Last night I was googling some information on Malawi’s planned inland river port at Nsanje. This scheme probably deserves several posts of its own: at first blush it appears to be an incredible mix of personal hubris, electioneering, grand corruption, China style mega-projects, and a Roosevelt-esque (the first one) kind of expansive, visionary leadership on the part of the Malawian government and President Mutharika.
At this point I was basically interested in the practicalities, however. The idea is apparently to build a dock there (which has been opened, although not entirely successfully) and then dredge the Shire river down to where it joins the Zambezi. The Zambezi already apparently carries some shipping traffic. This was a surprise to me, since I’ve been told repeatedly that <a href="http://bornagainredneck.blogspot.com/2005/07/tragedy-of-africa-no-navigable-rivers.html"sub-Saharan Africa has no navigable rivers. When looking for information on current shipping activities on the river, I came across this post that literally caused me to grit my teeth:
“The thought that the Zambezi River may be converted into a commercial waterway chills my soul! I fell in love with this mighty river on my very first trip to Africa in 1984 when I canoed down her waters for 7 days. It was an unforgettable experience and I have returned to paddle down the river each time I come back to Africa to relive how Livingstone might have viewed the river on his exploration of Africa. I have been back 5 times and although the Zambezi still weaves it’s magic, she has already changed enormously since 1984. On the Zambian side, powerboats ply the waters and lodge after lodge spoils the darkness and still of the night with its lights and generators.”
Exactly! Curse those pretentious Africans, daring to use electrical lighting! I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing. Beyond hitting on the standard safarigoer tropes of falling in love with Africa and opposing any changes there, I was taken aback by the utter disregard for the needs of the people living near the river. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to protect the environment, or even valuing that over economic growth at some margin. But Skliros doesn’t spend a single word talking about the needs of a country (Zimbabwe) that at the time was just coming out of a deep economic crisis – and a *real* crisis, where income per person dropped by nearly half to barely a dollar a day, not a white people crisis where growth merely stagnates and we remain spectacularly rich.
If you want to protect wildlife, fine. I’ll even concede Skliros’s point about the economic value of tourism. However, it is unacceptable to rail against a project like this without proposing some viable alternative, and it’s downright unconscionable to not even mention the need for one.