The debate on federalism has been simmering for a long time but it was not until June 2018 that a motion was presented in Parliament. Rumphi East legislator Kamlepo Kaluwa (then People’s Party) took a bold stand and tabled a motion proposing a federal system to ensure equity in allocation of resources across the country. Although Malawi Congress Party (MCP) members, then in opposition, supported the motion, the bill fell short of garnering majority support in the House and fell flat on its belly.
Fast forward. In September 2019, Mzimba North member of Parliament Yeremiah Chihana brought the bill back in Parliament proposing a constitutional change from unitary to a federal system of government. Like was the case during its maiden tabling, debate on the bill was polarized along regional lines. Most members from Northern and Central regions supported the bill while those from the Southern Region opposed it.
Proponents of federalism argue that the government, which has been led by presidents from the Southern region since Malawi’s return to democracy in 1994, has neglected the other two regions, especially the North, in terms of infrastructure development and social services. They have also been accusing the government of nepotism in appointments to State institutions and of adopting discriminatory policies such as a quota system for selecting students into public colleges and universities.
Those on the opposing side argue that federalism is a recipe for further tribal cleavages. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)—which was then in power—accused the opposition of being bad losers and resorting to divisive politics to gain political power.
This time round, the bill was referred to the Legal Affairs Committee of the House for further scrutiny and was expected to be back on the floor for deliberation once the committee prepares its report. But it is now a year since the bill was referred to the committee. The question on the lips of many enthusiasts and followers is: What is the progress?
In the intervening period, there has been change of guard at Capitol Hill. DPP is out and in came the Tonse Alliance administration. What has this change in government done to the support for federalism? Does MCP, now at the helm of government, still support federalism? Conversely, will DPP, now in the opposition, support the bill when it comes back in Parliament? There will be no crossing the bridge until we come to it. Anything else will just be speculation or wishful thinking. They say in politics a day is a century.
Meanwhile, let’s talk about Kamlepo and Chihana—the two sitting MPs who tabled the bill in Parliament. Both are brave. Both are courageous politicians exuding unparalleled resilience in their political careers. To the extent that they have carried the hopes and aspirations of a lot of Malawians, the two men deserve praise, commendation and encouragement.
But they need to be tactful and strategic if they are to be successful in the campaign. Unfortunately, Kamlepo is now compromised. He lost the plot and mandate to campaign for federalism the day he jumped ship and accepted a Cabinet post in the ousted DPP-led administration. Had DPP won the June 23 elections, Kamlepo would have been very comfortable in the blue camp from where it would be brazenly naïve to think he would have advocated for federalism. In short, he is a traitor. He is in politics for personal survival. The best he can now do for the federalism campaign is to keep quiet about it.
Yeremiah. He is tactful. He moved the motion setting the poll date for the court-sanctioned June 23 elections which was seconded by Eisenhower Mkaka Lilongwe Mpenu legislator. So far, Yeremiah is the real face of the federalism agenda in the House. But he also needs to perfect his art. He is a rubble rouser. But his vacillation on critical issues takes away the shine from his otherwise impactful political maneouverings. He cannot afford to make a damning corruption allegation against anybody and not be ready to back it up with evidence. Like all legislators, as representatives of the people, he is supposed to be accountable for what he says in and outside Parliament. And when to say something is as important as what to say. It was pathetic to see the same heroic man just jumping up and down when the Speaker Catherine Gotani Hara pinned him to submit evidence on his allegation that government officials were getting bribes. Pushing for federalism is a humongous task and it needs numbers in the House for it to see light of the day. You cannot afford to be spiteful to the very people you want to support your cause.