‘Concern for animal welfare is increasing in Africa’

Chris Grezo talks to a leading animal rights campaigner from Malawi. 

In Europe and the US little is known about the African animal welfare movement. In part this is because the movement there is smaller and younger than on other continents. But just as human rights should acknowledge no borders, so too should animal rights, and many people across all cultures and countries realize this.

In the West, a frequent riposte to animal rights supporters is that there are more important issues, as if it were somehow not possible to simultaneously give to Oxfam while also not kicking a dog. A certain type of Westerner, when asked to boycott factory-farmed meat, will reply that they don’t need to because we haven’t yet solved all the problems in Africa. Of course, no-one ever bothers to ask the Africans what they have to say on the subject.

I spoke to a Malawian animal welfare activist, Rozzie, to get her view on the treatment of animals in Africa.

How big is the animal welfare movement in Malawi, and in Africa more generally?

An LSPCA vet and patient

The animal welfare movement in Malawi is still quite small. The reason behind its size is that it has only been operating for a few years and hasn’t had the chance yet to fully expand. Also, when it comes to donations or volunteering for the Lilongwe Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LSPCA), there is a deficit. The concern in Malawi and in other African countries is more on human rights and thus national and international support tends to be focused on organizations that deal with this problem. However, the concern for animal welfare is increasing, but at a slow and steady pace.

What’s causing the expansion of animal welfare in Malawi?

The expansion of animal welfare in Africa is due to the determination of animal rights organizations within those countries. The LSPCA (Malawi) continuously goes into towns and other districts to educate the community on the mistreatment of animals. A lot of the mistreatment occurs due to the lack of education on the matter. A lot of the population live in isolated areas and thus they have not been subjected to the increased modernization occurring at the centre of the country. This modernization has brought in new values from abroad, amongst these being that of animal welfare. Therefore, the LSPCA is concentrating its efforts on educating those townships that have escaped this change.  

In Europe, animal welfare is quite a recent idea, but in Asia the concept is very old. How old is the animal welfare movement in Malawi?

Animal welfare in Malawi is very recent. This, I feel, is due to how society, both national and international, perceives the needs of the country: poverty and human rights. There is and has been a huge economic problem within the country and as a result thousands upon thousands of Malawians live below the poverty line. International and national focus has thus been on improving this situation. Animal rights did not come top of the list, or even make the list. However, a few years ago the government realized that the rabies situation in Malawi was quite bad and was showing no signs of improvement. The number of roaming dogs was increasing and therefore rabies was on the rampage; this caused the unwarranted loss of too many lives. The development of an animal welfare movement came about as the organization offered not only to rescue mistreated animals, but to educate the public on rabies and make regular visits to villages to vaccinate the animals.    

Is the treatment of animals fairly similar from country to country in Africa, or are some countries hugely better than others in their compassion for animals?

I would say that the treatment of animals varies between the different African countries. You will find that less economically developed countries in Africa have poor animal welfare, as the availability of education is poor and as such the majority is not taught that animals can serve for more than just killing rats. Also, people do not have the money to keep animals as pets and look after them in the correct manner. South Africa is a more economically developed country and society there perceives animals more as pets. It has the disposable income to provide the basic living necessities for the animals.   

What are the biggest issues in the treatment of animals in Malawi?

Two main issues: the majority of society is not taught how to treat animals [properly]. They exist as they have always done from the start – as rat-catchers and crop protectors. Secondly, the lack of disposable income in society. People cannot afford to look after the animals they have. Some people can barely afford to feed themselves.

Is there much international co-operation between animal welfare groups in Malawi and organizations overseas?

There is quite a bit of co-operation, especially between the RSPCA in Britain and the LSPCA here. They donate all their older equipment to us when they receive newer supplies. This has greatly helped the services offered by the LSPCA concerning the treatment of rescued animals and people’s pets. For example, they recently donated an oxygen machine, an ultra-sound machine and suture kits. This has greatly improved the vets’ ability to perform high-risk surgery along with lesser risk ones. Without this type of international support, the growth of the LSPCA would occur at a much slower rate.   

Is there anything you think European or Asian animal welfare groups could learn from Malawian animal welfare groups?

Pure determination in the face of adversity. The [African] organizations do not get as many donations as welfare groups that have been firmly established in places like Europe or Asia. They are continuously finding ways to keep going, and giving the animals the medical treatment they need. No matter how hard it gets, I see all the vets, members of management and volunteers keeping up their motivation and performing their tasks to the best of their ability with what they have available. With that much heart dedicated to an animal welfare organization, anything is possible.

Photo: copyright Lilongwe Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Reproduced with permission.

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