Security…or something

For a country that has a relatively low reported crime rate, Malawi is obsessed with security. My guest house, for example, which is located on the edge of the college campus, is surrounded by a high (though certainly scalable) fence and has a gate that is locked at night, as well as locking front and room doors. Additionally, there are two security guards on duty around the clock, who, as far as I can tell, do little besides open and close the gate for entering cars and pedestrians. There are uniformed security guards throughout campus, too, most of whom have posts (generally folding chairs next to buildings), and who seem to serve similar functions.

I’m not sure if the presence of security is rooted in theories of deterrence, paranoia, or job creation, but it is prevalent throughout the parts of the country that I’ve seen so far (admittedly, not that much). Grocery stores and hotels all have their own security forces. Grocery stores and some shops also have turnstiles to enter, and security gates (like the ones that keep you from stealing books from the library) to exit. There are frequent police “roadblocks” along the main road, which mostly show the vehicular traffic who’s boss, though I’ve heard that the police occasionally check insurance or overloaded minibuses as well.

For all that it has a prominently displayed presence, though, the security is pretty idiosyncratic. The police (reportedly) don’t work at night. My security guards fall asleep on the job in the evenings and rarely wake up until after I’m through the gate – and I’m not trying to be particularly quick or sneaky. I wasn’t allowed to take my cell phone or laptop into the Embassy, but when I set off the metal detector, the guard made no attempt to figure out why, just handed me a visitor’s badge.

This is not to say that there are no risks in Malawi, of course; I take precautions against petty thievery and remain vigilant. Most places are not terribly well-lit at night, and I tend to stay inside after dark. Still, I’ve not felt particularly unsafe here. Street vendors are eager to target white people, but, at least so far, have tended to back off when disinterest is clearly stated. I’ve certainly had more frightening encounters in DC.

My official security briefing is tomorrow, and I’m sure I will have further thoughts on the subject then.

In other news, CNN will be broadcasting the US Presidential Debate live at 3 AM on Saturday morning. I am seriously contemplating watching, if only because I want to see if Obama can follow Maureen Dowd/Aaron Sorkin’s lead and do some rhetorical ass-kicking.   Fingers crossed!

Guest house

Guest house

This is the guest house (or, half of it – my room is to the right of the photo), surrounded, obviously, by the security fence.  Yes, there is a little mountain behind my house.  No, it is not Bunda Mountain.


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