This year, Malawi Police Service (MPS) clocks 100 years serving the nation. Our staff writer EDWIN NYIRONGO talks with police Inspector General GEORGE KAINJA about its achievements and shortfalls. Excerpts:
MPS clocks 100 this year. Can you share the historical background of the police in the country?
MPS will clock 100 years of serving Malawians on October 5 this year. The Legislative Council of the then Nyasaland on October 5 1921 passed a law that created the Nyasaland Police Force, which later became Malawi Police Force and now Malawi Police Service.
During the past 100 years the police have passed through different epochs in terms of its development and relationship with Malawians. When it was established, its primary purpose was to protect the interests of the colonial administration. The first police stations in Zomba, Blantyre and Lilongwe were located where the whites lived to protect their lives and property.
When Malawi became independent, the police had to change to reflect government priorities. In the single-party era, the police was predominantly State-centric which was to protect the State from subversive elements and guarding the borders.
Another huge change in policing came when the country became a multiparty democracy [in 1994]. Malawians came first in all operations. The new Republican Constitution came with the Bill of Rights that stood for a complete turnaround in the manner policing was done. Human rights organisations sprang and spoke against police malpractices. Malawians became less submissive and more demanding of quality service. Our trusted tactic of using force was taken away as human rights were enforced. Because of this, there was need for retraining and re-equipping the police.
What are some of the milestones over the 100 years?
Many things have been done that have made the police better positioned to protect the lives of Malawians and their property and also be accountable to Malawians. One important milestone is the transition of command from colonial administration to Malawian. Similarly, more than half of the population of Malawi comprises women and girls. Therefore, the inclusion of women into the police workforce in 1972 was a huge development in the protection of the rights of women and girls.
Over the years, the police have grown tremendously from three stations at Blantyre, Zomba and Fort Johnstone in 1921 to 41 full police stations and hundreds of police units in 2021—reaching the remotest parts of the country. The number of officers have also grown significantly. For instance, in 1994, at the onset of multiparty democracy, there were about 3 000 police officers but now they are around 14 000.
No. In the past years, MPS has established different specialised units in response to crime trends. Then there are also Professional Standards Unit and the Independent Police Complaints Commission which play crucial roles in serving Malawians.
The delinking of the Prisons from the MPS was also important in ensuring that the rights of detained persons are upheld.
Over the years MPS has participated in peace operations in many countries across the world, including in Kosovo, Liberia, East Timor, Liberia, Sudan and South Sudan.
The police are no longer a force but a service. Has this made it weaker?
Police in Malawi changed from a force to a service in the 1990s in response to changing aspirations of Malawians as enshrined in the Constitution. The democratic political environment, which we chose in 1993, requires that the police should earn the consent and trust of the people to police them.
My view is that the police have not become weaker, but stronger because we have the cooperation of the people who live together with criminals. It is this consent, cooperation and trust of the people that make us stronger and we will endeavour to nurture and build on this relationship. It is a good thing that the people of Malawi have reclaimed their right to a dignified life.
Some officers are corrupt and get involved in bad behaviours like theft. How are you dealing these ‘bad apples’ in the service?
There could be many factors why officers are involved in such misconduct and lack of vetting is surely one of them. I also agree with the assertion that in the recent past, our vetting has not been sufficiently careful as a result, some criminal elements sneaked their way into the organisation. I am aware that pre-employment vetting of candidates is critical to avoid hiring those that have crooked history. Similarly, continuous vetting of officers is important so that criminality and other poor behaviour can be caught and cured in time. But let me assure Malawians that starting this year, all candidates will be thoroughly vetted before hiring them.
Lastly, what does the future of policing look like for you? What do you want to see to have an efficient police?
The future of policing in Malawi is bright and is squarely dependent on decisions and choices we make today. We must all make good decisions that will create an environment favourable to democratic policing.
Political leadership must decide to resuscitate the airwing, strengthen maritime police, establish a DNA laboratory and provide a good fleet of motor vwehicles and housing, among others. As Malawi Police, we must hire the best candidates on the job market, fight corruption, criminality and indiscipline among our officers, whold our officers to account for their conduct, especially abuse of force and statutory powers. We must put to good use all the resources made available to us. Most importantly, MPS must cultivate a relationship of trust and cooperation with the public.
—Interview edited for space and clarity. You can read a longer version on www.mwnation.com.