Malawi’s security apparatus over the weekend blanketed major towns, cities and other strategic points in an inter-agency operation to root out violent and daring crimes that have shocked the nation.
The operation, which started on Friday and ended Saturday night, was jointly conducted by the Malawi Police Service (MPS), the Immigration Department and—in an unusual involvement in internal security—the Malawi Defence Force (MDF).
Citizens were awed to see menacing security agents in military gear marching or methodically driving around city streets in marked vehicles and manning numerous makeshift roadblocks where they meticulously checked every passing motorist.
The development came barely hours after police officers fasted and held day-long prayers nationwide in search of divine intervention while on duty as the sharp peak in the crime rate shakes the national security establishment and cows the nation.
Inspector General (IG) of Police Lot Dzonzi, a born-again Christian, initiated the prayers, explaining that the police needed to ask God for protection after—among other horrors—two officers were recently brutally killed and several others injured in the course of duty.
During the weekend’s national operation, the law enforcement officers arrested several suspects who were charged with various offences.
They also seized various suspicious items and captured scores of illegal immigrants such as Tanzanians, Congolese, Burundians, Rwandese, Ethiopians, Sudanese and Asians, among others.
In Mzuzu, for example, the joint sweeping exercise on Friday led to the arrest of 162 people and recovery of various items.
Business came to a standstill in the northern city as the joint security force raided markets, which prevented people from entering and going out.
Speaking in an interview on Saturday, Northern Region police spokesperson Maurice Chapola confirmed the arrest of 162 people in the exercise, adding that the operation was, among other things, aimed at confiscating illegal fire arms.
During the exercise, one was found in possession of a police uniform, 12 for being found with counterfeit products, 17 for possessing property suspected to have been stolen, two for illegal entry and others for rogue and vagabond.
“[Other] items confiscated during the operation are six laptops, three bicycles, 21 jerry canes of engine oil, kitchen utensils and motor vehicle spare parts,” said Chapola.
Asked to explain the objectives of the weekend’s mission and whether they were met, IG Dzonzi said in an interview yesterday that he would hold a press conference today to brief Malawians on the operation.
He said: “There was indeed an out-of-ordinary presence of police officers and other law enforcement officers on the streets and other points. This is in response to public outcries about the state of security in the country. For now, that is what I can say, but the rest will be communicated after an operational brief tomorrow [today].”
But the seriousness of the operation as indicated by the IG appears to have been lost on the principal secretary for Home Affairs and Internal Security Beston Chisamile, who—in a separate interview yesterday—downplayed the exercise, describing it as normal.
“This is not the first time government has done that. In fact, in security, there are always situations where there is need for such operations. You are also aware of what the country has experienced in the last few months, so it also required a joint operation to offset what had been happening. But it was just a normal operation,” explained Chisamile.
In recent weeks, the country has witnessed a significant rise in crime, particularly in urban areas, since President Peter Mutharika came to power in May 2014.
Robbers have even been attacking people and various places during daytime, thereby creating fear and panic among Malawians.
The fearlessness of the perpetrators has been as shocking as the frequency of their crimes.
Just last week, robbers broke into and attempted to steal at the Vice-President’s official residence in Blantyre, raising questions of how safe citizens are if the home of the second most powerful man on the land—Saulos Chilima—can be violated so easily.
Two weeks ago, Standard Bank Mzuzu Branch was also robbed of over K500 million by gun slingers.
The bank job prompted Mutharika to declare war on crime and announced that as a starting point, government had bought 50 vehicles to equip the police to effectively respond to the crime concerns.
Meanwhile, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) have called on the Mutharika administration to design long-lasting measures to address the growing insecurity in the country.
In a joint statement issued on Thursday signed by CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo and Cedep head Gift Trapence, the two bodies bemoaned a series of robberies, loss of lives to crime and arson cases on Mutharika’s watch.