Malawi making progress to become a gun-free nation—CHRR

Paper presented at a Workshop on Community Policing, Lilongwe.


Basically my presentation is on what we have been doing in Malawi in regard to promoting community safety/security and firearms control in partnership with the Police and local communities.  I am not speaking on behalf of the Malawi police but from the civil society point of interventions.

Malawi is a small land locked country sharing borders with Mozambique on a wide northeast, southeast and southwest, Zambia in the northwest, central and Tanzania in north and northeast.  I am mentioning these countries because they might have contributed in one way or the other on the impact of firearms proliferation in Malawi as either transit points or source therefore impacting on public safety and security. (But there are other internal sources as well).

For three decades (from 1960’s-1990’s) and then (from 2007 -20012) Malawi’s governance had suffered dictatorship.  The police and other security agencies were used as state machinery for terrorizing the people. The police, the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP) and those other security agencies were accountable only to the Head of State and his lieutenants/meaning those surrounding him.  These regimes were openly challenged because of violations of human rights, lack of respect for the rule of law and Constitutionalism. During these eras many Malawians were arrested and murdered, others disappeared, others forced into exile mainly for beingjust trying to fight for a democratic space.

Undule Mwakasungura rights campaigner, head of CHRR

Public Security
Malawi takes note that insecurity and conflict are by far the most major characterists of the SADC region. They have compounded other sets of problems such as the proliferation of small arms and insecurity in the region.  The impact of the contribution of these factors have resulted somehow in underdevelopment and poverty.  But No doubt there is a general consensus that SADC governments have the political will to tackle the numerous insecurity problems in the region.

Let me also say violence makes social institutions more fragile. This is without mentioning corruption which affects all levels of public administration producing a generalized lack of credibility and confidence in the authorities and therefore losing trust with the public.

When dealing with public security we are referring to the forms of combating and prevention of violence: a topic which has always caused much controversy. Some believe violence has to be tackled at “its roots” looking at misery, social exclusions, discrimination, bad income
distribution, nepotism, unemployment etc. On the other, there is the growing request for the adoption of efficient public security policies which take into account the specific problems of each reality and not less important, the need for profound reforms in the whole Criminal Justice

Police Reform Programe
The Malawi police has been going through a police reform since 1995. This program is a systematic change process that is transforming the oganisation policing style, standard, culture and systems to ensure meeting the safety and security needs of the communities by improving performance and quality of services.

This is in light of the fact that for a long period the Malawi Police was used as a state machinery to oppress the people whom it was suppose to serve, therefore creating a loose touch with the public.  The police reform programme started from the recognition that the police alone can not achieve in maintaining safety and security without the support and cooperation of the general public.

Community Based Policing, (CBP) as a Model for Police Reform In 1995 the Malawi Police services embarked on the Community Based Policing (CBP) as one major component of the police reform. The main objective was to develop the police into a people centered organization with human rights based principles.  And in 1997 the government adopted Community Based Policing as a new style of policing to meet safety and security needs of the community.

Let me also say CBP is increasingliy being recoginsed as the most appropriate philosophical foundation for democratic policing. It is also recognized as an approach to policing that meets many of the post conflict safety and security challenges. It is however important to bear in mind
that CBP is not a one -off effort, but a long strategic approach and as such it needs to be implemented in a sustainable and systematic way.

This approach is based on respect for human rights, accountability, and the need for effective police operations to be conducted in a partnership with the communities who are the recipients of the public service provided by the police.

We need to take note that living in poverty can mean far more than living without shelter or sustenance.  It often also means living in fear without adequate means of protection or redress.  Access to justice, safety and the right to live without fear is important to all.  In particular, the
fear of violent crime is a key threat to community safety and a challenge for both the community and the police to address.

 Civil Society/Community-Police Project Firearms Control Project

The country faces a growing firearms proliferation problem. The problem can be attributed to a number of factors,
•       Being the residual effect of arms proliferation within the region as a result of the Mozambique civil war, the activities of the liberation armies and Malawi covert involvement in de-stabilization of the region
•       The easing of cross-border and internal traffic of goods and people as aresult of the country political and economic reform process.

In 1999 a project was designed following an assessment to explore whether the civil society in Malawi could be given international support and expertise for implementation of a firearms control project.  The project aimed at mainly helping the Malawi Police Service through local communities of the already established Community Policing Forums   (CPFs) find effective methods of preventing firearms proliferation and misuse. (Explain the origin)

Main Objectives:

Help mobilize civil society groups to work in cooperation with the police to monitor cross-border trafficking in firearms and armed crime;

Encourage support for better training of police and better accountability to prevent abuse

Main Areas of Achievements
The project in partnership and collaboration with the Malawi police andlocal communities has been involved in the following activities: –

Completed first stage of research and analysis of the scope of the problem of armed crime and sources of firearms in Malawi. The Project has been collecting all available police data on serious crime to analyze the pattern and indicator causes; established an on-going media monitoring
of violent crime, and although this was not by no means exhaustive, the analysis helped provide a better picture of the nature of the problem; (Sources: AK 47s from Mozambique, Pistols from SA, Home Made guns, Standard licensed weapons from the Police and Arms, and other unique
weapons such as panga, knives which are as well used in violent crime)

Enhanced public awareness through radio, TV programs, community session and publication of materials on the dangers of illicit firearms and need for Community Based Policing.  (Posters in local language)

Initiated proposals for legal reform, especially of Police and Firearms Acts using United Nations standards. Through a Legal Consultant, the project produced a provisional legal opinion on the adequacy and inadequacy of the current laws relating to community safety and firearms

Assisted the Malawi Police, and communities affected by armed violence to promote and expand the capacity of Community Policing Forums. The project provided bicycles, torches and whistles to CPFs to act as an incentive and mobilize support to the communities and others. But we have
encouraged local mobilization of support.

Helped with establishment of a training program for Community Based Policing Forum and Civil Society Groups.  In collaboration with the Police the training program has been supported by production of a training curriculum, community safety manual, posters and a video film “Protecting
our Lives” which is highlighting the current activities and challenges of the Malawi Police and civilian members of the new Community Policing Forums in dealing with firearms proliferation and violent crime as a new partnership.

Begun to develop regional cooperation between NGOs, in order to enhance cooperation between governments, police and civil society on small arms and need for community involvement   (In this regard the Kenyans are designed their Community Policing program/model based on MalawiExperiences)

The project encouraged police/media relationship aimed at developing a lasting mutual understanding based on principles for equal partnership.

How Did We Achieve This
Mutual Trust
Equal Partnership/Openness
Understanding  of CSO/NGOs  role in Safety and Security  matters
CSO/NGOs  seen as  a resource
Regular Communication/Information Flow
Joint  implementation of programmes
Seeking to be accommodating  and focusing on addressing commonproblems

General commitment now exiting at many levels in Malawi to tackle the threat of illicit firearms and persistence of armed crime. This commitment has been shown by joint efforts from the Malawi authorities, particularly the Malawi Police Service, and a growing number of civil society
organizations particularly NGOS and local Communities with the assistance of the international donor community such as the UK, Department for International Development (DFID) supporting the Police Reform process, and the Norwegian Government who are supporting the building of expertise of civil society in small arms control.

But the sustainability of this partnership will only be possible if the Malawi Police are accountable to the public and continue to observe international standards regarding respect for human rights and them understanding that security is both a human rights and a prerequisite for sustainable development.

The project main guiding principle has been community involvement and civil society support for police operations is a vital aspect of the rule of law and that international support can be sustained only by ensuring respect for international norms regarding human rights by law enforcers.

But to eradicate conflicts and control small arms, government and civil society must strengthen efforts to eliminate the problem of small arms in the region.  In addition civic education, formal education and other literacy programme should be strengthened with a view to increasing people’s awareness and their responsibilities.


*Undule D.K. Mwakasungula, (Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR- MALAWI)

Email: [email protected]  or
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