A couple of years ago, some ignorant superstitious villagers had hallucinations about some mysterious people ‘sucking’ their blood mostly at night but also at day. Armed with that barrage of ignorance, they attacked anything that they didn’t like or didn’t look like them. They attacked strangers, people richer than them, their vehicles, houses etc.
Our President, knew that the claims of these ‘vampires’, as the western media christened the alleged blood-sucking claims, was a load of nonsense. But, instead of calling a spade by its name, the President called it a spoon. Instead of using the power of the executive office to demystify the stupid claims and educate the ignorant people, President Peter Mutharika went to his political base—a hotbed of the claims—and effectively amplified the lurid claims.
On the podium, Mutharika, literally, handed the megaphone to the villagers—to narrate the sparsely believable witchcraft tales, without as much challenging them and, worst still, carelessly massaging the egos of the ignorant by offering his associates to deal with the issues through witchdoctors. It was one of the worst presidential displays in living memory. Superstition, which is at the core of so much that is wrong with our country today, was given a marketing boast than ever before.
Years later, as the country faced a presidential election campaign, the country witnessed a genocidal terror on the people with albinism by unknown people who killed albinos for their body parts to be used in witchcraft. Over 25 people with albinism, young and old, were murdered in cold blood, bodies mutilated, graves dug and bodies stolen. Our government was helpless as it watched one of the most shameful episodes in the country’s history.
All this is connected—Ignorance, superstition and violence. All this was played out in the public domain. None of it was forcefully challenged by those in high office. Today, the violence has been multiplied and the whole country appears like a field for various hoodlums fighting over one reason or another.
“What is happening to our country?” asked aptly Atupele Muluzi, the UDF president on Facebook this week. It was a good question, although it attracted predictable revulsion by Facebook users with a bone to pick against the politician. As most commenters told Muluzi, ‘poor leadership brought us here’.
So, today, we have unattainable situation obtaining almost everywhere in the country. Both rural areas and cities are on fire for one reason—often stupid—or the other.
What prompted Muluzi to speak out this week was violence in the eastern region district of Balaka, traditionally his party’s political backyard, where Muslim youths assaulted Christians and burnt churches over disagreements on banning Muslim learners from wearing hijabs in Anglican schools.
Days earlier, the country was shocked as videos of Mangochi residents, purportedly Muslims, attacking beer selling shops and bars went viral. Months earlier, one village in the same district burnt villages and fishing canoes of another over a “mysterious drowning” of one of the fishermen.
In Nkhata Bay, villagers fought over land disputes, burning houses in the process. In Chitukula, Lilongwe this week, two villages murdered each other’s members in brutal attacks over land. In Neno, villagers murdered two people for being suspected to be witches. And, of course, they have been many instances of mob justices involving so many villages that even without checking any statistics, Muluzi and anyone else is justified in wondering whether as a country we have reached such lows before.
Watching the videos, for those of us who have had to watch them to understand what is going in the country, has left a chilling effect. The humanity of many in the country is gone. So many a people, a village, are ready to shed blood even for the most flimsy reason. And with police on retreat in the recent months, thanks to the retreat from their duties after being exposed severely as vulnerable by the nationwide anti-government demonstrations, there is no mistaking in pointing that our country has degenerated into a state of lawlessness.
An inquest into what lead us here is needed. Lives are being needlessly lost on a daily basis. But any inquest on how this once oasis of peace, once proudly called the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ must start, be honest and long. It must review the failings of the security apparatus as much as the bad politics that has perpetuated the birth of an ignorant superstitious society that is now frustrated, poor, angry, superstitious and suspicious. A society that is devoid of civility because it has not received the right formal and informal education after five decades of living. And a society that, in spite of its ignorance, can smell weakness in those in authority, that it is ready to burn and destroy, in belief that it has taken back the powers from leaders it considers illegitimate or helpless, anyway!