Terrorism can take place anywhere, any time: Security tips for Malawi

Through my professional background in the military, law enforcement and risk management industry as well as my academic journey where I studied security and terrorism, I have developed a comprehensive understanding of the vulnerabilities we face in the Africa and our beloved Malawi in particular.

Having personally experienced the aftermath of a terrorist attack when I attended the scene after the Manchester bombing, the loss of life, destruction, panic and confusion caused by a terrorist attack is something I would never wish on my people. I have also had a work colleague severely injured as he tried to protect civilians during the London Bridge terrorist attack.

The emergence of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Somalia have completely changed the landscape all over Africa. In the past few years, we have witnessed a rapid rise in terrorism and violent extremism across Africa which has generated threats and problems of considerable cost, gravity and complexity. Due to the expansion of social media and other information sharing platforms like WhatsApp, materials for radicalizing potential terrorist are easily being shared.

The terrorist attacks that have been brazenly carried out in Nairobi and other parts of Africa should serve as a timely reminder that terrorism can take place anywhere, any time, and that something needs to change now rather than later – or, as Martin Luther King Jr once put it, the fierce urgency of now.

 

Kenya has become a target of Islamic militants al-Shabaab due to its porous borders where militants can infiltrate into the country easily without being detected as well as Kenya’s continued armed intervention in Somalia. Al-Shabaab have targeted Kenya for both logical and opportunistic reasons. The militants’ attacks aim at influencing Kenya’s foreign policy and force it to withdraw from Somalia.

As much as the likelihood for a terrorist attack remains limited in Malawi due to Malawi’s geographic location and proximity to terrorist breeding grounds, Malawi present the same conditions similar to Kenya making the country susceptible to a terrorist attack, Apart from its porous borders, Malawi’s continued participation in UN peacekeeping missions in Democratic Republic of Congo where the MDF has fought against an Islamist group, the Allied Democratic Forces.

It’s important to take note that terrorism is actually closer to home than we might think. Terrorist related activities have occurred in Malawi in the past two decades although this has been under reported in the local media. In 2003, law-enforcement officers in Malawi, working alongside the CIA,arrested five men suspected of helping to funnel money to al-Qaeda. According to the Malawi National Intelligence Bureau, the five foreigners were arrested in Blantyre with CIA’s assistance after being suspected of running charities that channeled money to al-Qaeda operatives in Africa and elsewhere. The men were later whisked out of the country by CIA.

“We are dealing with matters of state security,” said Primrose Chimwaza, a state prosecutor at the time.

And according to a BBC article published on 6th July 2013, also mentioned a British terror suspect Assan Ali Iqbar, who was suspected to have been involved in the bombings in the northern part of Tanzania as well as suspected to have been involved in terrorism activities in the UK. The suspect was arrested as he attempted to cross the border into Malawi using a forged Tanzanian passport.

Another Malawian identified as Kristen Kishombe was arrested and charged by Kenyan police for terror charges.

The lack of intelligence-sharing mechanisms between law enforcement agencies in sub-Saharan Africa also poses a continuous risk to Malawi. These activities should be looked at as a wake-up call for the government on the one hand, and the police and intelligence apparatus on the other, so that we begin to take terrorism seriously.

In a Nyasa Times article dated 16th December, 2015, our former Inspector General of Police Lexten Kachama is quoted as saying, “The Malawi police is well-skilled and equipped to fight terrorism.”

As sweet as these words might sound to the ear, I have great reservations with regard to Malawi’s capabilities to fight terrorism. We have also heard our president mentioning about terrorism, but I doubt if we have any initiatives in place to prevent terrorism from taking place.

Deterring terrorism should start from terrorism awareness amongst the population. This awareness would help individuals to report any suspicious activities in their communities. For anyone who has travelled on the British rail transport system, I am sure you have been bored with the slogan “see it, say it and we will sort it.”

As much as the message can become annoying sometimes because of its frequency, a lot of intelligence has been gathered by law enforcement and intelligence apparatus which has led to interception of homemade explosive devices as well as suspects.

In the UK, the government introduced a Counter-terrorism Strategy, also known as CONTEST, which is made of four strands namely, prevent, pursue, protect and prepare. Prevent is the most important aspect where you target individuals who are vulnerable to radicalization. The prevent attempts to tackle causes of radicalization like poverty and lack of integration, bullying, online radical preachers as well as mental health problems. It also focuses on early intervention where support is provided to those identified to be at risk to radicalization. The final aspect is rehabilitation where those already engaged in terrorism are supported to disengage and rehabilitate.

For Malawi to emulate what others like Britain are doing, we need to develop a strategic framework for dealing with terrorism. We could start with target-hardening, rapid response as well as reliable emergency services.By target-hardening I mean strengthening the security of important buildings or installations in order to fortify them in the event of a terror attack.

We also need to look at socio-economic factors that may tempt some individuals to become radicalized.

As much as it is almost impossible to stop every terrorist attack, we need to bring about a security culture in Malawi. Security culture refers to a set of values shared by everyone. These values determine how people are expected to think about their approaches to security. Getting security culture right in Malawi would help us develop a security-conscious in the population, and promote the desired security behaviors required.

It has become a second nature to me that I’m continuously assessing risks wherever I go, and so far, I haven’t been impressed by our current capabilities in Malawi. Without dwelling into the individual vulnerabilities, I suggest that we rethink the way the public, government as well as law enforcement personnel perceive terrorism. We have to begin to understand that terrorism won’t only take place in Kenya, Somalia, Mali, Chad, Tanzania, Niger and Nigeria. We need to start looking at the fight against terrorism as our battle and not their war.

The creation of the Africa Command for the US military in sub-Saharan Africa also indicates that the US views the region as a growing terrorist threat. The general weakness of central government and high levels of corruption make it easier to operate in Africa than in countries that have effective security, intelligence and military capabilities. The Southern African Development Corporation (SADC) already has a counterterrorism strategy which is modelled on The United Nations Counterterrorism Strategy. The coordinated and harmonized efforts to counter terrorism would enhance collaboration on border security and intelligence sharing in the SADC region.

While the counterterrorism frameworks provide concrete guidelines on how to combat terrorism, localized factors should be taken into consideration resource capacities in the region. The capacity for Malawi and South Africa in combatting terrorism would differ due to financial factors, and probably partners could be sought to address the gap.

In conclusion, time is now to set the ball rolling to ensure we are not taken by surprise.

  • The author Wilson Khembo is a Malawian born law enforcement officer currently based in the United Kingdom. After graduating from Chancellor College, he served as an officer at the rank of Lieutenant in the Malawi Defence Force. After leaving the military, the author obtained a master’s degree in Security and Terrorism at the University of Kent in England as a Commonwealth Scholar. He then joined the risk management industry where he Operational Security Analyst for Bradburys Global Risk in charge of the African continent. For the past six years, Wilson has also  served as a  Geopolitical Analyst for Wikistrat which is a global network of over 5,000 subject-matter experts working collaboratively to help decision makers identify solutions for complex strategic challenges. Wilson also has interest in security sector reform and governance.

 

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kelvin Buya
kelvin Buya
1 year ago

I don’t know to what angle I am to comment on this. But as a citizen I guess the article is well informative. Much as I am not at liberty to discuss these security matters, but I feel I am a part of a solution to these challenges. I hope as a country we are making strides on the issue of security. I still believe that we have a good system that if strengthened, we can make a safe Malawi. The problem I see is corruption and patriotism. I have watched how Refugees move in our cities. No sight of… Read more »

Kaitano
Kaitano
1 year ago
Reply to  kelvin Buya

This is a good argument,, I gree with you, big time!

Hlabezulu Ngonoonda
Hlabezulu Ngonoonda
1 year ago
Reply to  kelvin Buya

During the Kamuzu era, such officers were in all government institutions, and were also on the ground, but some abused their powers by targeting those they hated or they felt jealous of using Kamuzu’s name. The beauty was that village Heads also played apart in reporting any foreigner to relevant authorities. Sadly, this changed after the yellow regime. Terrorism is indeed bad.

Angoni apaphata
Angoni apaphata
1 year ago

We need to be ready for external terrorists and internal terrorists should not have a free hand. As it is now any terrorists wearing blue can even kidnap our president and he will be surprised.

Daniel
Daniel
1 year ago

The article is ok. However, I strongly feel that the superpowers especially from the West also play a role in terrorism. These terrorists sometimes use sophisticated weapons. Who sponsor them?

Millias loga
Millias loga
1 year ago

Wilson you are very right Malawi is ill prepared to protect its few strategic infrastructure frm terrorists. And if Kachama said our police are very prepared against terror he was lying.our police only know how to arrest people on trumped up political charges.thy can easily be slaughtered by well trained terrorists

kamale
kamale
1 year ago

well written, and with the quick money mentality in malawi, it is very easy for terrorist to penetrate our country and set up a robust base. if they haven’t already

Hlabezulu Ngonoonda
Hlabezulu Ngonoonda
1 year ago
Reply to  kamale

That is a lie. Penetrate the country and set up a robust base? The locals will dismantle it long before Spoon’s guys are on the scene.

Mbwiye
Mbwiye
1 year ago

A well written piece!

Kelvin Bazale Dembo
Kelvin Bazale Dembo
1 year ago

Food For Thought For Our Society

My beloved Country Men
My beloved Country Men
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing your views as regards to the issue of security in relation to terrorism which is a major issue affecting the whole globe at large. Normally for any kind of activity that man may undertake, there is or there are always things which motivate him or them. Nothing can happen just from the blues. Therefore as a globe or indeed as nations individually they must first deal with issues which act as motivators of this inhuman activities. They must deal with root causes of problems and not deal with symptoms For example in some other countries there is… Read more »

JAAN
JAAN
1 year ago

LET MALAWI STAY OUT OF GETTING INTEREFERED BY THE WORLD PROBLEMS
THE WORLDS PROBLEMS SHOULD NOT BE BROUGHT HOME AND WE SHOULD STAY AWAY
OF SIDING BY ANY POLITICAL GROUPS IN THE WORLD

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