State Centralization and the Decline of Local Government in Malawi

“This article posits that, for various reasons, the centralization of the state and local government administrations has been a dominant characteristic of the Malawi political system. This centralization may be explained by historically specific factors. It has its roots in the colonial system of government, which was designed for political control (and economic exploitation), in order to maintain the British imperial system.

The centralization was subsequently refined and deepened by the one-party regime that existed between 1966 and 1994. This was ostensibly for the purpose of maintaining national unity and cohesion, and to promote rapid economic development. The centralization is being perpetuated by the leadership of the recently established multi-party system, due to the lack of commitment in furthering the cause of democracy.

Malawi, formerly known as the Nyasaland Protectorate, was colonized by Britain for 73 years. During that time, the foundations of the local government system were laid. The traditional argument for local government stresses that it is desirable because of its democratic nature and potential for efficiency in the provision of local social services. Influenced by the pluralist view of society, the argument states that local government enhances the spread of power through local political participation and self-government. Thus it checks the undesirable concentration of power and authority at central government headquarters.

It is believed that local government allows for responsive and appropriate provision of public services to local areas, so avoiding the impersonality, remoteness and delays of central government delivery. The perceived accessibility of local government to the community is also believed to enhance accountability, as well as the capacity for building up public loyalty to the nation. In terms of administrative efficiency, the argument emphasizes the cost and time savings that come with the streamlining of long bureaucratic procedures, by adopting localized forms of service provision (King and Pierre, 1990: 16–19; Stoker, 1991: 234–5). Local government is, therefore, good for democracy and for efficient state administration.”

Published in International Review of Administrative Sciences | J. Kaunda | 1999,,