Everyone knows the wave of crime in Malawi has reached intolerable levels. And there’s need to bring it down. However, the directive President Bingu wa Mutharika gave to police to use any force within the law was unfortunate. It has been construed as shoot to kill. The killing of an innocent soldier in Zomba comes barely a few hours after he issued the directive. Issuing such a directive to a poorly trained Malawi Police Service (MPS) is recipe for disaster. It is tantamount to giving them a license to kill. The police are trigger happy and will be killing innocent people like vigilante groups.
It is an open secret that the police are frustratingly unprofessional and at the centre of human rights abuses which go unabated daily. The President should accept the blame for sending wrong signals to the police. One would have thought he learnt a lesson from his brother Bingu when he issued a similar directive as president.
As President, he should be the last person to issue such a reckless statement. The police have failed to bring down crime in the country because they do not have ideas on how to fight crime. That is why you find a vehicle stolen in Lilongwe driven to Zambia or Mozambique. Robbers are outwitting the police because they have no clue how to corner them. The solution to bring down crime is not shooting to kill, but devising strategies. Crime happens everywhere and anytime. Given the level of education of the majority of police officers, they are simply not intelligent enough to match the level of sophistication by robbers.
While it is the duty of police to patrol the streets to make them safe from criminals, the police misuse this duty by abusing human rights and rarely use good judgment. Frequently, one hears of stories about police arresting people found on the streets after 10pm for rogue and vagabond. Yet, this law is in conflict with Section 39 of the Constitution which states that “every person shall have the right of freedom of movement and residence.” It is unfortunate that some magistrates have memory lapses and resort to miscarriages of justice. They have been fining innocent people for rogue and vagabond when it is their constitutional right to move freely. Imposing restrictions on people’s movements is tantamount to imposing a curfew which only the president can declare with the approval of Parliament.
It should also be borne in mind that people move at night for various reasons. Some, to and fro work. Others, to and fro funerals. Others to escort or welcome relatives. Others might have arrived late at night from their journey and are going home. Others from entertainment. People should not fear to move at night because of the police. It is the duty of police to protect people and not put undue restrictions on their movements.
To avoid loss of innocent lives, the police should be adequately trained, never use live ammunition and be tested for mental fitness. If such unbecoming police behaviour continues, people will be forced to protect themselves against them because no one trusts them. The police have turned into the worst criminals. The sad part is that government shields these undesirable elements. Since the incident in Zomba, there has been no official word from government. And the question is: where is the leadership?
Police should be held accountable for their actions. For example, the police who killed the soldier in Zomba should be pursed until justice is done. No one is above the law. The army should not accept anything less than this. No person deserves to die at the hands of the police.
Government is suffering from severe governance credibility and overlooking such glaring police excesses further damages government reputation. Already, donors have demanded government to bring the case involving the death of Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa to a logical conclusion. It is dilly-dallying because some people linked to his death are in government. Can government show effective leadership?