Malawi: A federal state – or a union of confederacy towards disbandment

In my previous post to this esteemed news site I, rather modestly, presented an adumbration of the state of things pertaining to calls for federalism within a context of marginalization. From the outset, I am no opponent of Federalism except that I see Federalism as successful in cases were economic necessity required political support.

Intrinsic in this application of Federalism is the idea that democracy as it is spelt out in various national constitutions was met with vigilant, indefatigable moral support politically as well as popularly. This is why, for instance, the German form of Federalism – which is amongst the most complex in the world – was applicable as a unifying political agenda albeit nonetheless superimposed with concurrent efforts to attain economic performance (that is, to rebuild Germany after the devastation of World War 2).

In the absence of which, Federalism becomes a union of unaffiliated States, often hostile to and uncooperative with their neighbors and perpetually at odds with their Federal parent. And so, my problem is not with Federalism, my problem is with the untenable state of Malawian politics which we have accurately called Ndale (njomba or kutchelana).

Mphatso Moses Kaufulu
Mphatso Moses Kaufulu


Judging from the comments that were harvested by the first piece, there seemed to emerge very distinct themes. The first theme was that people are sick and tired (as indeed I am) of politics of exclusion and especially nepotism. The second theme was that Federalism would somehow enable us to better distribute development resources (financial, natural, human or otherwise).

The logic for the second theme was obscure but nonetheless banged on by its proponents. The Third and the most extreme theme was that Malawi itself is nothing more than a forced consensus or a construct, and that it would not be detrimental to abandon and disband it altogether so that Malawi’s various parts could achieve their independence – this view also includes in a mild sense, the idea of a rotating presidency from each region or state which would do away with the need to have too big a Federal government.

In my summation, it’s a camouflaged call for confederation rather than a federation. The spiritual fiber of all these themes is that we are a country of people who are – and rightly so – victims of injustice and as such deeply frustrated. I for one am amongst such people, and there have been times when I have thought of throwing off my citizenship altogether.

Themes one and two I think are concerned with the same broader question of marginalization and systematized deprivation. Indeed this is so because for all its inefficiencies, the Malawi Government is one of the most efficient governments when it comes to exclusion, deprivation and repression. Every time a government changes we see the well-oiled repressive machinery take on the personality of the new incumbent, and almost overnight turn its former friends into foes and its former foes into friends.

This transition is always swift and surgically precise. However, I insist that the reason why our government continues to rather mercilessly cut off various sections of our society in conformity to new power is because we have failed to concertedly push for certain foundational reforms that would make the government more fearful of taking certain decisions.

A very basic one is for example a recall provision. If we tie elected members of parliament’s tenures to their constituencies we will see less worship of the president and more people centered debate in the House – and this in turn would be a doorway into further and wider-sweeping reforms.

In my humble view, efforts to realize these telling reforms have been curtailed by a civil society that has rather non-strategically conflated the battles of elementary life enabling rights with what I like to refer to as tertiary level rights. In so doing, they have severed themselves from the support of the people who want rights that are rather basic than tertiary. Regardless of what my personal views might be on matters of sexuality for instance, I just think pushing for such is extremely premature when elementary rights are themselves being largely denied and often partially enjoyed.

But I digress – the simple point is, we need to assemble around the few concerns that enable us to become a united political front to push for reforms that would give us more control over our elected officials. We can worry about the more contentious matters at a later stage. For now, we need to build from the ground up. If we, the excluded, fail to coalesce around efforts in which we are likely to have consensus, we will remain divided and at the mercy of our divisive politicians – who by the way love money and power first even above their regional and ethnic proclivities.

On the third radical theme which sees Malawi as a mere construct of say the British and then subsequently hammered into our very souls by Banda’s regime, and then thrown into a bottomless state of meaningless flux by Muluzi, I would say the following. Firstly, it is perhaps the most honest opinion amongst the three that I have harvested from the comments. It is forthright about the fact that Malawi has become a place of suffering and pain, and its real advantages to any of us are difficult to justify (I too in my heart of hearts feel this is so).

Secondly, it does not mince words in the manner that the other themes seem to do. The underpinning idea in this line of thought is that even a Federal State would not fix our problems because like I already mentioned previously, semi-autonomous regions remain subservient to the Federal government in the important matters of collective security and other cross-cutting matters in the domain of public services provision.

By extension, a federal government has a disproportionately larger arsenal for the use of force compared to any individual State – and because it imposes taxes across all states, it has a much larger bank balance. Let’s not be betrayed by the fallacies that Federalism removes account number one… all federal governments have account number ones from which federal spending is disbursed into several other federal accounts as well as state account number ones when federal grants are paid.In a real sense, Federalism brings more account numbers because the federal government and its states all open their own accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank.

That means, under federalism, a federal government can still very ruthlessly marginalize a state that is deemed antagonistic – this has been the case in Nigeria, and even – just through the use of monetary policy instruments by Brussels in a progressively more federalized Western Europe – EU member states can be brought into alignment with the broader EU agenda in spite of havingtheir own national parliaments and executives – again, just through a centralized monetary policy. This is the main reason why Britain, for example, has maintained the Pound Sterling so that it has more control over its monetary policy through the Bank of England. So federalism will not fix regional and ethnic problems; it may in fact, escalate them.

And so, this third theme rather transparently says, let’s disband altogether into a confederation under which each region is in every regard an independent State that chooses through its own government to live under some subtle economic, political and cultural framework of cooperation with other regions perhaps really to mitigate the effects of disbandment on the general population in their as yet incomprehensible complexities.


What route do we want to take? Do we want to become more focused and coordinated into our attempts to corner our governments into seceding our entitlements and rights? Because this approach does in fact work – recall how the lecturers of Chancellor College banded together for over 8months in the face of danger and once and for all settled the matter of political interference in academics. Recall how even after 30 years people from all walks of life stood together and removed Banda’s tyrannical state – albeit only to incur equally devastating subtle tyranny? Recall how the Nyasaland African Congress (which later became an unforgiving MCP) mobilized support in the North, Centre and South to challenge colonialism and bring about independence?

The central feature here is this, let’s look at our context and form civil synergies around matters that are so cross-cutting that we will become a united front in the face of a ruthless political class that is actively dividing us and deliberately damaging our dignity and sense of respect. This route is in my opinion more tenable and more relevant towards rebuilding a less regional, ethnic and patrilineal– and even a less genderized –Malawi. Let’s find avenues for action – oh and by the way, if we don’t try to reform, Malawi may just disband on its own anyway.

(And to the more scrutinizing of the readership, you will notice in our broader debate of this Federalization issue have not even touched on relative advantages such as mineral and natural resource wealth and the role of a federal government in spreading the burden of development across states)

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