Human Rights for the Poor? No


Three people were killed for being suspected blood suckers in T/A Mabuka’s area in Mulanje on Saturday, 16 September, 2017.

A day before the Mulanje incident, two ambulances had been forcibly stopped and its drivers and passengers attacked for being suspected blood suckers in Phalombe. Reports of the two incidents were the beginning of blood sucking narratives in Malawi in 2017.

At the peak of the narratives, nine suspected blood suckers were killed by vigilantes. Services were disrupted in affected areas. For example, the Malawi Blood Transfusion Services (MBTS) suspended blood collection exercises in affected districts. Travelling at night became dangerous. Businesses closed earlier than before the narratives. Evening prayers stopped. The United Nations and Peace Corps withdrew staff from the affected areas. In short, life in Malawi changed during the period of blood sucking narratives.

An exceptionally brilliant psychologist explained that the blood sucking narratives were an expression of social and economic tensions. “People are trying to find an explanation, some way of making sense of what is happening [in their lives]…. It’s almost a symbolic representation of the life, blood or hope being drawn out of them, being sucked out of them,” he said.

Nobody listened to the wisdom of the psychologist. Nobody attempted to understand what the people were demonstrating against through the blood sucking narratives. The indigenous voice of blood sucking narratives was ignored. Instead, people in the areas were called names.

The United Nations Department of Safety and Security, based on information from UN officers in Malawi, suggested that blood sucking narratives were a product of “illiteracy” and “idle minds.”

The Medical Society of Malawi called blood sucking narratives a mental disorder. “It is the considered view of the Society that such blood suckers do not exist! This is purely Mass Hysteria,” said the Society in a statement.

The Society added that it was disappointed with mainstream and social media, saying there had “been irresponsible sensationalisation of rumours of blood sucking vampires” and that this had “the potency of perpetuating fear and anxiety in the population, with the exponential negative effects we have seen so far.”

Civil Society Organisations added their voice to the story of the moment. “Civil Society Organisations meeting in Lilongwe on 20th October 2017, would like to condemn in the strongest terms, the continued descent into anarchy brought about by the irrational and unsubstantiated belief in superstition and witchcraft characterised with rumour mongering, in the ongoing chaos that has ensued with the rash of accusations of bloodsuckers rampaging in the districts of Mulanje, Thyolo, Chiradzulu, Nsanje [and] Blantyre,” said a statement signed by Timothy Mtambo and his usual company.

The CSOs noted that the crisis was “creating space for unscrupulous individuals to break the law.” The CSOs said they believed that the “main factor” was “thugs who are targeting the rich to steal and damage property,” clearly accusing the poor of stealing.

The statement cited a Blantyre incident in which a medical doctor returning from work was attacked as a “typical example of how tactful these thugs are using fear to steal from people in the name of hunting for blood suckers.”

On 13th October, 2017, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) issued a statement that started by describing 2015 and 2016 as years characterised by bad news in Malawi.

“In the past two years, Malawi has experienced social cultural beliefs that are very archaic, un-progressive and detrimental to the development of this country. These trends have certainly put our country on a hot spot negatively,” said CCJP.

Every institution bashed the people for demonstrating against their hardships. Not even a single institution listened to the expert, the psychologist, that blood sucking was a demonstration against hardships people were facing.

In Mulanje and Phalombe people had grown and harvested a lot of pigeon peas in 2017 in anticipation of good or better prices than the previous year. In 2016, the crop was selling at K700 per kg. This was the first time pigeon peas had fetched such high prices and people in the districts had legitimate high expectations for 2017. However, the price on the market was in some cases as low as K100 per kg.

Waiting for an annual income that never came was a tragedy. And tragedy has no other name. People were angry and had to demonstrate. The demonstrations spread to Nsanje, parts of Zomba, Blantyre and Karonga where people had different hardships.

Now July 2019, some people are demonstrating against their loss in the May elections, and all the organisations that spoke against the 2017 demonstrations are silent. The UN is silent. CCJP is silent. The Medical Association of Malawi is silent. Mtambo who called the 2017 demonstrations archaic and barbaric is describing his demonstrations as a human right.

So, when rural community members demonstrate and engage in violence, it is illiteracy, idleness, barbaric, archaic, mass hysteria, superstition and witchcraft. When urban community members demonstrate and engage in violence, it is a human right.

When Chakwera wearing a suit runs on the road with thousands, it is a human right. When rural people do the same, it is mass hysteria. When a former Vice President plays the choir master role in a demonstration, it is his human right and pursuit of justice, not a product of mass hysteria.

There is a way in which rural communities of Malawi are considered second-class citizens. It seems human rights are for urban communities, the elite, because even the poor urban residents are classified with similar adjectives as rural community members.

But never be fooled. There are ways in which rural community members hit back at elite, urban residents. Blood sucking was one way. They will hit back at the foolishness of the violent demonstrations happening now, some day.

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