afrika aphukira

Midwiving the Afrikan rebirth. . . Views of Afrika and the world, on the path to the renaissance, from a social justice and an Afrikan epistemological perspective--uMunthu. Includes specific commentary on Malawi and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What I saw the night Paul Mphwiyo was shot

I was in the Area 43 MASM clinic with three family members and a family friend when Paul Mphwiyo staggered into the ward we were in. It was around 11.30pm on Friday, September 13th. He was walking by himself, fully clad in his suit. He was holding a heavily bloodied bathing towel to his mouth. At first I thought the towel was brown in colour, but I realised it was the blood. A heavy trail of blood followed him. The nurses were directing him toward a bathroom that passed through the ward. The clinic’s water supply had stopped a few hours earlier.

Paul was talking, but it was inaudible. His wife and teenage daughter were following behind, together with a number of nurses. He went past us, and pushed open the bathroom door. One nurse instructed him to lie on a bed in the bathroom area. He was still trying to talk. I heard him say "I'm choking" a number of times. He was choking on his own blood. He was trying to cough out what I imagined to be one of the bullets. He was breathing painfully and unnaturally. It was extremely frightening.

At this point we didn't know who it was, but we heard the wife making frantic phone calls. We were able to piece together what she was saying on the phone and learned that he had been shot. We  asked the daughter who he was, and she told us his name. I immediately knew who it was, because he had been actively involved in the debate on whether to devalue the kwacha or not when Bingu was still alive. I also remembered the news item that announced he had been appointed as the new Director of Budget.

We asked the family if the police had been notified, and they said no. I dialled the "Ndakuona" number (0800900997). It went unanswered. I tried it several times, and nobody picked up. The wife asked for the number so she could also try it. Still nobody picked up. I then dialled the number of one Officer in Charge of a nearby police station. It too went unanswered. Several times. I then dialled the number of a CID officer I know. He answered. It was now exactly midnight. I explained to him what had happened, and that the Ndakuona number was not being answered for the entire half hour I was calling. He said he would call me back after a few minutes to give me other numbers to try. He called back after three minutes. He gave me numbers for a deputy Officer in Charge, and a CID head of a nearby police station. I tried both numbers; one went unanswered, the other was out of reach.

I sent out a tweet describing what had happened, and asking if there was a police officer on my timeline. I didn't mention the name. I tried Ndakuona yet again, still no response. Then I tried the two numbers one more time. The deputy officer in charge responded, and I gave him the details of the house, which Paul's daughter had given me.

Meanwhile, the nurses had put a call through to the doctor on call. He came within minutes. It was Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba. He took control of the situation, and managed to stabilise Paul's condition. He issued instructions to the nurses, and spoke to Paul in a calm, knowledgeable and authoritative voice. Dr Ntaba told Paul they needed to clear his air passage so he could breathe normally. Before long Paul stopped making the unnatural sounds. Had Dr Ntaba arrived half an hour later, I doubt Paul would still be alive. An ambulance arrived, and they quickly transported Paul to KCH. Another member of my family had asked Paul's daughter what their religion was, and she said they were Catholics. We called a friend in Area 43 and suggested they alert their parish priest. One parishioner drove to the priest's house and drove him to KCH. We left the MASM clinic at 1am.

When it was launched with lots of fanfare in 2012, the Ndakuona number  was a life saver. On three previous occasions when I have called the number, there has always been someone on the other end, taking calls. But the number has also been subjected to abuse. There have been reports of people calling the number not to report an emergency but to hurl insults at the police. Some have called the number and have sent police on false chases. The number fields calls from across the country, which I suspect might cause congestion and delays in sending out alerts to police patrols.

It is probably time to review the emergency response system for the police, hospitals, and other early responders. It was unsettling to know that Mphwiyo walked into a hospital that had no running water at that moment. The frantic scampering of the nurses indicated they were ill-prepared for that kind of emergency, but it was to their credit that they did the best they could before the doctor on call arrived.

One police emergency responder told me that the number is too unwieldy; you need to save it in your phone as it is ten digits long. Emergency numbers need to be short and easy to memorise. We have had 990 and 997 before, I am not sure why they were abandoned and replaced with a ten-digit number. In these days of GPS technology, it is possible to pin down the specific geo-location of a phone call.

People caught abusing the system need to face penalties. It may be time to consider ending the open system of acquiring mobile sim cards without having to register and submit one’s details. I realise this has implications for freedom of speech and rights to privacy, but what is the alternative, when the lives of Malawians are in danger?


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