Federalism: The objective, advantages and disadvantages

It is a known fact that premeditated and deliberate attempts have been madein our nation by government to distort and foilthe debate on Federalism. The executive branchin particular is still adamantly opposed to it, while Parliament is nebulous on the subject in spite of the fact that the President – Arthur Peter Mutharika hadwritten authoritatively on the matter in a paper he presented at the Constitutional review conference in 2006. The President therefore needed to address Cabinet on the same, as well as the nation at large to clarify and elaborate the concepts contained in the paper.

Msowoya:   Federalism debate

Dan Msowoya: Federalism debate

Federalism is a system of government where political and administrative authorities are substantially devolved to local authorities closest to communities. In other words it creates an atmosphere conducive for the fulfillment of the principle of self determination, as well as a defense against improper political and economic attention against a people by the political and administrative authority (Government). It is therefore a system of governance that seems best suited to Malawi’s needs giventheethnicity and regionalism and the political differences they often generate. It does not mean or even implysecession, where the regions evolve into separate sovereign states.

In the case of Malawi, the current unitary governance system has been and is still abhorrent and decadent.Itpresents opportunity for despotism which is inherently demonic in nature. The concentration of political and administrative authority in one individual – becoming absolute power often results in a condition that makes room for:

  1. Corruption and fraud by the executive branch
  2. Broad indiscretion and gross abuse of office when the incumbent often makes decisions at his/her whim, without adequate consultation with prevailing regulatory instruments.
  3. Treatment of Policies and laws as mere inconvenient pieces of paper, defiance of   all effort in the provision of checks and balances, as well as usurpation of judicial authority
  4. Abuse of state apparatus to suppress and oppress natural and constitutional rights of the citizenry and of political opponents as a means of retaining political power. Ethnic marginalization and minority groups often results, and in extreme cases ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The brief morbid view of a unitary government above has given rise to the need for an alternative system, hence Federalism which offers the following advantages:

  • It diffuses power and permits diversity
  • Local governments can handle local problems better
  • It provides more access points for political participation
  • It protects individual rights against concentrated centralized government power
  • Fosters experimentation and innovation
  • It suits countries with high and diverse populations

The demandstherefore expressed in and by “federalism”are as pointed out earlier, for the fulfillment of the principle of self determination, for all the free people and yet denied proper political and economic attentionsimply because they are adjudged less human by being ethnic minorities such as thoseof northern Malawi. In the face of the principle of the universality of humanity, that we were created equal such a denial carries a grave connotation of conspiracy against fellow humans deeply rooted in personal greed.Interestingly this matter has received support nationwide, which indicates a nationwide unhappiness about what goes on in the different areas of this nation, in most cases without the people’s input and obviously without their consent. Federalism therefore is all about:

  1. empowering the people to decide what they need
  2. determining their core values and priorities,
  3. conceiving and consolidatingtheir positive cultural values and beliefs
  4. Deciding their economic destinies by ensuring their natural resources are conserved, protected and efficiently worked to achieve optimum benefit.

However, some skeptics view the Federal system from a different angle and allege as follows:

  1. Unity is difficult to achieve
  2. May permit economic inequality
  3. Law enforcement and justice may be uneven, just to state a few.

But the irony with these opposing opinions and observations is the harsh reality that such is what the unitary government in Malawi has produced. In the circumstances, Malawi has practically never been united given the ethnic and regional pride, there has always been economic inequality, and disproportionate development where the north is least developed, nepotism has perpetually denied northerners their constitutional right to employment which is an additional aspect of economic disparity. Law enforcement and the administration of justice have declined considerably, effectivelysacrificing internal security nationwide.

The calls for Federalism therefore are legitimate noble aspirations deserving government’s unconditional support. It is the practical devolution or delegation of the centralized political/administrative authority as close to the to the people as possible through regional or provincial structures, such as what the first President of the Republic Ngwazi Dr. H Kamuzu Banda had put in place.

Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s model of governance, having Regional Ministers in each of the three regions meant he had delegated powers of the central government to these regional representatives, except that it was only administrative and not constitutional. Each Regional Minister had a Principal Secretary. Did that in any way set the regions into autonomous states? They did not, Malawi remained one state. The Colonial government too had provincial commissioners, one in each of three regions. Today, given the democratic dispensation and with ahigh population strengthening of a second tier of government – Local Government in conformity with the decentralization Act of Parliament, Kamuzu’s model of governance should be reintroduced and improved upon by being constitutionally supported.

The truth and harsh reality is each of the three regions in Malawi is distinct from one another in terms of language,culture, values and traditions. Kamuzu opted to allow the people of the distinct regions to preserve and protect those core values, cultures, traditions, languages,human and natural resources through Regional administrations. These administrative structures represented the interests of the people in their geopolitical localities; most importantly prevented what maybe referred to as cultural imperialism – the imposition of cultures by dominant tribes over minority cultures.

The cardinal principle and moral imperative of democracy that the people shall govern must be respected. And let us learn lessons from our past. Democracy is based on the people, not based on governments. Unless people are allowed to be heard, allowed not just freedom of speech and freedom of association, of conscience, but also freedom after association and afterexpression and speech, we cannot claim to be democratic.

Symbiosis must exist between Government and the people, and is attained only where and when Government admits that its mandate to govern is derivedfrom the people, underscoringand accentuating the belief that Government must adhere to the legitimate aspirations and expectations of the people. It is that role that should inform the notion of being a Government of the people, by the people and for the people

So Federalism ideally confines politics to local areasandmakes possiblefree unimpeded generation and flow of views and ideas within the communities rather than from external sources as is the case today. Communities demand portable clean water for instance, government imposes boreholes: they want a well equipped hospital government builds new oil reserves instead of renovating existing structures.

This trend of things does not give legitimacy and ownership of the people to these projects because they are not the people’s home grown ideas and priorities. The country therefore should strive for positive creativity about our regionalism and ethnicity. There are advantages to this system of governance, for instance:

  • It diffuses power and permits diversity
  • Local governments can handle local problems better
  • It provides more access points for political participation
  • It protects individual rights against concentrated centralized government power
  • Fosters experimentation and innovation
  • It suits countries with high and diverse populations

This will effectively deter ethnic and regional pridewhich have hitherto been used against minority ethnic groups particularly of northern Malawi; and instead direct our energies towards the consolidation ofcultural profiles, conserve and protect the human and natural resources within respectiveboundaries, educate our people without bias and ultimately development our areas economically, socially and politically. That is bottom line of the call for substantial devolution of political and administrative authority to local authorities– Federalism, and it does not mean secession.

Wevalue and cherish being Malawian,butshould enjoy equal rights and privileges according to law and moral imperatives. That is the crux of the matter.There is a school of thought for instance aimed at promoting education among people of the populous Southern region, and carries a claim that education had been dominated by the people of less populous Northern region for a long time. Clearly that claim is false,baseless and laughable; nonetheless it has become a talking point. In 2009 the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration led by late Bingu wa Mutharika implemented the so called quota system of selecting students to public secondary schools and Institutions of higher learning. This passes for a clear vendetta against people of the Northern region. The quota system has also been extended to appointments in the Civil service, foreign service and State Enterprises (Parastatal Organizations).Numerical majority by the way is not a measure of correctness nor is the minority a measure of wrongness.

Inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness cannot live its full meaning unless and until all citizens are guaranteed their full basic civil and constitutional rights in line with the deepest principles of democracy, and which carry the deep insights of the democratic ideal as well as vision of our nation. This is the high ideal any lawful and well meaning government must set for itself.I believe this is what was intended in the paper that was presented to the Constitutional review conference in 2006 by President Peter Arthur Mutharika.

We implore the President to judiciously address the nation on the contents and context of the paper so as to elaborate how the proposed reforms can achieve good constitutional governance in Malawi. Under no circumstance must he recant this noble quest now, because doing so will betray his personal conscience as well as the sacred commission to lead Malawians which he willingly accepted and altogether the whole nation.

It is immoral for the state to hold a position that minority groups should forfeit their fundamental constitutional and natural rights; which is the situation presently and impedes the attainment of the high ideal and vision mentioned earlier.This premeditated and deliberate action fits squarely into the definition of genocide in terms of article 11 of the UN convention on genocide adopted in 1946, “….. Any condition negatively afflicting a people in part or in whole is genocide…..” Going by that statement, and the imminent danger that looms over minority groups especially of the Northern region, is it too much to ask for the right of Malawians, including minoritycultural group to conduct themselves and their activities in conformity with their “distinct” cultural, traditional and moral imperatives?

In conclusion, based on thisforegoing fundamental argument it is democratically legitimate, politically moral and also legally feasible to substantially devolve administrative and political authority as closely to the people as possible.Federalism therefore must be adopted as the effective political and legal resolution and antidote against most forms of inhumanity by man against fellow manthat have been visited on northern Malawians for very long; as well as a panacea for the protection and consolidation of democracy, fundamental human rights and constitutionalism.

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Those in govt are demons who want to rule Malawi forever because they re in majority! The Southerners are fighting tooth & nail to oppress this idea. But If federal system of govt fail to mterialize then we better fight for secetion i.e. NYIKA REPUBLIC entity!

Dan Msowoya, Your story shows how bias it is, take for example the reasons you have given in favour of the Federalism and you have given those reasons in full while the disadvantages you have mentioned only three and without shame you have written, ” to mention a few ‘…. which confirms that there are an countable reasons through you only managed to mentioned the weaker examples only without mentioning the real examples, shame Dan Msowoya. Again your story Dan confirms to me that you wrote your story out of immotional state that’s whou did not conduct a research on… Read more »

Thumbs up to you Mr Msowoya in coming up with such a logically well knit bunch of words that acutely tackles one of the prominent political vices of modern Malawi; “Nepotism.” Your s is a true benchmark emetic to the neauseatic feeling irritating the Malawian social gut. Furthermore, your command of the Queen s language bears incontestable testimony to the bliriant genre of Northerners. NO WONDER WE ARE ENVIED.


Oppression we facing is just too much. Dan waluwa kukambapu za mphaka – u talked of culture and language – Kamuzu wakutibiya malu kuluta nangu ku Kota-kota ndi Kasungu. These guys r weakening us a lot – in every field. WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE!!!

Yona Banda

Can you write this in english not in Tumbuka may be some of us can read and understand

This is a good article. I think people have written so much on the issue but have not given support towards the advancement of the proposition of the Federal Government. For me I suggest that we should just live under the current system whether we northerners are suppressed or oppressed. We shall remain dancing to the tune of these savages. Mwanamveka and Chaponda are the true haters of atumbuka in government such that they even scrutinize the cleaners or drivers that have been recruited in their ministries to ensure that the are not tumbukas. To change a system is not… Read more »
Young K

Signs Of End Of Times .Ufulu Wamagay Bullshit


The idea of federalism is a good one but high illiteracy and uncivilised educated mindset means low reasoning and stinky tribalism and regionalism. The rejection and acceptance is along regions and tribes which clearly shows that indeed Malawi is a loose association of tribes. We have tribalcracy not democracy. Shame on Malawians


Dan Msowoya and all other voices of pro federalism should actively seek funds to enable them broaden civic education. Forget Online usage which only ends with tribal insults by insecure people who are afraid of potential regional/provincial development variations; should there be such devolution of power with accompanying resources.


Knowing the northerners the way I do you can never tell what they will do thereafter. They will demand more than a pound of flesh. They will try very hard to protect interest of their state whilst living parasitically on the other two states.

When you start a fight determine how to end it!

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