Opening a refresher course on Child Protection and Gender Based Violence in Dowa, Director of Research and Planning in the Malawi Police Service Dr George Kainja has been bold enough to admit that members of the pubic have lost trust in the police. The admission is coming at a time when pubic trust is at the lowest ebb since the dawn of democracy. Although he has made an assurance that the police is doing something about it, it remains to be seen whether this will materialise.
The unprofessional manner in which the police have been conducting themselves over the years has led to many Malawians to lose trust. Some 11 years ago (2008) I wrote a similar article under the title “Protection from the police” in which I suggested that Malawi needs a Police Inspectorate, an independent body that would prosecute police officers found on the wrong side of the law. It does not make any sense for the victims of police brutality to complain to the same police that is victimising them. They cannot get justice. The tendency has been to shield errant police officers and hide behind the phrase “we are investigating” when they are just lying; case closed!
“Despite the police claiming to be professional and not being influenced by the ruling elite and other powerful individuals or receiving ‘orders from above’ the situation on the ground proves contrary. The police have failed to fend off taking orders from the ruling elite and work within the Police Act and the Malawi Constitution.
“They see themselves as civil servants and serving the government of the day rather than an independent organization that is governed by statutes and supposed to work within the law and follow it to the letter. They are used by the ruling elite to abuse human rights while they also abuse human rights through their own actions. Malawians are now accustomed to police excesses and overbearing behaviour. Media are replete with reports of police high-handedness and brutality.”
Incidentally, police incompetence, excesses and brutality has become worse. In 2011 police shot dead 20 protesters. Some suspects have died in prison and inquests have revealed that the suspects have been tortured. And no effort is made to bring the killer cops to book. For example, Malawi Human Rights Commission recommended that the police officers who tortured to death Buleya Lule [an albino suspected killer] should be prosecuted. But the police is shielding the culprits. They still walk free.
The manner in which the police have handled demonstrations in the aftermath of the disputed May 21 election results also leaves a lot to be desired. They have beaten up or shot at demonstrators, fired teargas into the crowd unnecessarily and failed to arrest ruling party cadets involved in violence. For example, the police just watched as Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) official Billy Mayaya was hacked with a panga knife. As if this is not embarrassing enough, the police raped scores of women in Msundwe in Lilongwe in the aftermath demonstrations last week in which a police officer was killed.
There is bad blood between the people and the police. The police do not command respect as they used to. Many Malawians have developed a profound dislike of the police. This is exemplified by people chasing or stoning them during demonstrations, preferring soldiers to provide security. They are viewed as an arm of the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP) whose cadets are not arrested for perpetrating violence.
HRDC is lobbying parliament not to confirm the Acting Inspector General of Police Duncan Mwapasa as Inspector General while the main opposition Malawi Congress Party has taken a position not to confirm him because they accuse him of favouring the ruling party.
It will take time for the police to win back the confidence of the public. But this can only happen after DPP is ejected out of office, a massive clean-up is instituted to get rid of the bad apples in the police service, get the right people to head the police. Above all, the police need to have the determination to be professional at all times and refuse to be used by politicians regardless of consequences.