When he was appointed in June this year as Malawi Defence Force (MDF) Commander, General Vincent Nundwe said top of his agenda is to ensure that Malawi remains a peaceful country amid on-going electoral disputes. Our reporter JACOB NANKHONYA met NUNDWE last week to find out if he is living up to his word. Excerpt:
How do you summarise the performance of MDF in the just ending year?
We had very challenging times in the year 2019 but I was impressed with the performance of our officers, in all our operations. I thought that we did very well. We had challenges in that sometimes some sectors didn’t like what we did but for us at MDF we have always emphasized that we are there for the Malawian citizens so that there is peace.
This year we saw the MDF stepping out to help the Malawi Police Service in bringing law and order during post election protests. What necessitated the move?
The issue is the capacity for the Malawi Police Service; they [police numbers] could not match up with demonstrations. The demonstrations attracted huge multitude of people that required controlling, so the Commander-in-Chief [President Peter Mutharika] had to ask us to support the police. However, take note that this is also in line with the duties of the MDF. Our other role is to support the civil authority—that is why we were able to support the police.
Don’t you think MDF’s action will dilute people’s trust in the police?
No. Our friends [at police] are experienced in handling the crowds, not the military. The fear [may be] is that normally the way the military will handle the population will not be exactly the same way the police will do that because the military deals with the defense of the sovereignty and in normal cases it is fighting, so handling people is a bit difficult task for the military. My take is that we shouldn’t go too much into this because the police are experienced in handling the crowds.
So what have you done to ensure that you operate in line within the country’s democratic principles?
The way the military operates is to engage the people. I can’t re-event the wheel. We are only supposed to engage the demonstrators—what do they want to do, and then we agree and the demonstrators don’t go out of the agreed plan of demonstrations and start destroying or looting property. That’s what we have been doing.
Some demonstrators were well-behaved in front of the military than they were with the police, what could have been the reason?
Well I can’t speak for the police, I speak for what I was trained as a military person which is to engage the demonstrators, in this context, and I don’t know how the police are trained at Malawi Police Training School [MPTS] because that will be out of context.
Lastly, at the moment tension is still high as political parties and their supporters await the decision of the Constitutional Court on the disputed presidential elections case. How ready are your officers to quell protests that might follow the ruling?
At MDF we always prepare for the worst case scenario, regardless of whichever side carries the day. On that day we will make sure that the situation remains calm. So let me assure the general public that whoever carries the day we will make sure that the situation remains calm.