Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Scots conservationist and a brave and principled Zambian soldier…

On 27 October 2007, four men imprisoned for treason were released in Zambia; two of them, Major Berrington Mkoma and Lt. Baldwin Manase, who were - according to Mkoma, entirely innocent of the charges, being tortured, and, in the case of Mkoma who had contracted cancer, receiving no mercy or sympathy for his condition from the authorities – except from President Mwanawasa who saved them from hanging.

I read the report this morning in The Post…Mkoma…Mkoma, an unusual name I thought, where had I heard it before. Of course, he had been in Rwanda in 1996, seconded by Zambia to the UN forces at a time when the Tutsis where putting their mail-order machetes to work on the Hutu - retaliation for their destruction by the Hutu in 1994. A killing round, endless it seems. And there had been a Scots journalist, Nick Gordon, who wrote in a British newspaper, “It could, I suppose, be compared to eating a picnic outside Auschwitz. For a start we are not meant to be here. This is the Mutara, the forbidden zone of Rwanda - a desolate and treeless former game reserve in north-east of this homicidal little country that is off-limits to anyone but the army. Anyway, Mutara or not, the photographer and I are sitting in a hired car in the only lay-by in Rwanda, tearing a baton of bread to shreds and trying not to be too conspicuous as we observe the buildings on the hill half a mile away.”

It must have been here just after this, in 1996, that a Zambian UN army officer, Berrington Mkoma, saved Nick Gordon’s life by wresting him from the hands of homicidal rebels. Nick Gordon never forgot.

In 1997, returning from Rwanda to Zambia, Mkoma was charged with treason – attempting, so Government said, to overthrow the Chiluba Government. Gordon worked tirelessly on his behalf. In 2003 Mkoma developed cancer. In 2004, having left his mark as one of the great wildlife cameramen and journalists for his work in the rainforests of Brazil, Gordon died of a heart attack. Who then came more recently to try and spring Mkoma? Have the last three years gone so quickly that it was Nick Gordon who came to Mwanawasa to plead for Berrington Mkoma’s release?

I don’t know anything of the treason charges and the bungling coup attempt, nor the meaning in Zambians' eyes of a freedom fighter, but here is a man whom Zambia should clasp to its bosom.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mossy nets and feeling good about Africa...

Any intervention into the lives of people and the environment is
subject to the law of unintended consequence.

In a country like Zambia, one of the best watered in Africa, and with a
fishery that was once the envy of all but which is now much
diminished due to the complete absence of any controls on fishing
- driven as it is by an insatiable and expanding urban market
for fish and bushmeat, the indiscriminate issue of three million or so
mosquito nets provides a significant environmental perturbation.

A friend reported to me that he had seen one such tapeworm of a net,
fully 100 yards long, the individual mosquito nets sown together, set
across a stretch of water, doubtless later being 'walked' across the
water by villagers, and all age classes of fish removed. And from all
over the country come reports of mosquito nets being used to catch
fish. And in these waters are crocodile, otter, water python, just
part of the myriad array of animals dependent on fish.

In the Luangwa and Luitikila rifts where our Trust is active, the fish
population is so reduced that we now, for the first time I can
remember, have people taken by crocodile in the dry season.

And one wonders at the effect of the insecticide treated net on all
life in the water, joining as it does the land-based poisoning of
vultures for their heads – sold to the muti trade, and of the scavengers
such as lion, leopard and hyena who then feed on the bait carcasses
laced with cotton insecticide.

Before any such massive intervention was contemplated, there should
have been an application made to the Environmental Council of Zambia
for net distribution and use, followed by an Environmental Impact
Assessment and advertisements in the press calling for public comment
on the short, medium and long term impacts.

Mosquito nets are needed here, as is a controlled DDT spraying
programme presently being carried out on a limited scale as allowed by
the Stockholm Convention. But one of the main factors ensuring the
continued ravages of malaria is that the prophylaxis and treatment
against malaria has - like HIV retrovirals, been poorly dealt with
leading to a loss of natural resistance to malaria by native Africans,
and their further resistance to the drugs of choice. And in any case,
as ludicrously claimed in the July issue of the National Geographic
magazine, drugs such as Coartem are not available to the people in
Zambia - and are certainly not free. And the nets, supposedly donated
to the people of Zambia, are being sold to them in the clinics at a
price higher than can be bought in the suq. Of course, the mossy net
thing, is all part of the donor/recipient problem...