Banda and her knee-jerk solutions to sexual offences in Malawi

Last Thursday President Joyce Banda went ballistic. She stomped out of the state house to Nthandire Township where she issued directives and condemned, in the strongest terms, the rapists in the area.

The outrage came shortly after the Director of Somebody Cares orphanage, Theresa Malira, graphically reported to the president cases of child abuse in Nthandire area – 68 children less than 8 years old who tested HIV positive after being sexually assaulted. Sickening.

 Knee-jerk reaction

At Ntandire the President called on the police chief, Lot Dzonzi, to set up a police station in the area. In total despair she then lashed out on the judiciary for meting out lenient sentences on sex offenders.

President Banda: Wants stiffer sentences for rapists.Photo by Living Kalimanjira/Nyasa Times

It is my contention that ranting, directives and cash donations are simplistic and unhelpful ways of solving serious issues.

A casual read of the local press shows that the Nthandire sexual abuse cases are just a tip of the iceberg and inconsistence in sentencing offenders appears to be the norm across the country.

Yes, Dzonzi can play his part but the problems are far more complex for the “God-fearing” police chief alone to manage them. Neither could an unbudgeted for new police station in Nthandire address all the underlying causes of the problems.

 Possible solutions

There are better ways of sending messages to rapists and unduly lenient jurists. However it appears that Her Excellency is unaware of the government instruments at her disposal which she can use to bring change and fight the injustice in the country systematically.

Take for example the President’s rage at a man who was convicted of raping 5 children and got away with unduly lenient 5 years jail term.

There are a numbers of issues that can be said on this; however, it would be boring to readers to do so on such a forum like this.

Suffice to talk about the Attorney General’s office which is at the president’s disposal.

The Attorney General has the power to ask the Court of Appeal to review some sentences which he thinks are “unduly lenient” – so light that a judge could not reasonably have handed it down. If the Court of Appeal agrees with the Attorney General it can increase the sentence.

Isn’t this a better and practical way to get results than just to rave about the sentences and the jurists?

And what about looking into the sentences and the sentencing guidelines for consistence in sentencing across the criminal courts in the whole country?

Further, why not find out from the Judicial Service Commission the reasons behind lenient sentences and inconsistency in sentencing criminals in the country? Again, I submit, such could be more helpful than ranting on the judiciary and issuing knee-jerk directives.

Believe me, if we are to resort to reactionary ways to sort out any mess in the country, five years down the line things will be the same if not worse. Talking tough and issuing directives alone cannot change our justice system in the country.

I contend that presidential ranting, directives and cash handouts are signs of poor governance and will get the country no where. The only way to realise a just Malawi is to make use of the existing government instruments in methodical and intelligent ways.

Make those civil servants do some hard work for once Madam President.

*Cryton Chikoko is a Barrister-at-Law, ex-broadcaster and ex-dentist. He has Masters’ degrees in Law, Media and Theology. He tweets latest UK legal news @cryton (!/Cryton) 

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