Does anyone expect something extraordinary from Inspector General of Police Rodney Jose? I for one do not. Jose enjoys to be deliberately misadvised on the role of the police during peaceful and unarmed demonstrations. It is not that he was ignorant about his constitutional powers when he wrote the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) on July 26 2019 ordering them to stop holding peaceful demonstrations in the country because of the acts of violence that follow the demonstrations.
In his letter to HRDC and during the press conference he organised on the same day, Jose also said he wanted the demonstrations suspended because the Malawi Police Service (MPS) does not have the capacity to provide the required security to lives and property during the events.
As we all know, Jose knowingly overstepped his powers in as far as the role of the Police in peaceful and unarmed demonstrations is concerned. Section 38 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi leaves no shred of doubt about the people’s right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and unarmed. It is thus sad that in the letter and during the press conference on July 26, the whole IG could not mention the law that gives him or the MPS powers to suspend peaceful and unarmed demonstrations.
I presume Jose’s frenzy against HRDC originates from the MPS’s mandate in general, which, among other things, is to enforce law and order in the country. Unfortunately for Jose, this does not include taking away people’s right to conduct peaceful and unarmed demonstrations. The police specifically exist to stop those acts of violence but not the demonstrations. And if they happen, the police are called upon to investigate and prosecute the law miscreants without fear or favour. The IG’s attempt to suspend peaceful and unarmed demonstrations can be likened to banning brewing, selling and drinking of beer, because some imbibers behave disorderly after taking the stuff. The problem is not the beer, but the manner some people consume it.
As head of the police in the country, Jose should also have been the first person to know that the courts have consistently made determinations reinforcing the fact that government or its agencies have no right to stop Malawians from enjoying human rights. Lack of capacity on the part of the MPS to protect lives and property during peaceful and unarmed demonstrations is a very lame excuse. When did Jose know that the MPS does not have the capacity to do its work efficiently and effectively because it is not well resourced? He accepted to be the lead person providing strategic direction to all MPS activities in Malawi. After accepting the appointment, he should have also told the appointing authority the need to capacitate the MPS—in terms of expertise and equipment that he would need to discharge his duties professionally and be held accountable if he failed to do so. You don’t go to war unarmed and expect to perform wonders. Jose should go back to the appointing authority and tell them in no uncertain terms what MPS needs to be an effective and professional police service. If he does not have the nerve to do so then he is not the right person for the job. MPS’s lack of capacity to provide security in the country, including during peaceful and unarmed demonstrations, only shows that the leadership in the MPS is not up to the mark.
Last but not least in importance, the IG should refrain from partisan politics. As IG Jose is supposed to serve all Malawians impartially regardless of their political affiliation. But what we have seen during the past months clearly shows that we have a very partisan Police. You have to be a very dull and intellectually challenged cadet to fail to know that the Police in Malawi allows itself to be abused by the ruling party. Malawi Congress Party and UTM Party, for example, have been targets of so many arson cases believed to be perpetrated by members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). But no one has been arrested for these heinous acts.
Jose and all members of the MPS should also be wary when the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) gets involved in keeping order during demonstrations as this is, first and foremost, a Police job. Jose should ask himself why both MPS and MDF which are security agents in the same government are miles apart in the way they conduct themselves. Jose should also ask himself why the MDF unlike the Police commands a lot of respect from the people. The simple reason is that MDF is professional and does not play into the hands of politicians. The MPS should turn the corner to regain respect from the citizens. One man—the IG—can lead this process of transforming the MPS. Until that happens, we shall not be expecting a miracle from the MPS.