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Benghazi nickname haunts Karonga

Written by  Leonard Masauli
Mwenifumbo_ no more Benghazi in Karonga Central Constituency Mwenifumbo_ no more Benghazi in Karonga Central Constituency

Karonga, February 11, Mana: Libya’s second populous city of Benghazi became infamous across the world for the killing of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens on September 11, 2012 in a terrorist attack.

Stevens was killed in a US diplomatic compound in the city by members of Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia.

The attack was labeled ‘Battle of Benghazi’ and was widely covered by international media.

In Malawi, Mwenilondo area in Karonga Central Constituency was nicknamed Benghazi during the 2014 Tripartite Elections following frequent clashes between supporters of Frank Tumpale Mwenifumbo and Cornelius Mwalwanda.

Mwenifumbo and Mwalwanda were contesting for the constituency’s parliamentary seat.

Since then, the nickname has had a negative impact on the constituency because people of the area resort to violence over any contentious issue.

Torching of houses

In March 2018, villagers crashed with police over arrest of suspects in the torching of eight houses belonging to elderly women accused of witchcraft.

When police arrested the suspected arsonists, the villagers demolished Mwenilondo Police Roadblock and an office in protest of the arrests. They also blocked traffic on the Karonga-Mzuzu M1 road.

BBC journalists attack

In February 2018, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) journalists were attacked in course of their duty at Mwenilondo over suspicion that they were blood suckers.

Police report indicated that the villagers were armed with pangas, axes and other dangerous weapons.

The BBC crew was beaten up, stoned, and had their vehicles damaged. The crew’s equipment was confiscated by the villagers but most of it was later recovered.

The journalists were rescued by the constituency’s Member of Parliament (MP) Mwenifumbo who pleaded with local chiefs to intervene in calming the situation.

Many other violent incidences emanating from land, politics, witchcraft accusations and, sometimes, chieftaincy wrangles have happened since the area was nicknamed Benghazi.

Negative impacts to development

Five years down the line, the youth no longer take pride in the name Benghazi.

Apparently, violent acts have affected implementation of development projects in the area and the district as a whole, some residents say.

“Potential investors are hesitant to invest in the district due to the violent record,” says Atusaye Sibale of Lupembe Youth Network.

“The name Benghazi has labeled the district as the most violent place in the country where peace does not exist. We want it written off from the minds of people within and outside the district,” he adds.

Sibale says the youth network is now engaging with party leaders to stop using the youth as political tools for violence.

“The violent aspect is causing the youth to remain unemployed because investors are no longer interested to invest in an area synonymous with violence,” Sibale says.

Youth for Development and Peace executive director Aaron Mwenelupembe says politicians take advantage of the youth’s joblessness to use them as agents of terror against opponents.

“Karonga has a lot of opportunities particularly in mining, agriculture and tourism, which can open job and business opportunities for the youth.

“However, this can only happen if the people create a business friendly environment for everyone,” Mwenelupembe says.

Meanwhile, Karonga Youth for Development and Peace (KYDP) in partnership with Police and Lupembe Youth Network is carrying out several antiviolence awareness meetings in ‘Benghazi’ constituency. 

More efforts on peace building

Apart from the youth’s efforts, government and non-state actors have also been working to sustain peace and unity within the district.

Among other initiatives, a district peace committee (DPC) was established to champion mediation talks between rival parties and conduct anti violence awareness meetings.

DPC’s chairperson Patricia Mzumara says since its establishment there has been a tremendous change.

“Many people have realized the importance of living peacefully and where to go whenever there are misunderstandings over some issues,” Mzumara says.

She says DPC is mandated to engage in activities such as mediation, negotiation, confidence and trust building between rival groups.

“We provide strategic advice to stakeholders; for instance, an early warning on potential threats to defuse tension before it actually explodes into violence.

“This is helping to maintain peace in the areas known for violence,” Mzumara says.

Among other activities, the DPC conducts regular meetings with peace building agencies within the district to share experiences, apart from public education, sensitization and awareness programmes.

Police interventions

Deputy Commissioner of Police Brenant Chitanda says police have joined the bandwagon of maintaining peace through various sensitisation meetings in violent prone areas.

Chitanda recently told a gathering at Mwenilondo that time had come for Mwenilondo to rewrite history and register meaningful development.

“Let me emphasize here that people in any community do not eat violence; neither do they benefit anything when they fight. We are all Malawians. So why do we fight?

“As a peace loving nation, let us embrace the spirit of loving one another. In a democracy we can belong to different political parties and live together in harmony,” he said.

Meanwhile, both Mwenifumbo and Mwalwanda have pledged a peaceful campaign in the run up to the next elections.

Mwalwanda, who is working to unseat Mwenifumbo, says recent battles between the youth and police escalated Mwenilondo’s violence record resulting in shifting of the roadblock to Ipyana in the neighbouring constituency.

“However, when I joined politics of Karonga Central, my first advice to my supporters was that I abhor any type of violence designed to intimidate supporters of other candidates.

“I had held that principle ever since, and that still continues up to now,” Mwalwanda says.

“We have worked hard to instill peace in the area and I assure you that there will be no more Benghazi in Karonga Central Constituency,” Mwenifumbo says.

As May 21 fast approaches, all eyes will be on the constituency to see if supporters of the area’s two political heavyweights will observe peace and tolerance in their campaign trails.