As a country, the problem of drugs is not new. Malawi has grappled with people who grow and traffic home grown drug, Indian hemp (chamba) for some time. Unfortunately, foreign nationals especially Nigerians have also been involved in selling drugs. The magnitude of the problem could not have been known until a few weeks ago when a resident of Area 47 suburb in the capital Lilongwe, Riyadh Randera, 26, died in Brazil after some condoms stuffed with drugs burst in his stomach.
The young man was sent by a Nigerian neighbour without the knowledge of his parents. According to the community members, they have reported to the police several times to flush out a syndicate of Nigerians drug dealers in the community. But the police have been paying a blind eye to the problem.
The problem of drugs in Area 47 is just be a microcosm of what is happening in other townships of Lilongwe, and cities of Blantyre, Mzuzu, and Zomba. Apart from selling drugs, the Nigerians are using men and women as go-between to sell drugs in other countries. They do the same in South Africa where women and men are being used to peddle in drugs to South America such as Brazil and Asian countries. Unfortunately, some of them have been arrested and are serving lengthy jail terms. Others have been summarily executed.
Drugs destroy the society. Individuals who take drugs become dysfunctional and some of them commit heinous crimes beyond imagination. The strange behaviour of some people can be linked to drug abuse. The reluctance of the police to arrest the drug dealers is not strange. Drug dealers infiltrate security structures for easy passage of the drugs. They bribe the police not to take action against them. It is palpable that the police have been getting “allowances” from the drug dealers. One cannot see any justification why the police were failing to arrest the drug dealers.
Selling drugs is a very serious offence. In Asian countries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand they impose a death penalty on any individual found in possession of drugs. There is nothing like kudumbilana (negotiation) or clemency. It is sad that in Malawi authorities do not treat the issue of peddling in drugs with seriousness it deserves. This is reflected in the light sentences or petty fines that courts impose on drug dealers.
Worse still, police fail to arrest these drug dealers even when the community report them. This leads to lack of trust between police and the community with the latter being tempted to take the law into their own hands. In 2016 residents of Rosetenville, Johannesburg burned down houses belonging to Nigerian drug dealers after they were fed up with police failure to arrest the suspects because of corruption.
Fighting drugs in communities is a joint effort between residents and the police. The police cannot dream about the existence of drug dealers in communities without tip-offs from residents. Fortunately, the Malawian society is structured in such a way that it is easy to know who your neighbour is and what they do. Block leaders (others call them chiefs) and residents know the people who move in and out their areas. It is easy to know criminals in the neighbourhood.
Residents lose trust and get frustrated when police fail to arrest drug dealers because they have pocketed a bribe. Such police officers are not only accomplices, but are also destroying the country. Malawi became a conduit for drug trafficking a long time. Because intelligence gathering system is dysfunctional the drug dealers continue with their sinister business without any detection. Some of them sell DVDs, phones, spares or clothes to hide behind their drug business. They use Malawians in drug trafficking. Some Nigerians have acquired a Malawian passport for ulterior motives because they know it is easy to travel to other countries without problems.
It is high time the police went flat out to clamp down on all drug dealers wherever they are.