As I am writing this, it is a few minutes before 7pm. I am seated in the parking lot at the Bingu National Stadium (BNS). Seated across, opposite the entry gate are several policemen awaiting their colleagues to relieve them after their day’s shift. An hour earlier, a security guard from a private company had allowed me into the stadium without much ado. Not even asking my name, or my ID. The only question he dared ask was “Mwabwelera erobikisi?” (Are you attending the aerobics session?). I nodded in agreement and he waved me through.
Despite absence of a National Key Points (NKP) Act or a mere official listing, I have always regarded the BNS as an NPK. Some might say it is a mere strategic installation or simply a place of importance.
As some might ask, what’s National Key Points (NKPs)? Through a Parliamentary Act, in most countries it provides for declaration and protection of sites of national strategic importance against sabotage and such are called NKPs. Such is determined by responsible minister like Minister of Internal Security or Defence. In Malawi’s case, such may include diverse critical infrastructure sites like our two international airports, presidential lodges and palaces, Reserve Bank and other banks, the auction floors and Lake Malawi.
As an extension, Kamuzu Mausoleum or the Casablanca Manor at Ndata could be amongst the list just like Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead was controversially declared an NPK in South Africa in 2010.
Further to this, our military installations and prisons would make such a list otherwise, one would question what makes NKPs. And now what’s the difference between a national key point, a strategic installation and a place of importance? For instance, Kamuzu International Airport may be classified as a national key point whilst Capital Hill can be called a strategic installation and the New Parliament Building as place of importance. As you might have noticed, the differences are very obscure and might vary from one classifier to the next.
In the absence of NKP Act, it doesn’t mean Malawi has no official list or places of importance. I strongly believe a de facto one exists. You might have seen police officers being dropped off at politicians’ homes or places like the Bingu National Stadium. It may imply that such have been designated as key points.
But why as a country, do we need such an Act or mere publication of the list? Currently, we have no way of finding out which places are key points, or why they have been designated as such.
For instance, ask ‘Chief of CSOs in Malawi’ – Billy Mayaya as regards how CSOs have repeatedly been denied right to protest outside certain places “quite arbitrarily”.
Beyond this, next time, take a cellphone photo of guards at Kamuzu Palace gate and tweet it. It would be an offence. And how would you know that you are not allowed to do that anyway?
As a way forward, an official listing of all places of strategic importance and probably an accompanying Act of Parliament would suffice.
With Access to Information Act in place, the public might ask government what places of strategic importance the country has. As the notion itself is ripe for abuse by its very nature, government may refuse to release such information.
With NKP Act in place, Nsanje World Inland Port would not lie vandalised years after inception and Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers would have been guarding an intact Vipya or Dzalanyama forest and not the depleted hills we have now.
As some may point out, this rare piece of official clarification on the security status of a public installation only increases the mystery around our NKPs but otherwise, the country desperately needs one now.
It is now 7pm and the ‘erobikisi’ session has come to an end. A police micro bus has just left. The guard at the gate waves me through but forgets to search my trunk. I rest my case.