Still, Chasowa’s ghost haunts us

The last time our police service acted like a paramilitary branch of a ruling part—attempting to curtail the constitutional right of demonstration, something very terrible happened.

I am not talking about the 21 bullet-ridden bodies we collected across the country on July 20 2011.

Well, that was a shameful, police act, but I am talking about what happened a few months after the infamous July 20 bloodbath. Then, like today, civil society folks with a query or two against a DPP-led administration, were plotting a repeat of violent protests. The regime of Bingu wa Mutharika, like the current one headed by his kid brother, didn’t want any repeat of those protests and resorted to thwarting them by all means necessary.

Peter Mukhito, the current State House Chief of Staff was the police Inspector General. Rodney Jose, the current Police Chief, was Commissioner for police officer for Southern Region. And it’s fair to day, what these two did or did not do, will forever mock the claim that our police is a reformed service.

Little wonder then, to date many folks don’t believe our police is impartial. If you read the report by the Commission of Inquiry into the Killing of Robert Chasowa, the second-year Polytechnic student, you’ll get the drift.

That report, whose commission was chaired by the current Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda, exposed how our police played the role of party functionaries, mobilising youths in political activities with the aim of frustrating the demonstrations.

The worst part, of course, is that at the end of the day, the police clearly orchestrated, with aid of political ruffians the murder of Chasowa and the subsequent attempt to cover-up. So ruthlessly good was the cover up that to date, no single person named in the commission of inquiry as possible suspect, has been tried for his crimes.

Sadly, for this country, some of the protagonists of that sad chapter are now, as illustrated above, in key positions—and once again using their positions to threaten Malawians as if we are back in a dictatorship.

This is why we all should be nervous today by the current efforts by the Inspector General of police to stop on-going demonstrations by the civil society. This is dangerous territory, no matter how Area 30 wants to spin this. Its un-spinable, allow me to add a new word to your diction.

And Jose of all people, must know better. Demonstrations, by their nature, are very much a political affair as they are human rights issue. Any police chief, regardless of his excuses and feelings over them, better stay away from them as a target. But watching Jose getting waked over by the subject on Monday begged questions over whether he really grasps the implications of his move to ban the demonstrations.

For one, Jose, or anyone else for that matter, has no such powers. Only the President can suspend aspects of the Constitution, but only in a case of a State of Emergency being declared. None has been declared so far and there is no reason for any, anyway!

And second, Jose’ personal history, namely, his close association with the brutal killing of Robert Chasowa should make us all cringe with fear that once again, the man we entrusted to ensure law and order, is veering so close to making political moves. Some old habits, indeed die hard.

But then, Jose shouldn’t be all that surprised that the members of the public are, to quote the police chief “declaring war on the police,” while simultaneously enjoying friendly relations with the police. It’s not social media allegations such as cadet jibes that Jose referred to that are responsible for this. Neither is it simply because police poorly use teargas to disperse crowds, No!

The thing is, our police service, whether full of DPP cadet wannabes or not, loves being used by successive ruling parties to oppress political dissent. It’s a lesson that even after the Chasowa episode, has been lost on Area 30, apparently.

So, as Jose threatened, begged and dared protesters not to show up on Tuesday, we in the uncensored community couldn’t help but wonder what is the rationale of saying that failure to provide security nationwide should justify blanket ban of demonstrations.

Why didn’t Jose beg the CSOs to postpone demos in some parts to allow police concentrate in providing security in one area? Well, that could’ve been rationale, and acting rationally, is not how police ended up being the most hated public service today.

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