Government has mishandled the blood suckers issue
A few years ago, journalists from a prominent media house in the West camped in Zimbabwe for some weeks. At the end of their tour, they said they had experienced poverty and hardships that Zimbabweans experienced. This infuriated Zimbabweans who argued that one does not experience poverty but lives it.
I recalled this incident in the wake of cries from people of Thyolo, Mulanje, Chiradzulu and Phalombe districts who claim to be under constant threat of having their blood sucked by some mysterious forces.
More depressing is the approach the government has taken by dismissing claims of the people and even threatening to arrest anyone who talks about the issue, on pretext that such talk is raising public alarm and panic. But the government was not supposed to take so long without a proper response, only to hush any desperate voices that call for help.
This is an issue of crisis communication and management. Threatening the “victims” with arrests will only end up hardening their position. Already the people are digging in their heels as evidenced by the looting and killings that they are indulging in.
Historically, Malawi used to be run under chiefdoms. Each ruler had the responsibility of providing public goods such as security and social amenities to his subjects, in exchange for their unflinching loyalty. When the tribes accepted to be under the British rule and later on the rule of the Malawi Government, they became a nation. The clans surrendered part of their powers in expectation for some provisions by the State. Among other issues, the tribes agreed to beat their swords into plough shares and their pangas into sickles. They committed to engage in productive farming and other development initiatives, instead of spending resources in fighting each other.
But that change of heart was not an ordinary act of mercy. The tribes expected the government to provide security, education, health services and other infrastructure development. This does not mean that the tribes are not capable of providing their own security against real or perceived dangers.
That is why the people have resorted to collective security mechanism as they see a vacuum in the provision of security in their areas. The villagers have teamed up to secure themselves and their property against dangers that they have identified.
That said, Pick & Choose does not intend to suggest that there are blood suckers or that the people are having their blood sucked in the districts. But one thing that is for sure is that something is happening in the areas. Questioning the people’s experiences will be deemed as demeaning on their esteem. It is like questioning their very existence. The beliefs, the fears and the experiences are what define the people of these districts. And these people have a common tradition: the Lhomwe and Mang’anja roots.
Instead of brandishing handcuffs and guns, the government was supposed to have acknowledged that there is a problem that needs urgent attention. That would not have implied recognition of the existence of the human vampires. Whether the people’s fears are founded or not needs to be addressed by the State which enjoys loyalty and taxes from these people in exchange for peace and security.
After acknowledging the problem, the State was supposed to assure the people that something was being done to ensure their security and calling for cooperation of the concerned people. This would have been in the form of a contingent of police officers that the State has deployed to the districts. The final step would have been to assure the people that such unfortunate incidences would not happen again, especially with their support.
But because the State is threatening the “victims”, the interpretation is that the State is out to cover up the “blood suckers”. It is as if the State has turned against its own subjects, selling them off to foreign agents as is being alleged. This is recipe for chaos and civil unrest. Already six people, including a traditional leader have been murdered by insecure villagers. Some 31 suspects have also been rounded up.
The State cannot solve this problem by using force. Blaming the opposition parties or civil society organisations is a non-starter.
The victims are reasonable people and not mad men. The State must use structures that are on the ground to address this problem. And the structures must include the traditional and State systems. There is need to walk in the shoes of the victims and understand factors that are influencing their sudden and strange conduct. But so far, the government has missed it.
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues