18 February 2019

Tanzania: After Wave of Child Murders, the Obvious Question...

The story of young Meshack Myonga is one that must surely bring tears even to the eyes of the very Devil himself.

With a partly-slit throat, the four-year-old battled days and nights for dear life at the Referral Hospital in Mbeya Region after he miraculously survived an attack by cold-blooded killers baying for the blood of children in Njombe Region. As the Sisters of Fate would have it, Meshack lost that painful battle.

The traumatised boy died at 2pm on Saturday, February 9th this year. Had he survived, he could perhaps have lived to become the face of defiance against this form of untold evil. But now -what with his tragic death a fortnight ago - the official number of victims of these gruesome child murders worryingly reached 12 in the relatively brief space of two agonising months.

With a steely focus on these tragic deaths, the Big Question which the nation now faces is: What should be done to assure the safety of vulnerable children?

For weeks now, it has been a living hell for children in that part of the Southern Highlands region as they increasingly become easy prey and most convenient target for murders most foul.

Reports from the area reveal gory details of how some of the victims were - like sheep - silently, meekly lured to their slaughter.

The killings drew widespread condemnation across the country and from the international community.

Yet, despite the government appearing to be talking tough and introducing a raft of measures ostensibly intended to tackle the bizarre murders, the worrying fact is that it will take more than tightening security in the short-term to stop this madness. The murderers' persistence is perplexing.

There are reports that these heinous activities have been going on for years, albeit not at the rate and magnitude of the latest wave. And the composition of the long list of persons of interest reflects just how deep and complicated the problem is.

Investigators reportedly rounded up some 30 suspects - most of who are businesspeople in the area. Only about a handful of them have since been hauled before the courts, and investigations are still ongoing. Regional authorities put the number of those questioned at over 30.

Grieving families

Meanwhile, the shaken community and grieving families are banking on the authorities to ensure that the ongoing investigations are fast-tracked, and at least someone somewhere is somehow found responsible. This is important, not only for closure of the tragic chapter, but also for the restoration of normalcy for the children of Njombe Region and their families.

Allowing these young ones to have some semblance of a normal childhood again should come sooner than later. This is critical to the process of healing this kind of wounds.

Normality can be achieved partly by having to squarely face the evil. Court processes are underway, we are told. But, how the judicial processes end will be particularly crucial for the future of children in the area in particular - and children countrywide in general.

It's widely believed that the wave of murders is really ritual killings perpetrated by some superstitious traders with the help of traditional medicinemen. This is a position which the government also maintains.

Historically, these stories have existed - not only in Tanzania, but also in many other African countries. Granted: the killings in Njombe are just the tip of an iceberg. Across the continent, there is a widely-held belief that the blood of innocents can help boost a struggling business.

Nonsensical as it sounds, there nonetheless are societies where this holds water for those who choose to so believe. That makes it very dangerous - and treacherous for those trying to stop it. Seemingly, any effort to address the problem in the long-term will not be a walk through the recreation park.

Many countries are indeed struggling with this destructive thinking, and finding a solution has become a matter of urgency. What exactly is to blame; could it be impunity of the perpetrators?

There is little doubt that the most pressing issue we have to confront now is how to protect children, even as we teach them to protect themselves. Belief in the common good will be a good starting point; and it requires individuals, at times, to take on risk for the benefit of the community as a whole.

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