Delegates to the two-day National Stakeholders’ Forum for Inclusivity and Federalism that ended on Tuesday this week in Blantyre have expressed mixed feelings regarding its role to mediate the federalism debate raging in the country.
Organised by the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to initiate a common understanding on issues of inclusivity, the conference—punctuated by academic presentations and group discussions—breathed its last by recommending a review of the Constitution and electoral laws.
He said: “We focused more on decentralisation. Of course there was a presentation on federalism; we did not have enough time to debate it. My fear is that if we do not use these forums to tackle why people are proposing federalism, these issues will always crop up.”
However, Trapence acknowledged that the conference was a good start in terms of creating space for discussions.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Jessie Kabwila underlined that ‘federalism was debated though not exhaustively’.
She added there are a number of issues that need to be spelled out clearly before the debate deepens.
“We should guard against confining the debate to political elites. We need to take to the common Malawians, and for that, we also need to find a working Chichewa equivalent for the word,” she said.
Kabwila, who admitted that the conference was ‘too technocratic’, argued that, at the stage of the debate, the focus should have been debating why calls of federalism are being made.
“The problem is that we have a system where those with power are refusing to share it. They are not inclusive and very nepotistic,” she said.
University of Malawi’s Chancellor College associate professor of law Garton Kamchedzera, who was also a delegate, said although he understood the aim was to raise awareness of the definition of federation, the conference did not discuss in detail the merits and demerits of the system.
He added that he would have loved to see availability of individuals who have been proposing federalism at the conference.
In an interview yesterday, politician Harry Mkandawire, who is among the people who raised the issue of federalism in Parliament, said he was not invited. Asked about his views, he said he is yet to get information from the conference because he “has been busy with personal issues”.
However, PAC executive secretary Robert Phiri told The Nation on Wednesday that although they cannot judge themselves, he felt the conference was successful in laying the foundation of common understanding.
“We were specifically interested in beginning to cover the gap between the need for inclusivity and federalism,” he said.
Phiri added that the conference first targeted institutions, not individuals who had already made their position on federalism.
“We took the responsibility not to invite those that had already made their position because, as I have said earlier, we wanted to achieve a common understanding on the problem first.
“I believe the next activities will include those that had already made their positions so that their arguments are shared with the general public,” he said.