Of late, the debate on federalism has gained currency, albeit with some citizens linking it to regionalism. RICHARD CHIROMBO engages trade unionist and human rights activist Kenwilliams Mhango, who has been championing the cause of federalism in the Southern Region and engages him on this and other issues. Excerpts:
People know you as a human rights activist and trade unionist whose work is premised on unifying Malawians. Now that you have joined activism for federalism, are you not becoming a divisive figure?
Not at all. In fact, it is the current (political) set up that is divisive. There are some regions in the country that have been marginalized for a long time. The mistake people are mistake is that of linking the federalism, and not secession, to one region. But you may wish to know that in the Southern Region, we have a district such as Chiradzulu where basic necessities are hard to come by, yet the district has influential people like Hon. Henry Mussa and others. Go to Chiradzulu and you will literary count the number of filling stations with the fingers of one hand. That is why I have joined the campaign for federalism. Like former South African president, Nelson Mandela, said, “If I am fighting for a just cause, I will fight for it with whatever I have, even if it is going to take my life.’ Federal system is a unity of purpose and harmony in development agenda.
Why put your life on the line by saying that “even if it is going to take my life”? Will the federalism campaign be this combative?
Let me answer your question by quoting Mandela again. “It is not enough to be frustrated, you have to fight.”
What do you mean by that?
Planet Earth, as a place for us all to come together and share our memories as we think of transforming the lives of the most marginalized not only in Malawi but in the Southern African Development Community region as a whole. This can only be achieved through a gallant campaign for social protection which will culminate in hopes for a better livelihood for everyone. The benefits of national development will not come on a silver platter. We have to fight for it. And that is what some of us are doing.How do you plan that? Beat people up? Shout loudly in the streets?
We don’t need to do anything at all. The only thing we have to do is to put the peole first. Get me clearly, by people I don’t mean chiefs. Leave chiefs alone because history has taught us that Chiefs move with the discussion of the majority. You may recall that when the Country was colonized they did not resist. When the Country was under Federation they did not resist. When they Country was Independent they did not resist. When the country was fighting for change to Multi Party Democracy they did not resist. When there was third Term call by Dr Bakili Muluzi they did not resist. When the late President Dr Bingu wa Muthalika moved out of the United Democratic Front (DPP) to form his own party, now the Democratic Progressive Party, they did not resist. When he introduced the then Zero Deficit Budget, they did not resist. When President Joyce Banda, then, moved out from DPP to form her own party, People’s Party, they did not resist, hence my ideas that Chiefs should be left alone on the Federal System debate because, finally, they will not resist. The Government of Malawi should not waste time and resources on chiefs, instead of channeling them to other development initiatives.
On how many fronts are you fighting the ‘battle’, now that you seem to be against chiefs’ participation in the issue?
We are not against chiefs. We just feel, very strongly, that the chiefs are being misled. Politicians are taking advantage of their lack of knowledge on the issue of federalism. People should not critic federal system without knowing how the Federal system works. Countries that have employed the system are, surprisingly, highly developed because of the Popular Participation in Developments as propelled in the Arusha African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation which was held on 12-16 February 1990 and opened by H.E Hassan Mwinyi the then President of the United Republic of Tanzania. Signatories’ gave their support to the popular participation in Development and Transformation which was premised on the point that, for a country to develop, the element of peoples’ participation must be there. This has not been happening in Malawi since independence.
It’s the engine for launching the process for economic Transformation of the structures and material attributes of a society.
Don’t you think that one obstacle facing the federalism campaign is that some people are linking it to one region?
That is not a problem at all. You may wish to remember that it is people from the Northern Region who have always had national interest at heart. You may wish to remember that a son from the Northern Region, Orton Chirwa, was among the first people to denounce the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Other people followed suit. The question is: Who benefitted when the Federation was crushed down? It was people from other parts of the country. For multiparty politics of government to take root in the country, it was Chakufwa Chihana who beat the first drum. But it was former president Bakili Muluzi who benefitted by being elected Head of State and Government. So, in the final analysis, it is people from the Northern Region who have the national agenda at heart. The good thing is that they are selfless and let other people reap the fruits.
All what people are looking for is popular participation in development and transformation for them to own the development as it comes from them, and not being imposed on them. Thus, the state is a representation that occupies central of political system which must be inclusive and not exclusive.
For the accountability, Transparency and Good Governance we need to Practice what was declared in the African Charter for popular participation in development and Transformation hence the Federal System.
In a nutshell, what are the benefits of federalism?
It will help us fodge a new partnership and compact must be forged among all the actors in the process of social, political and economic change. Without this collective commitment of federal system, popular participation is neither possible nor capable of producing developmental results. Therefore, through federal system, we would promote full effective participation by the masses together with governments in the recovery of the lost FIFTY years of development process in Malawi. Political accountability of leadership at all levels measured by the use of checks and balances system. This will have the effect of social involvement capable of inducing social and life transformation change. Rural and urban people s organization such as workers, peasant, women youth students etc will be encouraged to initiate strategies to strengthen their productive power and meet their basic needs. Federal system will promote greater participation and consensus building in the formulation and implementation of economic and social policies at all level, including the identification and elimination of laws and bureaucratic procedures that pose obstacles to people’s participation in developments. The federal system will also eliminate tribalism, and save resources spent on un necessary summary dismissals as a result of political hate red will be redirected to productive activities and social services to the people.