Malawi MapThere has been an interesting debate on federalism in recent times, precisely soon after the tripartite elections. Some have even suggested secession. For a start, federalism is a system of government in which the same territory is controlled by two levels of government, an overarching national government that governs issues that affect the entire country, and smaller subdivisions that govern issues of local concern.

Both the national government and the smaller political subdivisions have the power to make laws and both have a certain level of autonomy from each other. Secession on the other hand which is driven from the Latin term ‘secessio’ is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, military alliance or especially a political entity or the act of separating from a nation or state and becoming independent.

While each system has pros and cons, this article is not intending to delve into such; rather it dwells on the faulty conceptualization of the proponents of federalism. As a democratic country, the citizenry has the right to express itself on any issues and that includes the current debate on federalism, after all debates are healthy. However, this article advances the theoretical framework that the way the issue of federalism has been brought in the public domain, is premised on shaky grounds that even if the system were to be adopted, the intended goals of the system may not be achieved. Many political analysts, never mind their partisan orientation, have always argued that the country’s political parties lack distinct ideologies, that they can be associated or recognized with. Prior to the May 20 tripartite elections, no party campaigned on the premise of federalism. Just to refresh the readership, the DPP talked of food security, infrastructure development, FISP, security, cement and iron sheets subsidy, community colleges, among others, but nothing on federalism.

The PP promised to promote more chiefs, continued JB travels, Mudzi Transformation, one cow per family, bank nkhonde among others. The MCP promised universal fertilizer subsidy, farmer clubs, as well as investing in commercial farming. The UDF on the other hand with its agenda for change, promised Malawians, money in their pockets, never mind how that was to be done, it also promised the new way of doing things, never mind the lack of clarity on what should change and how. Therefore the call for federalism at this stage, when none of these parties campaigned on the premise of adopting a federal system of government, not only raises more questions than answers, but is also suspicious, divisive and is reminiscent of vultures masquerading as saints who have the welfare of the people at heart. Shall we always call for the change of government system every time we lose an election? Is this being progressive as a nation, or we would want to always preoccupy ourselves with nothing but politicking? Do we really aim to leave behind a strong foundation and a legacy that our children and grandchildren shall strive on to take this nation to another level, or we leave them with a shaky, divided and polarized nation that can’t hold together anymore?

While, the article is not for or against federalism, just as it is not against Malawians engaging in a debate of this nature, a submission is hereby made that the call for a federal system of government, especially at this stage, especially being championed by a party or parties that never campaigned on the premise of federalism, is not only reactionary but also not grounded on ideology.

One can further add, the call for federalism is but a desperate move by those who lost the elections, with the wild assumption that in the event the system is adopted, they could be the defacto leaders in those federal states! This without fear of contradiction is reminiscent of political vultures masquerading as saints who have the welfare of Malawians at heart.

For a moment, the reader should objectively answer the following questions. Suppose the MCP won the elections, would they really ask PAC to facilitate debate on federal system of government? If PP won the elections, would we have such calls for a federal state from their camp? One wouldn’t ask about the UDF because Atcheya has always remained an ardent believer in national unity, and therefore his legacy still continues to reign in that party. Atcheya faced a lot of challenges then when Aford was a force to reckon with, but he maintained his cool to keep this country as one.

The article further submits that this particular call for federalism is reactionary. It’s a reaction to a loss in an election. It is failure to accept that one lost the elections, and therefore can continue to contribute to national development in other avenues, without necessarily destabilizing and tearing apart the very fabric that binds us together, which is mother Malawi. To be blunt it is an issue of bad losers, which can deeply polarize this country.

Is the article in any way suggesting no federalism debate? Is the article suggesting that federalism is bad or is indeed good? Surely the answer is no. However, the article reiterates that the debate on federalism is premised on bad losers not accepting reality, as such it is not properly grounded, and it has not emerged as an ideology, rather it’s a result of an election loss that was not expected, which one further submits is detrimental to the nation. One would appreciate if such ideas came from all inclusive national consultative forums, better still if atleast one of the major parties did hinge their campaign on federalism, but not losing an election and proposing a complete change of form of government. Surely, such reactionary and emotional reasoning rarely leads to progress as the underlying factors are not only weak but short-lived too.

James Mwangalli is a Malawian social commentator and he can be reached at jmwangali@gmail.com

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