Waging war on crime? It’s war on social inequalities Malawi needs

President Peter Mutharika has ordered Home Affairs and Internal Security Minister, Paul Chibingu, “to wage war against crime and ensure that every perpetrator [of crimes] is dealt with accordingly.” Perhaps with awareness that his directive would draw fears of heavy handedness by the folks, the President Mutharika advised the minister to ensure that the directive is carried out within the confines of the law.

It is somewhat assuring that the State President is aware of the insecurity in the country. A recent Sunday Times investigation revealed that there has been an “upsurge in crime since DDP assumed office three months ago.” The president has said he knows people behind the upsurge in crime, which is good because it will make the work of security services easier. If indeed the President knows the real culprits, having in mind that crime comes in all sizes and shape.

Surely the President made the state at a public rally because it is in his interest and that of his government to show that he is in control and that his administration is on top of the situation. It is a clever idea given that President Mutharika still needs to win confidence of majority of Malawians as well as potential investors, locally and broad.

Mutharika claims to know the underworld crime gang

Mutharika claims to know the underworld crime gang

Remember that 65% of Malawians did not vote for President Mutharika last May. He cannot afford to lose sight of this. Abroad, the President needs to attract foreign investors. This is particularly crucial as up 40% of budgetary support from donors is frozen indefinitely. Foreign investors are very big on security. They wont invest in places with high crime rates. Security and political stability is something that Malawi has assured potential investors throughout the years. Letting this reputation slip through our fingers would be a disaster – President Mutharika is right to be concerned.

It is interesting however that the President decided to make this statement at a political rally. More often than not, political rally statements have turned into empty rhetoric. I discussed it three weeks ago that podium policies have not worked in Malawi and there is nothing to suggest it will ever work. One disadvantage that President Mutharika has is that he cannot always successfully repeat political tricks of his predecessors and get away with it quietly and comfortably. Malawians have learned from past experiences and they have become more suspicious, questioning and demanding.

President Mutharika is not the first leader in this world to declare war on social hazards such as crime. From mid to late 1940s leaders of the ‘free world’ have declared “war” on drugs, poverty, illiteracy, terror etc. Those who follow social policies of more stable democracies will be aware that these “wars” are always open-ended and are never won. These “wars” are, more or less, a policy vehicle for the incumbency to carry them through their mandated period.

One of the problems with social policies, including crime, is that they are always top-down and often knee-jerk reactions. This ignores available evidence on everyday realities that, though not to justify crime, drive people into life of crime. Crimes are a mere symptom, its causes lay elsewhere; to sort out a problem you fight the cause, not the symptom. You do not heal a boil by covering it in a bandage, burst it and treat the wound so it heals inside out.

Study after study, in various countries have established a link between high crime rates and social inequalities. Two in every five Malawians are currently earning K10, 000 per month against government’s own set minimum wage of K15, 000 per month. The informal sector is worse. The Nation newspaper (26/08/2014) carried a news story on a 2013 National Statistical Office (NSO) Labour Force Survey, which indicated that at the moment “earnings in Malawi are skewed with a few people earning more than the average person.”

Alex Nkosi, of Centre for Social Concern told Sunday Times (31/08/2014) that government must realise that there are “extreme cases of poverty in density areas and people in such situation tend to find survival mechanisms through prostitution, theft, alcohol abuse, which also breed security concerns.”

Ultimately, winning war against crime also means winning war against inequalities. President Mutharika has inherited a chaotic economy, albeit no worse than what Joyce Banda inherited in 2012, and you may recall that President Joyce Banda’s administration also had to deal with issues of insecurity; it was particularly worse in her first few months.

Remember ndakuwona campaign front-lined by the then Minister of Information, Moses Kunkuyu? Is seems like a decade has passed now but it was only two years ago, the aim of that campaign was to fight crime like President Mutharika has directed the Home Affairs and Internal Security Ministry. You could say Joyce Banda’s administration won the battle but lost the war; they did burst the boil, they bandaged it – as it is, Peter Mutharika is facing the same prospect.

It is no brainier that fighting crime should also mean improving people’s living conditions. Work on job creation, ensure decent pay and working conditions, ensure accessible loan facilities; farmers must have access to good and access markets. Crime is a symptom of dysfunctional socioeconomic system.

All Malawians have a role to play in fixing it but the government must lead the way. Malawi government needs clear and well-thought-through policies on this, beyond political podium.

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