If there is anything recent that can jerk the country into the reality of gun violence, then it is two horrific cases of shooting: one in Lilongwe where a man shot his girlfriend who died days later and another in Blantyre where a seven-year-old boy killed his five–year-old sister.
Peoples Federation for National Peace and Development Executive Director, Edward Chaka, said the problem of gun violence and armed robberies in Malawi is big but several other cases go unreported.
“We are talking about these two cases of shooting because they were reported in the media. This is a huge problem which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Gun violence to me is even more dangerous than HIV because a gun can take a life in a matter of seconds,” he said.
After shooting his girlfriend, Waheeda Bagus, Mark William Phiri allegedly took the pistol, probably the one he had used to shoot the woman, to the police when he apparently went to negotiate how to avoid the long arm of justice.
Lingadzi Police Public Relations Officer, Salomy Chibwana Zgambo, said Phiri, 36, handed himself to Lingadzi Police after the incident on Sunday, December 15 2019.
“It is said that the suspect had initially decided to bribe the police officers on duty to cover up the story. This did not materialise as the officers noticed some blood stains on his clothes. The suspect is said to have produced a gun but police officers shot in the air to scare him before snatching the gun from him,” Zgambo said.
Initially, Phiri was charged with acts intended to cause grievous harm contrary to section 235 of the Penal Code as Waheeda was battling for her life at Kamuzu Central Hospital but the charge was changed to murder on her passing.
As Malawians were still processing what was an unfamiliar incident of gun-shooting, a more horrifying incident occurred in Limbe, Blantyre, where according to police, a -seven-year-old boy, who was playing with a gun, accidentally shot to death his sister.
According to Limbe Pol ice spokesperson, Patrick Mussa, the incident took place on February, 29, 2020.
“At around 4pm, both parents left home leaving the two behind. The kids took the rifle loaded with three live ammunition from the parents’ bedroom and started playing with it. In the course of playing, the boy accidentally shot his sister on the shoulder and she sustained serious injuries.
“The matter was reported at Bangwe Police Sub-Station where police officers rushed to the scene, took the girl to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival,” said Mussa.
The incident left the public with a number of unanswered answers.
At seven-year-old, how did he know where the gun was being kept? Had he ever seen his father playing with it before?
Although the child cannot be held criminally liable for the death of the sister, the laws of Malawi criminalise failure to take care of a loaded gun.
“[Any person who] does any act with respect to, or omits to take proper precautions against any probable danger from any loaded firearm in his possession, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour,” reads Section 247 (i) of the Penal Code.
Perhaps a more pertinent question is where the guns come from.
Chaka said some of the guns which have found their way into Malawi were residues of the civil war in Mozambique.
He said Mozambique did not have a prosper arms disposal mechanism after the conflict to the point that some of them were found lying in people’s fields.
Chaka also blamed the country’s porous borders for most of the guns in circulation now.
“Our porous borders have contributed to this. People who do business across the borders easily get these arms into Malawi. It is not illegal to have a gun, yes, but proper procedures must be followed,” he said.
Department of Immigration Services spokesperson, Joseph Chauwa, said blocking illegal arms from entering the country is the responsibility of Malawi Police Service and Malawi Revenue Authority.
“For us our interest is the person coming in the country. Searching their bags and their vehicles is the responsibility of the police,” he said.
National Police spokesperson, James Kadadzera, said all processes are followed when issuing licences to people who want to own guns.
He said the people are prepared mentally but they sometimes become negligent and the guns end up in wrong hands.
“I cannot discuss the procedures here but al l the processes are followed. The problem is that people can be negligent. We are reminding them not to be negligent but to follow the guidelines. In fact, it is good that you are bringing up the issue to remind everyone that the licence is solely for the applicant and not anyone else including the children,” he said.
But Kadadzera conceded that there are people in Malawi who hold guns without licences but was quick to say that is a criminal offence.
“That is a crime and when we get such information, we move in and arrest them quickly,” he said.
Although Kadadzera declined to discuss the procedures followed when issuing a gun license, section 10 (3c and d) of the Firearms Act of 1967 prescribes who should be issued a licence to hold a gun.
The Act also emphasises that not anyone else in the household apart from the applicant is authorised to hold the gun irrespective of their relationship.
“A person is prohibited under the provisions of this Act from possessing a firearm if not a person of intemperate habits or unsound mind or for any reason not fitted to be entrusted with such a firearm or ammunition.
“The applicant will at all times keep the firearm or ammunition securely and in safe custody and in a safe condition and take all reasonable precautions to ensure that the firearm or ammunition is not lost or stolen and is not at any time available to any person not lawfully entitled to possess the same,” reads the Act.
Meanwhile, Malawi is yet to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty which seeks to promote a peaceful world free from gun violence, among others.
Could the treaty be key in the fight against gun violence in the country?
When talking about guns in wrong hands, the primary focus is on those not in law enforcement business.
But apparently, these firearms can also be in wrong hands even with the law enforcement agencies such as Malawi Prison Service, the police and Malawi Defence Force (MDF).
Memories are still fresh of former Chichiri Prison Deputy Stat ion Officer, Evance Chisi, who shot dead his two sons Stafford and Russel in 2015.
Again in November last year, a MDF soldier Corporal, Robert Banya, killed two of his colleagues before he was later shot dead.