Criminals for no crime

As my boss and Managing Editor once wrote, some column entries can be both national and personal. This one is for me.

Born to a police officer, I am a proud product of the Malawi Police Service (MPS) and its traditions, through and through.

Freelance journalist George Ntonya runs for cover away from a tear gas-filled area

And you can imagine, with the regularity that children of police officers end up in the service, it wouldn’t have required much twist of fate for yours truly to be in uniform other than chasing stories. I could’ve been enforcing the law—than just exposing law-breaking through journalism scoops and lamenting about injustice in these pages.

But, here we are, a proud newspaperperson, instead.

And I know this about police officers, as often as the public forgets it, most police officers are fine, brave and consummate professionals who go around doing their noble duty without making much fuss.

For sure, there are bad apples, but we’ve them in every discipline. So, for every corrupt police officer you have met, there are those who diligently work hard just to control traffic and ensure there is no carnage on the road—I have in mind that dancing traffic officer in Lilongwe, always doing his job with a smile.

Many are poor indeed, but proud of their work nonetheless. But the enduring image we have of the service is that of trigger-happy roughnecks who have terrorised us during peaceful protests or ruined football matches through reckless spread of bullets and teargas canisters. Often, we forget to ask ourselves is about the quality—or lack of—of training they have and equipment at their disposal.

It’s not true that police officers have insatiable appetite for violence, most of them, by the way, are just victims of wrong orders and in a military-like institution, “yours,” as they say, “is not to reason why”.

So, this for you, dear hardworking service men and women. Those who solve petty and complex crime, patrol our streets under unforgiving weather conditions to ensure we and our property is safe. And our economy is viable.

But there is a political reason I am writing this—always there is!

And it’s not the scenes of police tear-gassing a US Ambassador and Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera or shooting at unarmed MCP supporters, no! That’s all wrong and criminal.

But there is something else. And that is the continued abuse of police officers assigned to the office of successive Vice-Presidents. In the police service, this, in particular, has been a reoccurring firm.

Officers are initially excited at the start of each administration when assigned to the office of the Vice-President (you can call and ask those now assigned to newly installed Veep Everton Chimulirenji just to cross-check), as VIP protection is a prestigious component of the service.

But like the proverbial grass when elephants are fighting, once the Vice-President and his/her boss high up there fall out, the first victims of these endless political divorces are police officers assigned to the office of the Vice-President.

As I write, friends of mine who were fortunate or unlucky to be assigned to the immediate former vice-president Saulos Chilima, are now gnashing teeth—wondering what on earth did they do to deserve being treated as outcasts in the service? They’ve just been transferred this week to police outposts in the remotest parts of the country, but before that, the law enforcing officers were slapped with interdictions for simply obeying a court order asking them to remain on duty at Chilima’s residence.

Unbeknown to the public, most of their new posts, traditionally, is where police officers who have been engaged in some misconduct are transferred to. In the service, to reveal poorly guarded secret, even officers accused of witchcraft are banished to some of the outposts these officers have now been assigned to.

And, imagine, for Chilima’s former guards, government has already ruined them financially by denying them full pay while on interdiction. And their crime? Answering the same call of duty Chimulirenji’s police detail has today. It’s a duty no officer applies for, but is granted to them by order from high up in the chain of command. Today, it’s an order that has turned them into outcasts.

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