In this interview, our reporter SUZGO CHITETE speaks to Brigadier General Marcel Chirwa (retired), a former diplomat and current director at the Centre for Peace and Security Management. He speaks on human security and the role of government in ensuring that the citizens are empowered with necessary information to promote peace and security.
What does Centre for Peace and the Security Management do?
We are filling a gap—which is the disconnect between the Malawi Government versus its citizens on issues of security. Issues discussed internationally such as Southern Africa Development Community [Sadc], African Union [AU] and the UN. There are several resolutions made at these fora that people do not know, so our role is to fill that gap; to translate issues to the people. Once the citizens have this information it will be easy to manage human security which is quite an issue in this country and other places in the world.
Why should people care about resolutions made at the international level or agreements that government enters into?
At UN level there are several issues but I will give you an example of Sadc, there are a number of agreements which Malawi has signed up. Let’s talk about the Sadc organ on defense and security, there are several issues happening in DRC, Lesotho and elsewhere—more recently in Zimbabwe. And in the northern part of Mozambique we have heard of Al shabab attacking villages there—when government shares that kind of information it helps people to be on alert and know exactly what they can do in case of any of such events in the country.
Malawi is generally peaceful, why should the government be bothered to share such information as if we are under any threat?
The way we are looking at security is much broader than simply thinking of protective security through the defense forces or police, we are focusing on security based on the 1994 UNDP guidelines—which looks at security in totality. This talks about economic security, human rights, and issues of corruption, respect for diversity and how all these impact on human development. All these elements affect the wellbeing of people; hence—they are issues of security concern. This is why engagement with international organisations is focused on all aspects of human life and not limited to national defence—which is important but not the only aspect of security we should be worried about.
You gave an example of recent incidences in Zimbabwe, and it is a matter of months before Malawi goes to the polls, is there any concern of human security during this politically-charged period?
Political threats are internal instabilities within political parties or between parties which also may destabilise human security and peace. And also the human rights abuses are likely to occur within the same spectrum of political threats. We may not have examples—but we have seen incidences of political violence and this is where we come in to disseminate the information to citizens. Connected to the same there is economic security, for examples issues of corruption—the inequalities between the rich and the poor, all these factors have a potential to degenerate into conflict. This is why there is also emphasis on food security because if you do not have food that is another source of human insecurity. So our role is to look at every aspect that disturbs peace and security for human beings. You cannot leave your door open because there is no threat but you always close before the thief comes in. Preparing before the threat comes in.
In the face of all these multiple security challenges facing Malawians how do you come in to improve the status quo?
Disseminating information is one key area of focus. We are a new organisation but we intend to do a lot of research on a number of issues which we can disseminate to the people. Our model is appropriated from a Latin word which says, “In peacetime prepare for war.” We are not talking about the war where people will be shooting each other but we are aiming at creating an informed citizenry which plays an active role in improving their personal security and that of others. With this approach, it will also be easy to improve national security.
Let’s talk about Al Shabab and Boko Haram which are a security threat in some other parts of Africa. Far as they may be to Malawi, do Malawians need to care about this?
Generally, that is how it should be and I know our government is working on something. Even in those countries, do the citizens know? That is the gap I was talking about. For example, Al Shabab is fighting Kenya because Kenya is involved in an operation in Somalia, they attacked Uganda because Uganda is also involved in Somalia. That is just an example, Malawi is involved in DRC, you never know what may happen—so those are the threats probably at the national security level the government needs to handle. And I think they are doing something in that regard but do the citizens know? We can also talk about how citizens would aid illegal immigrants or protecting them from law-enforcer that is another security concern and all these can be dealt with—if the citizenry has information.
What more would you say?
Security is an important subject we ought to take seriously because it has a direct bearing on human life and development. I believe the more the government and other stakeholders popularise this issue the more people will become aware. We are more than willing to share information with anyone who wants to learn more. Otherwise I repeat in peacetime let’s prepare for war.