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malawi-political-mapPopulation: 16,362,567

HDI ranking: 170/187

HDI score: 0.418

Decentralization in Malawi began in the late 1990s when the government enacted the National Decentralization Policy. However, the country has faced challenges in implementation and holding local elections (Chiweza, 2010).

Malawi’s first local and multi party elections were held in 2000. However, the following local elections were delayed until May 2014 (CLGF, 2013; Freedom House, 2014).

Local governance at a glance

  • Local government consists of four cities, 28 district councils, two municipal councils and one town council. All 35 local authorities are single tier (CLGF, 2013).
  • A city council, directly elected by the councilors, governs each of the four cities. Of the eight townships, six of them are combined with district assemblies to create district councils; the other two act as municipal councils headed by mayors (CLGF, 2013).
  • Councilors each represent one ward and are elected for a five-year term (CLGF, 2013).
  • Traditional leadership is prominent in Malawi. A Group Village Headman is selected by the village headsmen and is responsible for five or more villages. Senior chiefs have authority over all sub-chiefs, and sub-chiefs have authority over the hereditary traditional authority positions (CLGF, 2011).
  • At the national level the Minister of Local Government and Community Development oversees the administration of local governments and implements the Local Government Act and the National Decentralization Policy (CLGF, 2013).
  • There are no gender quotas at the subnational level (Quota Project, 2013).

Civil society actors

  • Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) is committed to the empowerment of youth, women and children for the purpose of promoting human rights and democracy. Examples include counseling, civic education and networking services (YONECO, 2014).
  • SOS Démocratie aims to strengthen democracy by educating people about democratic principles, improving voter participation and ensuring transparency and freedom of the voter’s choice (SOS Démocratie, n.d.).
  • The World Banks’ Malawi Social Action Fund (MASAF) is a key player in Malawi community development, participatory development, and increasing transparency and accountability. MASAF created a Transparency and Accountability Framework (World Bank, 2010).

Capacity building institutions

Fiscal control

  • The councils are responsible for collecting local taxes, but most of their revenue comes from the central government (CLGF, 2013).
  • The Constitution provides for 5% of net government revenue to be transferred to local governments (CLGF, 2013).
  • The National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) was created in 2001. It oversees the financial relationship between the central and local governments (Chiweza, 2010).
  • The Malawi Social Action Fund worked on the ground to restructure the fiscal responsibility to focus more heavily on local governments, and the organization established Local Development Funds that were to be managed by District Councils. These funds are protected and made transparent by the Local Authority Management and Information System (World Bank, 2010).

Key initiatives for participatory local governance

  • The first democratic local government elections took place in 2000 (Chiweza, 2010).
  • In 1998, a new National Decentralization Policy (NDP) was approved. It “seeks to devolve powers and functions of governance and development to elected Local Government Units as reflected in the Constitution” (UNPAN, n.d.).
  • A positive outcome of the NDP was the consolidation of the district councils and administration structures, two parallel authorities, into District Assemblies (BDU, 2000).
  • In 2008, the second NDP was established. This NDP “seeks to provide a coherent framework for the implementation of decentralisation and also serves as a tool for coordinating donor support towards the decentralisation process” (Chiweza, 2010).
  • The Local Government Act of 1998 provided a framework for decentralization and established local councils (CLGF, 2013). This Act recently changed in 2010 to reduce the number of local authorities to 34 and rename local authorities to “councils” (CLGF, 2011).
  • In 1996, the Malawi Social Action Fund (MASAF) was launched to promote honest and effective governance and restructure fiscal responsibility to focus more heavily on local governments. MASAF further established the Local Development Fund, which is managed by District Councils, and serves “as the Districts’ resource mobilization mechanism from central budgets and external assistance (World Bank, 2010).

Challenges for participatory local governance

  • Local elections were delayed until 2014. This suspension of local councils led to a “re-centralization of political authority” (O’Neil and Cammack et al., 2014).
  • There is a lack of accountability: local authorities are dysfunctional, service provision is failing, and the political elite allow corruption (O’Neil and Cammack et al., 2014; O’Neil, 2014).
  • Sector staff at the local level are appointed by Ministries and are thus accountable to the central government (O’Neil and Cammack et al., 2014).
  • There are delays in Local Development Funds, a low capacity within councils to promote participation and development, and a lack of follow-up with projects (World Bank, 2010).
  • To prevent corruption in councils, Institutional Integrity committees are meant to be active players in all districts; however, very few have been established (Chiweza, 2010).
  • Local government financial reports and budget information continue to be inaccessible to most citizens (Chiweza, 2010).

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List of sources:

Boniface Dulani University of Malawi Chancellor College (BDU), 2000: “The status of decentralization in Malawi.”

Chiweza, A., 2010: “A Review of the Malawi Decentralization Process: Lessons from Selected Districts.”

Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), 2011: “Country Profile: Malawi.”

Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), 2013: “Country Profile: Malawi.”

Freedom House, 2014: “Malawi.”

Malawi Local Government Association (MALGA), n.d.:

O’Neil, T., D. Cammack et al., 2014, ODI: “Fragmented governance and local service delivery in Malawi.”

O’Neil, T., 2014, Open Democracy: “Will the new government and local councils improve delivery in Malawi?”

Quota Project, 2014: “Malawi.”

United Nations Public Administration Network (UNPAN), n.d.: “Decentralisation Process in Malawi.”

World Bank, 2010: “Social Development Notes: Demand for Good Governance.”

Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), 2014: