We are in trouble! Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ben Botolo is at pains to explain to Maputo how two Mozambican nationals en-route to Tanzania on April 4 2020 were butchered at Pusi in Karonga after a mob suspected that they were bloodsuckers.
Journalists in Maputo, says Botolo, have been pressuring the Malawi Mission, demanding answers on the deaths of Eliesh Modesto, a mine worker and Vicente Taulayi, a police officer from Tete.
“It is quite stressing. There is a lot of pressure. We have written a memo to our mission in Mozambique to communicate. I have also written a note to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which will be taken to the President on how best we can deal with the matter.
“We are, currently, waiting for a response from the Mozambican authorities, but it is stressful and we should be very ashamed as a nation that we are stooping so low killing foreign nationals just because they can’t speak our language,” he says.
Already, 11 lives have been lost; property such as police formations, vehicles and houses continue to be destroyed; civilians are on rage mounting illegal roadblocks.
How they were killed
For failing to speak Ngonde, Tumbuka and Chewa, Modesto and Taulayi, were dragged out of their vehicle and stoned to death on suspicion that they were bloodsuckers.
Little did this ignorant mob at Pusi Trading Centre in Karonga, know that the two, alongside survivor Milton Vasco Grany, were travelling to Tanzania to collect a newly bought vehicle.
A police report signed by Karonga officer-in-charge Sam Nkhwazi, dated April 4 2020, shows that the three were stopped at Pusi by villagers from Mponda Village, who were on night patrol following bloodsucking rumours.
The three were driving a Mark X saloon, with Mozambican registration AIW 781 MC.
“They tied them and took them to village head Lemox Mkandawire, along with their vehicle. Upon arrival at the village head, the villagers started assaulting the three using stones and sticks and two died on the spot,” he says.
Mozambique is now demanding answers! According to online publication Club of Mozambique, Foreign Affairs Minister, Verónica Macamo says she had received information about the murders from the Mozambican embassy in Malawi.
The details were still sparse, she says, and the Mozambican side is waiting for a formal communication about the bloody incident from the Malawian authorities.
She thinks that “in a situation of fear and worry”, the resting Mozambicans were confused with somebody else.
Three foreign nationals have now been killed on Malawian soil, while another, a Zambian, was mercilessly attacked in Mzimba and is recovering at Mzuzu Central Hospital.
On April 1 2020, people from Mwaulambo Village around the same Kapolo area also mercilessly butchered 19-year-old Wakisa Kumwenda who had gone to the area on April 1 2020 to deliver relish to his girlfriend.
One can only assume that Kumwenda, a minibus driver who came from Ngara in Traditional Authority Mwilang’ombe’s area, had finished his day’s job, and wanted to visit his fiancee.
Five other people were killed on similar suspicions in hotspot districts of Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Kasungu, Ntchisi and Mchinji.
Just a myth
In Malawi, blood-sucking rumours were first recorded in the 1980s—before re-emerging in 2002/03, 2007, 2017—but throughout these years, no proof has authenticated its existence.
Currently, in various parts of the country, locals have resorted to erecting illegal roadblocks in an apparent search for suspected bloodsuckers.
While in some places they demand money, and even destroy police formations as they did at Nyungwe in Karonga, in other areas, some people seemingly opposing the vice have had their cars and houses destroyed.
Today, Justin Banda and Kondwani Mwankenja in Chisulo Village under GVH Kayelekera, were chased from the village after they told off authorities that the blood-sucking story was simply a myth.
Petros Mkwala from the area claims a woman at Wiliro Trading Centre was attacked by the said vampires, hence their reaction.
“After taking a bath, this woman went into her house where she met a bloodsucker, who sprayed something on her and she fell down.
“She screamed and people rushed to the scene but couldn’t apprehend the vampire, it’s like they use charms these people. She was treated at Wiliro Health Centre,” he says.
No health authority in Karonga has confirmed that the said woman was attacked by vampires.
But GVH Kayelekera strongly believes their lives are in danger, more so because they feel insecure due to absence of police units.
About 120 men from the village patrol the area every night, and no one is allowed to sleep in their houses. Those opposing, like Banda and Mwankenja, are regarded as deviants.
“Banda and Mwankenja told us that we had eaten too much cereals, that’s why we were having hallucinations about vampires, and they didn’t want to be part of the patrols.
“So, people decided to throw them out of the village, and later destroyed their houses, they are not coming back,” he argues.
In Mchinji, some health workers under the Malawi Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (Mphia) survey assessing Malawi’s progress towards HIV epidemic control and reaching the UNAids 90-90-90 targets were attacked ‘for being blood suckers’.
Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga Diocese of the Catholic church, says the myth emanated from the Copperbelt in Zambia, but that country successfully rooted it out by using the police, the army, the church and the civil society.
“If, indeed, there were bloodsuckers, as a church we would have confronted them face-to-face to protect our flock. Our role is to protect the poor and the weary from any attack even if it means losing our lives,” he stresses.
Both Paramount Chief Kyungu in Karonga and Senior Chief Kameme in Chitipa admit the problem, saying it is disgraceful and must be dealt with soonest.
Says Kameme: “If someone seems suspicious, let us take them to police. I don’t want any civilian roadblocks on this, its breeding lawlessness! We already have coronavirus to worry about, not this!”
Minister of Health Jappie Mhango, who once witnessed one of the ugly scenes at Nyungwe and Mlare, along the M1 in Karonga, is at loss for words.
“I am surprised that passing through Karonga, you see lots of civilian roadblocks, all of them created in the name of apprehending bloodsuckers, but where are they?” asks Mhango.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera, says investigations into the matter have not found any merit in them. At least 47 people have been arrested, he says.
Mzuzu University (Mzuni) security studies lecturer Eugene Njoloma suggests an intensive community engagement to transform people’s thinking about the blood-sucking vampires.
He opines that this could be through civic education provided by experts through traditional spaces, as chiefs here command that respect.
“But also, endowing people with opportunities to address their needs [social and physical or economic] can be important. It seems the majority of those engaged in the killings have nothing meaningful to do to sustain their lives,” he says.
Breaking the mythology, according to Njoloma, also goes to how Malawi espouses religious beliefs, saying proliferation of religious sects can also be a factor.
“What religious leaders speak about Satan or devil, for example, presenting the situation as a reality is also fueling the crisis because they play around with the psychology of ‘desperate’ believers,” he adds.
Kyungu urges law enforcers to arrest anyone trying to block roads, adding that, as chiefs, they will soon meet to discuss solutions.
Njoloma agrees, saying, people seem to engage in this vice because they do not anymore see the relevance of sticking to or respecting the rule of law.
“Thus, they see the erosion or absence of political will when it comes to public solutions to their endemic socioeconomic deprivation. Thus if only government became responsive to people’s situations, many could surely listen to authorities and stop the vice with promptness,” he says.
Moses Mkandawire of the Church and Society of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia believes government needs to do more in strengthening security for citizens.
“Government needs to come in strongly as they did in 2017. We need to deploy as many police officers as possible, particularly in hotspot areas,” he suggests.
The UN resident coordinator for Malawi Maria Jose Torres observes that these myths and misinformation are feeding these vigilante attacks, which constitute serious breaches of Malawian criminal law and human rights standards.
“The UN calls on national and local authorities to act urgently, including by conducting immediate investigations into all attacks; arresting and prosecuting alleged perpetrators; delivering social, psychological and medical support for victims; and rapid action to dispel the harmful beliefs that lead to these attacks.
“Members of Parliament can play an important role by countering misinformation in their constituencies, while religious and traditional leaders can send clear messages to their communities,” urges Torres.
Homeland Security Minister Nicholas Dausi says police are doing patrols to ensure that all culprits face the law.
“We can’t be killing each other like dogs. Let me ask chiefs and the clergy to sensitise their people on this myth,” he says.
Ironically, President Peter Mutharika, is busy accusing the opposition of fueling these attacks.
“They are creating these rumours purely for political gain. First, they spread the rumours, then they label some people as suspects; and they mobilise people to kill these innocent people. This is evil.
“The rumours of blood suckers have started again exactly at the time when the Malawi Electoral Commission is beginning registration for another election. We know it is a political strategy for some people to create fear and panic to suppress people from registering. Once again this is happening when we have a collective war against the corona virus,” Mutharika was quoted as saying during a recent address to the nation. Malawi, just like the rest of the world, is already facing a daunting task to deal with Covid-19. It is not the best of times to pick rows with neighbours, especially on myths such as blood-sucking.