Agent X recalls the 2004 and 2009 elections and what to look out for in 2014. But first a brief on intelligence agencies: Before the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) was set up in early 2000 at the recommendation SADC security experts, there used to be Special Branch which later changed to Secret Intelligence Services (SIS) who were notorious when Dr. Kamuzu Banda was in power. In 2000, SIS was delinked from the Police and changed to NIB during Dr. Bakili Muluzi’s time then to the current National Intelligence Service (NIS) under Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika. GK: Let’s talk about elections and rumours that there was rigging. Do you want to enlighten the nation on this one?Agent X:
Well, the 2004 elections, as far as I am aware, in the majority of areas the voting went on well although in our young democracy a loss is hard to accept and questions are always there. Having said that, minor discrepancies were there but nothing major; nothing to say that could’ve influenced the final outcome. GK: I don’t think many people will agree with your assessment.Agent X
: Quite understandably so but when you are on the outside you see things differently that’s why sometimes it’s not wise to make assumptions because of what you heard somewhere. The allegations of rigging and lack of belief in my assessment with respect to 2004 General Elections are expected due to the fact that NIB was perceived as usual, not as a government arm but mostly as a UDF arm. This is compounded by the fact that in opposition strongholds, NIB officers were not welcome to the extent that other officers had to run and hide in fear of their lives. This was even trickier and riskier for the agents that were known and officially placed to conduct the observations. Now our neutral position wasn’t understood as all they could link NIB with was violence by the [UDF] Young Democrats.
The ironic thing was that, in areas that were more of an opposition stronghold, these officers were chased and it meant that the bureau could only rely on reports by other observers. And most of these areas where NIB was excluded are where reports of rigging came from.
But in areas where NIB officers worked unimpeded, they were present to oversee the voting, counting, and the transportation of the cast votes. As NIB, we were present at the counting and in most areas, where people were aware of the role being played by the NIB, they would make sure that two or more NIB officers were present to witness the counting of votes.
By the time the votes were counted, the NIB had its own nerve centre where results were sent directly from the polling station as soon as the final vote was counted. So NIB had records immediately after the counting was done. GK: What transpired if your figures and the figures at the MEC Tally Centre didn’t agree?Agent X:
We had officers at the MEC Nerve centre who were monitoring the MEC results. Those that were dubious were immediately queried and a recount had to be made before making an official announcement. The MEC results had to correspond with what we had. And that was all results regardless of the party involved. Those that were not queried meant that that the figures tallied with the figures we had from the polling station.GK: What sort of intelligence did the NIB get prior to the elections?Agent X
: Before the elections, intelligence i
ndicated that Bingu would win the 2004 General Elections.
As government intelligence unit, surveys are conducted through the year that would enable us to assess the overall performance of government and the political landscape in reference to all political parties’ activities. And whenever there are elections, of any sort, the service conducts such assessment in order to be ahead of everything. We need to know who is going to win and vet them so that we know who was being entrusted with what.
In 2004, intelligence indicated that Bingu would win if he focused on certain populations and areas.
The political field is crazy; John Tembo would have won if he had cast his net wider because, as you are aware, the difference between John Tembo and Bingu wasn’t that much in 2004.
At certain times during the counting process Tembo would lead by thousands of votes but come one or two more polling station results in the rural areas Bingu would be back on top. GK: Can you clarify exactly how John Tembo messed up? Agent X:
Tembo's problem was that he concentrated on the central region districts of Dedza, Lilongwe, Dowa, Salima, Mchinji, Ntchisi and the like. And his votes were basically from these districts which of course has a large population.
Bingu on the other hand had been advised to focus on urban people, intellectuals and proper rural people. If you remember we used to go on the campaign trail 3-5 days in a roll per week focusing on mainly the rural, the very rural areas. That also included UDF strongholds of Machinga, Balaka and Mangochi. Bingu had Mulanje and Thyolo covered and usually skipped the central to the North where Aford wasn’t that strong and that was a loophole and the UDF used that to get votes from the North
It would take us to the most rural areas only accessible by 4x4s and that intensive travel is what caused Bakili's back problem. It was a rough campaign and tough campaign. It was proper campaign as rigging was never a question. So Bingu had the rural population on his side, plus intellectuals and college students were for him and some urban people.
Tembo had the central region under control, as it had always been an MCP stronghold. The south presented a major problem for John Tembo and he didn't even make an effort, the same applied to the northern region. If he had cast his net a bit wider and took the risk then it would be a different story.
And so, as far as I am aware, 2004 elections were not rigged and the votes were distributed as per district allegiances but elections in Malawi and Africa as a whole will always be disputed.
At the moment, I don’t trust the service at all. There are many people who are not supposed to be there and have no proper qualifications except a few. But if this service is set up in the right way and get the blessings of the Malawian parliament, this would be different.
If only opposition leaders would seize the opportunity to consult certain things with the unit, I think the political field would be levelled because at present only the ruling party benefits from vital information which is a great shame, really.GK: I will come back later with questions on the 2004 General Elections on specific issues, but for now, let’s move to 2009.Agent X
: 2009 was a whole lot different. Bingu won straight because people voted for Bingu because he had done a good job in the first term which any sane person wouldn’t dispute. People believed and trusted him to do the same the next term of office. Of course, now they know better.GK: Now, what can you say about future elections, say 2014?Agent X
: I get information from intelligence sources as and when I need it, but I am not bothered that much really. I am no longer in intelligence so have no use for it but from what I know, rigging in Malawi is difficult. What the opposition should ensure is to have sharp eyed and independent observers.
The most the DPP can do is to ban observers; and my advice is that the opposition shouldn’t tolerate this because a lot of rigging doesn’t happen at the polling station but when transporting the cast votes to the tally centre. The 2014 elections will be very tricky. At the moment, Bingu is getting and using Mugabe’s tactics. So chances are he will still get a few more tricks from the Zimbabwean. GK: Final but unrelated question: how can one identify a fraudster from a bona fide intelligence officer?Agent X
: During our time, we had identity cards. NIB officers had ID cards with their names, rank and duty station. It wasn’t just an ID, it had many security features some that could only be seen under UV light. One feature would be a watermark of the Malawi government emblem that should be visible to the naked eye if you tilt the ID card at a certain angle.
There are indeed a lot of people who do activities in the name of the intelligence services but whoever is approached by such a person should just ask for an ID. If the person refuses to show their ID, then most probably they are frauds. The ID is meant to be used at certain periods and only when need be. But if it has been demanded by someone during investigations or whatever, it has to be shown and people have to look for those features, especially the watermark feature. This was done to circumvent impersonation.
But people should understand that a proper and real intelligence officer does not go about boasting that he is as such as he puts his life in danger as not all people appreciate intelligence people. There are others who feel like it’s a great job, it is to a certain extent but the pride is from within. Those that are out of cover are questionable, unless they are working in an official capacity, of which they are officially introduced as well.
Otherwise if anyone approaches you, ask for an ID and check for the watermark feature. It is a crime to impersonate but with the Mukhito’s Police I doubt if any action would be taken. Just remain vigilant.
Part 7 Sunday. For Part 6, click here
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