Malawi politics of ethnicity: A threat to democracy and development

During the current sitting of Parliament, a member of Parliament for Dedza North West, Hon. Alekeni Menyani’s remarks to Hon David Bisnowaty, MP for Lilongwe City Centre constituency, raised hell both inside and outside the House. For three consecutive days it was the leading news item on TVM. This was in addition to television discussions about the ills of racism. In general people condemned the remarks. Even the leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarous Chakwera apologised and Hon Bisnowaty accepted the apology. It is now water under the bridge. However, the incident is indeed thought provoking.

One carrying placard during the pro- federal system march in north Malawi

One carrying placard during the pro- federal system march in north Malawi

So far, it is appreciated that people have unanimously agreed that racism is not welcome in democratic Malawi and must, therefore, never be practised in whatever form.

Meanwhile, what is not appreciated is the culture of silence about nepotism, tribalism and regionalism which are being practised and no one wants to seriously talk about. People should know that these practices are just as painful as racism.

It can be pointed out that in some isolated cases some people raise the problem of tribalism or nepotism in the country. Such people are blamed by the government authorities that they are trying to divide the people of Malawi. Those who say so deliberately forget that Malawians have never before been divided as is the case now.

These days, where one comes from matters most than his/her qualifications. This takes place be it at getting access to tertiary education, government appointments as well as getting a job or promotion in public service.

The most recent example is the appointment of the Clerk of Parliament, Fiona Kalemba. From the media reports it is believed that at the interview Justice Charles Mkandawire of the Malawi High Court came first and was the one who was recommended to the President for the position.

However, the President picked Fiona Kalemba who came third. Among other reasons, the President suspected some nepotism at the interview. But, what can stop people from suggesting that the presidential choice is also nepotistic because he has shunned away from merit, which he preaches about.

When President Peter Mutharika came into power with a lean Cabinet of 20 ministers Malawians were happy that long at last financial resources will be saved as opposed to having the usual more than 40 ministers.

Meanwhile, what disappointed most people is that the Cabinet is mostly made up of people from the same area or region. Some people argue that there is nothing wrong with that because other presidents were doing the same. This is simply shallow reasoning. If nepotism, tribalism and regionalism are bad it cannot be good just because people have been doing it all along. There is need to have a cut-off point. Let President Peter Mutharika be the one to put a stop to this home grown segregation. The government should stick to merit.

It is so sad that even the standards of tertiary education have gone down because of the quota system which ignores merit. It is indeed retrogressive to exempt some students from working hard just because depending on where they come from the government will let them proceed. This is not favouritism but an injustice that the students only realise when they have been weeded from the university. It is very unfortunate that law makers send their children to schools and universities abroad and do not feel the pinch of the good for nothing laws they make for the poor people.

President Peter Mutharika and his government might be well-focused on development. But, if they leave stumbling blocks of nepotism, tribalism and regionalism to flourish as is the case now, not much development will be achieved. Putting a non-achiever in position of authority just because he is a home boy is a catalyst for failure.

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15 thoughts on “Malawi politics of ethnicity: A threat to democracy and development”

  1. Lhomwe 2 says:

    Palibe chamuyaya ….. bola nthawi.

  2. belekiya says:

    I would have had little problem if the president settled for the one who came second in the interview for the COP. But to settle for a third one is pure nepotism. This idea of technical know who is killing our nation. I even saw a job advert which came out on Wednesday about December 4 but the closing date was the previous Friday in the month of November. What doe that entail? That the advert was just to cover up. The candidate was identified even before the advert was put. This is Malawi today.

  3. Kenkkk says:

    Tribalism or nepotism is a form of racism within the same race, it is pure discrimination and evil. Unfortunately so many dpp very embarrassing educated thuggish leadership thrives on tribalism and discreetly support and encourage it amongst their uneducated masses of the south.

    If they are serious against tribalism, let the dpp leadership for once come out openly and tell the people of the south openly that they should not vote for them because they come from the south but rather because of what good they can do for the country. That tribalistic voting divides the country which could eventually lead to serious conflict problems as we have seen elsewhere in Africa or world.

    Politics and academia are completely different and their respective requirement for diversity is different. It is therefore very stupid to say quota system in academic and politics is the same. Academia is about academic excellence which you don’t need in politics. Any one can be appointed a minister but not just anyone can be appointed as an academic. No where in the word do they have a quota system in academia, you can help those lagging behind without punishing the excellent hard working students. That is how is done elsewhere in the world, excellent students are never penalized.

    As for politics, Peter has a very large pool of people to choose from for ministerial or top govt positions. He didn’t need to concentrate too much on the lomwe belt. There was no need to restrict himself only to people who were previously ministers. Anyway this is gone now, no need to debate this.

  4. tan'gatan'ga says:

    Mudracker 2., please note that the pool from which peter could have appointed ministers is limited to only those who have been ministers before, neither do they have to be MPs. There are many capable individuals who could have qualified to be ministers without having to be lomwes or southerners. Your argument therefore does not hold water. Try again.

  5. tan'gatan'ga says:

    The quota system is very very evil. Just imagine for those people who believe in heaven that GOD decides as follows:-BECAUSE THERE IS NOT ENOUGH SPACE IN HEAVEN, GOING THERE IS GOING TO BE ON A QUOTA SYSTEM BY COUNTRY. The result would definitely be that some holy people would go to hell to allow sinful people from sinful countries to satisfy there qouta. Would this be just?

  6. Tiyanjane says:

    Tribalism and nepotism are creations of an insecure DPP inner circle which has used the Muthalika family as a bait. That is why we never heard Bingu and we have not heard Peter denounce these ugly practices on the podium. It is obvious that the DPP insiders target North Malawi when they promote ethnic divisions. Why?
    1) These DPP inner members know that the only way they can continue to plunder Malawi’s wealth, is by isolating people of the north; whose cultural and educational standing allow them to speak out wrongful acts. DPP treasury plunderers have managed (so far) to convince their people from the South that their enemy is the Northerner and not their leaders who have continued to steal everything from the poor – tractors, mining proceeds, taxes, even college space. You see, this quota system does not benefit kids from inside Phalombe. The system is designed for children of DPP gurus whose children complete their secondary education at expensive private schools and take up space at the university of malawi and mzuni. That is why today, they are against Felix Jumbe’s motion to suspend fees hike in government learning institutions.
    2) DPP knows that people of the north look at issues and not birth origins when casting their vote. That is why the north gave their vote to Gwanda in 1999 and 2004 and overwhelmingly to Bingu (before he turned into a 20July killer). In 2014, the North chose Amai and Abusa Chakwera. The North did not go for Kamuzu Chibambo or Late James Nyondo or John Chisi. The north does not vote for tribes; the north elects leaders acceptable to a majority in other regions. In other words, the North prefers effective unity over ethnicity.
    The DPP inner circle is very much aware of these facts which they are not able to emulate; unless they surrender their cruel and shameless greed which has left hospitals without drugs, education standards erode because of quota system, new teachers and doctors unemployed, admarc depots empty et etc.
    Turning to the so called “racist” remark in parliament – Bisnowaty should be ashamed of himself for having uttered those sentiments against a party that heavily benefitted his family at the expense of so many Malawians. I agree with Emily Kamanga – the larger problem we have is the DPP-induced tribalism and nepotism and not about one man’s race.

  7. Mucracker_2 says:

    This is a good article, nevertheless, where choosing ministers is concerned, the president has the prerogative to choose capable people and trustworthy not mercenaries. We should not forget that a big rift came when Bingu died. 60% of his then ministers dumped the party almost all his ministers from the North migrated to PP and immediately declared North to be home of PP. This to most of us proved how unreliable and untrustworthy these ministers were. They followed where power was going and lacked moral principles.
    Now when DPP won with Peter Mutharika, the party had shrank in the North and Centre, all their previous captains had abandoned the ship and migrated either to MCP or PP, we should also not forget that section 65 is still valid to date. So on what basis would a president abandon those that have stood with him during the hard times of his life and go for people who can not be trusted bust just hungry for power? Why would I choose an untrustworthy partner at the expense of trustworthy partner all in the name of not being nepotistic? Are the ones chosen to be ministers, lesser Malawians than those being advocated to? What does a president do when there is not his representative in an area?

  8. George phiri says:

    This story was written by a person who is from the North like me. Nepotism and regionalism kweneso favourtism will continue as long as continue behaving childishly in the north. Why did we not help in voting chakwera into power for a change? We need to help in bringing change. We have to change our mindset before anything else. 2019 we should help in power shift to see if the one who comes in will be different from the current idiots. By the way Goodall Gondwe was one of the people who were in forefront supporting the stupid quota system.

  9. George phiri says:

    Balaka, Mangochi and Machinga paja ife chipani chathu chinali UDF ndiye chipani chathu chinatha tilibe kokapempha chimanga. Bakili akanakhala moyo bwenzi mukudya nsima ngati ku Thyolo.

  10. Kumamvetsa says:

    Emily Mkamanga is a good writer on topical & national issues. I personally admire her.
    On this one, however, There’re serious gaps she has blindly avoided to fill.
    To begin with she condemns quota system in education while advocating the same when it comes to the ministerial appointments.
    Talking about merit. Is there any merit in employing only cleaners from the north at Chancellor College? Does she know what’s happening at LUANAR? Is she aware of the sufferings the few people from the two regions endure?
    Mkamanga can do better to revisit what Kanyama Chiume did the short period he was Minister of Education. Standard seven candidates were found in UK!

  11. ngongoliwa says:

    Am not a racist, but to have a Jew as mp is to sink so low malawians.
    Can any Malawian b an mp in israel?
    Komanso, that guy is very rude akaluakulu, how dd pipo in lilongwe elect him??
    Umphawi chani, wot is he doing special for d pipo?

  12. Chitapata says:

    Akulu inunso mmene nkhani yanu mwalembera muli ndi tsankho.

  13. advisory committee says:

    Iwe namba one sunalime zako izo

  14. Richman says:

    These are words of wisdom; let the message fumigate the archaic practices wherever they are tolerated, and by whoever tolerates them.

  15. WOMANGA MANGA says:



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