If your gut feels disgusted at the thought of dogs being killed, skinned, cooked or fried and eaten, then spare a moment for thousands of unsuspecting souls who have been munching on canine flesh for so long courtesy of one Balaka-based master mang’ina cook.
The practice of eating dog meat in Malawi is unheard of, but feeding people dog meat disguised as either beef, goat meat or pork may not be unprecedented.
This is what Ishmael Jumbe of Balaka had been doing for 14 years before being discovered and imprisoned for 12 months with hard labour.
Apparently a small child caught him skinning a dog ready to be sold to revellers at a tavern. This revelation raised the suspicion of some people who started to probe into the 31-year-old’s conduct. They discovered that Jumbe had indeed been frying meat in taverns, but never was he seen buying or skinning live goats or any acceptably edible animal.
It would appear Jumbe’s victims were a large population because, according to his confession to the police, he started selling dog meat in taverns in 2001 when he was a resident of Mbayani township in the commercial city of Blantyre.
There seems to be universal condemnation of Jumbe’s actions, with many describing it as morally wrong and criminal while a few, such as Lilongwe based Tenson Mchetechete, a self-confessed dog meat eater, argues that moral condemnation is always easier when the larger act is practised far.
He affirms that it is not right to attach criminality to dog eating or making people eat because it is palatable food.
“The problem is that we have grown up seeing dogs as our compatriots and we even give them people’s names, but the truth is that in some countries like Myanmar, six million dogs are eaten yearly and in Malawi over 3 000 dogs are slaughtered for food only that dog eaters don’t disclose their taste for obvious reasons. But it’s the same as eating insects or flying ants (ngumbi) or mice; this is a matter of gut reaction,” he says.
However, Mchetechete, who also studied animal health, acknowledges that if not properly prepared, dog meat can pose some health challenges to individuals.
“Just like any other animal, there are human health concerns attached to dog eating if necessary procedures aren’t followed when preparing it. If you eat a rabid dog you are likely to catch rabies and, worldwide, over 18 percent of dogs slaughtered are rabid because people tend to consume free-range dogs which are rarely treated for the disease,” he says.
He further adds that dog meat can also cause resistance to antibiotics, which generally emanates from the poor quality vaccines or drugs given to dogs.
“If you eat such a dog you will be exposing yourself to bacterial infections, hepatitis or even cholera. But I must affirm that dog meat isn’t as bad as some people would want everyone to believe. In fact, dog meat is safer than pork or bush meat and shouldn’t be criminalised in any way whatsoever,” he states.
But deputy national police spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa argues that the very essence that dog meat is culturally unacceptable renders its sales unlawful.
“Selling dog meat to someone without alerting them is against the law because that’s forcing them to consume something that doesn’t appeal to their taste. It’s a breach of people’s rights and contrary to Section 81 of the Penal Code as that can cause people to breach peace. In the same vein it also breaches people’s consciences and spirits. The charge of ‘conduct likely to cause breach of peace’ applies anywhere we feel we can’t find an appropriate and specific section in the Penal Code but I must emphasise that this may not apply to those who already eat dog meat,” says Gondwa.
Legal expert Justin Dzonzi concurs with Gondwa in stating that there’s no specific law tackling the feeding unsuspecting people dog meat, but Section 81 of the Penal Code is the closest and most applicable charge the police can level against anyone involved in such a conduct.
“Since naturally Malawians don’t eat dogs, any person selling its meat is frowned. This could result in people reacting in a disorderly manner and eventually disturbing the peace,” Dzonzi says.
Reverend Innocent Chikopa of the Blantyre Synod of the CCAP states that the motivation for somebody to feed others dog meat is the gravity of sin in them.
“Morally, it’s a sin against God to make somebody eat something disguised as something else. It’s incorrect and to qualify my view you will notice that the perpetrators themselves don’t even eat the dog meat which only confirms the immorality of the practice,” he explains. n