Where is the police?

By Eugenio Njoloma

Usumani Imedi, a Police officer was on 8 October 2019 stoned to death by an angry mob at Nsundwe in Lilongwe. His death can never, in any way, be comparable to that of the biblical Stephen. Officer Imedi was just a civil servant among a contingent of armed police officers that sought to quell tensions in the area following people’s aggressive resistance to President Peter Mutharika’s political rally in Lilongwe.

The pain that lingers in officer Imedi’s spouse and children is immense, especially given the nature of his death. They saw a husband and father leave the house in the morning. He never returned. Those images showing savagery brutality will last forever. As this article seeks to know, it is, therefore, completely out of place to ask about the whereabouts of the Police during violent protests when, actually, two have died in the line of duty since the May 21 tripartite elections.

Not many Malawians below the age of forty have ever witnessed this prolonged tense atmosphere. Is Malawi really treading this dangerous path? Are the politicians really just watching, allowing the situation to degenerate into the abyss of death? As Jesus speaks to us through Saint Matthew (16:26), is there really any sense when one strives hard to gain all they can but loses his or her life in the end?

If it is for the sake of Him or for the good of others, Jesus Christ encourages them to give it a go. But, for example, what would Jane Ansah’s gain be when she preserves her seat at the expense of innocent souls? How significant would President Mutharika’s presidency be when people refuse to accord it the legitimacy it deserves?

 Is the apparently legal aggression by Presidents Chakwera and Chilima really anything meaningful for the life of an ordinary Malawian? What would be HRDC’s gain when it refuses to bow down but find meaning in making journeys to hospitals to visit the injured or travel long distances to empty its political emotions at burial ceremonies of those that have been killed in the demonstrations?

In the first place, what is the justification for the mass protests? Of course, Jane Ansah could have messed up the elections. This is exactly why Chakwera and Chilima are relentlessly at the courts to ensure the Malawi Electoral Commission and President Peter Mutharika are answerable to the perceived electoral anomalies. Their logic is simple: the court will have to factually, and not emotionally, make a determination of Jane Ansah’s handling of the elections.

Yet despite this reality, there have been a series of mass protests that have often culminated into excessive violence. Several building structures have been scathed and as of 10 October 2019, four people, that had nothing to do with the personalities of Jane Ansah and President Mutharika, died. Yet, those that are being targeted are, supposedly, living normal lives.

On 5th October 2019, for example, Jane Ansah was at a wedding in Lilongwe. She walked to the stage and stood beside her brother who was making a speech. Despite being surrounded by a team of armed police officers, it is of no use to think she is “bothered” by the current political impasse. Sizikumukhudza! Similarly, President Mutharika can never be intimidated in any way.

He remains the state president. Although he has not travelled up north yet, the presidency title can never, without due procedure, be revoked from him. While the nation rebukes him, call him names, and swear at him, he is living on taxpayers’ money. His fuel, electricity, telephone and water bills, just to name a few, are being paid for by the sweat of every Malawian.

When, for example, on 8 October 2019 he made a statement that “Ine si Malawi” (I am not Malawi), following the killing of the police officer and the continued looting and destruction of property, a lot of people rushed on social media to qualify the statement. The range of comments were indicative that some commentators are utterly ignorant of the meaning of the statement.

Yet others chose to put words into the President’s mouth and twisted the context to suit the currently volatile environment. One social commentator, for example, is on record to have interpreted the president’s speech in the following way:  “He said: I am not Malawi or I am not Malawian. The apparent meaning or what he meant by it is of little consequence since the implication of either statement is exactly the same i.e. in plain English what he is saying is that: this Malawi you are hurting is your own, and I am not part of it. I do not care about it. You can break it all you like. Not my problem. In short, your president doesn’t give two hoots, and he comes complete with the aloof attitude to match.”

The point, however, remains: only ordinary Malawian man and woman cannot survive the socio-economic deprivation associated with this political impasse. President Mutharika does not go to the market. He is too bossy for that. Only ordinary Malawians who use the markets as vendors or clients will feel the heat the most. Children will continue to abstain from school and the security regime will crumble. 

However, the gist of the matter in this article borders on the apparent absence of the Police during the protests. The assumption is that the Police’s presence is critical in containing certain violent acts. Then why has the country witnessed a number of protests that turned violent at the watch of the police? Why would people destroy the property and, importantly, fight the Police who are actually mandated to preserve calm?

The Malawi Defence Force, instead, has been hailed by the public as being sensitive to their demands. Whether this romance will last, is a subject for another opportunity to feature in the Lamp. Chants of “A Army ndi abale athu” by protestors signify the public’s loss of trust in the Malawi Police Service and its concomitant relegation to the margins of security parameters in the country. But should the army, really, which is entrusted with overseeing external security, be in the lead in internal security issues?

Are police officers really bad in the way they are being labelled now? Certainly not every police officer is a political cadet. In fact, they can be aligned to various political party kingdoms. While others are truly pure DPP sympathizers, others voted for UTM and/or MCP. So, why do others seem too overzealous at the expense of their reputation?

The apparent absence of the police is made very conspicuous by extremely chaotic scenes in various situations. This, thus, sustains public disapproval of the institution’s mandates. Then for what use was the security sector reform, which the institution underwent from 1997? Constitutionally, the Police Service is supposed to be “an independent organ of the Executive …to provide for the protection of public safety and the rights of persons in Malawi according to the prescriptions of this constitution and any other law.”

In the spirit of this, it then became imperative to switch from being a Police Force to a Police Service so as to “transform or change the organization into a professional and accountable [institution] practicing a style of policing that is responsive to the needs of local communities.” However, nothing of this sort comes to the notice. The institution is incredibly beset with considerable obstacles including, for example, political interference, corruption and nepotism, and poor use of existing resources.

Without necessarily disregarding the significance of the others, this article concentrates on the factor of political interference for its pervasiveness. As a matter of fact, the Police has, from time to time, been used as a weapon of the civilian elites. Its acquiescence is achieved in a very trendy fashion, when its top managers respond to political winds of change. Precisely put, every President picks his or her own loyal and trusted lieutenant. 

It is these politically appointed members of the institution that influence an undesirable organizational culture, which, in most cases, becomes responsible for radiating negative images of the men in uniform. Political personalization of the Police Service deteriorates its independence and morale.

Where the Police is used for someone to gain a political mileage, it defeats the very essence of democracy which advocates for coexistence. In most cases, the Police is seen in the thick of the forceful dispersal of, particularly supporters of opposition politicians. This sharply violates the constitutional right of freedom of association, human rights, and multiparty practice.

The police can also be said to have been infiltrated by young men and women that lack passion of the service. This is mainly when demand recruitment of their relatives or tribesmen. In the end the job space gets filled by people that lack interest. In the same vein, political elites influence the rise of their relations in the job ladders. The dander is that most people promoted in this way possess no capacity to lead and manage others. Yet they would be keen to resist institutional change.

So when one asks about the whereabouts of the Police, tell them to search deep for them.

*Njoloma is a regular

 contributor to the Lamp Magazine. Feedback: eugenionjoloma@yahoo.it