By Janet Karim, Maravi Post Senior Editor
“Two legs good, four legs better.” Squealer, George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945
What will it take to change the drama of police, executive and ruling party power abuse of citizens and political opponents? Malawi has been a democracy for 24 years, but despite changes of leadership through credible election cycles, the drama of police brutality, at the behest of, or to please ruling political leaders, persists.
Malawi is a democracy; but this democracy is technically in name only, because when it comes to treatment of opponents, the ruling elite has through the years, done whatever it has wanted with its opponents, including throwing one or two in jail on trumped up, or frivolous charges.
When Chakufa Chihana stepped off the plane from Lusaka, Zambia in 1993 with hopes of reading it to declare the people’s desire for democracy, he was whisked off in handcuffs by the police. Charged with some serious pile of offenses, Chihana spent some prison time, and each time he came out to go to court, the former regional trade union boss, traveled in a heavily armored police van.
There’s one picture, where police tried to stop him raising his victory sign (an AFORD symbol).
Later UDF’s Bakili Muluzi was accused of theft and he too spent some prison time.
But no soon after democracy heralded its drums of freedom in the country (in 1994), we reeled full circle to our old way of doing things: you don’t support the governing party, police rounds you up and throw you in jail. This same old one-party rule trick reigns supreme in Malawi.
Even Kamuzu, former Official Hostess Mama Kadzamira, and MCP strongman John Tembo, tasted some prison time (although for Kadzamira it was a matter of a court appearance – she was tending to the ailing President, and the court found she did not have any charge to answer).
Former presidents Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda also sent one or two opponents to jail. Their operatives were none other than the Area 30 boys and girls known as the Police Force. Bingu had his Vice President Cassim Chilumpha in chains for a charge of treason. AMai had the infamous midnight six (which included the current president APM) behind police bars for treason. Many of these once freed, later became and some are still sitting cabinet ministers.
Once in power, current President Peter Mutharika caused former president Joyce Banda to spend a good part of three years in self-imposed exile. She was in exile because of the fire and brimstone that was coming out of not only the president’s mouth, but also his functionaries: they all threatened to throw JB in jail for complicity in the cash-gate saga. She’s since been cleared of any involvement and returned to Malawi.
This past week, in the wake of the frenzy caused by the Vice President’s euphoric United Transformation Movement, Mutharika joined by his boys and girls in blue and khaki, have stepped up to their grand-slam unprofessionalism. Earlier this week the president bragged that his name is protected and would not hesitate to throw anyone insulting his name in jail. He went further to warn his opponents that he comes from Thyolo, which is a district known for its potent voodoo power.
The threat has been aptly followed by police throwing behind police custody, a Malawian born American citizen Manes Winnie Hale, for insulting the state president (a protected name). And when a group of UTM followers attempted to storm into the police station in Lilongwe where Manes was held (she has since been released), former First Lady Madame Callista Mutharika was apprehended and appears to have been manhandled by the boys in blue.
How do I know? The entire incident was filmed from what appears to be inside a handbag), despite her assuring the police that she was not filming them.
Someone filmed the incident.
In the exchange between Madame Mutharika and the police officers, who were rude and unprofessional, speaking in threatening voices, and manhandling the former First Lady, voices in the background were heard:
“This is the people’s place….”
“This is our taxes….”
The last outburst rings loud and clear. What will it take for the police to professionalize and act professionally, serving the people and not the politicians who change every 5-year election cycle? In 24 years, the police Force has changed allegiance to people in political power, not the constitution, and certainly not in defense of the people who pay taxes that supports its operations.
To the Malawi Police Force, please listen up:
1. Ordinary Malawians pay taxes; therefore, you work for us.
2. Malawians do not pay taxes so that you can manhandle them, lock them up in jail, utter insults, and threats to them at the behest of political masters.
3. Malawi is failing to really enter into democratic governance, because the political machinery’s manipulation of the Police Service that has degenerated back into a Police Force.
4. Malawi must move from the scenario where “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” And the Police has a big role to make this happen.
Long live genuine democracy!