by the PS was one of the usual bureaucratic shows that are intended to serenade people into believing that government is interested in such issues.

The two issues here reveal the staggering magnitude of our laissez faire attitude in almost everything. We are so much of a nation that cannot do anything right. Not even smaller things like taking care of our sewer system in the Capital City.

Elsewhere, it would have been big news to have a soul lost in prison simply because the government is not interested in getting involved despite being told about the horrendous situation in our prisons.

And we have so many things that reveal our national laxity. I travelled to Mangochi not long ago and the road is terrible. It would be too hard for someone to believe that the rugged road that has more potholes than tarmac leads to a tourist destination. It is now ten good years since I first travelled on that road and it is even worse now. But it seems someone is sleeping on the job.

In Blantyre, the Kamuzu Stadium is stooping and it is a death trap. But still it remains open and continues to host high profile matches. Once upon a time, the government made a rare sensible decision to close the stadium down. But due to pressure from some shysters who have turned the stadium into their gold mine, the government bowed down to pressure and opened it. As things are right now, we are just hanging our heads in supplication that no tragedy should happen.

The problem with our failure to correct smaller things is that we end up going in circles. Look at this situation. Right now instead of channelling our efforts into resuscitating our ailing economy we have to go back to treating sewage and other things. Surely a nation that fails in smaller things can never manage sophisticated things like the economy.

The rotinour operations is too much and even the smell in Lilongwe is taken as just a normal stench.

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