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When it is the poor dying

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Malawi is facing the worst cholera crisis in decades. As we speak, over 1,090 deaths have been recorded by Sunday.

The past few days have seen us losing, on average, is people a day. The number of cumulative cases has exceeded 33,000 with more cases being recorded every day.

But one would competently contend that this crisis has not received the response it needed. If you go about our streets, it is business as usual and the government has not been as vocal and stringent as it needed to be with its measures in containing the spread of this disease.

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Some three years ago, we faced a similar crisis with the then novel coronavirus, which knocked the world to its knees.

With Covid, all of us could tell that there was a crisis in the country. We had the privilege of seeing the State President time and again on national television or hearing his somber voice on radio, lamenting the devastation in the wake of the virus.

The Covid Presidential Taskforce, which comprised ministers who cashed in a lot of allowances, held press conferences time and again, warning us about this disease.

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The police whipped us in the streets for contravening containment measures, and we felt that life had to be lived differently.

But this has not been the case with cholera. The approach to the disease has been too casual as compared to the havoc it is wreaking.

While the presidential taskforce has been extended to also tackle cholera, its initiatives have been lukewarm.

The only serious containment measure they tried to implement was the closure of schools in Blantyre and Lilongwe early in the year, but the purpose of the closure remains questionable as schools continue to operate as the disease escalates.

The government has not done anything to alter the way Malawians live their lives so as to stop the spread of cholera. What we have now is only news about cholera.

Poor hygiene is a big problem in this country and there is a need for serious State intervention on this. The average Malawian does not give a damn about hygiene.

People will eat bananas and throw the peels on the streets from the windows of their luxury cars. Our streets are like dumping sites and everyone is allowed to do as they please.

You do not even have to talk about market places, which are more or less like sewages. The sewer systems themselves are in dilapidated state such that you get fumes of sewage right at the heart of Blantyre City. We have people selling food on the streets, right in front of sludge. And yet nobody is doing anything about this.

While we are to blame as citizens for our poor hygiene, the levels of dirt in this country demand serious State intervention, more so during this time of cholera.

It is the duty of the State to protect citizens even from themselves. It was about time that the Malawi Government had strict rules on hygiene in this country for this problem is way beyond the stage of civic education.

Malawians must be stopped from living like hogs. It is just embarrassing. There was a time when former president, Bingu wa Mutharika, prohibited vending in our streets. His administration did not hesitate to scold those who flouted these rules and, for once, we had clean cities.

But look at our streets today. It is as if nobody is in charge and anything goes. We are a pathetic country that fails to meet even the basics of life.

With Covid, all of us were forced to wear masks and to stay at home. It was the rich who were dying and rich people in power had to make sure that death did not knock on their doors.

With cholera, it is business as usual and there is nothing special being done on hygiene. Afterall, it is the poor dying – and isn’t dying what these people do best?

When you consider the situation we are in, one cannot help but recall a social theorist called Judith Butler who argues somewhere that there are mournable and unmournable lives. The powers-that-be decide whose lives matter. And when you are poor, your death does not matter.

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