My neighbor’s house is some two football pitches away form mine. Apart from selling fish, he also trades in the illicit drug locally called chamba, or Cannabis sativa if you want. He makes a lot of money from the sale of the drug and with it he has managed to erect three decent houses in one of the townships in the commercial capital of Blantyre.
One day as I was coming back home from work, I found a handful of men who were openly smoking the stuff. I called my neighbor and warned him against the public selling and smoking of chamba to which he blatantly told me that the law enforcers know about his trade and that many of them buy from him. He also said some are on a weekly payroll so it is difficult to cut the hand that feeds them.
I didn’t blame him for that. In fact I thanked him for defying all odds to tell the truth. Then I came to understand partly why the banning of growing, selling and smoking of chamba is a lost battle.
As an educationist, I have particularly been concerned with the tendency of some school boys in secondary and primary schools that resort to taking liquor sachets. This has done so much damage to our children. They have become a rude crop of children and have developed stealing tactics. As alcohol provokes many things, some have died while the lucky ones have simply been left with scars. Furthermore, the most careless have contracted sexually transmitted diseases.
Their performance in class is usually deplorable. One of my students at a private school had confessed to me that he was so much used to taking Rider sachets that every time he was coming to school, he had to go and help himself with one or two before proceeding to school.
So when Parliament passed a Bill stopping production, distribution, selling and consumption of liquor sachets, I smiled fervently, but quickly sulked. Is this serious or it’s just a way of putting to rest calls by some NGOs to formulate a law against production of the same. Who are the people to enforce the law? Aren’t they the same that are said to be on weekly payrolls?
These liquor sachets are not only produced in Malawi. We have the whole variety that seeps in from the neighboring Mozambique. I am talking of Mozambique because I am based closer to that part. For the law to be working, government should gear up its campaigns to make sure there is no proliferation of the sachets.
I read with concern the fact that the liquor sachets contribute to over 90 percent of total earnings for Malawi Distilleries Limited. It has also been my concern that if the ban indeed works, the company will no longer be operational. I thought about the problem of job opportunities in Malawi and guessed where those to be laid off would end. I do not know how many people the company employed but to me two is still a big number.
That aside, I looked at my own child. In Chichewa, we say Mbuzi ikalawa zamchere siletseka and therefore no matter what, the only way stop our children from consuming the liquor is by stopping its production and importation.
All I can say is that we have good laws in place but we are very weak at making them work. We have just recently seen another Bill on marriage pass. This one says the marriage age for girls should be 18. Not long after the Bill was passed, I heard that a 65 year old man in Chinyama in Mulanje has taken on a 14 year old girl as a second wife. Mindboggling isn’t it?
There is need for the law enforcers to be serious about these things and bring to book whoever breaks the laws. For the sachets, the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) should make sure that local canteens should not stock any liquor sachets. All people, in fact, trading in illegal stuff need to be brought to book.
I would, in a nutshell, also suggest that when carrying out operations to check on illegal dealings on these illicit substances, the police should not involve officers from within because they have befriended the traders. Rather they should deploy officers from other areas like Limbe to patrol Mulanje and Mulanje to patrol Chiradzulu. That way, the battle to end illicit dealings will no longer be a nightmare but a reality. And only then can Malawi sing a good song.
- The writer is a teacher, and a social commentator.