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Pick & choose: Do we need a tour on killings of people with albinism?

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the deficiencies in having a ministerial committee to chart the way forward on national development. Borrowing from the wisdom of an American tycoon, Ross Perot, I argued that it was not necessary to set up a committee to kill snakes instead of just killing them. I reasoned that by the time a committee on snakes agrees on when and how to kill the snakes, the serpents will have killed a few more citizens.

Today, we find ourselves in a similar situation. President Peter Mutharika told the BBC Focus on Africa programme that he would be sending top law enforcers and some high-ranking officials from other government organs to neighbouring Tanzania to learn how to deal with suspects in deaths of people with albinism.

I must agree with the President that the killings are based on beliefs surrounded by “superstition, foolishness and ignorance”. And for the President to confess to international media that some of his people are being controlled by “foolishness” shows the levels of concern that he has.

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Learning to unlearn

This brings us to the question as to whether or not we need a study tour on how to deal with these beasts that are killing our fellow citizens. I should think that Malawi is even better placed to teach its neighbours how to deal with such cases.

Every political administration has had demons that haunted it. During the Bakili Muluzi era, our women were hunted down as some lunatics were after their breasts. There were gruesome murders in Chiradzulu District. Surprisingly, journalists were harassed whenever they wanted to report on the killings.

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What was more puzzling was that the police did not pin down the suspects to mention their markets or their paymasters. A few people were arrested: some appealed against their sentences while the whereabouts of others remain a mystery to date.

The Bingu wa Mutharika era came with the mysterious human vampire that sucked human blood among the poor Malawians in high density areas of Blantyre, particularly Ndirande. The State machinery claimed that it was failing to arrest the vampires until a patriotic Ndirande based Malawian caught one young man who was convicted and sentenced. Interestingly, the year-long blood-sucking ordeal ended with that single arrest. Was it really that one young man who managed to wreck havoc in Ndirande Township? Who were his paymasters? What did he do with the blood that he collected? The State seemed satisfied to close that chapter without drawing lessons. Elsewhere, reports would have been released and scholars in security issues would have made some meaningful analyses.

Here we are now in the APM administration. Over 65 innocent Malawians have either been abducted or outright killed by those who are after their bones and other body parts.

Why are our experienced police detectives satisfied when the suspects’ claim that they just heard that one can become rich upon selling body parts of people with albinism? Why are the investigators not interested in the source of the information? Are the detectives behaving any better than forestry officers who arrest charcoal-selling cyclists, leaving the makers free?

Government’s dilemma

Ironically, most Malawians are demanding death penalty to these thugs. The President has said he will not introduce that death penalty because it already exists. I also do not see a need to enact a new law. Such suggestions alone perpetrate the stigma against people with albinism. These are Malawians with equal rights like everyone else. They do not need a special law fashioned for them only.

Perhaps what will be interesting is to see if the President will sign for a death penalty imposed on such killers. APM is in such a precarious position: balancing aspirations of his people and remaining politically correct in the eyes of the international community.

But that is not the only headache for the President. He has told the BBC that the witch doctors are largely to blame for this curse. Why is it that his government is chickening away from banning these doctors? Is he going to move on them now that the High Court has ordered a ban on their activities?

A careful observation of the trend of these killings would also reveal that they are mainly happening in areas with high illiteracy and poverty levels. Does someone see this vicious cycle where poverty breeds illiteracy and illiteracy brings more poverty? Why is it that other districts with higher literacy levels have not recorded any deaths or abductions?

All these are issues that are there for us to learn from. There is no need to spend the last penny in our shoe-string government budget to fly people in business class, accommodate them in five-star hotels and feed them on sea food just to learn how to deal with killers of people with albinism. Again, this study tour is an unnecessary drain on scarce resources.

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