Why federalism represents justified but misdirected political disaffection of our time- Malawi law scholar

What justifies federalist sentiments?

The idea of federalism has proved to be so seductive to many Malawians that I have felt compelled to restate my opposition to it and communicate it to a wider audience. I understand and will explain why more and more people are finding it attractive, but argue nevertheless that federalism is a bad idea for our political context.

Prof Chirwa

Prof Chirwa

The proposal for a federal system of government is coming at a time when the country is facing a political cul de sac. The general population is desperate to see the change that multiparty democracy promised in the 1990s. Twenty years down the line, we seem to have reached the end of the road.

We have just come out of bitterly contested but poorly organised presidential and parliamentary elections, which brought back to power a political party with a dubious past, headed by a dinosaur who is struggling to hold the country together, to shake off the ethnicist mask from his own and his party’s face, and to inspire confidence in his own leadership and in the future of the country.

The leading opposition party does not inspire confidence either. After mistaking his popularity at a party convention for that of the rest of the country and orchestrating a shambolic presidential campaign, its leader does not seem to understand his role as an opposition leader. No wonder his party appears to be as lost as, if not more than, the government in terms of contributing ideas that can move this country forward at this point. This explains why the MCP feels isolated and has latched on and tried to appropriate a political proposal suggested by and popularised by the general public. Strangely, its own concrete position and proposals on federalism remain mysterious. It is indeed amazing that a serious political party could adopt a position on such an important topic without commissioning a substantive study and presenting it to the general public.

Twenty years down the democratic path, public confidence in political parties and politicians is at its all time low. The gulf between the public and the political elite continues to widen. While the general population has become more politically aware and demanded change consistently and continually, the political elite have increasingly become deaf and reluctant to translate public demands into policy and action. There is also an unusual, inexplicable sense of solidarity among politicians which has meant that unpopular individuals are continuously brought back from the political wilderness even when they have been rejected by their constituencies.

The presidents have tended to accumulate more powers not because the Constitution gives them such powers but because elected individuals allow them to do so. In originating the practice of MP shopping after the breakdown of the first and only properly constituted coalition government in the late 1990s, former President Bakili Muluzi informally rewrote the Constitution, elevating the presidency to an unaccountable institution. The folly of all this was illustrated when former President Bingu wa Mutharika managed to rule for five years with a party that never participated in elections, relegating the party that won elections to an opposition party.

If this development was bizarre and extraordinary, then words cannot describe what happened when former President Joyce Banda came to power in 2011. As an interim President who had been fired from the party under whose auspices she was elected Vice President (in all fairness not all because of her fault), she behaved as if she had won elections and went ahead to form a government without any public consultations. She did not care that her constitutional legitimacy was tenuous, that she did not have her own MPs in Parliament and that civil society and the general public had contributed more than her to the demise of the DPP’s government. At no time had Malawi needed a government of national unity more than that time. In short, both Banda’s interim government and Mutharika’s first-term government were unconstitutional because they flouted the fundamental principles of our Constitution. Somehow, they were accepted as legitimate, normalising chaos in the process.

It is thus not surprising that these dubiously constituted governments were unsuccessful. They were clearly founded on deceit, fraud and a lack of respect for the fundamentals of democracy and constitutionalism. It is also not surprising that they have been implicated in unprecedented looting of state resources.

Unfortunately, the architects of and conspirators in these deeply flawed governments continue to dominate the political landscape on both sides of the aisle. It makes for a depressing state of affairs. It is therefore understandable that the general public feels deeply betrayed and finds itself in what can only be described as a political coma. The country has become almost lifeless. There is no hope.

In these bleak circumstances, the people have to look for something that can offer them hope. Federalism has become that rallying point for hope.

 Arguments for and against federalism

Seductive as federalism might appear to be, it is a wrong prescription for our political and constitutional problems. Because no one on the proponents’ side has ventured an in-depth case for federalism, the specific type being proposed and the modalities of its co-optation and implementation, it is difficult to make an effective response to it. Nevertheless, from several comments I have come across, I have been able to knit together the following main reasons in support of federalism.

The first is that the current system has over-concentrated powers in the presidency. Federalism, it has been argued, will enhance devolution of powers and make it possible for greater public participation in political decision making. If powers are devolved at the regional level, it will be possible for development to take place more evenly throughout the country. It will also be possible for the central government to be held accountable to regional governments. Federalism is also seen as a solution to ethnicity. The argument from development sees ethnicity as the underlying reason for the three regions’ skewed developmental pattern.

To understand and evaluate these reasons fully, it might be worth clarifying the meaning of federalism in practical terms. A federal arrangement can mean that a country is divided into a given number of provinces or states. Each province or state will have a government constituted by the premier or governor who acts as the president of the province or state and a cabinet (provincial or state executive government). Each province or state also has to have its own legislature (called provincial or state parliaments). In a federal state system (not necessarily in provincial), there also has to be federal courts. In other words, a federal or provincial system replicates in all the provinces or states the three branches of government that exist at the national level. In this situation, a constitution has to be so designed that it allocates powers to provincial executives, parliaments and judiciaries (in the case of a state federal system), to the national executive, judiciary and parliament, and to local government councils whose councillors serve as legislative members and mayors as heads of the executive councils. For it to work well, the system has to be so designed that each level of government has exclusive powers is specified areas and concurrent powers in other specified areas.

Now, to start with the problem of over-concentration of powers in the presidency, this is less a constitutional problem than a problem of lack of constitutionalism. As I have explained above, the presidency has been allowed to act unconstitutionally for more than a decade by a deeply gullible cohort of MPs who have reduced Parliament to an arm of the executive instead of seeing themselves as a check on executive power. Furthermore, politicians generally do not seem to understand the scope and limits of their constitutional mandates and only see the value of state institutions such as Parliament and the courts when they are out of power. Creating more institutions such as federal parliaments and cabinets might serve the aims of devolution at the level of theory but is, with respect, not a solution to a poor generation of political leaders. Given the complexity that federalism comes with and the propensity of this generation of politicians intentionally to obfuscate clear laws and abuse loopholes, new institutions stand to be dominated and undermined much in the same way as the current ones are.

Furthermore, as my sketch of a federal system above illustrates, federal governments are subservient to the national government, just as federal governments are superior to local governments. The current system of national and local governments must serve as an example. What this means is that less experienced and junior party members will serve at the local government level and progress to the provincial and national levels as their seniority grows. This does not mean that one cannot start right at the top tier. What it means though is that only those that are sufficiently prominent and powerful can play a role at the national level, and the less prominent a politician is the more likely he or she will find a place in the lower tiers of politics. This structure makes federal governments (executive and legislature) poor substitutes for national checks on the presidency and the executive. A national government is best controlled by institutions at its level, that is, the national courts and national parliament. Junior politicians, in a context of where political submissiveness is cultural, cannot control senior politicians who have access to the greater piece of the pie.

Moreover, in a political context where intra-party politics remains to be institutionalised, regional representatives are prone to the same top-down party machinations that currently exist with respect to national MPs. The phenomenon of independent members might serve as a counter-weight to this problem but we have already seen how little independent members have contributed to deepening democracy. If anything, they have served as fodder for illegitimate governments. All in all, far from devolving political power from the national government to the regional levels, federalism will most likely result in the devolution of crookedness, corruption, dishonesty and political shenanigans.

It is certainly not the case that our current institutional framework is not sufficiently devolved, let alone sufficiently democratic. We do have a two-tier system of government, national and local government. It is a great pity that local government was suspended a few years ago by executive fiat, which underscores the problem of lack of constitutionalism alluded to above. Ideally, a three-tiered system is more devolved than the two-tiered system, but the choice between the two is ultimately determined by a particular political context. There were good reasons why the two-tier system was preferred and why federalism has never featured in the numerous constitutional reviews and amendments that have taken place to date. These reasons will become clear by the end of this piece.

Perhaps the least persuasive argument for federalism is that it will bring about equitable development in the country. This argument is unconvincing partly because it is founded on an obscure notion of development as physical structures such as buildings etc, and partly because it is unclear how its proponents derive the conclusion that some regions are better developed than others. That said I will assume for argument sake that the case of uneven development has been made. Is federalism the solution to unequal development?

I am afraid to say no, and the reason for saying so has to do with probably the most compelling reason for rejecting federalism. I will assume that development is a socio-economic and political process by which people’s well being is improved. This definition takes human well-being as the end of development, and thus requires that infrastructure, resources, institutions and processes, whether be they political, economic or cultural, are deployed and utilised to ensure the continual improvement of people’s quality of life.

On this definition, for a state to improve the well being of its people, it must be able to spend less than the money it receives or collects so that the surplus is dedicated to the establishment of the infrastructure, procedures, processes, policies and programmes for the improvement of people’s lives. The more the state spends on maintaining its institutions, the less surplus it will have to achieve any sustainable or meaningful development. It is simple economics.

Federalism presents the illusion that it will bolster the development of political institutions. I have shown how this will not happen in practice. But even if this possibility was real, the cost of the proposal is too much to result in any meaningful development, not least in terms of political institutions and culture and in terms of material benefits to people. As has been shown above, federalism will multiply political institutions from three at the moment (national legislature, judiciary and executive) to a minimum of nine (the 3 national organs of the state and at least two provincial organs per province, which comes to 6 assuming there will be three regions). Right now, we struggle to fund state institutions such as the courts, parliament, government departments, hospitals, schools, etc. With a federal system, not only will we have to fund federal governors and their cabinets (houses, cars, security, fuel, etc) we will have to fund their legislatures and representatives. Added to the bill will be the cost of sustaining local government. The calculus here is based on the leanest federal governments and national governments and the absence of abuse of state resources. If one were to throw greed and the increased opportunities for corruption that the system makes possible into the equation, the problem of affordability can only be underestimated at the expense of sanity.

It is indeed quite irresponsible to create a system of government founded on a platform of donor dependence. It scandalises the nation by reducing it to a begging state and denigrates all its citizens by portraying them as irresponsible human beings who are incapable of devising ways of rescuing the country from the chains of poverty and dependence.

It is not just that a three-tiered system is too extravagant and superfluous; Malawi needs less political actors than professional servants at this time in its political development. Widening the space for politicians in the affairs of the country will only serve to deepen at the regional level the dishonesty, corruption and moral decadence that we have seen at the national level. Malawi also needs to cut her wage bill by reducing underemployment and improving the efficiency of the remaining civil servants who need to be given as much room as possible to work to their professional best without political interference. Needless to say there is already enough duplication of responsibilities between chiefs, MPs, councillors and district commissioners but with no meaningful outcomes.

Federalism is just too complex a system for a small and poor country which has high illiteracy levels and whose political leadership is largely ignorant of its constitutional roles. The country’s legal profession is one of the most corrupt in the region and is ill-equipped to understand and help with the implementation of such a complex system. The disputes relating to competing jurisdiction will most likely paralyse the system. The system will also present problems for the electoral commission which has already proved to be incapable of delivering credible elections involving just two tiers of government. One does not even have to get to the problem of the additional procedural bottlenecks that the system will present. In a federal or provincial system, certain legislative proposals have to be debated in provincial legislatures first before they can be adopted at the national level. The snail’s pace at which business is conducted in the country will ensure that important policies will take even longer to obtain legislative approval.

If all these reasons are not sufficient to dissuade the reader from federalism, the following alone should. One of Malawi’s persistent problems lies in building a unified nation in which the ethnic identity of a person does not influence access to education, work and other public goods. A false identity based on regions has been contrived and some political parties have placed ethnic politics at the core of their manifestos.

Federalists tell us that we have to come to terms with regionalism, it exists, we must not ignore it, and hence we have to arrange our constitution so that it structures the state on the basis of the boundaries that regionalism makes. They are wrong. Regionalism and ethnicity are evils to be fought and rejected, not embraced as governing principles of the state. It is a good point to make against regionalism that it wrongly lumps together several ethnic groups under one ethnic identity, thereby indirectly introducing a further hierarchy of subjugation between the ethnic groups so lumped together. It is a poor strategy to accept such warped hierarchies as the basic framework of government. To be blunt, we cannot allow a state to be founded on the perceived superiority of the Tumbuka in the North, the Chewa in the Centre and the Lhomwe in the South. Federalist talk then amounts to request to expand the sphere of ethnic domination by admitting two more ethnic groups to the hegemonic hilltop and marginalising even further the smaller ethnic groups. All such lowly thinking however disguised is morally bankrupt and must be exposed and rejected in the strongest terms.

This is how federalism will promote brute ethnicity. Since the system is built on the assumption that federal political actors must promote their provincial and local interests, the politicians who will manage to rouse those narrow passions the most will most likely be elected to provincial and local governments. In turn these representatives will have to implement what they promised their local electorate and hence engage in perpetual tussles with representatives from other regions. In our context where ethnicity and regionalism are already a problem, this does not look like a blueprint for building the country.

In fact it means the legalisation of quota systems which are currently unconstitutional. The so-called equitable development will not happen partly because this kind of politics will pose as an obstacle to equitable development as each region and district will try to hold on to its share and contest attempts at prioritising other areas. In this scenario, the districts that are perceived to be the least developed will continue to contribute little to revenue collection and hence receive less from the national pie. Provincial politics conduces to such narrow-minded systems of resource allocation.

It needs to be emphasised that Malawi does not need to propel ethnicists to the forefront of politics. On the contrary, the country is in dire need of leaders who are able to discern and serve the national interest.

As a country, we started on a particularly bad note in 1994, when our first democratic elections showed regional voting patterns. However, by 2009, this trend had changed dramatically as more and more people were voting on grounds other than regionalistic. It is regrettable that President Bingu wa Mutharika singlehandedly decided to reverse this positive trend by donning the ethnic mask soon after being voted so overwhelming by the electorate from all the three regions. That the 2014 elections showed a return to regional voting has to do more with this retrogressive step by Mutharika and the absence of a leader with broad national appeal than with the hardening of regionalistic tendencies among the local people. To be sure, regionalism seems to be promoted by educated people more than by poor rural people who seem to get along fairly well.

The right solution

If federalism represents a poor outlet for the clearly justified and steadily growing public frustration with Malawian politics, what is the correct remedy?

The general public needs to redirect its attention to the basics. We must continue to demand a return to constitutionalism. We have veered too far away from that path and for far too long. This must start with the demand for Mutharika to understand that his current government lacks legitimacy. He has to understand that his victory was too narrow, in a poorly organised and, most likely, rigged election. He has to start a new chapter to that inaugurated by his elder brother in 2004 and perfected by Joyce Banda by forming a broad-based government in order to enhance its constitutional legitimacy. This must include an admission that the current electoral commission is corrupt and incompetent, and the establishment of a process to reform the commission and the electoral system and procedures.

Mutharika’s alliance with Muluzi senior and junior is an ill-advised substitute for a broad-based government that can unify the nation, if only because the Muluzi brand represents all that is bad and stands to be rejected about Malawian politics. The fact the young Muluzi performed so poorly in the 2014 elections just shows how overrated he is and how far the electorate has moved away from the Muluzi brand.

Thus far, Mutharika has failed to match the start of his elder brother’s first term. It is precisely the fact that the elder Mutharika rejected all that Muluzi represents and brought in as many new and clean people as he could that his first-term presidency was so successful. In contrast, the younger Mutharika remains hooked to the politics of appeasement, recycling and Lhomweisation of government. It is obvious that the quota system of regulating access to education is contributing more negatively than positively overall to nation building and thus must be scraped with immediate effect. There is no doubt that the more this government remains reluctant to embrace a new way of doing things and unwilling to reinvent itself as a government for all and not for some, the simmering disaffection will surely explode into something uncontrollable.

We need to rebuild and strengthen Parliament and other institutions of the state such as the courts, the human rights commission, the civil service, government departments, etc. As far as Parliament is concerned, this is primarily the responsibility of MPs and the executive. Can MPs live up to the standards expected of honourable people and restore order and decorum to Parliament? Can the executive respect other branches of government as important institutions of the state? We can add more institutions, but as long as the existing ones do not function as they should, there will not be any meaningful forward match to greater democracy, only a multiplication of mediocrity and dysfunctionality.

One of the most prominent causes of public disaffection is cashgate. Joyce Banda thought that this was a minor issue. All political parties do not devote as much time to this issue as the general public does. It will cost this government if it paid lip service to the issue of theft or abuse of public resources.

It is clear that the cashgate investigations and prosecutions currently being undertaken are a result of donor pressure. A clear commitment to the protection of public resources, to cutting wasteful public expenditure, to combating corruption, to improving public financial regulatory systems, to the prosecution of the banks that were complicit in cashgate, and to the arrest and prosecution of the main political architects of cashgate, remains to be made. Mixed messages continue to be sent. What is more concerning is that the practices of wasteful spending and ethnic patronage have continued even as complaints of inadequate public finances are being made. It is also surprising that the government has shown no urgency or interest in investigating any of the various acts of arson that have happened involving major state institutions and parastatals. In the public perception, criminality and crookedness have been appropriated as tools of political governance.

Crucially, Mutharika would establish a fundamental building block for a return to constitutionalism if his government were to ensure not only that all political players in the Banda administration who orchestrated and took part in cashgate are prosecuted swiftly and effectively, but also that the prosecution of Bakili Muluzi is concluded, and that an investigation into the looting that occurred at the hands of the Bingu wa Mutharika administration is also conducted independently and fully. The country needs to draw a red line on state rapine.

Some of these recommendations are easy to implement, others are not, partly because they touch upon the alleged misdeeds in which the current ruling party and its leaders have been implicated and partly because they require sidelining trusted but crooked comrades. However, implementing most of these would go a long way to pacifying the nation and restoring hope. We can ignore these obvious remedial steps and opt instead for the multiplication of state institutions, but in doing so, we must be under no illusion that there will be any positive change.

  • Danwood M Chirwa is a Professor of Law, University of Cape Town and Visiting Fellow, Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge


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48 thoughts on “Why federalism represents justified but misdirected political disaffection of our time- Malawi law scholar”

  1. chilungamo says:

    Well,you have recited the theories in a book enough Prof,now lets get down to Malawi perspective,with the amounts of tribal hatreds in Malawi,do you still think its possible for leaders ushered into power via tribal and regional votes to consider tribes and regions other than they belong to as “equals” sir? Your law books may tell you so,but the reality on the ground is different,lawyers you are using too much theory and assumptions in everything,thus not healthy,the world now is scientific and practical,we all know in Malawi,tribalism dictates how everyone does things,and alot of damage has occurred already due to it,the unitary system has acted as a favorable ground for segregational governances,because tribal leaders in power decide where to put development,now Prof chirwa,being in RSA for long enough must not be an excuse for not knowing this reality,unless you tell some us you are being hypocritical,chirwa,you may not like federalism,but it will be introduced,and it will be a better system than the current unitary system,so that Malawi can be a better place to live,later on we are likely to have few greener pasture seekers in south Africa like you sir,so don’t stop those who wish Malawi well from doing their thing.

  2. chawanangwa Mlori says:

    One thing i cannot disagree with the learned professor is that regionalism is largely promoted by the the educated fellows. it is no wonder they are the most stingy ones and
    rarely shares with the poor.

  3. Chidikuliku matongu says:

    If the learned prof is serious about what he advocates, let him come back and contribute to the well being of the economic of Malawi in general. He is in hiding and talks from the comfort of cape town and yet he has no idea of what is taking place on the ground. He seem to be skewed in his contribution and that is visible from his language. Please come back home if you have real balls!

  4. Liberals says:

    This is the unfinished business of the referendum and the constitution that came after! We voted multi party not because we hated ONE PARTY PER SAY , but that every one of our citizens should have equitable access to the resources base in all spheres of life ….! The change we got , but the powers remained intact in the presidency , not by our want but by design of the hoodwinkers…………………….!Haven’t you heard them on the campaign trail each season (that they will reduce presidential powers?). Do they , when they get there?

    The cycle has turned again , lets complete the work…………………….! if WE SAID NO TO UNITARY SYSTEM , its NO to the current constitution which is the same that KAMUZU had except for the multi party clauses………………….We the people want Democratic rule in full only possible through a full Federal dispensation…………………

  5. johnM says:

    There is nothing in this article that is new. The only difference between this article and other anti federalism article is that the author has just expanded the points raised by anti federalists which in most cases are pure hogwash.

    He again literates that Malawi is too small and too poor, federalism will too expensive, it will split the nation etc..etc. How many times have we heard this before? Is Malawi really too small when they are many more countries smaller than Malawi which are federal, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, yet are far better off than Malawi? Is Malawi really poor when the country is endowed with fertile lands, huge expanses of fresh water and perennial rivers, huge reserves of coal and other minerals that have not even been scratched? Malawi is poor because it is poorly managed and not because the country itself is poor.

    In all this long rant, the author has not attempted to defend the Unitary system of Government. He has not listed the benefits of the unitary state to individual Malawians. In fact in one or two statements, he actually admits that the Unitary state has failed Malawians as it has been manipulated by selfish individual politicians and clueless parliamentarians. The author fails to address the fact that huge parts of the country are still marginalized. This was noted by APM in 2006 and it was he who suggested that the country should become a federal state.

    Finally the author ridiculously suggests that Malawi should return to “constitutionalism” yet he is aware that the manipulative MPs who have made the constitution fail time and again are still in charge. How does he expect the same horrible politicians to change without being pushed?

  6. Vavlov says:

    This is the best article on the pros and cons of federalism written by a real professor. I wish those in the ruling party would learn from this article and start to implant the recommendations made.

  7. Kikikiki says:

    Total secession. Full stop!
    We’ve been oppressed in our own motherland for so long. Enough!!!!
    We can always start from nothing. Resources are there as head start.
    I know these plebs and numpties will dissuade the idea cholinga to keep on enstrangling our people. Yes we can. It’s happening in Spain, yes we can. It’s happened before and time has come for liberation yes we can. Rome was not built in aday yes we can. Don’t let anybody kill your visionary ideologies , yes we can..Yes go for brothers and sisters.
    Yes we are ready to sustain on our own. Agricultural, science, Mining, Engineering, will be the hub of our economy. Love or loathe about it. Complete cesession please.

  8. Chamba says:

    I think the prof makes a good contribution, but he has not lived in malawi for a long time and may lack local context for the federalism case for or against. The issue of federalism is not knew. It has been raised for many years since 1990 s. The political situation on the ground will determine what must happen.

  9. Patrick says:

    To add anything to this piece will be doing injustice to Prof chirwa. the keyword in this is “Constitutionalism”. We are a nation that makes laws but dont follow them. every year, you hear of Public Accounts Committee summoning PSs and Directors to ask them on audit queries and nobody has ever been prosecuted. We need to demand alot from our MPs. They are the legislature, they make the laws which the executive is supposed to follow. Maybe we should bring back the recall provision so that our MPs can jack up. Also the entry point for MPs should be raised, Malawi has alot of educated people such that we can afford to have a first degree as a minimum requirement for an MP

  10. Plato says:

    The learned Prof is a DPP sell out, Judas Iscariot, has a blue heart & blood, funded by Peter. All his suggestion are academic trash. Why should a learned law Prof think as Primary SES teacher? For start, why did Peter think that Federalism is good just change now? As rightly said most Malawians are illiterate, who can make the current system function as suggested? Mr Chirwa, you are in fantasy world. Better think as African not European. Check your historx & visit Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique etc then you will wise up. Africa is a cursed continent with stupid stinking Tribalism. Have you ever seen a a Lomwe supporting a Tumbuka on the issue of Quota System? You are a Satan sir

    1. Inu says:

      The problem with the debate on fedralism is that people are not able to see other people’s views. why should it be that anyone who opposes federalism is considered to be a sell out. What the professor here has done is to elaborate issues by clearly presenting arguments that are convincing. If others do not agree with this then let them make a compelling argument as well. that is what debate is all about.

  11. Mphwiyo says:

    I can bet most of the guys insulting the Prof haven’t read the article to the end OR they did not understand most of the things written here or because of biases which have blinded them. Otherwise Prof you are the man. I agree with your views and the way you have expressed them.

    1. Thitherward Wendo says:

      I agree with you, Mphwiyo. It must be very frustrating for Prof. Chirwa to realize that he has cast his pearls among the proverbial swine. Most of us can’t even understand the questions, never mind the answers so, as usual, we attack the messenger. Prof. Chirwa will not change what we are pleased to refer to as our minds because we like the magic word ‘federation’ and logic will never defeat magic. I had not realized that there was so much nostalgia among Malawians for the days of Roy Welenski.

  12. Kikikiki says:

    If federalism is not the answer per say, complete cesession would then.
    Aliyense to manage their own affairs. Yes good contribution from Le professieur but what can one do if mlakhwoism is the order if the day. Ooh please my foot. Let’s not pretend regionalism is practised at its best courtesy mtharika and his kleptomaniacs. So yes, much as I hate to say cesession is the only way forward.

  13. Chikopa says:

    Well done Prof. Kho!kho!Kho! Emotions kill “maganizo kuondetsa!”. Accept that there will be one winner at a time. In Zimbabwe only Zenzurus can rule and the Ndebeles know it. In UK mmwenye cannot be a prime minister. Atumbuka “befu” ask Chakufwa. Dzingopitani kwanu muzikaphwisirana konko. Go for cession and we will support you fully.

  14. Munthu Wanzeru says:

    let those who have ears hear. You cant fund nine governments in a federal system when you are failing to fund one government with greedy politicians. Amalawi ndinu anthu olozedwa basii muzakhala choncho. Devolving power can be done by decentraliosation not feralism knuckleheads.

  15. Jendayekha says:

    This prof lives in a dreamy world like his sponsors Bingu and APM. We certainly do not need stooges sponsored by DPP to sale outs with a northerner name to fight us on the march to Federalism. Federalism is unstoppable journey to the promised land failure to compromise we already have Plan B, SECESSION. This prof is a waste of time to think his law studies can be used against the wishes of the oppressed, he is a disgrace.

  16. Happening boy says:

    It is unfortunate this guy is a Prof, I don’t know from where, heei what kind of chirwa are you, are you from Thekerani, very bad, try to sober up and tell people the truth. This thing is not for tumbukas only but whole nation and a chews from in btwn kk and Ku is also lnsulting tumbukas, heei, Malawi. Let debate positively.

    1. Sec-specialist says:

      Vuto lanu ndi limenelo. You think just because some one has a Tumbuka/ northern name then he has to agree with some nonsense from fellow northerners? And yet you have the audacity to claim in the same breath that federalism is not only for Tumbukas? Shame on you. This professor was saying his deep thoughts. he was letting us get there with him and see things through unhazed eyes. For example, the thought about funding a minimum of 9 arms of government, why cant you say how you think that can be achieved contrary to what he is saying.
      Grow up and sober up, man.

  17. Thandiwe Mangulama says:

    By the way where are the many NGOs and civil society leaders who used to advocate for the reduction of presidential powers before the elections. They were all waiting to be appointed into government. I am waiting for John Kapito, Chris Chisoni, Habib Osman, Rafik Hajat, Billy Banda, et al to continue with the campaign for the reduction of presidential powers. If you don’t start this advocacy amalawinans will consign you to the dustbin of political history and you will end with the Mutharika regime which is facing serious problems to run this country with only six months in government. Everything has gone hay way. All the progress we made under Banda are under threat of being washed away in this Mutharika administration.

    The debate for federalism has come again and is growing because of the nepotism being practiced by this regime.

  18. Thandiwe Mangulama says:

    One thing that Danwood has forgotten in this write up is that the elections were rigged. Peter became president because of the inefficiencies of the courts and the electoral commission. You can’t say the Joyce Banda rule was illegitimate. That coming from a law professor shows he is far removed from the happenings on the ground. If Banda had a dirty team she could have continued to rule this country. The problem with PP was that it put too much trust in the electorate at the grassroots and did not bribe the police and teachers who controlled elections on the last day. PERIOD. The answer to the current problems remains reducing presidential powers.

  19. Aproff. Amenewa mwati akuphunzitsa kuti? Ndipo wuproff.ana wutengera kuti? Apitenso kusukulu akaphunzire Ife sitifuna mahalf baked proff..Malawi is already in Federal state.The system is play undergroundly done.So we want it officially done not the way pple treat each other like strangers.IF you hate federation let North standalone.

  20. nihoria says:

    Apa aProf mwawonetsa kupanda nzerutu ndiponso msiye ku comenta zafederation

  21. EAGLE'S NEST says:


    1. Inu says:

      This is the very same thing that the professor is arguing. I wonder how many have actually understood this article. Federation is a wrong precsription for the issues you are raising here. I have heard someone complaining that no one from Nkhatabay was selected to Nkhatabay secondary school. While that is despicable indeed if it is true, but federation wll make things worse and not better. the reason is that the northern schools will be populated by people from the north and similarly central and south. The problems that people are raising do not require federation to solve them. Secession may be another issue.

      please reread the article and understand what the learned professor is arguing.

  22. piere says:

    Prof himself. man of people

  23. Hadadis says:

    What else can a northerner write on federal system. We from the centre under Baba Tembo will not accept to be used probably you will use pastor your inlaw

  24. Watu says:

    Good piece of paper, this is what is exactly needed, federalism is no panacea to challenges Malawi is facing. I

  25. Muliyekha says:

    Mr.Proff, We are tired of your senceless conservations that won’t heal Malawians wounds.Where were you when some malawians were feeling oppressed on Development.Please think before you contribute something and Value them will produce sweet sound or noise to mw.Nowadays we are a lot of proff.here so,if you write something think we are tired to read nonse ideas.Federation is agood idea to be adopt here in Malawi as it is already practised in secret.Iam aMalawian from south Mulanje is my home district But ihave seen my fellow southerners naming “aTumbuka amalimbikira sukulu kuti azaone ku Blantyre”if you go to North no development can be noticed and now we are at 50years of age.

  26. Pamitu says:

    Tikufunabe Federalism ife. You have said much, but we still need it. When we were demanding for multi-party, you were also making noise, saying all the negatives of multi-party nkumatiopseza kuti ndi nkhondo. Pano ndi iyi.

  27. The Truthful One from the West says:

    Whatever the case there is now enough empirical evi.dence that the unitary system of government has partly contributed to the underdevelopment of Malawi over the past 50years due to over concentration of powers in the presidency. Professor Chirwa is obviously mistaken when he states that the current constitution does not give too much powers to the President. Just as an example is the Learned Professor not aware that the president may, at any time, stop the meeting of Parliament? I can give many other examples and on this I challenge Prof Chirwa. The Professor has greatly exaggerated the cost of a federal system. In fact the Professor makes the big mistake of assuming that a federal system will just be superimposed on the existing system. Introducing a federal system entails reforming the current system. Apart from trimming the excessive powers of the state president in a federal system a federal parliament will need fewer members of parliament not exceeding, for example, 60 and not current 193. A regional cabinet, for example, does not need to exceed 10. The Professor also downplays the important fact that a federal system brings services closer to the people. I therefore take a totally opposite view to the professor. Just as multiparty democracy brought a lot of benefits to Malawians such as freedom of expression, freedom of association etc so too will a federal system. In fact when Bingu wa Mutharika became dictatorial in his 2nd term he was brought down by the resilence of multiparty democracy. The federal sytem will end or reduce the domination of the Southen region in the politics of Malawi and thereby promote unity. In fact Prof Chirwa’s wrting vividly reminds me of what Kamuzu used to say that if you were to take a Professor from a University and give him a country to run he would not know what to do.

  28. Mjumacharo says:

    Prof Chirwa that is intellect that is talking but in Malawi we dont need intelligent people Muluzi senior uneducated as he was ruled us and plundered the country. APM educated like yoursely is failing to see the need for constitutionalism already he is teaming up with Muluzi to further plunder Malawi. As it is for the next 20 years recycled politicians will continue to rule Malawi like their house. We need change. Despite its flaws federalism could help to redefine Malawians ethinically and let those ethnic groups learn to live in harmony because right now the only ethnic group comes from the north.

    Change is hard but it has to come and we must find ways to embrace it. No thieves should keep stealing our resources just because they take themselves to be God-chosen rulers of poor Malawians.

    Panthazi na federalism bad or not but it will not be worse than the current system.

  29. Quota system says:

    Chirwa is not neutral in all his analyses. He is biased towards one side. I like Chanco analysts instead

  30. peter says:

    Good work Prof

  31. ROBERT says:

    well explained, but too much.

  32. Bandasiime says:

    This is very good stuff that needs to be read carefully and maybe at least twice to be fully understood before jumping to empty comments. We need more of this well researched material. The author is by far the sort of Malawians we should have in our cabinet not the Kwenis of this world. Bring such big brains back home for the good of poor Malawi. Crying the my beloved country !!!!!!

  33. Hu Jintao says:

    The articulation of the position of Danwood Chirwa on Federalism is very excellent. I know Danwood lives is South Africa and may have very little contextual understanding of the grassroot systematic oppression the top politicians have been orchastrating against people of the north.

    In brief, all you are saying is that federalism does not hold a solution to our current problems we are having.

    Now look at the following:
    i. Since 1994 the government has not built any standard secondary school in the north and yet in the few that are there like Nkhata Bay Secondary School, people selected to study there come from regions other than the north. This is a deliberate act to deprive people access to education. Otherwise its a systematic plot to kill the north. We have asked from the government to build more schools but the answer is ‘ndalama zikapezeka’. What northerners are saying is that we are tired of begging without getting due response and all we want is ‘do it by ourselves’

    ii. The north contributes about 27% GDP which in budgetary terms in this year is about MK204 billion. But last year the government expended about MK18 billion for all the districts in the north and this year expenditure is projected to MK30 bn. Where will the MK174 bn go. Is that equitable resource distribution or utilization?

    iii. The 2014 university intake has seen more deserving students from the north being left out and those that have been selected are on parallel programs which means they are likely to pay more on fees. Those from the south are sponsored by our government with our money while those that deserve are struggling. Is there any for of equity in this?

    iv. I think we can still talk on those three points raised above but I hope this point will compel you to think ostensibly secession. In September 2011, the Bingu government issued a private circular advising top government officials not to employ any person from the north, neither promote them that are already employees of any government department. What does this tell a northerner?

    v. Look at MBC, all the news we see on TV is Thyolo, Mulanje, Chikwawa, Mwanza etc and since this Peter Mathanyula came into power by people like you, and I never voted for him, you will never hear anything about Rumphi. This shows that MBC is not for malawians rather for the southerners.

    To conclude, Dan, you are in south Africa and I am in Malawi. I am campaigning for the implementation of the federal system and no matter what you are writing, it will carry no water because we are doing all we can to ensure that either there is federalism or total secession. The goal is clear and there is no turning back.

  34. MMalawi says:

    we have too much mediocracy in this country, I remember a leaked conversation where someone was saying “so a tumbuka cannot vote for a chewa and bla bla bla” and then this guy sets his mind to think that way and then you give him power??? any hope i doubt with such type of thinking!!!

  35. Plato says:

    Prof. Chirwa with due respect to your opinions which you have clearly & consistently put to us opposing federalism,I have a strong opinion that you are learned Prof. burried in a fantasy world. Look around Africa & check how people think, reason & breathe- Tribalism. The current system cannot be changed no matter what. For sure all foolish things have been done by Northerners to oppress the North that include Aleke 1971 Life Presidency, Khwauli Msiska 2003 Third Term, Lungu driver that hit JB car, M’belwa Ngwazing Bingu including you now. Why?

  36. Danny says:

    Sibweni we want federalism mbwenu nothing else!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Tatopa ndikutonzedwa mdziko lathu lomwe full stop! Federalism woyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  37. constructive but eish uni silong too long an epistle to be grasped,next time prof.try to be to the point and brief

  38. boma says:

    This is the most compelling and exhausting article I have read on the federalism debate in Malawi. Most fed proponents have no clue as to what exact system they want, the financial, political and social implications of this. All they are looking at is the political power they will gain in a federal system. The Kabwiras are frustrated that mCP did not gain power, the Ngwiras and Chihanas are frustrated that they have lost power.

    With our level of illiteracy, some educated people are already telling people that in a federal system, the Tumbukas will go to the north. Therefore, there will be more space in universities, more jobs and we will buy their businesses and houses. Be careful, there could be serious ethnic backlash

    Let us stop the political madness from a few greedy people. Congratulations professor.

    1. johnM says:

      I am sure that in the 1950s, the people that were opposed to independence cited the fact that Nyasaland has high illiteracy and it is too poor to stand alone yet the British granted this country independence anyway. We should not use the same old clichés to deny the people their right to self determination.

  39. Malawiana says:

    Well balanced and sensible. Your education was not a waste of taxpayers money after all. I hope some of the bogus Professors roaming the Malawi landscape will learn something from you.

  40. Makanja says:

    Well articulated piece. I am impressed.

  41. Truth Seeker says:

    I couldn’t have put it better than this! I agree that proponents are using theoretical considerations as bases of their argumentation, and are ignoring all the issues so clearly highlighted by the article.

    1. Thitherward Wendo says:

      Be honest. You couldn’t have put it as well as this.

  42. mpopoma says:

    But ,my friend wisdom of federalism has nothing to do with your law studies.federal woyewee

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