Malawi Police Disservice

Anyone who has had to travel a long distance, say from Blantyre to Lilongwe, has encountered numerous Police checkpoints and the notorious speed traps. If you happen to have the misfortune of being the driver, by the time you reach your destination you are usually grateful the nightmare is over. This feeling comes not from having arrived safely, but from the fact that you can now stop looking for a reflector clad figure with a hand up looking to relive you of whatever little devaluation ridden funds you might have. Who do to these checkpoints and speed traps benefit, what purpose do they serve?

In a sane world, police checkpoints should ensure road safety and security by making sure vehicles safe, properly licensed, insured and not carrying passengers in an unsafe manner. Speed traps should ensure adherence to speed limits. These limits should be observed for the sake of pedestrian safety in the case of built up areas and driver safety on sections of the highway which though open could be prone to accidents for vehicles travelling at a high rate of speed.

Here in Malawi one often finds police checkpoints less than 5 kilometres apart checking for the exact same things. As the inconvenienced driver, one often wonders what about the condition of the vehicle or paperwork could have changed since the last stop 3 kilometres back. You watch in amazement as an overloaded minibus with half the people hanging out the windows and no tread on the tyres zooms past, after the conductor “shakes hands” with the officer while I’m being asked to produce a fire extinguisher for little saloon. Public safety indeed!

Rusty barrels and a plank of wood make up a police road block in Malawi. Photo Julie Samantha Campbell/Flicker

If speed traps were deployed to ensure the safety of pedestrians they would in the middle of populated areas clearly marked with a sane and convenient speed limit. In most countries, the speed limit in populated areas is 40 miles/hour or 64Km/h. If this was the speed we were advised to reduce to, I doubt you’d find many drivers complaining. Instead, drivers are forced to slow to 50Km/h, a speed which one has to work hard just to keep the vehicle from stalling.

Instead of keeping a look out for traffic and pedestrians, drivers are busy watching the speedometer lest one of these predatory machines catches them.  I’m sure everyone would agree that this increases the chance of an accident since drivers are too distracted to drive properly. The police have also resorted to other tactics to make sure they catch the maximum number of drivers; speed traps are often located in unmarked areas or far from sign posts and populated areas. Officers can be found hiding behind billboards, rocks, bushes or other good “ambush” spots.

Most speed traps are located at the bottom of slopes where they know drivers will have a hard time maintaining such a slow speed without having a foot constantly on the brakes. Clearly from these tactics we can see that speed traps are not out there for the good or safety of pedestrians and definitely not for the convenience of the drivers. What then is their purpose and whom do they serve?

Police speed traps and checkpoints have become a major revenue stream for the Malawi Police Service. The Road Safety Council and Road Traffic Division seem to be willing partners in this dirty little conspiracy since they don’t want to corral Traffic Police into doing their real job which is to PREVENT accidents. I wonder where the Police feel drivers will be getting the K5000 which they charge for these “offenses”. Is this not double taxation since we are in effect being punished for driving our vehicles? Have they checked how long it takes travelling between Blantyre and Lilongwe slowing to 50Km/h at every place with a grocery store and vegetable stand? As citizens of this country we are often taken for granted, our placid nature is taken by those in authority as stupidity.

If we are going to have speed traps and checkpoints in the country let them makes sense and serve the public good not enrich the Police Service which is already funded by tax payer money.  A sensi ble approach would be to increase the speed limits in MAJOR trading centers to 65Km/h, put clear signage indicating the speed limits within reasonable distance to highly populated areas, speed traps should be in the middle of these trading centers where they can catch drivers endangering pedestrians, educate pedestrians and cyclists not to crowd onto the roadway and hold them accountable when they cause accidents or interfere with traffic, issue tickets which can be settled at the drivers local police station instead of fostering this road side corruption and in areas where drivers should travel slowly, install speed bumps.

In closing, let us as citizens be vigilant to abuses by authorities whose power is supposed to be from us the people and for our own benefit. It is little wonder the Police are falling behind criminals since duty rosters in the stations are being organized around manning these lucrative checkpoints and speed traps instead of doing actual police work and fighting crime. It is high time government and senior police officers woke up to the fact that this is 2012 and Malawi deserves a modern, professional and well trained police service not one that has never heard of DNA, can’t even take fingerprints from crime scenes but is exceptionally good at harassing drivers.

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