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The politics and environment nexus

The closest we have come to this acknowledgement until the turn of the century is sending delegations to holiday during annual international conferences that discuss these issues. To justify their being part of these often bloated delegations, state media journalists would submit Wikipedia-based analysis of the impact of climate change and how human action in degrading the environment is contributing to those changes in our climate, bringing with it grievous consequences on human life.

 

Nowhere in their stories would they mention that Zimbabwe is at crossroads and needs decisive and active leadership to play its part in saving the environment. The politicians too, would be happy to get away with the slow murder of their citizens through lack of planning in addressing the challenges our planet is facing.

However, events of recent years have suggested that politicians do not have the leisure of ignoring the subject anymore. The questions that will make or break the careers of these politicians are; why did they take so long to respond to the environmental problems and whether, now that they are responding, the poor communities understand why they find themselves on the receiving end of this “punishment” dressed in borrowed robes of being environmentally friendly?

The last question, particularly, would be asked in different contexts based on experiences Zimbabweans have had in recent times.

First, do the masses (read voters) who are shopping across the country understand why they have to bundle up their groceries to their chests when they would have insisted on a plastic bag for a loaf of bread just a month ago? More so, will a politician who probably never put the word “environment” in their manifesto, when they were voted into office a little over two years ago, convincingly explain that Statutory Instrument 98 on Plastic Packaging and Plastic Bottles Regulations bans plastic bags of less than 30 micrometres because they will not degrade in 1 000 years thereby causing a threat to the environment?

Similarly and for the second reason, would villagers in Mutimurefu not become suspicious of a political conspiracy when a minister of environment orders chiefs to fine villagers a beast for cutting down a single tree?

It is common knowledge that in Chiadzwa rich conglomerates have caused much harm to the environment without undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment as required by Section 97 of the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27) of the country’s laws as they chase the profits bottom line in the diamond fields.

Honestly, was the minister unaware of these activities that threaten the environment? Did he ever lift a finger? If the poor villagers are forced to  part with their beasts for a tree, are they not justified to think that there is a hidden political motive if big companies can get away with violating the same laws?

Again, Zimbabweans whose only hope of driving a decent car is pinned on importing a 10-year-old Japanese second-hand car will struggle to understand the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use) Regulations published by the Transport ministry in the government gazette of September 17. The regulations banned second-hand imports on condition they are more than five years old. In mitigation, Francis Nhema, the Environment minister says, “We have a duty to … protect … our environment.”

The truth is that many Zimbabweans do not read this sudden interest in saving the environment as sincere.
Those with a gift of memory have not forgotten that a clean environment was part of the excuses for an operation that left them homeless and destitute in 2005.

All these constituencies cited in the above examples are potentially angry voters. When they voted, politicians did not explain to them the problem at hand and how they intended to deal with such challenges. Today, the voters are likely to think that politicians have a hidden motive and that concern for the environment is just a façade when the environment agenda is nicodemously championed through some unpopular regulations.

Many would still ask the question why now and think that the action came a little too late. Justifiably so, they think that were the politicians serious and had they acted quickly, thousands of lives wouldn’t have been lost to cholera, a disease that thrives on an unclean environment.

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