Our father who art in the skies, lead us (not) into another flood

Monday November 20 2023

Belongings of the people displaced by flooded River Tana at Mororo, Kenya on November 10, 2023. PHOTO | NMG


A while back, the much-maligned Tanzania Meteorological Association (TMA) started issuing warnings. They were not particularly surprising as, the world over, murmurs had been heard about the weather phenomenon named El Niño, usually associated with heavy rains and floods.

As the season approached East Africa, brave men and women who dedicate their careers to trying to predict the weather suggested that we prepare for heavy rains that might result in flooding. Ah, but the sciences are brutal in their supposed hierarchy, which makes sense, I suppose, considering it is also a belief system with pomp, circumstance, temples and costumes.

At the top, “pure and true” there is mathematics, then physics and a slew of other “natural” sciences. After that comes economics, which is being very unsubtle about trying to distance itself from the rest of the social sciences.

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Which are themselves considered barely more respectable than the humanities, beneath which are the arts that most people respect about as much as finger painting. Somewhere in there are confusing hybrids like environmental science and climatology — which might as well be auguries.

I was unsurprised by the general jeering that the TMA warnings got. Not only were the dates and severity of the storms predicted off by a few days, we have developed a habit of treating people who try to master the skills of reading the weather like shills.


And so, sure enough, we ignored them and found ourselves unprepared with flooding in various areas accompanied by human misery and a shaking of the fist at the sky: Why does this keep happening to us?

It is often said that people get the leaders that they deserve —my least favourite form of victim-blaming for the inefficient and broken systems of democracy. I think it is more accurate to say that “people work for the lives they believe they deserve.”
Wet and dry seasons are not sudden magic, we have know of them for generations.

But what do we do about it, armed with modernity? This city has been occupied for a century or more, yet, lo! We throw our hands up and malign our suspiciously terrible drainage systems and municipal councils.

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Meanwhile, in countries with ridiculous landscape and weather challenges like Iceland, I hear they are growing green tomatoes off the power of their geothermal energy.

Is it that Icelanders can ken science in a way that we cannot? I don’t think so. Maybe their culture was not so disrupted that they grew to doubt their very selves. Weather is a pragmatic thing. Maybe they recognised it as a science, which it is.

Here, when I look at our hierarchy of sciences, I despair that there will come a day when we accept that intellectual endeavour is something we have done and can go back to with a bit of gumption.

True skill and innovation sometimes confound the difficult systems that evade facile mathematical models, easy quantification and formulaic thinking- and a belief that government knows anything at all lest we lead ourselves into another flood. Again.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]