Terror, tribe and territory: Malawi lessons from Kenya and Nigeria

Nigeria, the power house of Africa in terms of population and petrodollars – and with a sizeable [in terms of manpower] army – has found itself unable to adequately defend its citizens from its malcontents, Boko Haram. Yet for years the army run the country and repressed its own people. It was a ‘uniform and ceremony’ army; one that dazzled at ceremonies but merely instilled a ‘panopticon fear’ into its own citizens. When a real threat came from within, the army was found wanting.

Police transport problem  a major challenge

Police transport problem a major challenge

For many years the colonels and generals had bled army resources for their own personal ends, failing to lay down an army that would safeguard citizens’ security. The writings of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro Wiwa and others chronicled the human rights abuses and economic mismanagement that the Nigerian Army rule inflicted on its own fellow citizens.

The roots of some of the malaise in the Nigerian army go back to its colonial origins and the Biafra War, factors that politicised the army. The subsequent military regimes consolidated this politicisation.

While it is true that there has been no military rule in Kenya, the brief post-independence Kenya Army mutiny in January 1964 should not be forgotten. It was a mutiny over politics and the neglect of the new armies by the new black rulers over issues of accommodation, pay and prestige. The Kenyan Army (and police) also has colonial and postcolonial baggage and history that is relevant; it dealt, in the colonial period with the Mau Mau insurgency, often using controversial methods to subdue the Mau Mau. Just before and after independence the Shifta War of 1963 – 1967 saw fighting between secessionists in the North East Frontier Kenya province, largely Somali, and government security forces. Some of the seeds of current ethnic Somali Kenyans’ discontent with the state date from this period of alleged atrocities by the Kenyan security forces.

Kenya has this small but significant Somali population and a large border with Somalia. That places Kenya in a vulnerable place in relation to retaliation by al Shabab, the horrible results of which we have seen this past week. Although, the Kenya army, is in the African context, quite big and, unlike the Nigerian Army, well organised and supplied, and packs a regional punch, it needs the cooperation of all its citizens to subdue internal or neighbourhood insurgencies.

Malawians will recall that the RENAMO/FRELIMO war in Mozambique led to refugees and scores of border camps as people moved to and from Mozambique. No African nation can insulate its border where the same people are found on each side of the border.

It should be stated, lest the point be missed, that the problems in Nigeria and Kenya are the insurgencies of Boko Haram and al Shabab respectively. That is not in dispute. What this article is about is what we should, as Malawians do to prevent similar problems being visited on our pleasant but poor land.

We in Malawi, share our army’s origin with the Kenyan Army via the Kings African Rifles. In those old days of 1902, we had not one but two battalions to Kenya’s one! We also share the history of our security forces (police and army) training and tactics via our common British colonial heritage. It is a heritage that can best be encapsulated by naming the various places where our ‘common’ KAR ancestors fought: Burma, Malaysia, Ashanti, Somaliland…

The significant factor about both the Nigerian and Kenya scenarios is how both countries are facing largely, significantly or partly home grown problems. Mrs Thatcher, the former UK prime minister and well known ideologue, used to talk about ‘enemies within’. Kenya and Nigeria are facing ‘enemies’ from within. To beat these enemies both governments need to tease out the factors that are contributing to Boko Haram and Kenyan Somalis becoming enemies from within. It is not enough, even in the Kenya case to only blame al Shabab; al Shabab are a major, but not the only factor.

Do events in Nigeria and Kenya have lessons for Malawi? As pointed out above, our security forces come from the same mould as Kenya and Nigeria, British conceived, nurtured, trained and supported. And while the British model was adopted by most previous British colonies it has to be pointed out that it largely caters for urbanised areas. Try finding a police man in the villages, even when there are lining the route every one hundred yards to welcome some dignitary between KIA and Lilongwe!

In the case of Malawi there are four things I would like to point out.

First. I was around during the events after the Cabinet Crisis of 1964 when the Police, PMF and Army were sent to Mangochi and Machinga to ‘hunt rebels’. Note the term ‘hunt’. I was in secondary school when the Chisiza incursion occurred and people were urged to ‘hunt rebels with ‘axes…’, the enemy within scenario. In a one party or multiparty it is easy to target others as victims or enemies. This in turn creates roots of future discontent.

The second, and for me, more worrying scenario – given Nigeria – is how politicians ignore and, lets face it, abuse security forces, during peace times. Look at police houses, salaries, equipments. Look at funding for the Police Mobile Force. Look at the funding and equipment of the army. Can we honestly say that these are designed to produce police and army that place public safety above self interest? Historians like me have written about how Dr Kamuzu Banda preferred the Malawi Young Pioneers to the Army and at times gave the former better equipment. We have written about how the police lack vehicles to attend to crime scenes when we can still afford five or six state houses. Yes, there is always money for other priorities.

Third. There is the complacency and lack of debate about security issues despite, for example there being a department of Security Studies at Mzuzu University. We always assume the police will come, the army will come. How will they come if they have no vehicles or boats? The anecdotal rise in violent crime is daily openly chronicled by the media.

Fourth point. The issue of the politicisation of security forces since independence has, in my view worsened and not lessened, since Dr Banda left office. This is inimical to the provision and maintenance of good impartial order. Both Kenya and Nigeria are examples of how the citizens and the security forces have to cooperate to maintain security. If one section of the nation, particularly in a multi-ethnic country like ours is ignored, it is a recipe for mavuto. Security forces should be people’s defence forces; the maintenance of order should be decentralised to involve people at district and community levels.

Finally, the best preventive we can deploy is social justice; the less inequality that exists, the better the chances of maintaining Malawi’s bata ndi mtendere.

  • John Lwanda is a historian.
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Duduzi use yr brains. The South is where there is a high concentration of Islam.Do you see an Islamic grouping fighting for the north? Give dialogue a chance there should be an alternative to federalism. After all politicians come and go. The comparison in the article is very flawed.

14.1(Jury) You mean you are failing to link frustration and unfairness to insecurity????? You mean, you do not know that most of the insecurity activities in the world are born out of that? You mean you can not realize that Al Shabab is attacking Kenya because Kenyan troops in Mogadishu are frustrating them in trying to topple the provisional Somali gvt? You mean, you donot link up the violence in the Delta State in Nigeria to marginalization of the community there the way Malawi is marginalizing some tribes through quota and unfair and politically smeared gvt posts? Look at the… Read more »

Verdict; 0/10( tikuwida zimenezi)

emmans kaunga

Fellow Malawian, we are busy making holes on the boat we’re sailing on,when such time comes its you and me that will cry and surfer, the best way is to change our way of doing things. If our leaders are failing us why not telling them in an amicable way,let’s avoid instigating violence.Just imagine 50 yrs of independence no tangible development,so what if we experience tribal war,let’s work togather and be fair to each other countrymen.


Palimbe nkhani apa. why are you comparing bananas and oranges amwene



the last professer of human ant moneyism

it good to tink about the future bcz it is n our handz we can let it fall if we the people want,matterz of security must be put on the handz of people and army police inorder to take charge of the state or country security


I totally agree with you in your conclusion to your article. Indeed we need to decentralise our securiity systems. Not only security but also many other social aspects in our towns and small villages. Police stations in our localities should be independent. Sourcing and maintaing their own funds and determining their salaries etc. Defense activities should be limited to local boundaries. Osati wa police wa ku Kanengo or ku 18 kumalimbana ndi anthu pa msewu ku Falls etc




No 15 (southern offender), watero dikira uwonanso chapompano apa tidzayambira iwe ndi family yako…..udzayamikanso….USOVA chapompano apa khala phee!!!!

Here we go again

i can forsee this happening in Malawi if our leaders keep on telling the nation that one tribe is superior than the other by making appointmtnt into top positions in the goverment departments. Very touching to read a powerful article like this one yet someone is ignoring truth in it, watch out malawi

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