*Participation of MCP Youth in Illegal Migrant Clean-up Exercise Evokes Memories of Youth League and MYP
*At Least Two Women Gang-Raped
*Businesses Robbed of Millions of Kwachas
BY PIJ REPORTER
The involvement of MCP Youth in an unauthorised clean-up operation targeting illegal migrants in Salima and Mchinji has sparked unsettling parallels with past controversial paramilitary groups, triggering memories of the Youth League and Malawi Young Pioneers, the rogue security and paramilitary wings that the MCP government employed during its 30-year reign of terror from 1964.
Several members of the MCP Youth Wing confided to PIJ within the week that the party leadership had sanctioned them to join the Police in the clean-up exercise over the past two months.
The clean-up culminated in the bewildering act where the Police and MCP Youths were caught on CCTV camera ransacking a foreign-owned shop in Salima, where they went away with cash.
The Ministry of Homeland Security says K40 million has since been returned to the Salima businessmen.
But lawyer for the two Salima businessmen, Gilbert Khonyongwa, dismissed the figure, saying less than K20 million of the over K50 million was returned to the two.
“One was given back K9 million while the other was given K10 million. So, the K40 million figure is not correct,” he said.
Although the Police refused to give details of the clean-up operation, PIJ has established that the Police and MCP Youth gang had hit several locations, from Mchinji, Lilongwe and Salima, where they looted shops, raped women and stole cash from businesspeople.
The MCP Youths involved in the raids on foreign-owned businesses in Salima and Mchinji last month claim that they were acting on orders from the party hierarchy, who blessed the raids and provided the resources for the invasions.
Although several officers from Police Headquarters were clearly identified in the leaked CCTV footage that was captured during the Salima raid last month, the Police have so far only arrested Bauleni Lafyoni, an MCP youth leader who was involved in the Salima raid.
This has irked the MCP youth leaders, who are wondering why the Police are only rounding them up when they, too, were involved.
In an exclusive interview with PIJ, Bauleni, held at Area 3 Police in Lilongwe, confessed that he was part of the group that raised the two shops in Salima.
The Mitundu-based farmer, who appeared in court on Tuesday, claimed that, in early July, they were summoned by their youth leaders, Bless Kanyoni and Howard Gomani, to brief them on the worrying influx of refugees in the country.
“During the meeting, they told us that bwana [Ken] Zikhale Ng’oma [minister of homeland security] was having sleepless nights about an assignment from President Lazarus Chakwera that illegal immigrants should be deported. So, he was asking us to help him to get rid of the illegal immigrants,” he said.
According to Bauleni, Zikhale Ng’oma turned to the MCP Youths as a last resort because other forces that had been assigned the task, including the Police, did not deliver after they received kickbacks from the foreign business owners.
“So, we were told that our job as MCP Youth was to identify the illegal immigrants in the locations and report them to the Police, who would then arrest them and move them back to Dzaleka,” he said.
He claimed several raids on foreign-owned shops were carried out before the now-infamous Salima raid.
“On that particular day, we went to Salima with six officers in their cruiser and me and my boys in a different vehicle that I was driving. One of our boys pointed to either shop for Manuel and Jose, and that was when the Police went to the shops and carried out the raids.
“What was surprising though is that, as they raided Jose’s shop, he told the Police point-blank that he should not be arrested because he supports the party in a major way. But the Police still insisted on arresting him. They were taken to Lingadzi Police, where we were told that we would be briefed on the next step the next day,” he said.
Bauleni claimed that the following day, he received news that the businessmen had been released at the request of cabinet ministers led by Richard Chimwendo Banda and some MCP MPs who claimed they were staunch party supporters.
Bauleni said he was surprised that, three days after the raid, he started receiving phone calls that the Police wanted him.
“I was clearly surprised that the same Police that asked us to help them locate the illegal immigrants were now looking for us. What went wrong? That is when I learnt for the first time that some people had taken money from the shops and had been captured on CCTV. As for me, I did not know or see anything because I was outside in the car. It is the Police and some of the boys that entered the shops.”
Bauleni claimed that he did not receive any money as payment for the exercise.
“No one received any money from the operation,” he said. “We were told that we would not be paid because our goal was to ensure that our leader, Zikhale Ng’oma, was able to carry out the duties of his office with the intention that if he gets promoted, he should recognise us, his boys, for helping him.”
Bauleni, 44, said he does not understand why he is the only one of the youths arrested.
“I do not know what their intention was to arrest only me because everyone is free apart from me,” he said.
MCP Youth leader Bless Kanyoni claimed that after the operation, they realised that some MCP leaders were collecting money from businessmen.
“But what I can say is that what they are doing is sad, and this even shows that the Police are not doing their job. Because if they really wanted to find out what happened, they should have started right there in Area 30 to ask the officers that went with us what transpired.
“But they are busy fighting us, which is disappointing and sad, and it makes us wonder if they want to help or destroy us,” he said.
However, Kanyoni was coy about who gave them the directive to join the Police on the operations.
“Parliament approved this operation, and we have been working with the Police throughout. Everywhere we went, we were accompanied by Police. Zikhale is just the homeland security minister, but he did not directly send anyone. But because he is just someone in power, they were using the Police using civilians.”
Kanyoni also wondered why only the MCP youths are being hunted.
“That is surprising and makes us wonder what the issue is about because the Police kept everything collected during the raids. And we are surprised that some leaders in the party are fighting the youths. We have learnt that this was a goldmine for some big people, and the raids messed up everything for them,” he said.
Latest reports indicate that one of MCP Youth arrested by the Police has since been charged with robbery.
Reads the Charge Sheet: “Bauleni Lafiyoni, on the 25th day of July 2023 at Kamuzu Road in the district of Salima, a company of four others, robbed of Mr Manuel Josephy K42,000,000 cash and at or immediately before or immediately after the time of the said robbery used actual violence to the said Mr ManuelJosephy in order to obtain or retain the said or prevent or overcome resistance to it being stolen or retained.”
MCP Youth React to the Arrest
In reaction to the arrest of their colleague, nine MCP youth members, namely; Blessings Kanyoni, Howard Gomani, Bauleni Lafioni, Peter Phiri, Donly Mzondera, Kennedy Chirwa, Martin Kwazizila, Andrew Chitapo and Rajab Master demanding to their party leadership to release their colleague.
The letter also indicated that three police officials led their operation in Salima from the Police Headquarters in Area 30 in Lilongwe. Gracian Sipiriano, Alick Kanyongo, Hananiah Mbingwa and Andrew Chimpeni were the officers.
“[We] carried out an operation at Kamuzu road in Salima town where we managed to apprehend foreigners of Rwandan origin, including one Emmanuel. These foreigners were taken from two shops close to each other,” reads the MCP Youth letter.
In the process, they further write, they collected uncounted cash, which was handed over to Police officers for safe storage.
“We then left the scene for area 18 police, where these foreigners were left in police custody. We then left for area 30 POLICE, where we and the officers witnessed the counting of the cash which was collected from the mentioned shops. It should be noted here that only large notes of money were counted and amounted to K21,000,000.00,” the letter further reads.
They also added that ‘due to tiredness and fatigue we failed to count smaller notes of 20, 50, 100 and 200 kwachas which we felt had little value. The whole cash was left in the hands of the Police at area 30’.
The members claim they are now living in fear as a warrant of arrest is now in effect to arrest them all from the MCP youth who participated in the operation.
“We are now being suspected to have stolen the money which was collected from the shops and handed over to Police.”
“The rest of us are now on the run and in hideouts for fear of being arrested,” the members said in the letter.
We need protection from government. Our families are suffering, and we are prisoners in our own country, which we feel is not good.
The MCP youth members asked if they should continue the operation as they require ‘some honorarium for the services we have rendered to the government’.
They also claim that their images have been dented due to participation in this operation, and they now need to be fully employed or given identity cards if they are to continue with the operation.
“We need this warrant of arrest nullified now so we be cleared of all these unnecessary charges against us by Police,” they charge. “We need our colleague released from police immediately.”
The MCP youth argue that as citizens of this nation, they do not ‘deserve being punished for simply removing foreigners from undesignated locations back to Dzaleka camp’.
“This is very unfair”.
When we sought his comment, Chimwendo Banda, also MCP director of youth, said he had heard of the accusations labelled against him, but the MCP Youths who had mentioned him had since apologised. He refused to comment further on the story, referring us to the party’s spokesman Ezekiel Ching’oma.
On his part, Ching’oma said he did not have information regarding the arrest of party youths nor the involvement of the youths in the Police raids. He promised to get back to us, but he had not done so as we went to press.
Police spokesman Peter Kalaya told PIJ that the “police are still investigating the matter.” He did not answer our questions on whether the Police sanctioned the operation.
On several occasions, Minister of Homeland Security Ken Zikhale Ng’oma did not pick up his phone.
But Ministry of Homeland Security spokesman Patrick Botha said the ministry is also carrying out its independent investigation on the issue.
“The ministry condemns any act of mob justice or violence as it carries out relocation exercises. Investigations are underway to find the culprits. Anyone hiding behind the relocation exercise, if found to be on the wrong side of the law, will face the full arm of the law.”
Botha explained that under operating procedures, the Police were not supposed to collect goods or money from the shops.
He also disclosed that about K40 million has since been returned to the Salima businessmen.
Director of the Independent Complaints Commission (ICC) Christopher Tukula said his office is investigating three complaints emanating from the Police raids.
Claims of Raped Women
Innocent Magambi, head of INUA Advocacy, an independent non-governmental organisation that advocates for refugee rights in Malawi and beyond, told PIJ that there have been two cases of rape cases reported. He says he believes that there have been several rape cases that have happened, but so far, only two women have been able to report it due to fear of repercussions.
He explained that the victims are scared to speak out because they are being threatened with deportation by the Police and immigration authorities.
He explained that in one disturbing case, a businessman was arrested by the Police when the Police and the MCP youths raided their shop.
“The husband was picked up and taken away by the Police car. Subsequently, the money he had in his car, totalling more than K5 million, mysteriously disappeared while in police custody.”
He explained that the wife, who was in the shop, was picked by a group believed to be MCP youths to her house because they had loads of farm produce at the house.
“While they were at her house, the group of about ten men undressed her and raped her, one by one, in the presence of everybody. I cannot tell you where this happened because we are still seeking justice. The other case happened in Area 25; they took her goods and raped her.”
The Mchinji Ordeal
In Mchinji, a Rwandese businessman with valid Malawian residence papers was raided in the middle of the night in what seemed like a kidnap. The businessman, his wife and two sons were later dumped at Maula Prison without being charged. But that was not before the gang robbed the family of over K3 million from the day’s sales.
Legal and Security Pitfalls When Party Cadres Illegally Enforce Security
But activists and legal experts have questioned using party cadres to enforce security.
Human rights activist Charles Kajoloweka noted that using party cadres in security issues is utter criminality and unprofessional conduct that cannot be justified.
“It confirms our fears and reports that the whole relocation exercise has been hijacked by criminality by police officers and ruling party cadres. It is on this premise that the relocation exercise must be halted forthwith and perpetrators held accountable according to the law,” he said.
He noted that the infiltration of the police by party cadres is not a threat to national security but also democracy.
“It compromises the independence, accountability and integrity of law enforcement.”
UK-based security expert Wilson Khembo noted that having ruling party cadres working with the police in the criminal arbitrary deprivation of property rights of immigrants only erodes the trust people have in public institutions and undermines the legitimacy of the government itself.
“The trust also nurtures and strengthens social cohesion while building institutional legitimacy. In this case, having MCP operatives actively involved with the police in committing crimes only undermines the MCP government’s legitimacy and tarnishes Malawi’s image internationally,” he said.
Khembo, a former Captain in the Malawi Defense Force (MDP), further noted that when the citizens have lost trust in their government and public institutions, this could lead to lawlessness.
“The current situation may actually cause irreparable damage and lead to long-term loss of confidence in the current government or any government that comes into power. People exposed to this kind of lawlessness will likely develop a lasting lack of confidence in government institutions and a negative attitude towards their political leaders. Of course, MCP should know better in this regard.”
He explained that Malawians only entrusted the MCP to govern them on the condition that the old MCP was gone.
“Any suggestions that the MCP hasn’t changed from its dark past only undermine the party’s chances of staying in power. If these allegations or any part of these allegations are true, this is a sad reality for Malawi. This is why all of us must condemn these criminal activities, irrespective of who the victims are.”
University of Cape Town law professor Danwood Chirwa told PIJ that the use of party youths and cadres is clearly unlawful for the simple reason that those individuals do not have the legal authority to deal with those matters.
“Matters of migration and immigration can only be dealt with by authorised persons. Malawi has increasingly also used mainstream police to deal with immigration matters, which is also of serious concern. Immigration authorities are the right public functionaries to deal with this, not the police,” he said.
According to Chirwa, the use of a criminal justice approach to immigration control is particularly concerning in cases where immigrants have a legitimate claim to asylum under international or regional law.
“The recent operation hunting down refugees and asylum seekers and placing them in detention, confiscating their properties without due process, extracting bribes and harassing them has significantly tainted the country’s reputation internationally. Malawi has traditionally been a country that is friendly to refugees and asylum seekers. Our constitution expects us to act humanely and consistently with the core values and principles of the United Nations.”