It has been a week since a ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cadet posed for a photo opportunity, carelessly showing off a gun tucked on his groin. This was at a function where the DPP’s Director of Operations, Ben Phiri, launched sports trophies to the tune of K10 million.
At the time of writing this entry, neither the DPP nor Phiri had said a word on the conduct of their cadet which Malawians find offensive, repugnant and repulsive.
This is an unacceptable stunt by the ruling party, especially coming at a time the party’s cadets have been indulging in bloody acts of violence. Just within the past four weeks, the cadets have hacked innocent villagers in Nsanje Lalanje Constituency and Bolero in Rumphi. A few months ago, they also beat up police officers at a roadblock on the M1 Road.
But what is more spine-chilling is the fact that the cadets have a long history of being ruthless blood-thirsty vandals that defy norms of civilisation. Memories are still fresh on how these same ruffians brandished new pangas on the Masauko Chipembere Highway in Blantyre to scare away Malawians from demonstrating against the excesses of the first DPP administration.
Needless to say that it was under the DPP administration that some mysterious deaths occurred. We are talking of the murder of The Polytechnic student Robert Chasowa in cold blood and the killing of Anti- Corruption Bureau senior official, Issah Njauju.
It is also appalling but unsurprising how the police took their time before to arresting this cadet for his careless act that has potential to cause panic and alarm among members of the general public. The cheeky response by the police that they have seen the picture of the cadet but are yet to investigate matters surrounding his conduct does not inspire hope.
By virtue of his position in the ruling party, Ben is privy to intelligence that we, the wananchi, may not have. Probably he knew that the Malawi Police Service would not be well equipped to protect him? But he was among his people, did he need extra protection against his own people? The people of Thyolo are already under a heavy psychological strain resulting from the fear of alleged “blood suckers”. Did Team Ben have to expose them to such shiny lethal weapon?
Considering Ben’s status in society, achieved by his closeness to President Peter Mutharika, it is most likely that the gun, carried by someone on his security detail, is licensed. But the problem is not whether the gun is licensed or not. In any case even if the gun were to be unlicensed, the police would most likely claim that it is.
The theory of power dictates that one has to acquire it, consolidate it, project it and bend others to their direction.
Most likely, Ben was projecting that he has amassed so much political power over the years. The symbolism also speaks volumes of how that political power has given him the financial and gun power. It may show how ready and determined he is to use everything at his disposal to remain powerful, not only in the party but also at country level.
But the script containing the message is not properly crafted. The gun-toting incident is coming just months after a “bring-back- Ben-Phiri” movement was stopped in its tracks within the party. There were some DPP functionaries who were agitating for the return of Phiri into the inner circle of the DPP. The argument was that Ben is a strategist and knows how to mobilise the party supporters. The Thyolo show might be interpreted as a continuation of the plot.
Granted the young man is a thinker. He does not stop at anything when he sets his eyes on a goal. Ben is someone who sees opportunities from a far and works hard to translate them into reality. He is a smooth operator who covers his tracks. And that’s what has helped him to keep his head above the turbulent political waters in the DPP.
But he has to quickly learn to keep his charges on a short leash. Taking premature risks and being too predictable can be suicidal in politics. He has to learn from what has befallen other apparent heirs in his own party. His boys want to look relevant and can easily misguide him. There is more to being a powerful politician than just winning some party primaries or a seat at a convention.
The DPP, which is suffering from image problems must act on its cadets. The party is steadily getting a reputation of being a den of violent thugs. Malawians are worried that if the cadets can kill with pangas and stones, what if they are given automatic guns?
The opposition parties are equally capable of arming themselves. The United Democratic Front, for instance, had its notorious Young Democrats who terrorised everyone, including police officers. The Malawi Congress Party had the Malawi Young Pioneers who received first class military training from some of the best trainers on earth. Has the DPP considered how these parties can respond in the wake of such blatant show of might?
Malawi is party to protocols on the control of proliferation in small and light arms. These protocols have been signed at the Sadc level, the African Union and the United Nations. The country risks being a pariah state if leaders are seen to promote gunrunning.
Such careless display of gun-power and lack of action on the part of the DPP are catalytic of anarchy. For everyone will feel insecure and, therefore, ready to arm themselves through licit and illicit means.
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