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A sad, wet entry into festive season

Saturday December 7 2019

Kitobo road in Taveta

Kitobo road in Taveta, Taita Taveta County which has been cut off by floods due to heavy rains pounding the area and neighbouring Tanzania in October 2019. The floods have killed three people. PHOTO | LUCY MKANYIKA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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“SAD” is an anagram or abbreviation for “seasonal affected disorder”. The code could, of course, stand for other concepts, like “sexual aversion disorder”, as our Nation therapist told us some time ago. What is on my mind this week, however, is certainly the season, or more specifically the unseasonable downpours that have kept our bodies and spirits drenched in misery well into the first week of December.


So, my musings about the rains are due to much more than the usual Anglophone penchant for talking about the weather. It is truly sad to see scores of our people swept to their deaths in raging rivers and vicious floods, others marooned on inaccessible islets, and even many more rendered homeless and destitute in the wake of nature’s onslaught on their settlements.

Moreover, the devastation is on an even larger scale than is suggested by the video and sound bites on our media channels. The Mount Elgon landslides, for example, are equally frequent and deadly on both the Ugandan and Kenyan sides. I was utterly astounded to hear that people were getting stranded on the Tana as far upstream as Makueni. I cannot help wondering how the riverine folk in Hola, on the coastal banks of the Tana, are faring in these strange times. I last visited them in the mid-1980s.

As I was saying, however, the effects of this latest damp and dampening weather are more far-reaching, in both scope and significance, than we might realise in our individual lives or our small communities. I do not want to downplay the time-hallowed tradition of this season of migration to “home square”, from wherever the fortunes and services of our nation have scattered us.



But getting home, off the main road, beyond “the end of the tarmac (Mwalimu Andrew’s mwisho wa lami)”, can, and will, be a tougher and trickier operation than the usual hassles of boarding overloaded, overcharging and overspeeding buses and matatus. So many bridges and other stream-crossing improvisations have been washed away that hundreds, if not thousands, of our villages are simply inaccessible, even by boda boda. Call it rather unpalatable food for thought, especially for those planning to travel with their young families.

On a more troubling note, however, are the oft-heard declarations by climate experts that these extremes of weather are “unprecedented”, the “severest in living memory” or the “worst on record”. Even before this year ends, the pundits are predicting, reliably, that it will be the hottest, globally, on record, as each successive year has been for the past 10 years.


This should, logically, make us realise that the writing is on the wall and in the skies for humanity. We are an endangered species and we could become extinct, like the dinosaurs, in the imaginable future. I told you once of a hypothetical “post-Anthropocene” epoch in evolutionary history. Sadly, there would be no “Anthropos” (human being) left to study it, unless we learn to read and act drastically on the signs of the times, now.

Now, therein lie the heart and the hope of the matter. If we are the most intelligent and resilient species that has ever existed on the planet, as we claim to be, we just cannot sit around and let ourselves sink into extinction, and maybe our planet with us, without lifting a finger. Much less should we go out of our way to do things that directly contribute to the degradation and destruction of our environment, our earth. That would be tantamount to cutting away from a tree the branch on which we are sitting, or simply setting fire to the house in which we live.


Yet, sadly, that appears to be the way a significant segment of humanity is going. There are, for example, those loud and loathsome climate-change deniers, some of them in very high places. Such haters of humanity and its only abode persist in the lie and deceit that there is nothing abnormal about the drastic changes in our atmosphere and the “unprecedented” occurrence of catastrophes like tsunamis, inextinguishable wildfires, extreme summer and winter temperatures or incessant downpours like our current ones and their subsequent floods.

Closely allied with the deniers, for obvious reasons, are the greedy, depraved degraders. These ones know that our unbridled exploitation of the environment and tampering with it is dangerous and destructive. But, they argue, such processes and activities, including hewing down forests, clogging the wetlands and waterways with factories and industrial waste and choking the air with fossil fuel gases, are necessary for our existence and development.


Is there a possible balance between ensuring ourselves a comfortable life and “developing” (or indulging) ourselves out of existence? The best answer to the polluters and degraders, who would rather perish with the world than adopt prudent and less destructive lifestyles, the best answer was given by the teenage environmental crusader, Greta Thunberg. “You are talking about your economies,” she told an audience in America earlier this year. “We are talking about our existence.”

The decisive difference, however, between the looming disaster and a sustainable environmental survival finally lies with us, people like you and me, whose main shortcoming is indifference. We hear of the ominous statistics and predictions, of carbon emissions and ozone layer puncturing, of the destruction of the Amazon Forest and the littering of the oceans with plastic waste. Our reaction is, characteristically, “Too bad, but what can I do about it?”

There is a lot that we can do, but now I am just too sad (seasonal affected “disordered”) to go into the details. Let us think about it together.


Meanwhile, let us not surrender to “SAD”. As we gear up for Christmas and the New Year, let us join the environmental struggle with simple but important actions, like avoiding littering, keeping our homes spotlessly clean and making music rather than noise with our sound apps. You will be surprised at how such little acts can uplift the mind.

A luta continua!