When Malawi Soldiers Leave Guns For Green

By Alfred Mthandizi

Soldiers have a responsibility to defend the State from foreign invasion. However, through their units and the Army as a whole, soldiers obey the orders of their superiors as issued from their ranks and files.

Soldiers fulfill their obligations in the best manner possible. They contribute to the efforts of a team, meet their personal assignments and make every attempt to fulfill every mission assigned. If they are in charge of lower-ranking soldiers, they have the duty to provide the leadership their subordinates need to advance in the military or fulfill an assignment. However here in Malawi, soldiers have additional duty and this one is protecting forests in Chikangawa, Dzalanyama, just to mention a few. They even take part in seasonal tree planting exercise every year.

Information Technology company, Techno Brain, Lilongwe Water Board, over the weekend partnered Association of Environmental Journalists (AEJ) planting trees in Dzalanyama Forest Reserve which is Lilongwe River’s source as a way of helping restoring the heavily destroyed forest to its former glory. The company, together with soldiers, have been planting trees in the forest for the past four years as a way of helping to sustain the environment.

Project manager for the company, Tionge Chipeta-Mwandira told journalists after the exercise that the company had bought 5000 seedlings to add towards the planting exercise. “Techno Brain values nature so much. That is why for four years we have been participating in this tree planting exercise right here at Dzalanyama and we are proud to be part of the efforts to restore this forest.”
Secretary to government, Lloyd Muhara led the exercise. Other stakeholders during the event were Malawi Defense Force (MDF) officials led by the army commander, Griffin Supuni Phiri, Inspector General of Police Lexten Kachama and his officers, Nation Publications Ltd (NPL) and AHL Group of companies among many others.

According to Muhara, Malawi government is hoping that Dzalanyama Forest Reserve is going to be restored if the survival rate on trees planted in the previous growing season can be sustained, adding that the seedlings survived by 78 percent. Muhara said, “If we plant trees and let them survive that much every year for the next five to ten years then we are going to be able to restore Dzalanyama Forest.”

Board chairperson for LWB Edward Chitsonga attributed the tree survival to good planting timing and good care provided to the trees. Chitsonga said, “We made sure that we planted the trees when there was enough moisture in the soil and when it became too dry we applied water to the trees to make sure that they don’t die of drought.”

According to him the board planned to plant 6000 trees, but planted only 1000 seedlings during the exercise. The remaining 5000 seedlings are to be replanted on a better day when it was raining.

The biggest challenge to the Dzalanyama Forest has been the surrounding communities who cut down trees in order to make charcoal or sell the firewood. The practice has been so rampant that it felt like government was losing the battle until it engaged the Malawi Defense Force to guarding the forest.

However in spite of the MDF drastically reducing the number of people wantonly cutting down the trees, the soldiers’ involvement in the exercise was met with resistance from the public arguing that they (soldiers) were doing their job with a measure of brutality.



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