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Social Musings: Poverty and violence

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How much are we aware of the connection between poverty and the violence in the country?

An excerpt from the book “The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence,” by Gary Haugen, founder and president of the global human rights agency International Justice Mission, and federal prosecutor Victor Boutros states: While the world has made encouraging strides in the fight against global poverty, there is a hidden crisis silently undermining our best efforts to help the poor. It is a plague of everyday violence. Beneath the surface of the world’s poorest communities, common violence — including rape, forced labor, illegal detention, land theft, police abuse and other brutality — has become routine and relentless. And like a horde of locusts devouring everything in their path, the unchecked plague of violence ruins lives, blocks the road out of poverty, and undercuts development

It further argues that the plague of violence has grown so ferocious because there is nothing shielding the poor from violent people since basic public justice systems in the developing world have descended into a state of utter collapse.

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The bottom line is that violence is a fundamental obstacle to alleviating poverty.

In recent years ordinary people in our country have turned into savages and murderers in the face of poverty and oppression. The citizen no longer believes in the police system to protect and execute justice. It sickens me to picture our brothers, fathers, sisters and mothers resorting to cold blood mob murder to feel a sense of justice. This is mark of poverty and the climax of desperation and frustration.

We have the police and the justice system in the country but are the laws being enforced or are they only good on paper? The ordinary citizen is not confident to seek justice and protection and expect it to be provided, this is a privilege of the wealthy and well positioned. And criminals are taking advantage of this state of nihilism.

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Let’s take a look at some recent events this year: the burning of seven people suspected to have human bones in Nsanje, the mob murder of four elderly people suspected of witchcraft in Neno, the smashing of police car and harassment of police by vendors in Limbe, the burning of two thieves by a mob in Chinyonga, the attacks on trains along the Moatize to Indian Ocean through Malawi (Mwanza, Neno) railway, the brutalization of two escaping Chichiri Prison inmates, where one died in Blantyre; against the backdrop of a series of armed robberies across the country, the growing cases of GBV and rape as well as violence against members of LGBT community.

When are we willing to end this vicious cycle of poverty and violence?

In 2014, during an interview with U.S on the The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, Haugen spoke about the roots of everyday violence in developing countries and what needs to be done to address it.

He first attributed everyday violence in the developing world as a result of daily violence perpetrated by criminals in poor communities: stronger people in the community who commit sexual assaults, business [owners] who hold poor people in slavery, local police officers who extort money. And that this violence is unleashed by the absence of any functioning law enforcement to restrain these perpetrators.

He added that the problem is not that poor people don’t get laws; it’s that they don’t get law enforcement. And as a result, that neglect of law enforcement has meant that people with wealth and power in the developing world have set up private security systems to protect themselves and left a vast class of billions of poor people chronically vulnerable to violence.

On countries reeling from the plague of everyday violence like Malawi, Haugen gave a suggestion on how effective justice systems can emerge:

The first thing that must happen is the developed world must throw off its colonial law enforcement systems: The systems of policing and courts which have been set up to protect the government from the common people rather than to protect the common people from crime, need to be re-engineered for this new post-colonial purpose. Secondly, people with wealth and power must stop their withdrawal from the public justice system and reinvest in [it] instead of building up a parallel private system of security. Thirdly, the international community needs to prioritize investment in criminal justice systems in the developing world that will actually help poor people.

I hope Malawi is willing to pioneer this change.

I rest my case.

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