Malawi debate on Federal State Vs Unitary State

Advantages of a federal state compared with a unitary state: Distribution of power: Distribution of power ensures that there are checks and balances, helping to prevent abuse of power.

Kenani: His views

Kenani: His views

More democracy: Each citizen has two opportunities to exercise the most fundamental democratic right, namely the right to vote; in a federation, elections are held both for the national parliament and for the parliaments of the individual member states.

Leadership opportunities: Political parties have more opportunities to hold power and competition between parties is encouraged, as they can exercise political responsibility in the individual member states even if they are in the minority nationally.

This gives parties an opportunity to test and prove their capacity for leadership by offering them a chance to demonstrate how they perform once elected. Citizen-oriented action: Citizens enjoy more rapid access to the public authorities.

It is easier for them to contact politicians and the public authorities than in a unitary state with a remote and anonymous centre (Ma MP as we speak anachoka kumudzi akukhala mu Lilongwe, and will remember their electorate after 5 years). Competition: The states that make up a federation are always competing with one another, making them more vital. Diversity: The division of the country into federal states guarantees that many economic, political and cultural centres develop.

This provides a more favourable environment to preserve and develop specific regional, historical, economic and cultural features. Disadvantages of a federal state compared with a unitary state:

Lack of uniformity: The federal states’ autonomy necessarily means there are differences between the states. Each state has its own policies, e.g. education.

 This can result in some difficulties, for instance, for school children if a family moves from one federal state to another.

Complicated: As decisions are taken in many different centres in the Federal Republic, and power is shared between the Federation and the individual state, it is essential that the various tiers of government co-operate and show consideration for each other. The different bodies that hold power exercise mutual oversight and function in a checks-and- balances system.

This interweaving of responsibility is complex and sometimes hard for citizens to understand. Time-consuming: The parliaments, governments and administrations of the Federation and the federal states have to wait for initiatives, decisions or consent from each other and engage in lengthy negotiations in order to arrive at joint solutions.

This can be a time-consuming process. Costly: Running individual parliaments, governments and administrations in the Federation and the individual state is considered, on the whole, to be more expensive than maintaining the corresponding bodies in a unitary state.

So there. My choice? No to federalism. It’s too costly, time-consuming and there is no guarantee that those we will put in power at state level in a federal system will not be thieves, the kind of thieves we currently elect at national level.

There will therefore be double-dipping: the president and his people stealing at national level while the governor and his people steal at federal level. We don’t have resources to finance such extravagance.

  • The author is a Malawian writer , poet , award winning short story writer and an accountant.
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26 thoughts on “Malawi debate on Federal State Vs Unitary State”

  1. Francis kamanga says:

    the writer seems to like shortcuts that’s why Malawi is facing these problems.if federal is what he has explained interns of time why then should you rash doing things.wait for all the processes to be done. we don’t say in a federal systems corruption won’t. be there but it’s easy for someone to held accountable this includes a president.

  2. Optic Computer says:

    I have read the causes of all political changes in most influential civilisations: problems that did not exist before appear suddenly or gradually. Usually the leaders or the ruled chose alternative political idealogy to enjoy happiness. Oftentimes, when leaders make the choice, it is to enjoy despotism and absolute power; when the ruled make choice, it is for the sake of enjoy liberty. In Malawi, for instance, dictatorship was Kamuzu’s creation, while democracy was the people’s choice.

    The federation of Nyasaland and Rhodesia was the colonialists making, so that they could enjoy our sweat. I believe that this federation is very different from those hypnotised the federophobia. Since DPP is enjoying absolute power, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, there is no way any DPP guy can say federalism is fine. If they were kicked out of power, say by MCP or PP, then you can see them now coming out to defend federalism.

    Federalism is the sure way of decentralising power and provide checks and balances as the writere puts. Unless we accept despotism, then we must defend central government system. Do you know that development partners have funded Malawi to decentralise since 1999? Central government system is the sure way of stealing from government coffers by the president and his cohorts.

  3. glen says:

    Are we really going to stop trying something new for fear of our weaknesses?
    Its funny to me for this article and arguments to becoming from Stanley Kenani.Fear has never helped in your life or has it Mr Kenani? The only problem you have hilighted in your article is that of thieves and liars.As we speak,these liars and thieves are too many and too manipulative and too clever of us to deal with;some of them are too connected to be dealt with.But may be if they were divided into smaller groups (federelism) they could be crushed.May be if they were divided into smaller groups (federilism)these liars would be easily identified and dealt with permanently.for those that have watched American movies,we have seen how a gang disintegrates when one or two of them are caught or isolated from the crew.Let’s try federilism and keep trying until we get something that’s right for us.The current system is full of thieves and is breeding thieves.

  4. Pita Munthalikha says:

    am looking at the numbrr of comments against the article…so many. i dont think all if them hate Onjezani….actually some mentiom that they admire his literally skills. i think this artile was simply no well researched on

    1. Sec-specialist says:

      The intensity of the negative comments about the article may have resulted from the attitude of ‘am-the-one-that’s-right’ or the ‘my-way-is-the-only-way’. This attitude sadly, has been embraced by almost all who are for federation. They just dont want to hear anyone saying to the contrary. Really sad. Otherwise, the writer has tried to compare and contrast both systems and made his choice. What’s wrong with that?

  5. johnM says:

    I respect Kenani’ s opinion and he has tried to balance the argument however I would like to see him analyse the advantages and disadvantages of a unitary state. Lots of people who criticize federalism have never listed down the benefits of the current system. Frankly speaking there are lots of disadvantages as far as I am concerned. Lets face it, any system which allows the Head of State to use public resources and facilitate the construction of a public university on his private estate so that he and his descendants should be earning land rents since time immemorial should be questioned.

    Mr. Kenani criticizes federalism because according to him it will be confusing to the people. He therefore implies that Malawians are simpletons who have had time understanding things. I, frankly speaking, do not agree and secondly, he states that there will be too many people dipping their hands into public funds yet as evidence from the recent cashgate events, neither does the unitary state do any better in protecting public funds from thieving politicians and their cronies.

    1. Thitherward Wendo says:

      Dear JohnM

      You write as though you believe that there are only two choices for Malawians: the present situation or federalism.

      If your car breaks down, you don’t rush out and buy a new one (unless you are very, very rich). You find out what’s wrong with it, and you fix it.

      We all know what’s wrong with our political system (our politicians are a bunch of liars and thieves), and we all know what needs to be done about it (the liars and thieves need to be identified and punished). (Okay, we also need a change of national mindset and political culture, but this is true whichever system we have.)

      The Americans say: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. However, if something is broken, it is more economical to fix it than to replace it with something completely new (for us) and undeveloped. If we consider ourselves to be incapable of repairing the old system, what should make us think that we are capable of designing and implementing a new system, (albeit a system that in general structure is similar to those structures of some other countries)?

      It seems to me that some of us have taken too much to heart Bingu’s exhortation to dream in color. As I have written elsewhere: dreams are things you wish for; goals are things you work for’. A little more goal-driven work and a little less dream-driven wishing is what we need to solve our political malaise.

      If wishes were Porsches, beggars would drive.

  6. nikisi says:


    Who told you that democracy is cheap? By nature democracy is not cheap but costly. That reasoning that multi-party democracy was costly.time consuming.complicated and tantamount to war and conflict was used also by the previous one party state diehards.Today the diehards for unitary state like Kenani are using the same argument against the federal democracy in malawi.

    The truth is that any system of government in the world has its own advantages and disadvantages. But the advantages for federal democracy outweigh those advantages for a unitary democracy in malawi. Even the major churches such as the catholic and anglican prefer to have federal structures of autonomous dioceses with bishops in their churches.

    Likewise governors would be elected to run autonomous provinces and all political parties would compete the position in a province. This would strengthen management of unity and democracy in malawi. The present unitary state only entrenches and consolidates power in one person,one party,one district and one tribal belt.This is unacceptable for good democracy. Lets debate for the benefit of all malawians and not one person who wield much power to the disadvantage of minor populatons.

  7. l am Matthew Admire Gatsi aged 30 years from the Republic of Zimbabwe, from Jeranyama village chief Negomo Chiweshe, Mazowe district Mashonaland Central. l am looking for my sister Joice aka Batsirai Mubhawa who left Zimbabwe sometime in 1989 after the death of her father who was working as a tailor. I got information to the effect that she was enrolled at Stella Marris Girls High in Blantyre district and she was also staying in Chigwirizo Township. Anyone with information you can contact me on email address: [email protected]/+263773326020.

  8. John Frum says:

    There appear to be two main types of people who are proponents of federalism. The first type is essentially dishonest and regards federation as a kind of political Ponzi scheme that will attract ‘investors’ from among the gullible donors. (Dream on.)

    The others appear to be latter-day cargo-cultists. Lacking knowledge and understanding of the socio-economic and geo-political processes that have resulted in the current global distribution of power, powerlessness, wealth and poverty, these people hope to create power and wealth for themselves by replicating one of the circumstances associated with the power and wealth of nations like the United States, namely, federal government. Unfortunately, success in replicating this circumstance would be insufficient to create the desired outcomes and, even if such success were possible, would probably be counter-productive. However, this will not deter our committed cargo-cultists from performing those politico-religious rituals that they believe will bestow material wealth upon them, neither will it discourage the cult faithful from flocking to their support.

    In Malawi, ‘faith-based politics’ is a term that cannot be limited to the identification of recognized religious groups with particular political parties. Due to the gross inadequacy of funding for educational development, many of us are obliged to base our political stance upon faith in politicians (!) rather than on reason and knowledge of the processes that can work towards the achievement of our best interests.

    1. John Frum says:

      If you want to know more about John Frum, you’ll find me in Wikipedia, not on Facebook.

    2. Che Sululu says:

      Malawi better bee a federal state. lets not focus on regions but the focus should be on the benefits of the act.

  9. Ma says:

    Iweyo ndi accountant weniweni withnACCA? CIMA? I completely doubt what you are analysing is so childish and doubt if you have been to any meaningful university. Accountant analysis can’t be like this iwe ndiwa English! Ulibenso political science in you. Real stupid guy.

    Kenan You know completely Nothing as you pretend to that’s all I can say about you.

  10. vyazunguya Tukombo says:

    An empty tin. 50yrs in unitary state we r ranguishing at the base of poverty in the world.we need to change the status quo.

  11. MKWAPU says:

    THATS IT! !!!!!

  12. KUKHALA says:


  13. You are true Bokoharam.We are tired to hear Cadets have done something.Who are those so called Cadets Iwant to know them,are they live here in Malawi mwina Mozambique.North pple iam very sorry for that,these are panga knives Party.They have blood in their hands since 2011,july 20.

  14. BOKOHARAM says:

    Akakhala galu iyeyu ndikanati nkumbireni zenje ameneyi azipita ndiyiwaleko maganizo akewa. Ndepoti munthu wofanana ndi ma anti-fede ndamkhulukira Koma ndaganiza kumupatsa Mbuzi imodzi yamoyo chifukwa chotchula ubwino wa Fede wambiri.The mathematics is Anti-Federation people = Anti-Social people.

  15. mgwantha says:

    So you are saying the presidend and his group now should continue stealing instead of giving powers to people for checking and balancing.

  16. Malunza says:

    You are shallow mr writer. Who is paying you?

  17. ndangodutsa chisale says:

    Stanley Onjezani Kenani is one of the writers I highly esteem. But I see that he is missing the whole point just like many other commentators have written on the debate. What is that has prompted people to propose federalism as an alternative to politics of patrimony, too much executive powers in one’s hands, tribalism, corruption and lies? Unless we put these into perspective is when we will come up with honest answers to the debate. It is like a hospital treating an outbreak of diarrhea in village x but forgetting to see what is causing the out break: Contaminated water.

  18. Mccarty says:

    You’re very stupid my friend, you do not know what you’re talking about, do not confuse people here, if you have nothing to say please shut your (demm) mouth: federalism is a best way to shut these thieves, its better to ask if you don’t know federalism what it means.

  19. Muweme says:

    Could have been very good and balanced if you had also given the readers the advantages and disadvantages of unitary system of government so that they can compare with what you have written about federal system of Government. Otherwise not balanced and why from a person like you.

  20. APM says:

    inunso ndi mbuli bwanji. mwalemba trash apa. no salt to show that this is evidence based. next time do your research before publishing your views. shallow thinking.

  21. Jando says:

    At least this is a better debate than labelling each other as selfish or tumbuka. This debater has read and done some research. This is not chitaganya stuff or against the norm on unity as propagated by some so called faith boko haram or st.steve extremist individuals seeking to be appointed in parastal bodies.

  22. Quota system says:

    You tried to be balanced and gave your views. Others have their own views too.

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