By Fegson Phabuli

Knowledge Economy Generation Forum, ( KEFG), formerly known as Federalism Institute- youth forum incorporating scholars, politicians and experts) since 2019 have been discussing the prospects of federalism as an approach to Malawi governance.

Governance and Human Rights Activist, the founder of KEGF Lusungu Black Simba, espouses a transformation of the existing decentralised unitary system to a federal system of government by 2025. He proposes that the transition to a federal state be done in two phases in a span of two years starting 2022 to 2025 to allow for a careful examination of proposed constitutional changes, discussions and exchanges of ideas throughout the nation, and acting on the changes together as a whole.

Speaking to Malawians in the diaspora in Canada on the 29th of September 2022, Simba a major proponent of the move to adopt a federal system of government, identified the main reasons why the federal system is better than the present unitary system. According to him the federal system has the structures needed to: hasten the economic development among the various regions of the country by allocating power which at present is concentrated in the central government to the regions that will be converted to federal states. The devolved powers will allow the federal states to mobilise their resources for development without being hindered or controlled by the central government.”

Capital Hill, Lilongwe, home to the campus of Government Ministries of Malawi.

He had also this to say, “the highly centralised unitary form of government is ineffective in dealing with contingencies in most parts of the country. The administration and power are concentrated in Lilongwe, Capital Hill which results to inequitable development among the different regions. Development is inequitable and stunted because there is difficulty in reaching and responding to the needs of remote areas for instance, Mwanza, Machinga, Balaka, Chitipa, Rumphi, Ntcheu, Dowa to mention but a few. Decentralisation is seen as a response to this dilemma in governance. It will help in the development of the nation by bringing the government closer to the people through administrative de-concentration and political devolution. It has to be noted that this strategy will facilitate faster delivery of needed basic services and promote participatory governance.”

He also believes that the structure of the federal system would respond to the geographical obstacles and differences caused by cultural diversity on governance because it allows fragmentation while at the same time promoting national interest. He also claimed that the federal structure will accelerate the country’s development and end the internal conflicts brought by unitary system. Simba mentioned that federalism provides a constitutional organisation that allows action by a shared government for certain common purposes while permitting for autonomous action by constituent units of government for purposes that relate to preserving their distinctiveness, with each level directly responsible to its electorate. He also cited three major lessons from the various experiences on federalism: “First, federal political systems do provide a practical way of combining, through representative institutions, the benefits of unity and diversity, but they are no panacea for all of humanity’s political ills. Second, the degree to which a federal political system can be effective will depend upon the extent to which there is an acceptance of the need to respect constitutional norms and structures and upon an emphasis on the spirit of tolerance and compromise,

Thirdly, effectiveness also depends upon whether the particular form or variant of federal system that is adopted or evolved gives adequate expression to the demands and requirements of the particular society in question.” Simba further said, a federal government would enable the needs of a nation to be achieved while providing a space for diversity. As the phrase goes, it provides “unity in diversity”. The federal structure devises a flexible arrangement for varying forms of self-government to suit different circumstances and contingencies. History would show us several countries that used federalism in dealing with diversity. In Switzerland and Canada for instance, the adoption of federalism was, to some extent, a result of a need to accommodate diverse communities. After World War 2, India, Malaysia and Nigeria used the federal mechanism to settle ethnic diversity. Pakistan also used the federal design to manage ethno-national diversity after it emerged as an independent state. “Meanwhile we have to accelerate the process of government decentralisation under the 1994 Constitution both ways: by de-concentrating national government administration to the regional centres and by devolving more national government functions to the local government units through continuing amendments to the Local Government Act 1999. At the same time, we have to reorient our people… towards greater self-reliance and responsibility through local governance and development, including developing their capacity to raise more local revenues and generate funding for local development, and to attract investment,” Simba said. Lastly, he emphasised that federalism is not a panacea for solving all governance problems. However, given the above mentioned rational, it will improve Malawi governance.

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