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Opinion: Stopping Witch Killing in Malawi?

Witchcraft KillingsBy Leo Igwe

There have been reports of witchcraft related attacks in communities across Malawi in recent weeks and bringing an end to this murderous practice has become so urgent. The latest case of witchcraft related murder clearly highlights this unfortunate and tragic situation. On January 22, four persons reportedly murdered a 70 year old man who was identified as Limion Julius for practicing witchcraft. The incident took place in Mpango village in the district of Dedza. Local police claimed that the suspects murdered Julius in the night after accusing him of making a person sick through witchcraft and the supposedly bewitched later died. The suspects attacked Julius with pestles and he died on the spot as a result of what a postmortem examination revealed to be ‘severe head injuries’. According to the report, none of the suspects has been arrested. The report also noted some of the provisions in the country’s penal code which could be used to prosecute the suspects whenever they are apprehended. In addition, the report cited another incident where people murdered a 40 year old man after locals accused him of witchcraft. The police were ‘investigating the matter to establish the murderers’.


Now I would like us take a critical look at the dynamics at play in these tragic incidents so that we may understand ways which we can assist in tackling this problem. First of all, one issue is the local understanding of the cause of diseases and death. The notion that people can be made ill through magical means persists in Malawi and in other countries in Sub Saharan Africa and health officers and other stakeholders in the control and management of disease need to rise up to the challenge of educating people to understand that the cause of diseases and death has nothing to do with witchcraft or magic.

I urge all international health agencies that are working in Malawi and in other African countries to rise up to this challenge Please the WHO, could you integrate some programs in your Africa health projects to educate people that illness or death has nothing to with so called witches and wizards?

Another dynamic is gender. The two people murdered for witchcraft according to this latest report are male. So, witchcraft is not exclusively a female enterprise in Malawi as it is the case of many African countries. Getting Malawians to dissociate witchcraft from all persons both male and female should be central to any health and civic education program. Another factor is age. Those who are murdered for witchcraft are predominantly elderly persons. It is important to stop associating witchcraft with old age.

Another issue is the police. The police in Malawi have proved ineffective in addressing the program. The police are unable to protect people from being attacked by hoodlums and whenever they are attacked or killed, the police are not forthcoming in making arrests. For instance, in the case that was reported, the suspects are still at large. They are yet to be apprehended and may never be apprehended and prosecuted. So, where have the suspects gone to? Why is it that nobody has a clue as to where they have fled to or where they may be hiding? The police in Malawi need help in ensuring security of citizens and in bringing to book witch hunters and witch killers. The police need to put in place mechanisms that can enable them respond swiftly to witchcraft related attacks.

In addition, witch killing continues in Malawi because perpetrators are not arrested at the end of the day and if they are arrested, they are not prosecuted and if they are prosecuted they are not convicted and penalized. Instead, persons who are accused of witchcraft are arrested, prosecuted and sometimes jailed by police and court officials who misinterpret the law!

That brings me to the last dynamic, which is the provisions of the law. The recent report cited some sections of the Malawian law that could be used to prosecute those who kill witches. The question is this: Why are these provisions not being used? Why are the necessary laws not being applied or better properly applied to stop witchcraft accusation and witch killing? The police and the judiciary in Malawi need assistance in this area so that they can put the existing law into effective use.
Why can’t SADC take up this challenge and help Malawi and other countries in Southern Africa to address what is clearly an obstacle to their economic development? How does SADC think that countries like Malawi can prosper economically when people live in constant fear of being accused of witchcraft or being murdered in cold blood for committing an imaginary offence? What is AU doing? Is it that officials at the African Union do not know that witch hunters constitute a security threat to the region than the ‘terrorists’? Why has AU not come up with a regional mechanism to tackle witch hunting? What about the United Nations? The UN has offices in Malawi and in other African countries. What are the officials doing? Why are they not at the forefront of addressing witchcraft related abuses? I am aware that some UN agencies have published documents on witchcraft accusation in sub Saharan Africa. No doubt this is a welcome development. However my question is: Of what use are these documents and reports if they are not put into effective use in addressing the phenomenon of witch hunting? These reports have highlighted the gaps in law enforcement and adjudication of cases. What are the UN agencies doing to help countries like Malawi fill in these gaps? Why can’t the UN call out the government of Malawi when these savage killings happen?

Furthermore, western countries claim that they provide development aid to Malawi and to other countries where witch hunting still takes place. Agreed. But how has the so called development aid reflected positively on the issue of witch hunting? Why can’t western countries use their development aid strategically and get African countries to establish effect mechanisms against witchcraft accusation and witch killing? I am aware that it is the duty of the government of Malawi to protect its people. At the same time, the world needs to do its part in helping Malawi address this problem. Sure, Malawi has so far failed to stop the killing of its citizens in the name of witchcraft.

In fact as I was about to send out this piece I got the news of another case of witchcraft related killing in the Neno community. Again, a local mob murdered four persons, Eliza Kanjete 86, Elenefa Kanjete 76, Byson Kanjete 76 and Julius Kanjete, 69 for practicing witchcraft. They were accused of being behind the mysterious death of a 17 year old girl who was killed by a lighting on Monday. Apparently, their killers believed that they sent the lightning that killed the girl. Again the report says that by the time the police arrived at the scene, it was too late to save these victims of witchcraft accusation. There was no mention at all if some arrests were made. Is that how Malawi is going to effectively address this problem? I don’t think so. An effective global response is urgently needed to stop this murderous trend in Malawi


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