The call for a federal government in Malawi

“Change will not come if you wait for some other person or some other time; we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek”

Malawians are people that have longed to live in peace from time immemorial and peace has been that appended signature of our national flag. There have been times of desperation, testing the resilience of the people from pre-colonial era to the current setting of a democratic government but people’s expectation for better days still rages on. The quest for the attainment of a better life for all seems to be an illusion once the change of government has been effected from one hand to another.

During colonial times, Malawians fought tooth and nail to bail themselves from the oppressive minority government of white rule and yet seven years after independence in 1971, the dream of self-governance was betrayed by a few privileged political elites of the time who settled for a life presidency. These believed that they were better placed to change the economic landscape of our country. Even in the midst of a very strong oppressive rule, when freedom of speech was never a right, when human rights existed only in western countries, when the smell of death was eminent, people still yearned to see light at the end of the tunnel. The glory,which did not come on a silver platter, was made manifest in 1994 when Malawians embraced democratic rule.

Ishamel Kelly Kumwenda
Ishamel Kelly Kumwenda

Today, the journey towards a perfect government still goes on. A lot has been said and written about the federal government. The majority of the writers have focussed on the need to rework our current setting of the governing rules, and fine tuning them to ensure that the government of the day has the urge to deliver to the peoples’ expectations and more recently, a number of seasoned politicians are calling for a move towards federalism or complete secession of North Malawi termed Nyika Republic.

But others, have altogether, dismissed this call saying Malawi is too small for such type of governance whether in terms of population or land sizes. However, I for one, am treading on the ‘forwardever’path zone that Malawi needs to embrace a new type of governance which is the Federal System of Government. This system of government will be a vehicle of change for the hardworking Malawians who look forward to realizing their life dreams.

The call for a Federal Government was triggered on the premise that the president’s action on appointment of cabinet ministers was too regionalist. I personally do not think that this would be the reason to warrant a call for federalism, because the president has the prerogative to choose whomsoever he pleases to be his cabinet minister.In as much as there are several countries that use the federal system of governance, it is very important for Malawians to tailor make their Federal Government to deliver to everyone’s expectation.

What could be the case towards the call for a federal government: Why do I want, like many other northerners, a federal government?

  • Reduce the monopolistic powers of the president and the ruling elite. In the call to defend the constitution, the sitting president usually abuses the powers that be, conferred upon him by the constitution. Instead of defending the constitution and allowing every citizen to be equal before the law, every arm of the government defends the president whether they be right or wrong and rights defenders and activists usually become vulnerable and even victims when perceived to be threats to the president. The abuse of power is also prominent in gross misuse of public resources and failure to account for them. Calls can be made to the president to take action on such matters but the process of prosecution once started never seems to have an end. In the federal system of government, more powers would be placed in the hands of the government other than the president hence the president himself or other top government office bearers would be prone to prosecution when a serious misconduct such as ‘cashgate’occurs. If the federal government would have been in place during the ‘cashgate’ period, heads would have rolled with subsequent consequences hanging on their necks because the ‘cashgate’ was more serious than the Nixon’s Watergate.
  • Malawi is divided into three distinctive regions, each one of which is bigger than Belgium in terms of land mass and each having a population size more than that of Botswana. This means that they can become administrative regions with autonomous powers in executive administration, legislation and judiciary. All things equal, these administrative regions will be free, at least, to determine their own affairs from their own regional governments, choose their own language of administration, send their representatives to the Federal Government and responsibly execute such other activities that may fall under their shoulders. This means that if road network is needed; say in Misuku-Chitipa, its need for construction may not be under the mercy of the president because such determination will be made locally or regionally. In short, these local governments will be better positioned to prioritize this activity than the current central government system. The same would be for public institutions, public health, water policy, agriculture, housing, land zoning, industrial policy and such others falling under the jurisdiction of the regional government. This, for example, would eradicate issues such as the ‘quota system’ of selection into the University of Malawi as each region would strive to ensure that its cream gets the opportunity to get tertiary education. Then priorities will be set in the education sector to build infrastructure to accommodate more post ‘O’ Level students into such institutions and it will also be within the same setting that policies will have to be developed to offer stuff that is practical and relevant to the current development needs.
  • Conative prejudices which previously could not be heard are all over in the media. I believe the conative prejudices prevalent in our media are an expression of how people feel one towards another. Words like ‘atumbukandiozikonda’, ‘Kamuzuanachitabwinokutiatumbukaabwererekumpoto’, ‘Atumbukandiagaluofikapo’, ‘there will never be a president from the north’all connote a great detest for people of the north. Similarly, the same has also been written against other ethnic tribes in other regions. In as much as this is one Malawi, people may not be free to release their full potential in executing their duties at their work stationswith a feeling of being looked down by another. I myself being a Tumbuka, being proud of my ethnic heritage and being who I am, believe that I am no different from any other Malawian Citizen under the Malawi Constitution and therefore believe also that any person who wants to look down upon me or wants to subordinate my constitutional rights becomes non-existent in my life. The Federal Government through regional governments would therefore cuddle deliberate clauses to ensure that a person from a different region is not victimized on the basis or their origin.
  • Lastly, the formation of the Federal Government would encourage party politics on the basis of trust and honesty. Malawians from all walks of life are dissatisfied and tired of the character of the current crop of leadership since the dawn of multiparty politics in Malawi. Most of the people believe that the politicians are there to enrich themselves and do not hold the people’s feelingsat heart. Most of the leaders, both Members of Parliament and Presidents operate on a trial and error basis throughout their first terms and this is why the government does not have the blue print (concrete plan) for development. Each new government brings in its own new assumptions for development resulting into poor coordination of government development initiatives.

The kind of party politics the Federal government would bring in would fall under two separate categories. First would be the political parties registered at regional level and second would be those ones registered as national parties. The political parties registered at regional level having representatives in the regional parliament would exert a very strong force towards Members of the Federal Parliament and could have powers to issue and effect a recall provision for such a member who is ineffective in execution of his duties or that has crossed the floor.

The Federal Parliament would have equal representation of members from all regions as is the case with the Australian Federal Parliament. For example, if the Central region would have 30 members represented in the Federal Parliament, the North and South would equally produce 30 members each. This would ensure that all regions are treated equally and that deliberations are not skewed towards one region. However, each regional parliament would determine how many members its chambers will have, and fix the number without regard to population increase.

As you can see from the above, most of the work will be done at local level and therefore the Federal Government will basically have limited jurisdictions. The jurisdictions falling under the Federal Government will be national defence, foreign affairs, Banking and currency, taxation, public policy, energy and mining. For example in energy, the government through its electricity corporation will only focus on electricity production and sell it on wholesale. The new players to sell electricity on retail will have to be registered in regional governments hence the gross inefficiencies experienced by ESCOM will have been eliminated. The Federal Government through MRA would still be in charge of tax collection and disbursement will have to be done on one table only that the Federal Government will have to get a 15 per cent for its operations.  Mining as a prospective major income earner for Malawi will fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government.

I write this article with deep compassion that if the best which is federalism cannot be accommodated then the worst which is secession will automatically fill the void. I am not a pessimist but the feeling which I hold cannot be generalised to every person coming from the north whose hopes for better days are shuttered by nepotistic tendencies experienced over the past 20 yearssince 1994. The hope that education is the best avenue to break the cycle of poverty, ridiculed by the quota system, waivers my belief in the constitution to treat every single citizen equally.

The call for federalism is kindled by the following:

  1. The agony felt by the prospective student to the University of Malawi from Nthalire-Chitipa, scoring 13 points who sees his counter from Thyolo scoring 30 points being selected to study Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Malawi.
  2. The farmer who comes from Mbalachanda failing to make profits or to breakeven on his crop sales because the lack of roads to better markets in Mzuzu makes it too expensive for him to transport his commodity,
  3. A bereaved family that daily mourns its son involved in a road accident, a bread winner, whose life could not be saved because there is no referral hospital in the north or the central hospital that there be does not have referral equipment,
  4. The contractor who stays in Blantyre and owns a credible stationary and bookshop company could not be shortlisted on a bid to supply stationary to a government department because he comes from Bwiba in Karonga,
  5. A Civil Servant, in spite of all the evidence prevailing (qualifications and experience) who cannot be promoted in his department because he comes from the north, and cannot voice his concern for fear of retribution,
  6. A journalist who works hard to cover stories from Nkhata-Bay and from other parts of the region cannot be motivated because his stories won’t be featured on the national television (Malawi Broadcasting Station) on weekdays other than Wednesday,

These stories and all other stories that each individual northerner has, which subject them to get treatment as second class citizens in the country, which makes them feel as foreigners in their own country linger a bell to resort to self-rule.

My fellow Malawians, it’s high time we changed our mindset towards the way we are governed and let’s not fear the unknown. Malawi is our country but poverty has made us strangers in our own country because we are afraid to change the systems of administration for our betterment.

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