What an amazing turnabout by the Livingstonia Synod and chiefs Kyungu and Chikulamanyembe on whether Malawi should introduce federalism or continue with the unitary system of government.
The Livingstonia Synod recently declared “no” as it stood dead against calls for federalism widely being championed by leaders from the northern region. With President Peter Mutharika’s emissary Symon Vuwa Kaunda serving as the backdrop, the leaders of the church said they would not “discuss or advocate for things that are in conflict with our ideologies”.
One can only guess the real nature of Vuwa Kaunda’s visits that forced the leaders to kick to the curb a cause that has long been on the wish list of the people of northern Malawi.
The Synod, however, was not alone. Chikulamayembe and Kyungu, two of the most influential leaders in the region, also shared the same ill-advised position, and as luck would have it, they too had met Vuwa whose success in changing minds was short-lived as his boss welcomed the idea of Malawians debating the issue.
It is worth noting, however, that Mutharika took the position after Leader of Opposition and Malawi Congress Party president Rev. Lazarus Chakwera had endorsed the idea. The President can say he did it own his own but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
Minds appear set now on debating federalism and not cessation even though the two ideas will remain a part of this important discourse which many believe will take Malawi to a better place. As believers in the cause, we are not convinced that the aspirations of those demanding change could be met by the current system of government which for decades – as a single party and now multi-party state – has failed to effectively address crucial development concerns.
But it is without question that the road to a better place has detractors who are out with their daggers drawn. As a matter of fact, some are already spreading lies about federalism and against the people calling for it. Let us start with the latter. One of the worst insults against Northerners ‑‑ no illusions that it will go away — is that Northerners want federalism badly because they only look out for themselves.
If we go back to the time when Nyasaland, before she became Malawi, was fighting for independence, could Orton Chirwa, who was the first president of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the country’s first lawyer who drafted her constitution, have handed the MCP leadership to Dr. Kamuzu Banda who hailed from the central region? Probably not! Similarly, there are many other northerners that have served the country over the years in good faith only to be spat upon.
There is more that people opposed to federalism say. They say that northerners have from independence in 1964 occupied most of the senior positions in government. What they are in fact saying is that Northerners got into those positions without merit but were so stupid that they failed to influence Kamuzu, a dictator, to develop the North.
Absurd as these arguments are, detractors are convinced that just saying them makes them valid.
Malawians are also being told that once federalism is adopted, the heavens will fall leading to the destruction to the country. Federalism, they say, will break up families as those who intermarried will be forced to choose where to live. The same will happen to businesses as owners will have to pick new locations in Malawi, or that those from the north or other regions but living elsewhere in the country would have to revert to their places of origin.
These again are patently false statements. Simply, decentralizing some powers to local administrations does not mean that the country is being divided, but in fact it means people being allowed to strengthen the administrative locale of the country’s education, infrastructure, commercial might, and so on and so forth. And to be clear, under federalism Malawians would not be prevented from living, working, and doing business in whatever part of the country they choose.
Another falsehood being peddled is that the physical size of Malawi is too small for federalism. Perhaps one can forgive those that propagate this notion in that they do not have a clue that Malawi could be split up and still end up with states that are bigger than the following countries: Swaziland, Lesotho, Burundi or Rwanda.
You can also look at individual sizes of regions in the United States, where the combined total area of federated states such as Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts is just slightly above the size of Malawi.
Then there are those who are looking at size in terms of economic activity. The argument perhaps is that the North will suffer if Malawi abandons the current system of government. Let them shed their crocodile tears for somebody else. Since when did they start caring about the North which they often accuse of contributing little to the national economy?
As the debate on federalism is officially in high gear, we should expect more cynics coming out to dissuade supporters of federalism. Unfortunately for the detractors, the train has already left the station.
In a federal system, the North will be just fine. At the same time, the job of proponents of this system is to let people know that it is not going to be easy; it is could be painful at times. Think of what orthopedic patients have to endure sometimes as doctors break their bones to fix them. Everything gets worse before it gets better.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :