Nkhata Bay has had nine reported cases of murder in the first six months of this year, bringing the total to 37 since January 2018.
This is a much lower number compared to other districts such as Lilongwe and Mzimba, but these murders have already forced traditional leaders in Nkhata Bay to try and stop the killings they blame on alcohol and drug abuse.
Nkhata Bay chiefs have enacted by-laws to regulate consumption of alcohol and drugs.
“We have resolved that drinking joints in our trading centres be closed by 10 pm as a measure to reduce incidences of murder which are aggravated by alcohol” said Senior Chief Fukamapiri.
In all our interviews with communities in Nkhata Bay, alcohol and drug abuse were mentioned as drivers of these heinous crimes.
According to secretary for Tonga Chiefs Council Traditional Authority Nyaluwanga, most of the youths—for lack of anything better to do—have resorted to alcohol and smoking marijuana, which is easily accessible in the area.
In our tour of several places in Nkhata Bay, we spotted scores of youthful men taking alcohol and in some instances they openly smoked Indian hemp.
“We see this happening every day and no one cares even the police do not arrest them,” said one woman managing a restaurant at Chinthechi when asked why people were openly smoking marijuana close to her place.
The chief’s drinking deadlines are not working either; our reporter was able to see bottle stores yet to close way after midnight at Tukombo and Sanga trading centres—two areas the police say are hotspots for violence, including murder.
For example, in June this year, two people were killed within two days at Sanga in the district.
It started at a drinking joint, according to a police report, with one assaulting the other who died at Nkhata Bay District Hospital. The deceased’s family members hacked the suspect to death the following day.
It is these revenge killings that are also aggravating the number of murder cases in the district, according to community members and the police.
In May this year at Tukumbo, 27 year–old Miloni Banda was assaulted by his own friends for a crime the family is yet to understand. What makes them even angrier is the manner in which their son was killed.
“He was at a barbershop and on his way back some of his drunken friends [three] followed him and dragged him at a bush and started beating him. His five–year old nephew watched all the horrific drama and rushed to report to us. Miloni was vomiting blood…and died at Nkhata Bay District Hospital,” explained the mother who throughout the interview tried hard to contain her tears.
Traditional authority Mzilakoma is fully aware of the violence taking place in his village which is one of the dominant fishing areas.
“I am really worried at the rate of violence in my area. I am closely working with the police to uproot this evil from our community. It is out of my own effort that the case of Miloni was reported to police and we are following up on this case until we see justice,” said Mzilakoma during an interview.
According to a survey report ‘Fighting Poverty through Misuse Prevention in Malawi,’ conducted and funded by a Norwegian organisation, Alma released in September 2013, the highest consumption of alcohol is among young males in the 25-39 age bracket.
For women, consumption seems to increase with age and with a peak level around 55 years.
In May this year Weekend Nation reported that last year alone St John of God Hospital in Mzuzu, a facility that treats mentally ill patients, mostly from the Central and Northern regions, attended to 570 people—556 males and 14 females—who who were found with alcohol-related mental health problems.
Out of these, 431 had alcohol induced mental disorders. Of the number, 176 were from Lilongwe and 255 from Mzuzu.
The data also shows that out of 139 who came for alcohol addiction recovery programme, 128 were males and 11 females.
From the number, 116 were from Mzuzu while 23 attended rehabilitation in Lilongwe, where the facility runs an alcohol and drug rehabilitation service since last year.