If you think everything is fine between the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) and the Malawi Police Service (MPS) then you are a big dreamer.
A follower of current events would recall that not long ago, in November, the Army lost a soldier in Zomba after he was gunned down by police officers. Two months down the line, the deputy commander, Lt gen.Supuni Phiri was roughed up, tear-gassed and about to be incarcerated in police cell like a common person after some misunderstandings with junior police officers near his residence.
These two events have infuriated members of the military such that each passing day is becoming more unpredictable as to what will happen next between these two institutions.
I recall a few days after a soldier was killed in Zomba that the situation was so tense in all military camps. In fact, when all thought more problems would follow, particularly in Zomba, it was soldiers in Mzuzu that started various skirmishes.
The deputy commander, correctly read the situation and went first to Mzuzu to talk to soldiers and calm them down. I remember when he was addressing the soldiers in Lilongwe and Salima that I saw that Supuni is a good orator.
He was direct, personal, tactful and authoritative. Very few could have summoned the courage to talk to the soldiers and convince them to “let the authorities handle this” as he used to say.
His message was simple. He was not happy with the development but he was of the view that the best way was to first get to the bottom of the matter before doing anything else. At the same time, he reminded the soldiers to respect the laws. Supuni was so persuasive that we managed to evade the calamity.
Now what happens next is Supuni himself becoming the victim of police unprofessionalism when he is roughed up, tear gassed and about to be thrown into a police cell if it were not for timely arrival of MDF officers to the police station who came to his rescue. Was the general a mob to be tear-gassed?
At that time, Supuni was already without shoes and a belt ready to be locked up and the police officer on duty had already entered his name in the record book, fully aware that he was no ordinary personnel. He was a Lieutenant general.
The police had the audacity to disrespect the same person who had convinced the whole Army not to reiterate following the shooting of their comrade.
For starters, Supuni is a VIP and a high-ranking member of the armed forces. His ill-treatment has left police-military relations at their lowest ebb. If authorities are not aware of this, they are destined for a rude awakening.
Nobody is above the law for a fact, but members in the military have their own legal processes unless the crime committed is a serious one, which is directly referred to civilian institutions like the High Court.
The standard practice has been that when a soldier or officer commits a crime or is a threat to others or himself, he is merely controlled and once identified, is referred to military authorities or military police to allow the military laws to take their course.
It is not that soldiers are against the law, they are actually subjected to tougher laws and punishments under the Defence Force Act, which correct them to be better soldiers in the end.
However, the police members are failing to know their colleagues better and some misguided police personnel think they can prove who is stronger between the two institutions if we are to go by comments on social media.
That is counter-productive and against democratic tenets. The public is not being responsible either. Through social media, they write to portray the military as being good for nothing, a drain on public resources and weak as it cannot protect them from other “threats”. The military simply follows orders. They play football and do all sorts of social activities because they are part of society. When they are ordered to go and fight, they will go. They will be ordered by civilian powers of the day and all of us will support the war effort with our taxes.
The civilians will be the very same people to blame the military if it takes the law into its own hands. When soldiers are out of the barracks, it is difficult to bring them back. Let us not learn this lesson the hard way. The police and the military must coexist and the public must be responsible in the way they comment on military-related developments. – Guest Writer
The author writes in own capacity.