Dar floods: Can we sue God possibly... yet again?


WE have what we call the central business district, or CBD for short, within the City of Dar es Salaam. Thankfully, we’re moving camp to Dodoma, the new seat of Government and everything that goes with organising human circumstance.

We should be grateful for the move to Dodoma since the acronym ‘CBD’ in Dar now stands for the warning: ‘Chaos Brings Disaster’ and we hope that doesn’t get multiplied in the new capital city; and it’s a big hope because we’re predisposed to repeat past lessons of failure with reckless abandon.

For insurance purposes, Google defines as “events that occur through natural causes and could not be avoided through the use of caution and preventative measures. “In essence, the phrase ‘Acts of God’ refers to natural disasters,” we read, which brings to mind hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, hail, or floods. “However, the lines can be fuzzier than most people realise,” we are further warned.

I once checked into a highrise hotel room in the city of Mexico to a tumultuous welcome from an earthquake. Yes, a mighty one; the effect of that quake sent my bed ‘dancing’ one way and my body the opposite direction.

The process went on for a few, yet long, scaring moments before the entire building groaned to a halt – even as the sirens the sedate humming of early night traffic in the streets below.

Just before I retired to bed (dead tired from a hectic week covering a summit conference in Cancun), I had read the hotel’s ‘advisory’ telling clients to stand against the wall in case of an occurrence like this one – because earthquakes tend to force structures ‘carvein’ from the middle; so you stand a chance of rescue if you braced fast against the wall.

To calm our nerves, the hotel offered us a drink on the house; at the bar on the third floor, I was later to learn that Mexican laws requires all tall structures – my room at Floor Nine – must stand on ‘hydraulic’ foundations to allow for some ‘stilt dance’ when disaster strikes.

So my failed attempts to wake up and stand by the wall a few minutes ago was also cause for me to stay alive, and enjoy my ‘free’ drink – only because the building could ‘sway’ left-right without fatal circumstance.

Boy, even often chaotic Mexico has some sense of order in its sky-kissing buildings. Fast-forward that scenario to Dar now and you would be talking of deaths. The Lord gives, the Lord takes… eti? Let’s get serious, for once, and stop blaming our Maker for our own stupendous, blessed idiocy.

An accidental fire in your home, like many we always witness, cannot possibly pass for an ‘Act of God’ because they could have been prevented, either by someone’s actions in starting the fire accidentally or poor workmanship during construction of the house.

But, yes, a fire caused by a lightning strike that consumes multiple homes, such as often occurs in the West, and the quake that caught me pants down in Mexico, would be an Act of God. Yet, what happens when a similar fire is an act of arson, or a collapsed house an act of poor workmanship?

The key is whether a human or humans could reasonably be considered at fault -- at least until insurance firms find some way to sue God. Now for the big question: Is your car or home covered against Acts of God?

In both cases, the answer depends on what type of policy you purchased and the coverage and exclusions that it includes.

Many ‘Acts of God’ may be covered, but the definition of an Act of God is whatever your policy says that it is; in this Bongoland, we’ve often covered, and spent zillions of money, covering shameless inefficiency – even willful acts of arson! In the West, generally, you will not see the phrase “Act of God” in policies, and perhaps not “natural disasters.”

Policies tend to refer to specific risks or classes of risk as “perils.” Anything that is not spelled out as a specific exclusion or risk is subject to debate, and you can guess who will win that debate.

It is important to ask for definitions to be spelled out before a debate on the subject becomes necessary. In the West, again, an insurance policy may vary, but several generalities are usually true with respect to Acts of God.

In the US of A, for instance, they even have what’s known as the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. We wouldn’t be asking for too much if we set up something similar for Dodoma, with ‘seed’ funds from levies on every building that collapses in Dar – before the culprits are sent to jail.

All said, Dar’s raging floods are a well-deserved lesson: While we’ve always found some willing ‘devil’s advocate’ to cover Dar’s past folly, we should spare ourselves the trouble to find one to sue God on our behalf in Dodoma – our next signature footprint – with God’s blessing.

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