Democracy, Decentralisation and Poverty Reduction in Malawi

ISBN 978-3-89645-815-5

Democracy, Decentralisation and Poverty Reduction in Malawi

Author: Blessings Chinsinga. With a preface by: Thomas Bierschenk. Series edited by: Thomas Bierschenk, Anna-Maria Brandstetter, Raimund Kastenholz, Matthias Krings, Carola Lentz.

Series: Mainzer Beiträge zur Afrikaforschung Volume 15

233 pp.
1 map, 5 figures, 8 tables
Text language(s): English
Format: 170 x 240 mm
520 g
€ 29.80

In this book, Blessings Chinsinga examines whether democratic decentralization promotes successful poverty reduction policy as is the hope of many development policy actors. Since the regime changed to multi-party democracy in 1994, combating poverty became a focus of national, economic and social policy in Malawi. However, implementing this policy has not been easy.

The central – political – problem of land scarcity is rarely explored by the donors who control this policy field and whose approaches tend, as elsewhere in the Global South, to depoliticize development. And as a result of competition between donors, the various programmes and initiatives implemented since 1994 are, more often than not, incompatible. The decentralisation policy which, again, was primarily a donor initiative faced similar problems: the transfer of responsibilities to the local level remained significantly behind the original schedule; the legal framework of the decentralisation process was inconsistent and incomplete and has not been fully implemented to the present day.

The institutions established at national level to accompany the decentralisation process tend to work more against than with each other; the practices of NGOs – a political force that originally provided strong support for this process – undermine the functionality of the decentralized entities that have been created; and “traditional chiefs” and parliamentary representatives have managed to “capture” the decentralisation process, by marginalizing the elected district councillors. In other words, the particular way in which multi-party democracy works at national level in Malawi blocks the process of democratic decentralization at local level.

Chinsinga’s solid empirical study succeeds in injecting a welcome shot of realism into the decentralisation debate which is carried over long distances by highly unrealistic hopes and expectations – an observation which would seem to be applicable not only to Malawi, but to many African countries.

Review in “Portal für Politikwissenschaft”

About the author:

Born in 1973, Blessings Chinsinga holds an Mphil from University of Cambridge, UK and PhD from the Institute of Anthropology and African Studies, University of Mainz, Germany. He is currently based at the Department of Political and Administrative Studies, Chancellor College, University of Malawi as an Associate Professor.



Chinsinga has made an important contribution to the decentralization debate by unifying familiar themes with a very detailed context and setting. His details are not always consistent, but he depicts how the various facets of Malawian society are engaging with and shaping the decentralization process.

Kathleen Klaus in African Studies Review, 52/1/2009, pp. 201-202

Der malawische Politikwissenschaftler Blessings Chinsinga, der an der University of Malawi lehrt, hat sich in seiner [...] Dissertation mit einem ebenso spannenden wie empirisch wenig erforschten Thema beschäftigt: Der Dezentralisierung und ihre Auswirkungen auf Armutsbekämpfung und demokratische Konsolidierung am Beispiel Malawis. Demokratische Dezentralisierung wird seit einigen Jahren vor allem von westlichen Gebern als wichtige Vorraussetzung für die Konsolidierung junger, fragiler demokratischer Systeme und armutsorientierte Entwicklung gefördert. Die in westlichen Entwicklungshilfeministerien gehegten Erwartungen an die Dezentralisierung haben sich vor allem in Afrika bisher nur selten erfüllt. Malawi ist ein Beispiel für ein weitgehendes Scheitern. Chinsinga hat dankenswerter Weise eine detailreiche empirische Studie vorgelegt, in der er die wesentlichen Schwächen des Dezentralisierungsansatzes aufzeigt.

Heiko Meinhardt in Verfassung und Recht in Übersee, 2/2009, pp. 292-294

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