Why has President Peter Mutharika of Malawi sacked General Vincent Nundwe?

General Nundwe (video via facebook)

Many people in Malawi are wondering why General Vincent Nundwe has been removed as Commander of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF), and replaced with Major General Peter Andrew Lapken Namathanga.

In an interview, General Nundwe said he was not aware of any wrongdoing that may have led to his removal, but he said it was the president’s prerogative to choose who led the army.

However, in a week where the president has refused to assent to bills that Malawi’s parliament passed a few weeks ago (those relating to the new elections to be held in May this year), and refused to sack the Malawi Electoral Commission commissioners, as recommended by the Public Affairs Committee, and when Mutharika had ordered the MDF to use force against protesters who plan to march to State House on March 25th, Media analysts, Governance experts and Political Scientists are saying the decision to fire Nundwe and his deputy are politically motivated.

My word to my successor is that they should always act according to the law

– General Vincent Nundwe

For those who have not been following politics in Malawi in recent months, General Vincent Nundwe has led the army through a time where it has dutifully and lawfully protected citizens from the lawless aggression of the Malawi police, during the protests which Malawi’s citizens have mounted against the government in recent months, calling for electoral justice against the fraud-marred May 2019 elections (which the Constitutional Court annulled in February due to widespread irregularities).

So Nundwe and the MDF are seen as heroes in Malawi, for their professionalism in protecting citizens and not allowing the MDF to be used as a tyrant’s tool that quashes peaceful protests against the regime – as has been commonly the case in many African countries that are ruled by despots.

Thus, if Nundwe was the preferred soldier’s choice to replace General Griffin Spoon Phri when he got appointed, what changed for Nundwe to be booted out? Did the same soldiers who wanted him in to lead them request the President that there be a change at the top? Did Nundwe do something wrong that was a grave breach of his duties to the constitution and to Malawi, or is Peter Mutharika merely looking for a partisan, compliant and spineless officer to push around, one who will try to force the MDF to do his bidding?

In these uncertain political times in the country, I think Malawians need to know.

And if there are no credible or convincing reasons why Nundwe has been removed, then the next government will have a duty to restore him to his role.

Looking at Peter Mutharika’s recent actions, and considering public anger against his unpopular government, especially in light of the constitutional court decision, the world’s eyes will be watching what the new leadership at the army does, especailly since Malawi is scheduled to hold fresh elections as directed by the Constitutional Court.

Minimally, Malawians will be expecting the army to uphold the constitution, and for the MDF to maintain the same level of professionalism and high standards which Nundwe and others before him presided over. And if not, Malawi will be yet again thrown into political chaos and public unrest. Especially since over the years, Malawi’s army has had a legacy of upholding the constitution, even when people outside Malawi expected otherwise. So a sudden change is likely to irk those who have been protesting against the may 2019 rigged election and will most likely work only to increase the intensity and magnitude of the protests. In 2012 for example, when the then president Bingu Wa Mutharika died, General Odillo, a Bingu appointee moved to uphold the constitution and prevent a coup by Bingu’s cabinet (which included Peter Mutharika), who had at the time conspired to prevent Joyce Banda (Bingu’s estranged Vice president at the time, but rightful second in command) from assuming the presidency, protesters only left the streets after there had been a peaceful and constitutional transition of power.

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The relationship between Human Safety and security (Physical security) and Economic Development

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When I was searching for articles that had been written and other research undertaken about the above topic, I hit two small obstacles:-
1. The first is that it seems Google prefers to highlight material on ‘food security‘ or ‘ social security’ and economic growth more than that on ‘human safety and public security’ (or physical security) and economic growth. So I had to sift through quite a lot of stuff to get the references below… which wasn’t much fun!
2. Secondly, there seems to be two major and opposing schools of thought within the research on the issue of safety and economic development. The first group believes that when seeking to improve physical security or public safety of a population, more emphasis should be placed on how the peoples’ lives can be improved, and not on economic outcomes or developmental agendas. And the second group seems to think that economic progress or development is inexplicably linked to human safety and security. That it is impossible to achieve economic development without physical security or public safety, which if you think about it, sounds like a sensible enough hypothesis. Both groups may be right.

However, after considering what has been written, I’m more inclined to side with the second group, in that while the first group has a point in stating that Human Security must be addressed for security’s sake alone, in most parts of Africa, we are quite interested in the security of our people for more than just one reason. And that may be because we have experienced first hand the devastation insufficient security can have (Kidnappings; and the fear it causes, the effect it has on tourism –Somalia, Kenya etc; underinvestment — ask any well seasoned investor what ‘political stability’ means;). In fact if some of the articles below are to go by, I suspect it is truly the case that Economic Development of any serious sort is extremely difficult, or unachievable unless an acceptable level of public safety and security is firmly in place in the country (or possibly even the region) in which such development is to occur. This also suggests that the more secure a place is, the more likely that it will be a favourable place to invest or do business in, although I’m not entirely sure of this second part. My guess is that it is probably a hyperbolic relationship that levels off slightly after acertain point (that point is not fixed and varies from one jurisdiction to the next).

eco-dev
And there are other inter-relationships. For example the ease of dealing with government officials, or the confidence which people have in the court system ( i.e. if people have no confidence over the competence of the court system, few investors will leap to invest in such an environment.); the level of corruption (recently a public official I’m acquainted with suggested that one of the reasons as to why the British closed their embassy in Malawi, was because of the level of corruption in Malawi)….but if there is insufficient security from the start, the insufficient security alone can negatively affect other areas of a society.

fearA survey carried out by Gallup Inc. in 2012 suggested that Freedom from fear of bodily harm is vital not just for economic growth and development, but more fundamentally for the wellbeing of a populace. In that study, Malawi features 30th out of 134 on where less than 50% of people felt safe walking in their neighborhoods at night. Surely that couldn’t be a good thing. The government and the people ought to work together to ensure that criminality, and thuggery are curbed, and that safety is significantly increased.

Among the stories from my childhood, one in particular stands out. When I was younger, I was told by my eldest sister that before I was born, my father never used to lock his car.  He would park it on the driveway, unlocked, and would even go as far as leaving the keys within the ignition slot, It was normal back then. Over the years, even though I’m aware that there were fewer licensed drivers then than is the case now,  I’ve come to appreciate what a great deal this level of personal security was. That in barely 30 years, the security Malawi used to enjoy has deteriorated so much, such that simple acts of confidence of the people would today be considered foolhardy.

Speaking at the 41st Munich Security Conference on “Economic Development and Security” in February 2005 , the German President Horst Köhler said that “…Unless we tackle global poverty, long-term security will remain elusive. A strategy for development is by far the best form of conflict prevention!  Those words are true today as they were then. But in whose best interest is this long-term security? Should Europeans and Americans really continue to take a leading role in combatting Africa’s problems? It may seem like a small adjustment, but in the current financial climate of cuts and receding budgets, why can’t resources be diverted from salary increases or lavish motor vehicle expenses to increased spending on security?

And this idea that security is linked to economic growth is not new, but has been around for years. 18 years ago, in November 1995, Stephen Knack and Philip Keefer published a paper titled Institutions and Economic Performance: Cross-Country Tests Using Alternative Institutional Indicators that found that the quality of institutions, operationalised as the security of property rights and the level of contract enforcement, is crucial to growth and investment.(see more here)

Historically, a desire for national security has had a profound effect on developmental strides in countries across the world. For example, in Japan, it is said that the automotive industry has its origins in the demand for trucks for the Imperial Army (Odigari and Gota 1993).

It all points to the same thing, get your security in place (be it ensuring that goods sent in from abroad get to their destination safe and untempered with, or whether it’s reducing the prevalence of burglaries, or increasing the numbers of policemen on the street) and economic development has a much greater chance of happening and growth thriving!

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