- Fails to act on over 90% of political violence
- MEC fears elections-related brutality may affect polls
Police are giving a blind eye to the escalating political violence ahead of next year’s elections, with no action on at least 90 percent of brutal acts Nation Publications has covered since 2014.
A research we have conducted based on serious violent cases published in Weekend Nation, The Nation and Nation on Sunday indicates that out of 15 incidents of violence that occurred between 2014 and 2018, Police only acted swiftly on one incident.
And the one they acted on involved opposition parties, while those linked to supporters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are largely ignored, according to our findings.
The acted upon incident involved the March 2016 Mzuzu fracas that occurred during a solidarity political rally conducted by Malawi Congress Party (MCP), People’s Party (PP) and Alliance for Democracy (Aford), where some machete-wielding youths ambushed the then PP acting president Uladi Mussa.
Two days after the rally, on March 23, Police picked four suspects in connection with the fracas. These were George Mwamtowe, 38, from Mwangukulu Village, T/A Kilipula, Karonga; Lumbani Munthali, 29, from Matupi Village, T/A Chikuklamayembe, Rumphi; Clive Thakomwa, 52, from Malema Village, T/A, Kyungu, Karonga and Frank Simwaka Kashololo, 30, from T/A Mwenewenya in Chitipa.
Police identified Nthakomwa as PP acting regional secretary. At that time, some PP members wanted Rumphi East legislator Kamlepo Kalua to be the acting president of PP, and not Mussa.
Northern Region Police spokesperson then said the four would be charged with propagating violence contrary to Section 87 of the Penal Code. But since then nothing has been heard about the case and its future remains uncertain.
Law enforcers have also not updated the nation on the status of violent cases suspected to have been instigated by DPP youth cadets such as the Gonapamuhanya incident in Rumphi, where MCP and Aford presidents were stoned and, in the process, a Zambian delegate lost her life.
Police have also been silent on the incident that took place at Parliament Building in Lilongwe during President Peter Mutharika’s May 2018 State of the Nation Address (Sona) and in Karonga where a relief distribution meeting by Vice-President Saulos Chilima in April 2018 was also disrupted.
Similarly, Police have not given an update on the attack on MCP supporters at Milonde in Mulanje during the April 2018 local government by-elections and the petrol-bombing of Mulanje South legislator Bon Kalindo’s house and vehicle in May 2018, among others.
The latest incident occurred last Saturday in Mangochi, where two vehicles—one belonging to the United Transformation Movement (UTM) and another to a UTM member, Mzimba West legislator Agnes Nyalonje—were torched by unknown assailants. UTM is led by Vice-President Chilima.
But almost a week now, nobody has been apprehended in relation to the incident, and, according to National Police Headquarters spokesperson James Kadadzera, police are still investigating the matter.
UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti-Malunga, in a telephone interview yesterday, said his movement was worried with the pace and direction into which investigations into the arson attack were taking.
“It is a worrisome development. One can only speculate that it is because we are in opposition. We expected the police to expedite their investigations and, among others, question the owner of the place the attack took place. We thought we would be getting regular updates on the progress and see a strong statement from the law enforcers to warn people against the vice,” said Malunga.
As political violence heightens, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has expressed fear that if left unchecked, the rising acts of terror in form of political violence, would ultimately affect efforts to hold free and fair elections in May 2019.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, MEC chief executive officer Sam Alufandika expressed worry at the recent incidences of politically-motivated violent acts, saying they may paralyse the electoral process.
“The occurrences may have a direct bearing on the electoral process since they are happening within the period of voter registration,” he said.
Added Alufandika: “MEC is worried with the trend in which acts of violence have penetrated the political space. If left unchecked, it would hamper efforts to achieve free and fair polls come 2019. We are not sitting on our laurels, though. We have already started engagement through multiparty liaison committees in various districts. While we do not have the direct authority to manage the space outside the official campaign period, we hope other authorities such as police and councils who are currently managing the space will work to eliminate this vice. We wonder what would happen next year if these trends get worse.”
Perpetrators not apprehended
A 2016 study on ‘Electoral Conflict and Violence in Malawi: Patterns, Nature and Mitigation Measures’ conducted by governance specialist Henry Chingaipe, observes that in many cases perpetrators of violence are not apprehended or charged, with victims receiving little or no redress.
Chingaipe also observes that due to high levels of unemployment, youth wings of political parties serve as instruments of terror and violence, especially for those in government.
“The energetic youths easily sign up as supporters of the parties and as potential agents of political violence for amounts of money,” he observes.
He recommends the establishment of an institutionalised working modality between MEC and the Police to mitigate and prevent violence beyond the ad hoc arrangements made to provide security and prevent violence on electoral activities for which MEC is directly concerned as the duty bearer.
Chingaipe notes in the study that reported and recorded incidents of open conflicts and violence have been decreasing during the four general elections, suggesting that as the electoral competition becomes more accepted and entrenched, open conflicts and physical violence can be eliminated.
In the study, Chingaipe concludes that preventing electoral conflicts and violence requires building and nurturing institutional arrangements that enjoy broad-based legitimacy so that democratic electoral competition does not accord violence a place in strategies for winning elections.
Police appeal for patience
While asking political party leaders to take a leading role in sensitising their members to desist from violence, Kadadzera said police were doing everything to contain the situation.
He appealed for patience on how the law enforcement agency handles different cases.
“The problem is people want instant response to arresting suspects. We arrest suspects after thorough investigations,” he said.
A security analyst Alex Chisiano observed that police’s selective approach in dealing with political violence and subsequent failure to conclude probes was a recipe for more disastrous incidents.
On his part, political commentator Peter Chisi faulted political parties for failing to discipline their supporters who get involved in the vice.
And a lecturer in Conflict Studies in the Development of Governance, Peace and Security at Mzuzu University Eugenio Njoloma said the rising political violence indicates absence of democratic values in political leaders, which results in lack of political intolerance.
But DPP publicity secretary Nicholas Dausi said his party does not condone any form of violence, saying it has always, and will always be a peaceful party.