An unprecedented wave of lawlessness has hit the country as some citizens are fast becoming a law unto themselves at each instigation.
Rioting is no longer news as people maim and kill each other on flimsy excuses while property is either being torched or vandalised, a situation experts say is an indication of a State out of control.
In just a month, seven people have died in typical acts of lawlessness while dozens have been injured and property worth millions of kwacha has been damaged.
A political scientist argues that all the acts of lawlessness point to lack of confidence in the security and judicial system and a widespread perception that the current political leadership is not legitimate while a sociologist attributed the status quo to people’s frustration with hard economic times and political situation.
But, while opposition political parties blame the anarchy on what it calls leadership crisis, State House has distanced President Peter Mutharika from any wrong-doing.
Since the disputed May 21 2019 presidential elections, Malawi has been home to violent acts. Some students burnt school infrastructure, Lunzu and Thyolo secondary schools are some of the institutions whose buildings were torched.
Christians and Muslims engaged in a bloody fight in Liwonde while villagers in Nkhata Bay were at war against each other—leaving four people dead and 21 homes torched.
In Neno, two people were hacked with pangas over alleged witchcraft claims while controversy over Chikulamayembe chieftaincy is still reigning supreme as rival factions have been involved in running battles.
Two police officers have died after being injured in anti-Jane Ansah protests, with many others, including Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers, nursing injuries.
A University of Malawi’s Chancellor College sociologist Charles Chilimampunga attributed, in an interview on Thursday, the occurrences to hard economic times, accelerated by the unstable political situation.
He said these are signs of a nation whose people are frustrated owing to tough economic times.
“This is worsened by a situation where our political leaders appear not to be in control. These are times the leadership was supposed to be proactive and offer immediate solution,” Chilimampunga said.
He said Malawi Police Service (MPS) represents government on ensuring that there is law and order; hence, must up its game to help the situation, stressing that the issue of the public losing trust in police is something that must be addressed urgently.
Political scientist Henry Chingaipe said all what is happening is a result of lost confidence in the security and justice system; hence, people think the solution is to take the law in their own hands.
“What we are seeing now is a State of instability where people are taking the law into their own hands because they have no confidence in the system of the State established to resolve conflict,” said Chingaipe.
He said the wave of lawlessness was never there before because the State was functioning, but the situation is worse due to widespread perception that those currently running the State are illegitimate.
“We must address the legitimacy question and people will begin to trust the system” he added.
Lawyer and human rights activist Justin Dzonzi said societies are aware of laws they are supposed to comply with and the importance of maintaining order, but when the State agencies start short-changing them, they resort to taking the law into their own hands.
Dzonzi was referring to failure of State agencies such as MPS, Judiciary, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and lawyers in general to perform their duties independently and professionally, warning that this may make people to lose trust in the entire system and opt to take the law into their own hands.
He said another contributing factor to the current lawlessness is the economic situation, which he said has become unbearable owing to hard economic times, adding that people have become angry and are ready to vent out their anger violently over small incidences.
Both opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM blame the situation on what they call “leadership crisis”.
MCP’s spokesperson Rev Maurice Munthali said President Peter Mutharika is failing to unite what he called “a divided nation”. He said the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which Mutharika leads, has perpetrated divisions due to nepotism and a larger part of the society is antagonised; hence, venting their anger on anything.
Munthali also said the President’s tone is not reconciliatory as he keeps boasting that he won the presidential elections, when the same is being contested in court.
UTM publicist Joseph Chidanti Malunga said: “One thing we know is that we are in a leadership crisis. We need a leader who is respected and accepted by all. So, this frustration is from elections. It is like building anger for a long time and suddenly you find a trigger”.
But presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani, reacting to those blaming the President for alleged inactivity, said in an interview on Thursday that people were expecting too much from the President, arguing that Malawi embraced democratic system of government and there are three branches, which are independent of each other.
“If you understand it, the President is a leader, but he is not above anybody, or the law. All the three branches of the government are guided by the Constitution and each branch, be it the Executive, the Judiciary or the Legislature, has limitations.
“The President has no authority to tell the Judiciary how to deal with certain accused persons, or the Legislature how to handle an issue before the House,” Kalilani said.
He said it is a bit out of order for people to start pointing fingers at the President after they embraced democratic system of government back in 1993.
He said each arm of government makes decisions depending on its mandate as provided for in the Constitution, stressing that Malawi is not a presidential absolute system.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera, addressing the role of the police in the face of the prevailing anarchy, said in an interview on Thursday, that police were doing all they could to restore the lost trust. He said most of the issues arise from wrong perception on how the police performed its duties during the elections period.
Kadadzera acknowledged that there are always bad apples in every system, stressing that MPS would always discipline its officers, and in criminal matters involving its officers, police would not hesitate to dismiss them if the court of law finds them guilty and convicted.
“We’re reminding our officers to remain disciplined; people should be able to notice our professionalism. We’re also working hard to reach out to the communities and inform them of our roles and what we expect from them,” Kadadzera said.
He said it is unrealistic for the public to ask the police to surrender to them a suspected murderer so that they deal with him or her, arguing that there is no way police can release on bail such suspects as it is only the mandate of the court to do so, where bail is granted.
He said police were also working hard on their visibility in an effort to put a stop to lawlessness.
He said they have always tried to respond to crime scenes swiftly, saying the Liwonde incident, where Muslims and Christians fought, would have been a worst incident if it were not for their prompt response.
“Our efforts sometimes are watered down because of the propaganda against us. Police stations, units are sometimes targeted, attacked or even burnt. But if our presence in the communities is subdued, who loses?” he queried. n