Honourable folks, this week some Malawians were shocked with the latest Malawi Police Service approach in enforcing Covid-19 public health prevention, containment and management rules.
Some gun-toting officers accompanied by their colleagues in plainclothes and others carrying ‘street-ready’ baton sticks went into overdrive—were seen chasing, arresting and charging citizens for not wearing face masks even when alone in a car, jogging or cycling.
Of course, I support the government’s order for everybody to wear masks when stepping out into public spaces and I find no problem with the police invoking arrests or fines on those who fail to comply with the rules.
But today I will reflect on the ‘comedy’ that ensued at Limbe Market on Thursday when police invaded the country’s busiest market to enforce the mask wearing rule.
In a typical hunter hunted fashion, some police officers in anti-riot gear were captured on video ‘fleeing for their dear lives ‘after an apparent confrontation by vendors opposed the presence of police within their vicinity.
In avideo footage that went viral on social media that day, the cops appeared to have been left behind inadvertently by a cruising police Land Cruiser that carried other officers and possibly one or two violators of the Covid-19 rules and was also speeding off.
I said I support the regulations enacted by the Ministry of Health because lately Malawi has recorded a spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths nationwide. Such enforcements will help to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infections in open spaces due to the growing fatigue, complacency or simply the ‘I don’t care’ attitude by some Malawians amid the deadly pandemic.
I said this week I am focusing on the video footage and I feel everyone who cares for the police service, including the Inspector General of Police Dr. George Kainja, must be concerned with the turnaround of things in Limbe on Thursday.
Without doubt, police have a tough task to regain their waned reputation which is partly attributable to a number of factors bordering on discipline and misconduct.
In recent years, many Malawians have bemoaned various forms of bad behaviour by some ‘rotten apples’ in the police service such as corruption, excessive alcohol and drug abuse, sexual harassment and being politically compromised, all of which have contributed to the diminishing level of respect the law enforcement agency used to enjoy many decades ago.
Sadly, many officers in the service shamelessly continue to put the police reputation on the line by intentionally committing crimes or scandals knowing that at the end of the day no one will reprimand their conduct, because they sometimes drink from the same dirty wells with some big shots they report to.
For instance, if you travel by plebeian transport in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu or Zomba and from one city or district to another, you will witness the intensity of corruption among some traffic officers who have totally established social ties minibus and taxi drivers solely over bribery and corruption.
Worse still, many drivers, especially minibus and taxi drivers who constantly come across traffic and general duties officers in roadblocks or other places stopped fearing these cops a long time ago because they now fully understand their weakness —hunger for bribes.
However, the government is also to blame for its persistent failure to construct decent houses for the police and other security agencies which compromises the respect our men in uniform deserve.
There are several drawbacks associated with security officers mingling with civilians in the ghettos, including but not limited to falling of respect for the police badge because some officers ‘over-interact’ with community members and they start relating on a personal level.
Certainly, law enforcement is one of the occupations that has been riddled with misconduct in Malawi because officers usually operate in private settings, out of the sight of supervisors and their abuse of authority for gain is what partly contributes to reputation losses for our police service.