/ 9 April 2012

Malawi’s Banda fires police chief

Malawi’s new President Joyce Banda has fired the nation’s police chief and hired a new one, her office said Monday, two days after she took office following her predecessor’s death.

Banda has “appointed commissioner Lot Dzonzi as the new inspector general of police with effect from April 8”, replacing former top cop Peter Mukhito, said a statement from the office of the president and Cabinet.

The statement did not say why Mukhito, appointed by late president Bingu wa Mutharika two years ago, was axed.

Mukhito, who rose from being a guard commander of Mutharika’s security, has been accused of mishandling anti-government riots last year in which 19 people were killed, as well as the mysterious death of a university political activist who published a news sheet highly critical of the government.

The Malawi police service has about 8 000 officers.

Prominent rights activists welcomed Banda’s decision, also calling for the top cop to be arrested.

“Just firing him does not satisfy me. He must be arrested and the justice process should take its course and there must be a final verdict,” rights activist John Kapito told AFP. “He has a lot of things to explain including how he allowed 19 people to be killed last year.”

“Police played a role … there were so many petrol bombs against critics, activists and lawyers, so many arrests of activists and the death of a university activist,” Kapito said.

The anti-government protests were spearheaded by civil rights organisations to press for economic reforms amidst fuel and foreign exchange shortages.

But Kapito added that Mukhito was not the only one who had to go. “There is a chain of them who need to explain their role.”
Moses Mkandawire, a director of Church and Society, a rights group of the Livingstonia Synod of the Protestant Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), said that during Mukhito’s era, “police were used as instruments of oppression”.

He said the majority of Malawians “were not happy with the general performance of Mukhito.

“The police abused and violated rights of the people by stopping people to hold peaceful demonstrations and arrested those who exercised their freedom of expression.”

The police are “no longer the police of the people”, Mkandawire warned.

Mike Chapita, a security guard for a bank, hailed the sacking as “the right move to help refresh a new image of the police”.

“We want a very professional police that is not biased. Otherwise, under Mukhito, the police image was in tatters,” he added. — AFP