The Malawi Police Service (MPS) and the United States (US) Embassy have clashed over the latter’s security assessment which paints the country as infested with violent crimes.
In its assessment, the embassy tells US citizens to exercise increased caution due to civil unrest and crimes in the country while branding the law enforcers as having limited capabilities to end and investigate crimes.
However, the police, who said confronted the embassy over the assessment, argue that the information is not a reflection of reality.
Published on its website, https://mw.usembassy.gov/ on October 10 this year, the assessment reads in part: “Exercise increased caution in Malawi due to crime and civil unrest. Country Summary: Violent crime such as theft, burglary, armed robbery, assault and carjacking is common.
“The capabilities of the Malawi Police Service [MPS] are growing but its resources and abilities to deter and investigate crimes, assist victims and apprehend criminals are limited.”
The assessment is pegged as Travel Advisory to US citizens and further warns about possible violent demonstrations.
“Demonstrations may occur and increase in frequency around political issues and events such as elections. Tear gas is frequently deployed at demonstrations and roads may be blocked.
“If you decide to travel to Malawi: avoid demonstrations and crowds.
“US citizens are reminded to avoid all gatherings, even peaceful ones, that could turn violent with little or no warning,” the embassy writes.
But in an interview on Wednesday, National Police spokesperson Peter Kalaya queried the US Embassy’s position on the security situation.
He said they engaged the embassy in a discussion their evaluation of the security situation.
“We engaged them on their assessment and we did tell them that we are concerned because the information they have was not a true reflection.
“For example, they were citing cases like kidnapping [This is contained in the US authored Malawi Security Report which the Travel Advisory refers the citizens to for detailed information on the security situation] .We have never had cases of kidnapping,” said Kalaya.
On police having limited ability to deter and investigate crimes, assist victims and apprehend criminals, he disagreed but acknowledged resource constraints.
“We have the capacity to detect any kind of crime. We have well-trained police officers, detectives who are at the moment investigating cases. They are making arrests and when it comes to assisting victims, we are very good at doing that. We prioritise the welfare of the victims,” boasted Kalaya.
In the security report, the embay said there have been multiple reports of expatriates being robbed “and/or assaulted during daylight hours while jogging in areas where foreigners and wealthy Malawians reside and frequent.
“Avoid travelling on foot at night, especially in urban areas, as armed muggings and assaults have increased. Consider city streets unsafe after dark even when walking in a large group.”
In response, Kalaya said in their investigation they have discovered that the alleged incidents were not reported to police.
The publicist claimed that the embassy acknowledged the flaws in its assessment.
“We are hoping that when they are doing the next assessment about security, they will need to engage us first,” he said.
In a response to our questionnaire on Friday, the US Embassy could neither confirm nor deny that the police queried its assessment.
The embassy public affairs officer Namita Biggins said: “The US Government has no higher priority than the safety and security of all US citizens overseas.
“On August 31 2023 [reissued on October 10 2023], the US Embassy in Malawi released a security alert for US citizens, advising them of increased crime in Lilongwe along with recommendations for preventive actions.
“This is part of our commitment to provide US citizens with clear, timely and reliable information.”
Meanwhile, security analyst Sheriff Kaisi has asserted that the US security assessment has the potential to put off potential tourists.
He said: “The US being the biggest economy, with the most travelling citizens in the world, it goes without saying that their assessment has serious implications on the tourism industry.”
Kaisi further said it was undeniable that security is a major concern and urged government to tighten it so as to avoid negative reviews.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, which ranks among the top four most travelling nations, says on its website www.govt.uk that most visits to Malawi are trouble-free.
“But you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself from muggers and bag-snatchers. Most thefts from visitors take place around the main bus stations in Lilongwe and Blantyre. Avoid walking around quiet areas, especially after dark…
“You should avoid all demonstrations and rallies, remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local security authorities and/your tour operator,” the UK government writes on its Foreign Travel Advice segment.
Prison statistics show that from January to July this year over 710 convicts were jailed for violent crimes compared to 685 in 2022 and 632 the previous year.
A records analysis by our sister paper Weekend Nation edition of 16 September, 2023, shows that in 2022 at least 39 335 criminal cases were registered compared to 40 627 recorded in 2021, representing a three percent decrease. The figures include violent crimes such as robbery, defilement and rape.
The statistics also show that the police registered 8 295 and 1 904 breaking and robbery offences respectively in 2022 compared to 8 651 and 2 043 similar offences respectively in 2021. This represents a four and seven percent reduction, respectively.
In 2022, police also registered 1 920 rape and defilement cases compared to 2 421 similar cases r in 2021, representing a 21 percent reduction.