In The Nation of Wednesday October 17 2018, an interface meeting between the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security with the Committee of Parliament on International Relations was reported. According to that report, the Director General of the Immigration is reported to have informed the parliamentarians that the department is unable to control the influx and the illegal immigrants. Border control systems are so weak that immigrants walk in almost willy-nilly. The in-land management system is beholden to institutional deficiencies, political scheming and inadequate resources to take corrective or remedial action including deporting. In his quoted words, “we need to deal with the system first before we can deal with illegal immigrants”.
The questions that wail up in my mind include whether there is political and bureaucratic willingness to actually effectively and efficiently manage entry of immigrants and what they do when in the country temporarily or for the long haul. But this is not the issue of my immediate concern. The second question is. What are the long term implications of the current lackluster management of immigration on the integrity of the Malawian state? This is of concern because the question of immigration is central to the definition and practice of State integrity.
In very basic terms, we know from political and law studies that the State has four main elements: territory, population, government (the Administration) and Sovereignty. A State exists when a defined population with a right to self-determination, living in a defined territory can govern itself and its government has sovereignty in the sense of being the ultimate authority on matters transpiring with the territory of the state and affecting the population. Of course, there is room for debating the definitions but this is commonly understood to be the fibre of the state.
The admissions (or confessions?) of the Director General of Immigration effectively means we are a country that lets in foreigners without proper vetting due to weak systems and we cannot repatriate them because we have no resources. This is double tragedy. So enmasse they come in. From the immediate East and the Far East. In all shapes and guises. Overtime, uncontrolled immigration creates the necessary conditions for undermining or compromising state integrity. Firstly, illegal immigrants irk bonafide citizens for many reasons. In a context of weak governance systems for managing citizenship and associated rights, and a context of widespread and severe poverty, illegal immigration becomes a fault line for xenophobia. This is basically because illegal immigrants survive on petty enterprises where they compete and clash with citizens eking out a living similarly. Citizen discontent often translates into anger against the government and undermines the authority and credibility of the State.
Immigration is a threat to territorial integrity of the State if not properly managed. Economic migrants under the guise of expert labour or investor have many ways of undermining the economy including money laundering and externalisation of forex. Media reports on these practices by foreign nationals are not in short supply. In a context where the State sector is infested with the cancer of corruption, immigrants are acquiring and owning land— the most important element in defining territory of the State. If what we hear about ‘land grabs’ in Malawi by immigrants is anything to go by, we are slowly moving into a perfect storm where a significant part of the territory in the form of land mass will be owned or be under the control of non Malawians.
The really sad if annoying part is that the authorities on the state side love rationalising situations. The problem we have with immigration cannot just be explained away by weak systems and lack of resources. These two do not have a will of their own. The status quo serves powerful interests. We now know from the political economy of Cashgate that systems and computers will be blamed as if these have a deterministic effect on their own. It is trite that the systems are kept weak because in their weakness they maximise the benefits of some people who have oversight power over the system. Similarly, resources do not allocate themselves to projects and departments. Conscious human beings do the allocation based on their priorities. So there are no resources for immigration work because immigration is less of a priority of those who allocate resources probably because long term state integrity of Malawi does not count that much for them. Beyond system and resources, the issue of agency or actors is evident. Mindset and attitudinal change is needed among immigration cadres. Immigration is not just another job. It is central to the integrity of the state and should be the domain where our patriotism should shine the brightest.
*Henry Chingaipe is a governance and development specialist.