The Inspector General (IG) of the Malawi Police Service (MPS), Dr George Kainja, has taken a swipe at his own men and women in uniform for their heavy-handedness when handling motorcycle taxi operators.
Kainja has warned the law enforcers against what he has termed as “harassment of the operators, locally known as Kabaza.
Malawi has lately registered an increase in cases of running battles between the police and motorcycle operators, resulting in the arrest of scores of the operators and confiscation of their motorcycles in an ongoing operation MPS says is aimed at purging the operators from the streets for ‘perpetrating road accidents’.
Hordes of police officers, mostly low ranked ones, are seen roaming the streets daily to ensure that motorcycle operators are never seen around.
The officers, in some cases, are allegedly being brutal to the motorcycle operators.
Their operation is reportedly aimed at restricting the motorcycle operators to locations to ply their business there while adhering to all traffic and road safety measures, a move, which is being resented by the motorcycle operators themselves and many other people, saying ‘it is impinging on their livelihood’.
Apparently, these motorcycle operators have, on many occasions, threatened to take to the streets to demonstrate in anger if they continue to be treated in this manner by the officers.
In his wireless message dated 30 June, 2021, the police chief expressed displeasure at the manner in which some police officers are conducting themselves during the operation and warned them to desist from acts of unprofessionalism.
“This headquarters has noted with concern that some officers are harassing Kabaza motorcycle riders during enforcement of laws and by-laws governing the use of motorcycles on public roads. Some officers have been heard telling kabaza riders munavotera nkhanza zimenezi (you voted into power such cruelty). This kind of unprofessionalism will not be tolerated. You are advised to enforce the law firmly politely and professionally without attaching any politics to it,” said Kainja in the message that has been copied to all police stations and units.
Kainja has further warned police officers to refrain from what he described as irresponsible utterances, which can incite public anger and violence.
“You are further warned that once you are heard uttering bad words to kabaza riders or harassing them in any way, straight, disciplinary measures will be applied against you. Treat this as important,” he said.
MPS has always come up with a justification to purge thousands of motorcycle operators who are evidently making a livelihood from their business, saying they are “contributing to the escalation of road accidents” and, therefore, “need to ply in designated places with all valid traffic and road wealthy and safety documents”.
Data from the Ministry of Homeland Security show that, for instance, from January to December 2020 alone, motorcycle taxis, had killed 860 people in accidents.
The Minister of Homeland Security, Richard Chimwendo Banda, told journalists in December that his ministry is concerned with the rising number of these traffic accidents and disclosed that they are engaging motorcycle taxi operators to acquire formal driving training and also help them follow road safety regulations.
But a motorcyclist based in Chilinde in the capital Lilongwe, Jonathan Mapuntha, told Nyasa Times that kabaza operators must be allowed to ply their trade freely and commended police IG Kainja for rebuking some of his police officers for harassing them.
Motorcyclists like Mapuntha operate the motorcycles either as their personal business or employed by established motorcycle owners.
An operator makes at least MK10, 000 a day. If they own the motorcycle, all that money is theirs. If employed, the money goes to their boss who pays them a salary.
“Look, most of us were loafers before these motorcycle taxis came on the scene. We now have a livelihood. We are able to provide for our families. Life is better now and then they want to disturb that? It is not fair,” lamented Mapuntha.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :