Malawi leaders are very good at finding quick fixes to complicated problems, akin to bandaging boils instead of bursting and treating them.
They wish problems away instead of dealing with them. The country is always in a state of crisis because its leaders always opt for temporary fixes, short-term political popularity and personal gains over long-term national gains.
In the last few months, it has been the barbaric killings of people with albinism for their body parts. Then, seemingly against the ailing national economy, the University of Malawi (Unima) Council increased students’ tuition fees. The council’s decision has since sparked protests by students of the university’s four colleges and closure of Chancellor College.
These are two distinct issues needing entirely different approaches to deal with. Yet, the national discourse and response provides an interestingly similar response, from both Malawians and their leaders: cover the boil and move on, pretending the problem is sorted.
Who is buying bones of people with albinism?
In response to this barbaric act, the national demand was that those found guilty of killing or selling body parts of people with albinism should face death penalty.
The country has death penalty, but there has been a moratorium since the restoration of democracy in 1993.
Recently, Boni Kalindo organised a “naked” public protests to force Parliament to enact the death sentence law. The march attracted more protesters than most protests in the recent times where security personnel have outnumbered demonstrators-a clear verdict of public stance on the issue.
On its part, Parliament amended the Penal Code to impose a life imprisonment for those found guilty of killing or conniving to sell people with disabilities and those with albinism. One newspaper quoted Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu saying: “In the long run, and the long-term, government also intends to address other root causes such as witchcraft and superstition.
“We believe that the current review of the Witchcraft Act has been concluded. The work is being undertaken by the Law Commission.”
The minister makes an interesting observation here.
Imposing death or life sentences to perpetrators may indeed deter some people, but it is not enough.
The killing and selling of people with albinism is a trade.
It is simple: where there is demand, someone will definitely supply even if they risk their life.
The economic situation in the country has left many people with nothing to live for and no law would deter such people because they have nothing to lose if caught, but everything to gain if they get away with it.
Recently, the press reported that the court had found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in jail a man found in possession of bones of a person with albinism.
The outcry was that the sentence was not enough. Fine. Yet, there was no interrogation as to who is buying the bones.
When anger and vengeance take precedence over rationality, the problem is that you miss the bigger picture.
Those caught must provide this useful information about the trade. Surely, someone has the information.
Ultimately, the unaddressed aspect of this barbaric trade is the demand side. Kill the demand and you kill the trade.
This is not easy, but governments are not meant to do easy jobs. Protecting people’s lives cannot and will never be easy. Government must invest in security services capable of penetrating and investigating underworlds like these.
The rise against the fees hike is not about university fees increase, but making education affordable for all
For the wise, every crisis, no matter how small, must provide an opportunity to ask hard questions and start anew.
The current stand-off between Unima Students Union (Umsu) and the council is a symptom of much bigger problems facing Malawians.
The state of the economy today means that even if the student’s contribution was to come down to MK100 000, there will be those who cannot afford to pay.
I believe the issue is not the fees hike, but unaffordability of education. In the country, we find Dr Someone, Professor Someone, Head Teacher This and That who were educated by salaries of their parents doing clerical work, government and private sector drivers, primary school teachers etcetera.
Yet, today those in these once-admired professions can hardly educate their children to the university from their pay.
What has happened in the interim?
Can the country also have this discussion?
Way before the current stand-off, the local media published about students dropping out of university because they could not afford to pay the fees contribution.
Then President Peter Mutharika was heard ordering the students back to college, pledging that the government would pay—covering the boil instead of bursting it open to solve the problem.
Today the problem has resurfaced in a different guise. Cosmetic short-term fixes are costly and Malawi could do well to avoid it.