Four days after the highly-controversial PAC conference, Malawi Government has stepped up security in the countryâ€™s major cities, with armed riot police officers seen patrolling all over.
This has raised questions among people who are not used to such heavy security.
The development also follows the tension that preceded the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) conference in Limbe whose objectives included mobilising key stakeholders and efforts towards a common agenda and collective redress to Malawiâ€™s political and economic challenges.
The mood was heightened by government and President Bingu wa Mutharikaâ€™s earlier claims that the conference sought to plan for regime change and mass demonstrations against his administration.
Delegates to the conference on Thursday asked the President to resign within 60 days for failing to solve the countryâ€™s problems.
â€˜Heavy police presence normalâ€™
In Mzuzu, there was heavy police presence on Monday which the police described as normal.
Residents woke up to find armed riot police in strategic places, mostly those that were battlegrounds during the July 20 2011 anti-government demonstrations.
“There is nothing strange. Police are patrolling the city to provide maximum security,” said Mzuzu Police spokesperson Edward Longwe.
Asked whether the police presence was the same in all regions, national police spokesperson Dave Chingwalu was non-committal in his response.
But in Blantyre, police confirmed they strengthened security from last week following the PAC meeting.
Police presence in the commercial capital was noticeable in the streets and shops that could be targets if order broke up.
â€˜We want order after PAC meetingâ€™
Southern Region Police spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa said police want to maintain peace and order during and after the PAC meeting; hence, the increased visibility of armed and unarmed police on the streets.
He said police also enhanced security in Blantyre on Monday following rumour that Polytechnic students were planning to demonstrate over loans which they are supposed to receive from the Malawi Savings Bank (MBS).
Said Gondwa: “We could not treat that rumour lightly. But nothing happened.”
In Lilongwe, heavily armed police officers have been patrolling the streets of the capital since last week, beefed up by recruits from training colleges. Most of the recruits have set camp at police headquarters at Area 30.
Chingwalu said the police have a duty to patrol all major cities and district centres across the country.
When drawn to higher than usual numbers, Chingwalu said: “When police officers are few, you are the ones complaining, but when we increase the number, you are surprised. Which way, therefore?”
Main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Nancy Tembo argued that much as it is commendable to provide security, the police sometimes tend to overreact.
“It is good to provide maximum security to the country. But sometimes police officers are hostile to the very people they are supposed to protect. An example is where police threw tear gas at the people who had a peaceful meeting [a UDF rally in Lilongwe on Sunday],” she said.
Tembo urged the police to act as a service and not a force.
United Democratic Front (UDF) director of research Humphrey Mvula argued the situation is intimidating, not part of democracy and is making Malawi a police State.
He said every morning people wake up, the first sight they have is that of heavily armed police officers in combat gear.
Said Mvula: “Every 100 metres you walk, you find these police officers. You find them chasing mandasi sellers, something that can be done by other authorities. Police is supposed to provide services to the people, but not what they are currently doing. They are being abused.”
- Armed patrol teams have been deployed to major cities of the country in a move the police say isÂ Â Â Â normal.
- Some opposition political parties argue the police are over-reacting, intimidatory.
- The high security alert started last week on the eve of the controversial PAC conference in Limbe.