This inter-disciplinary project at the interface of political science and social anthropology has contributed to a better understanding of how politics is conducted in Malawi today, at national and local levels alike. Three elements of the political system and the interaction between them were under scrutiny: (a) the civil service at the central level; (b) the traditional authorities at the local level; and (c) the faith-based organisations in civil society. Each element was analysed in its own right as well as their inter-relationship in order to show and understand both the opportunities and constraints within each element but also the dynamics between them. The effects of this dynamic on democracy and governance were illustrated with specific reference to gender relations and corruption. Central questions included: Why does public sector reform appear not to have the desired effects? What mechanisms may explain why local chiefs seem to strengthen their influence? What influence and how do faith-based organisations exert on national and local politics? How have political changes over the past two decades affected the position of women and their social position? What aspects of the political system drive corruption? The project was developed and implemented jointly by the Centre for Social Research and the Chr. Michelsen Institute. Data collection was completed and largely processed and analysed in close collaboration between the researchers of the two partner institutions, supported by a highly qualified reference group. A mid-term workshop was organised in September 2015 where preliminary findings were presented, followed by write-up of articles for journal publication. The findings have been submitted for publication by fully refereed international journals. A dissemination event was held in Lilongwe on 4 October 2016 for the Malawian civil service, the donor community, central actors in civil society and the general public as well as traditional authorities.
It was found that the contemporary public sector reforms are unlikely to succeed due to the capture of the reform process by powerful elites whose interests are entrenched in the existing structure. Even though the 'homegrown' label is associated with a sense of national ownership buffeted by political will at the highest level, the overall fate of these reforms is not different from previous efforts widely trumpeted as externally driven. The same powerful political elites were involved in the so-called 'Cashgate' corruption scandal, whose aftermath has not brought the main culprits to account because of political interference with the anti-corruption agency and the courts.
Our findings suggest that the chieftaincy system provides services that reflect the interests of women within their communities. Women seem to value consensus, predictability and continuity in both patrilineal and matrilineal settings and thus explain why women play an active role in reproducing gender inequality at the local level of governance.
Traditional authorities (TAs) form an integral part of Malawis governance and development structures as both government and NGOs depend on them for community mobilisation and maintenance of law and order. The TAs have managed to adapt and reproduce themslevse without losing their mandate. They are neither weaker nor stronger than before despite many attempts to diminish their influence. Tradition has adapted to the normative foundation underlying the democratic dispensation.
The faith-based organisations (FBOs) engage in an opportunistic ebb-and-flow fashion with political authorities in tandem with levels of political tension such as elections and critical junctures like undemocratic bids for constitutional amendments. In a profoundly religious society such as Malawi FBOs wield considerable influence over the political agenda as evidenced by means of reputational assessments.
This 3-year interdisciplinary project (2014-2016) - comprising sociology, political science and social anthropology - intends to contribute to an improved understanding of Malawi's political economy by studying the functioning of three selected institutio ns as well as their inter-relationships: the civil service at the central level, traditional authorities at the local level, and faith-based organizations in civil society. While emphasizing the interaction between these institutions, separate institution al analyses will be conducted in their own right and as critical inputs to the overall study of the dynamics between them. Beyond the investigations of each institution at its respective level, the analyses will be informed throughout by two cross-cutting thematic concerns: corruption and gender relations.
By applying historical economy as an approach and historical institutionalism as the analytical framework, the overall research questions include: (a) why do recent public sector reforms seem not to ha ve influenced the civil service significantly in a positive vein? (b) which mechanisms explain the resilience and strengthening of traditional authorities? and (c) how do faith-based organizations influence national as well as local politics?
The project is designed in close collaboration between the Centre for Social Research at Chancellor College and the Chr. Michelsen Institute. Data collection, analysis and publication will be undertaken jointly by researchers from both partner institutions. A highly competent reference group will provide regular advice and support throughout the project's duration.
Outputs will include academic articles as well as policy-oriented briefs. Furthermore, dissemination events will be organized for the benefit of aid ag encies and Malawian stakeholders in the civil service, traditional authorities and civil society, as well as the general public.