When voices of federalism started gaining currency through Enoch Chihana, lawmaker, chairman and patron of one-band AFORD, I had initially dismissed this as a pipe dream.
I must have made a mistake, probably. I should not have thrown the issue to the bush, thinking these were mad persons advocating for a lost cause.
I had thought Chihana was calling for a federal government for the Northern region out of frustration after the PP which he supported lost the May vote.
Unfortunately, Northerners elsewhere feel marginalised -they believe they don’t get the national cake. The North was in the colonial days referred to as the “dead North.”
Why federalism? It’s a question of power. The North wants to determine its own future, its worth such as minerals, if oil could be found on Lake Malawi, Chikangwawa forest plantations and anything that could bring money to the region.
Actually, those who advocate for independence have already found a name for what could be the world’s new country: The Republic of Viphya.
The North, just like other regions, has their own social and economic problems peculiar to the regions themselves. In a federal system, it means local leaders will have a better understanding of own problems and offer solutions.
This means doing away with central government—Lilongwe—which decides how much money for development to give to each district or region.
Here are some of the benefits, as written by Aastha Dogra in Buzzle on July 15, 2013, on the topic what is federalism?
The author first posits that Federalism is a political system in which the powers are divided between the central government and numerous regional governments.
Malawi, like a majority of democracies around the world has a unitary system of government, where power is centred on the national government.
In federalism, there is a written constitution which formulates this power sharing arrangement between the state and its units. which can be referred to as provincial or regional governments.
Local governments have exclusive powers to issue licences, provide for public health, conduct elections, and form local governments, look after trade. Dogra also says federal governments are adopted to ensure greater safety and autonomy against internal and external threats.
The most well-known federal governments are the USA, with 51 states, Canada, Australia, Mexico, India and Brazil. In Africa, we have Nigeria, with its diversity of tribes. Insurgents in Nigeria named Boko Haram are fighting for their own Islamic state in the north of the country.
Federal governments have the powers to form their own policies which might not be followed at national level or by another federal state. For example, the North if it was given federal status, may decide to allow same-sex marriages, while at national level, it is not allowed.
Regional governments leads to maximum utilisation of resources as it caters for local needs, while national governments will cater for international affairs or spend more money on buying military equipment for the defence of the country. Federalism has scope for innovation and experimentation.
Of course, federalism has its own disadvantages. There is conflict of authority—overlapping of work and confusion of who is responsible for what.
One disadvantage, commentators say, is corruption as more people are elected into office, and too many elected reps with overlapping roles may lead to corruption.
Federalism also leads to unnecessary competition between different regions. A federal government can rebel against a national govt, thereby posing a threat to the country’s integrity and security. This has happened in Nigeria before—the Biafra rebellion which led to over a million people killed.
Federalism also promotes regional inequalities, natural resources, industries, employment opportunities differ from region to region, and hence earnings and wealth are unevenly distributed. The system also promotes regionalism—makes state governments selfish and concerned only about their own regions progress.
Probably, federalism works better in rich countries.
However, debate on federalism in Malawi, especially in the North, will not be hushed up. Let there be a robust debate within the region. Let the government allow voices to be heard and not stifle them. Let there be a national consensus on this debate.
Let there be a national referendum on this issue, because the North cannot decide on its own to be a federal government. All Malawians must vote to decide if this can be possible.
Whoever wins, let the majority prevail and the losing side to accept the outcome.
Please, those who are for federalism should be decent in their push for this system. Let us behave like civilised Malawians and not resort to rough tactics in order to achieve this aim.
Above all, let me spiritual about this: Let the Holy Spirit guide the debate on northern federalism.
I have my own idea about this issue: No to northern federalism. We shall end up dividing this small nation and each tribe will start looking for independence.