Why Federalism must not be dreaded

It is a sunny afternoon, the temperatures downtown have improved from the heatwaves that characterised a few days ago to the orders of 23 Degrees Celsius. My sons and daughter have taken me for an afternoon bite at the delicatessen in the neighbourhood. On the radio is a popular advocate in town discussing issues of how the student demonstrations, potential impending labour union protests in a number of provinces and marches against poor service delivery may be averted by strengthening the functioning of the multilevel government.

Dr Greenwell Matchaya

Dr Greenwell Matchaya

Suddenly, my son asks me a question about the cause of the demonstrations and why some districts and countries needed demonstrations before people’s needs could be provided for. This launces me into thinking about cooperative governments and how they could offer service delivery more superiorly to people than unitary governments characterised with strong central governanceceteris paribus.

The purpose of this article therefore is to take forward the debate about state organization and how different parts of the government can share power in a manner that can propel development inspirations of a nation. Inevitably, it may touch on some issues related to the jurisprudence of constitutional law to elucidate why we need a constitutional reform of a material nature for purposes of development at the grassroots level.

That the manner in which governments are organized, and power shared, between parts of the government is a critical component for local and national development, cannot be over-emphasized. A disorganized government is often associated with costly inefficiencies, low zeal to tackle urgent issues and low accountability among other downsides. It is hence important to have a better organized government in order to effectively advance the goals of economic development and social liberties.

Although governments may be organized in various ways, for purposes of the present submission we may differentiate between unitary and Federal forms of state organization. Malawi has a unitary government where power is concentrated enormously at the higher levels and the lower levels only have limited powers for deciding or planning their own development. It would appear that such a form of government deters development as may be discerned below.

A federal government (which I will call a cooperative government, hereinafter), on the other hand maybe organized such that we have several spheres of government at various levels working in coordination and cooperation and power is not outright concentrated in one sphere of government. To achieve this, we can, and ought to take a deliberate effort as a nation to re-write the constitution such that is establishes two further spheres of government in a meaningful way, namely, the provincial spheres and the local spheres, so that in total we may have the national sphere, the provincial sphere and the local sphere. Currently, any structures that appear to speak of the same idea unfortunately relate to the national sphere in a hierarchical manner implying that the lower structures parrot the rhythm of the national sphere all the time without much contextualization. This would have to change by law. The number of provinces for example may have to be more than the three regions that we already know whereas all the districts in each province would constitute parts of the local government.

Legislative authority of the Spheres of government

Notice that a cooperative government adds a second level of checks and balances on government branches, the first of which is the usual Montesquieu’s separation of powers (SOP) of government into the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary. The legislative authority of the national sphere of the Malawi government would still vest in the National Parliament and derived from the revised constitution. The national parliament would need to be at least bicameral to provide enough checks and balances to one another and to provide for the heterogeneity in the electorate that now exists in Malawi. For example the parliament would need to comprise of the current National Assembly and then a Council of Provinces as a second house.The provinces would need to have their own legislatures comprising of elected representatives, and so too would, the municipal councils.

Executive authority

The executive authority of the national sphere of course would still be vested in the President and his Cabinet as is the case, whereas that of the Provincial and local spheres would be vested in the provincial Executive council and the municipal councils respectively, all provided for by the revised constitution. All of the spheres of course would need to have their judicial authorities vested in the courts.

Is it worth it?

At this point one would wonder whether this wouldn’t simply impose tremendous pressure on the already meagre resources as these structures would need funding. That is a good point, but one should note that government always has money and the more structures a government creates the more they will find ways of effectively using the money. Such a nature of state organization would enhance checks and balances and reduce state resources abuse thereby freeing up more for development.

Will the provinces win or lose?

Contrary to how the debate has shaped in Malawi, (where some of those who don’t want federalism, appear to think that it will marginalize them because provinces will be independent, or those who want it because they think it will give them full autonomy and advantage them more than the entire nation), the truth lies in the middle and the realities are such that the two opposing extremes are not possible. A cooperative government as can be crafted in Malawi obviously will not mean a creation of independent states within the currently territorial bounds of Malawi. Moreover federalism cannot be taken as a step towards secession as the prime control of the defence of the country will still be under national control.

In practice, the constitution would need to be revised such that the spheres of government are interdependent, interrelated and of course distinct. The implication of this is that we would expect that the national and provincial spheres would have areas where they may exercise complete/exclusive control themselves, for example road traffic rules, fines etc ( for provinces), and defence, mining, etc for the national spheres. Some areas which are both local and national in nature eg taxation can be considered areas of concurrent control and so the national and provincial spheres can have concurrent powers over those, in which case if issues arise, the two spheres would need to cooperate to solve them.

Such concurrence and exclusivity would give both, some level of autonomy and dependence, which is what is needed for federalism to help spur development. The municipalities will also have their tasks some of which may be assigned by the provincial and national spheres etc.

If we were able to embark on something like this, we would be on our way towards achieving real democracy as embraced at the turn of the 1990s by enhancing participation in development. The system would also contribute more to the socio-economic transformation and service delivery agenda of the country, besides enhancing the management of the diversity that is characterising our nation today. That way, development as we want it, may become a reality. My only warning is that, such a worthwhile endeavour, is very ambitious, and only very few would want to take it forward- can you be one of them?


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44 thoughts on “Why Federalism must not be dreaded”

  1. Good samaritan says:

    Even if you can give the whole north to these tumbukas,’ they will again divide their districts into regions, thereafter constituencies will become regions afterwards villages will turn the same. Ask those living in the south and centre, They can explain why.

  2. sositala masamu says:

    i wish many contributions were as informative as this. I am DPP from the South, and i am now beginning to see that such forms of government can actually be made to represent the wishes of all of us . Can the author Dr G Matchaya submit this to the parliement , to OPC and to opposition ? those can discuss such reforms and take a way forwed .

    what we see is that those paid to gude gov seem to just eat the money they dont innovate…those who dismiss the author are likely unable to understand these issue, or wrongly fear that change will disadvantage them.

    lets giev chance to reason as zizo onthunu
    ine sindimadziwa kuti such forms of gov will leave the federal gov with power to ratify or reject provincial legislation. zikomo..naneso ndiwerenge zanga mwina mkulkhala ngati a dotolo o matchaya

  3. Goodfact says:

    You have just rushed to comment without understanding what the writer implies to mean. He is not from the North, yet your comment is against people from the North. We need to be rational in our approach to issues of national importance. The writer has provided his email for comments but instead you have chosen to post your hatred comment. We are all one. Malawi is one. North, Centre and South are all just geographical shpere that were arctectured for adminstrative purposes.

  4. If you think federalism will help northeners think again. Northeners are settled in the south, many work in the south, many go to school in the south, the south is more developed than the south, Think again. If you think northerners are more educated think again?

  5. The Patriot says:

    Of the three regions in Malawi only the South dreads Federalism, why?
    The same reason the Atsamunda did not want Malawi to be independent! After twenty years of Presidents coming from the South and most Cabinet ministers coming from the South , what have we achieved as a Nation???
    This federal issue has to be fought tooth and nail to be achieved. Here are some of the advantages of a federal system
    1. Most of us Northerners will go back and develop our motherland because every province will have a University, including Mediclal schools. No need for quota system.
    2. Governors of the provincies and mayors of cities will replace the current DCs. These governors will be bonafide citizens of the provinces and 2ill be elected by the people . The current DCs are unelected officials and usually not coming from areas they represent hence they are not development conscious.
    3. The issues of akutithera ntchito will end, most people will be employed in their province of origin.
    4. The province with most resources will develop more quickly because a percentage of the proceeds from natural resources will remain in that province. Yes, there will be no need for money for timber from Chikangawa to be used to bulid a road in PHALOMBE!

  6. peter says:

    Did Dr Matchaya study at the same university as Dr Dausi?

  7. Dambudzo mwasanya says:

    51 years of wasted unitary system.Federalism is the only way to go.We just need civic education for the mass illiterate southerners.Grasping of things is very difficult for them.

  8. ngongoliwa says:


  9. kelvin siu says:

    mkulu amalemba boo uyu…and pa issue iyi proposal iyi ili bwino ….enanu lembani the other side kuti timveso#

    brVO che matchaya…ma president need people like you as advisors….people who can think through complexity and condense them into actionable material…tanthokoza ife…keep writing

  10. karen lazaro says:

    nice analysis as said…wish others in other fields does similar, then president can be helped.

    also such gov wodunt disadvantage any region as the doc says, i concur


    My cursory analysis shows that Federalism would adversely affect the Southern Region while the North and Centre would benefit enormously.
    The South has a huge population but produces relatively little; the North has huge mining potential just waiting to take off; the Centre has the best arable land in the country stretching from DZ to KU.
    One other thing about Federalism is that it will do away with LAZINESS as espoused by Henry Kachaje. So, CZ will have to learn to make its own Forex and not be dependent on KU’s tobacco.

  12. Chikopa says:

    LCB @ 1ndi munthu wamkulu – ndi Big Man. I like your thinking.

  13. Mailosi mkosi says:

    Mawa this true ! I like your raining . Malawians fear nothing . No one not even the northerner from chitipa north will run away from malawi . I am laughing at some of the argumentum adhominem above by those afraid .

    Infact federal gov would make it do easy for ruling parties to reach out every place with development . The young doc mustn’t be discouraged by those afraid to face significant change ., he is on the right side of the change we need . Our intelligence is that even the P wants decentralisation of some sort .
    If I were with fear as the others I would ensure I reach these young docs with ability in fields of science , economics and law to lead us even more !

    Bravo young professor of economics dr matchaya !

  14. Mawa says:

    We need federal system of government. Those who are against federal system are merely afraid of nothing really. But they would not admit it’s fear. That would mean really decentralisation is properly done. One of the things to do would be to do it slowly by setting revenue base among others. I would come up with 4 provinces; central province. northern province. Eastern Province and southern province. All headed by a Governor or premier with his/her cabinet or governing council. Provincial would be coming up with provincial development plans and budgets. Would be expected to strengthen district and town councils in terms of the financial mobiluzation arrangements and Development planning among others. Provincial gvts would come up with their own allowable set of laws, flags. One thibg for sure is that power would would descend the ladder to people on the ground. Some of our problems would be solved. Developed would be converted to TA level which I would propose we change to subdistricts. What do you think guys…?

  15. concerned citizen says:

    I’ve read the article and all comments. The article is good. But amene tili ophunzirafe tanyanya. We know how to critize-pulling down sb on comments. Why don’t we come up with better ideas so that we Malawians can choose what to take.
    Enafe tidasiira xool panjira. Tiyeni tiwasiire ena zinazi. If u don’t understand it means pa size yako zachokapo.
    Zinthu zabvuta m’Malawi muno. Tiyeni tiwasiire mwayi ophunzira apereke maganizo awo omveka, if tisankhepo.
    Ine ndikupempha every PhD holders amufield iyi, to bring his or her own idea here. Pliz tell us where it is working if not let us try it.

  16. concerned citizen says:

    Good Greenwell, you’re so patriotic. This is what we need. Osati zija akuyankhula a Chakwera~gaining donor confidence so that things shud be as Kamuzu founded, is now & wiill be forever.
    Chitukuko chitha kubwera. Palibe donor woti apere chikuko mpaka mutafana nawo. We nned to play our part somewhere.
    Pliz send it to APM.

  17. Pitala says:

    What the hell is this lunatic saying…mwana woyipa maganizo full of boasting to girls. Munthu okonda kukwera ngati uyu sindinaone..mkazi wake nurse uja akuvutika pachabe atengapo matendo..fuck off Matchaya..Silly man full of shit!!!!!!! Alimi apa bunda inu..khikhikhi

  18. Titus scot says:

    Zosamveka akunena a dokotalawa. Pitani mukawauze ma MP zimenezi ndiomwe amasintha malamulo

  19. chizamsoka munthali says:

    Bola kukhala mbuli ngati kuphunzila ndikumeneku

  20. nachisale says:

    A federal government is not in execution a cooperative, democratic or progressive government. Federalism in the current african political culture only decentralises power to corrupt local elites whose actions will continue to perpetuate underdevelopmet and poverty. It is also a source of so many contestations you just nee to look at Nigeria. So it is rather misguided to think it is a panacea.

  21. kenkkk says:

    Lcb,the problem is you. What don’t you understand? Just say whether you agree with what he says or not about federalism. I know he is using some legal jargon rather than being simple.

    I don’t personally agree with his argument as he is giving us even more tiers or levels of administrations. Too costly.

    I have never been an advocate of federalism because in Malawi it won’t change anything. Let us fight hard to change the behaviour of people running our govt. Failing which,tigawanepo apa.

  22. nthandalanda says:

    Its you icb who is a fuck. Sometimes when you don’t have something to say here, just keep quiet. You mean you can not get something here? You are silly.

  23. another thought says:

    Is federalism what Malawi is really dying for? I don’t think so. Malawi in principle is supposed to be run on the principal of decentralization, something that has failed with distinction. Why? Lack of will by the central government to devolve powers, inability of the local governments to be independent from the central government, financial and material wise. To start dreaming of federalism now is sheer foolishness. Poverty, hunger, poor infrastructure, lack of human capital, lack of resources are crippling this country and to add two more layers of governance where resources will be stolen is damn. The levels of corruption in provincial, and municipal governments will bleed this country to death, ask the ANC how they are fairing on this.

  24. Optic Computer says:

    Madeya mentality will continue oppressing. That is one reason we are poorest country in the world. If climb the ladder of GDP per capita it is because some country above us sleeps a little and slide back.

  25. Shidda says:

    In modern world education, the intelligence is measured not by INDEPENDENT creativity and logic REASONING if NOT meticulously repeating what the masters (lectures) have programmed you to think and reason like; “give me what I gave you” kind of thing. Otherwise you wont graduate unfortunately these are the majority type of Drs or professors we have around.
    Sorry its just an observation



    I will hate you for the rest of my life for writing this trash.In which field are you in terms of PhD. You are a disgrace to the nation to say the least.

    1. Did you make a research why the northern region wants federalism more than other regions. It is a step to secession. They feel marginalised more than other regions. This is not true either. South and centre is still underdeveloped. Koma kudzikonda atumbuka basi

    2. Do you know that when you give the northern region autonomy, they will abuse it. Recently in the name of advocacy for federalism, they simply nominated Khumbu Kachali as the chairman of PP without consultations. Greenwell , you must be an idiot

    3.Federalism may be good elsewhere but not in Malawi. Many people misinterpret it even after after civic education, they will abuse it.

    4. Please do us afavour by avoding copying and pasting this evil ideology

  27. what he is saying is that those govts of countries like Nigeria and SouthAfrica are well managed than heaping power on one man who is bwampini who behaves like a bricklayer but he is a Proffessor. all regions will nightly choose their own development and that they will have their own budgets and their own ordinances how sweet is that. Now the president will be a supervisor then development will trend equally. this is what Dr Green well is saying here if his English is difficult.

  28. Truck says:


  29. karen lazaro says:

    good stuff… please write more on this and enlighten us

  30. The Analyst says:

    When Mzomera Ngwira savagely pushed forth this federalism agenda, inu munali kuti?

    When columnists struggled to make people understand what federalism is and in the process kept contradicting themselves hence only succeed in exposing their (columnists’) ignorance on the same, you just watched! Sichomcho?

    When the Forum for Advancement of Federal System in Malawi grabbed PAC by the neck to force it stage a national debate on federalism and later on accuse PAC of sabotage, you chose to hide yourself! Ndikunama?

    And now when all is known now that the federalism agenda is a non-starter, you appear from nowhere to appear wise? Amatero? Now listen . . .

    Any topic is only as useful as it is relevant and timing is an important ingredient of relevance. You being a PhD holder should have known better! Anybody who is compos mentis knows that this topic of federalism has past its relevance.

  31. mukharapwio says:

    Vuto ndiloti yense yemwe ali ndi PSLC,JC,MSCE,Dip,Degree,ms Degree,Phd etc amazitenga kuti ndi wanzeru pa Malawi pano.but can any sane person judge this article as relevant and coming frm a Phd holder.what is he trying to communicate,this article is hard to understand and the message being communicated here is not for malawi but for the underworld.Doc Matchaya mukalemba muziyamba mwaonetsako anthu ena osati ur wife or child only muzitukwanitsatu,and Nyasatimes make sure such articles don’t appear here there are other issues that require space here.kapenatu enawa akumalipira kuti tima article tawoti tiziwoneka pa web pajatu M’malawi amangotenga chilichonse ngati an important achievement.

  32. levelheaded says:

    I have just red the first two paragraphs and senced that this article is just a scrap. If your writings will be like this guys,how are we going to differenciate PhD holders to non holders? Of what benefit is having a PhD? Heigh!

  33. mapwevupwevu says:

    What a stupid article! You mention Federalism but you talk of A Cooperative Government, where on earth did you concoct that?

  34. Asaid says:

    Northners we need to start campain to join TZ than been a slaver on our own mother land. Tanzania will be better looking after us than this triburism country who deveroping only to one side. We r tired

  35. WAMISALA says:




    PANOPA BWA ???


  36. joellanimal. says:

    koma guy to start with Gods name kumaliza ndi cursing what afool galatians

  37. mboma says:

    i used to respect this name then, i have noticed that this man is a PHD holder and not holder of PHD nosense

  38. Spider Chitumba says:

    Almighty God rescue Malawi!!!

  39. Mailosi mkosi says:

    Very nice article, by the learned colleague . Clearly formulated issues and well articulated . Keep it up !

  40. gule says:

    Your level of thinking is shallow and this am sure boils down to the fact that education removes ignorance not stupidity. You dont deserve to be a PhD holder unless you tell me you got it from backyard colleges. This is poor stuff

  41. Sapitwa says:

    This is trying to copy the South African model into Malawi expecting it to work? It is an expensive system and South Africa affords it and will Malawi afford it?No system can be outright perfect. The current system we have in Malawi can work for development needs if there is political will. Take for instance: MCP won all parliamentary seats in Mchinji.They have ward councillors and District Assembly. At this level, let National government give mandate to Mchinji to develop the District. Give them a budget and let them collect revenues through the markets , road traffic fines, border controls local levy, etcetera using by laws.Checks and balances will be done by opposition politicians thus ward councillors and may be other assembly members.
    The government can then audit the projects ensuring there is no abuse. If this article is about development then we can. We just need an opposition Politician to raise a motion in parliament to trigger this debate as part of service delivery needs to their people and constituencies.

  42. Mnyamata wa nzeru says:

    Absolute rubbish!! I have never admired this person’s reasoning anyway!! He is full of shit!!!

  43. Klux says:

    Hahaha! This is an online news page. It is not an academic journal Dr. Matchaya. Revisit it and make it more exciting to read

  44. lcb says:

    In God’s name, who is giving you people PhDs? Your level of thinking and argumentation is way below par for a person who claims to be a PhD holder. What the fuck are you saying here?

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