No holds barred: Arresting Aniva is not a good idea, Mr President

I know there is that pressure when the whole world is laughing at you. I have received calls and Facebook messages from as far afield as the United States and Japan, from acquaintances I last spoke to ten years ago. “Hi, how are you?” they say. When you answer, the next question is: “Tell us about this hyena thing in your country.”

Eric Aniva, who has been arrested by Malawian police. Photograph by Eldson Chagara, AP

Eric Aniva, who has been arrested by Malawian police. Photograph by Eldson Chagara, AP

If a nobody like me is being asked questions like these, what about our president? No wonder he was driven to take action without carefully weighing the matter. Earlier this week, President Peter Mutharika ordered the arrest of Eric Aniva, the man from Nsanje district who is hired to sleep with adolescent girls and widows as required by his culture.
The arrest has been widely applauded as a great move. The country, especially some of the educated elite, argue that what Aniva did was wrong and he must be punished.
And yet the matter is not as simple as it looks. Arresting Aniva is like treating the symptoms rather than the disease.
Aniva did not go looking for widows and adolescents to sleep with. They hired him; ‘they’ meaning custodians of culture in his community. They even paid him to do it.
Arresting Aniva will not stop the ‘hyena’ culture. Remember that Nigerian proverb in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart? “The Eneke the bird says that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching.” Custodians of the culture will continue to secretly hire ‘hyenas’ and make them vow never to talk to BBC reporters.
Deal with the culture. Aniva just happens to be a small actor in the scheme of things, and his arrest is of no consequence.
Arrest custodians of the culture. Arrest the parents who accepted that Aniva should sleep with their children. Arrest whole villages, if not the entire tribe. Which, in a way, means arrest no one.
What needs to be done is to outlaw that culture, then embark on a civic education campaign telling girls and women that if anybody compels them to sleep with a ‘hyena’, they should report to the nearest police.
If a law says the ‘hyena’ culture is banned, everyone will begin to understand that it is an illegal thing to do.
Short of that, Aniva is a scapegoat. He is being taken advantage of because he is a poor man who cannot even afford to hire a lawyer. He said things to a reporter that self-incriminate, and it is against the principles of natural justice to self-incriminate.
The arrest itself is also wrong on the procedural front. Aniva was arrested first and the police had to shop around for charges later. As late as Friday morning this week, they were still looking for someone to lodge a complaint against Aniva.
A statement from the President’s spokesperson, Mgeme Kalilani, says:  “The Malawi leader and Commander-in-Chief of the Malawi Police Service, the President has directed the Police to immediately arrest Mr. Eric Aniva, investigate him and take him to court forthwith for the defilement cases which he apparently confesses to.”
What is supposed to start first, arrest or investigation? Why is Mr Aniva being treated as guilty before any investigation whatsoever?
Eminent lawyer, Professor Edge Kanyongolo, has also argued that the President has no powers to order the arrest of anyone.  Quoting chapter 15 of the constitution, especially section 161, Kanyongolo says that the Malawi Police Service must be independent of the Executive.
Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it, even if it is the president of a republic. A decision is not right because it is popular.
An angle that is complicating Aniva’s story is that he admits being HIV-positive, and that it is possible he spread the disease in the course of his work.
But that needs to be treated separately. Somebody needs to come forward and complain that she was deliberately infected by him. If there is no complainant, Mr Aniva should be released.
We should not be hysterical in dealing with this issue. We must not do things so that the world should praise us. We must do what is right. Aniva must not be taken advantage of because he is a poor man from Malawi’s rural areas.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t support the ‘hyena’ culture. It is a bad culture and must be ended right now. Some organizations have been trying to fight such harmful cultural practices. As far back as 2009, for example, Action Aid funded a project known as Social Empowerment on Rights for Vulnerable and Excluded Women which fought not only the ‘hyena’ culture, but also similar harmful practices across the country.
We must not, therefore, look at the ‘hyena’ culture in isolation. In Chitipa district, for instance, there is kupimbira, a cultural practice in which parents arrange marriages between girls as young as 13 years and older men just so they can get money from a dowry.
Other traditional practices believed to violate the rights of women include ‘kudika hlazi’, giving into marriage a young relative of the wife, as a reward to her husband for being good to her family; ‘kulowa kufa’, sexual intercouse between a newly widowed woman and a designated man to ‘cleanse the village of death’, and ‘fisi’, hiring a man to engage in sex for the purpose of having children, especially when the husband is impotent.
We must deal with all of these holistically.
 And that will not be achieved through the arrest of Eric Aniva.
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arresting Aniva has a significant for the fact those so called hyenas atengerapo phuziro.

Kholowa mkabudula
This man just needs a lawyer to help him as this culture thing has got so many failings interms of contracts.lf the fisi is supposed to declare his health b4 shugging the babies then he should be prosecuted for non disclossure that he is HlV positive to the parents. But non of the parents dare not to consider all these things just becaz aniva has got an iron shaft that cleans the babies asses properly.Then its about the parents not him.The president is just seizing an advantage on this poor man to regain his vanished popularity as if he’s got… Read more »
Someone had this comment on Aniva issue and I have copied verbatim. Dear Mr.President, I wanted to also bring to your attention, without sounding ethnistic, that there is another culture in southern Malawi that allows girls to parade before chiefs and presidents with bare breast in an appealing way, this is however backed and defended on cultural know Mr. President what naked breasts can do to men.. Its my humble plea Mr. President that you will use your powers to stop this insanity that if exposed by BBC, will bring embarrassment to you and your country… Mr. President, this… Read more »
The Analyst
O………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..O You have written well Jose and raised very interesting points . . . . . . but know that an otherwise good and complex econometric model or computer programme, can be rendered useless by a very minute error; and your piece has (according to me) been spoiled by your remote indication that what Aniva did (as an individual) or elements therein, is/are not wrong; and I quote . . . ” . . . Aniva . . . admits being HIV-positive . . . . But . . . Somebody needs to complain . . . . If there… Read more »
I have always read and followed your comments. You are always talking sense and take no side. On this issue…. i want to support you on blaming the author. Children are children and that’s why they call them minors. Aniva is a grown up man who can simply know and understand the implications of his actions. How can a grown up man, HIV + think of sleeping with a girl young enough to be his daughter, without even caring that he is going to destroy her future with his incurable disease ask in the name of cultural practices. Only a… Read more »
Aniva has been arrested for fulfilling the obligations of his culture. Girls as young as the ones indicated in Aniva’s story must be cleansed by sleeping with a man (of any age, of any sero-status – the culture obligates the parents to choose the man). If Aniva didn’t do it (either because he was not interested or because he was locked up in prison by APM), someone else was going to do it. What is wrong is neither Aniva or the girls’ parents or the chiefs. It is the culture that is wrong. And if the culture is not dealt… Read more »
The Analyst

I appreciate.
Let us continue to share and discuss ideas.
There is always something we can learn from each other.

Charlie Hebdo

Has it not occurred to anyone that the Hyena Aniva might have got HIV/Aids from the girls he had been chewing and therefore a victim of the same culture as the girls. Outlawing the practical cell is the solution.

The Analyst
O………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………O Yours is an interesting thought. However . . . . . . We can safely state, with highest level of confidence; that the 11 or 12 or 13 year olds were not aware of their HIV-positive status. On the other hand, Aniva knew. . . . But even if we choose to lie to ourselves and impose a very strong assumption that the toddlers, were aware of their status, its very uncertain, with highest degree of certainty; that an 11 year old can be held liable for lack of moral sense in sex matters; not just because of their… Read more »
Jon Maken

On point Jose. As despicable as the culture is; laying it squarely at Aniva’s door is missing the point and pandering to faux populism! Let sanity prevail. Let’s deal with the defective system.


This man has broken a record, doing sex with at least 103 girls most of them virgins. Further more being paid for that.


Safarao, you are pathetic. Why waste time to talk zitosi like this? The reason the stupid hyena was arrested was because he was boasting. The news was ready across the global that a foolish man was abusing girls. Let a girl decide when to be fucked. Ok! Culture stinks so arrest the whole village if they do not comply because those poor villagers do not buy ARVs.


Matter of fact is that most of our leaders don’t know what is happening where. What if BBC did not interview this man. Please BBC come and interview 7 ministers in the cashgate report so Mr rat can arrest them.

Costly Gochisale

A brilliant piece of staff. Aniva story just tip of the iceberg. 30 years since the first case of Aids was found in Malawi we are yet to curb harmful practices fuelling the disease. We also need to empower people through education to free people from such malpractices. Otherwise we are treating a symptom and not the disease.

Bristone Mabichi

It is all hypocrisy, are we sure as government we did not know this? Is it a crime now after being aired on BBC? Shame on us and our government. Ask chiefs, village heads and law makers from that district, they will tell it all and these are the people to start dealing with. As I write another hyena is in place, otherwise according to culture people may die. Aniva needs some education. It is not the man but the culture.

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