On Friday, Political Scientist Blessings Chinsinga unveiled Political Transition and Inclusive Development in Malawi: The Democratic Dividend. Our Reporter ALBERT SHARRA caught up with him to find out more about the book the scholar co-edited with Dan Banik and its relevance to Malawi’s democracy.
What is the ‘democratic dividend’?
This is the benefits that a country is supposed to get by adopting a democratic political dispensation. This is on the understanding that democracy as a form of government is a catalyst for rapid socio-economic development that benefits all the people of high society.
What are some of the issues that you advance in this book?
There are several issues that we have looked at in the context of the book. We have looked at Malawi’s democratic consolidation; we have looked at Malawi’s policy formulation and implementation and finally activism—civil society and accountability. Basically, these three thrusts are the basis for trying to understand the extent to which democracy has made contribution to development in this country in a way that it benefits all segments of the society.
What was the main objective when you sat down to write the book?
Certainly, the main objective of this book was to look back at our 20 years of experience with democracy and make an assessment as to whether as a country we are benefiting for making a transition from one party dictatorship to a multiparty democracy. The expectation, generally, was that the country should benefit from democracy because democracy is looked at as the river for rapid socio-economic development.
What are the findings? Are Malawians, who voted for the lamp of democracy in 1993, winning?
The book is actually telling us that as a country we have made substantial progress in as far as democratisation is concerned. We have put in place a variety of institutions, traditions and practices that any democracy is expected to have. However, the challenge is that these institutions and practices are not functioning in a way they should have been functioning. So, basically, what we are finding is that although we have democratic institutions in place, we are not getting full benefits because these institutions are not functioning
the way they should have been functioning. So, the conclusion is that Malawi has experienced transition without transformation. We are still deeply wedded to the one party political culture, which is hindering the entrenchment of democracy.
Any examples of governance institutions that are giving Malawians a raw deal?
Yes. There are several institutions. We looked at the public sector or the civil service. This is believed as an engine for transformation in any country. The way it is functioning is not creating an enabling environment for the country to achieve its development goals. As you know for development programmes to be successful, they have to be implemented through the civil service and that is not happening.
The Judiciary, yes, it is doing a good job, but there is a great deal of informalisation that is also hindering the proper functioning of the Judiciary. We also looked at the civil society. Yes, we have the civil society in the country, but it is not as vigilant as it should be. We have the Parliament in this country. Parliament can make or break democracy, depending on the decisions made in Parliament. If you look at some of the laws that have been made in our Parliament, they are actually regressive in as far as democratic development is concerned. So, those are some of the examples tackled in the book.
Your recommendations and way forward?
Yes, I think, what we found basically, looking at the different contributions in the book, is that choices and decisions that leaders make at different levels really matter; they can either make or break a democratic project. This boils down to the issue of the quality of our politics. So, what we are finding is that our politics haven’t gotten to a level where it can facilitate rapid socio-economic transformation. So, one of the major recommendations is that we need to get a political settlement that sanitises our politics so that we can have a politics that creates a favourable environment for rapid socio-economic development. Finally, the major recommendation that we are making is that as a country we need to look back at our 20 years of democracy experience to steal lessons in terms of what works and what does not work. So, on the basis of those lessons is that we can develop our own democratic project that speaks to the unique needs of Malawi as a country.
Who are you targeting with this book?
This book is targeting scholars, policy makers, including Parliament, Judiciary and the executive and we are also targeting donors. We think donors should understand better our democratic context by reading through this book.
We are also targeting civil society. Basically, this book is for everyone who is concerned with understanding the dynamics of politics in this country in the interest of making viable contributions to making sure that we fully consolidate our democracy, we fully become a functioning democracy.
The book is available at the Centre for Social Research and we have limited copies. We have about 90 copies and there is high demand.
The book alone might not be complete to achieve the findings and recommendations in it. What else are you doing to complete the objectives?
That is true. We are thinking of holding further dissemination sessions with different constituencies. We think of doing some with the donors, civil society and even the media. But what we think will be more helpful is the preparation of policy briefs. So each chapter, will be bestilled into policy briefs, a two-page that highlights the major findings and their policy implications and I think these can be widely