Book review of ‘Malawi: The State We Are In?’ by Dr. John Lloyd Chipembere Lwanda

12 Apr 2019
Malawi - the state we

David Bone reviews Dr. John Lloyd Chipembere Lwanda's new book.

Ahead of the Tripartite Elections in Malawi in May, one of the country's most astute and well informed political commentators, John Lwanda, has written an explanatory analysis of the contemporary state of politics and governance there. 

The book, in which earlier versions of two chapters were co-authored by Emmie Chanika, is carefully researched and draws on a wide range of fully documented sources. In it, the author attempts to provide an understanding of how the political scene in Malawi has reached its present condition.

To do this he traces crucial stages in Malawi's political evolution, suggesting where some characteristic traits have their origins and how and why they have become embedded in the contemporary political system. He also attempts to identify and assess the influence on it of factors such as history, demography, culture, ethnicity, religion, constitutional structures, civil society and the media.

As Dr Lwanda points out, this book is not a tourist brochure and is largely focused on what he sees as failings.  He is particularly critical of what he identifies as a culture of patronage whereby an economically powerful elite exploit the nation's resources to gain and retain political power and wealth and to buy off opposition, at the expense of the development of the nation for the benefit of all its people.  He traces this tendency, in its different forms, back to the situation in pre-colonial times through the Banda era and though each of the three post multi-party presidencies. 

The author points out some of the strengths of the system of governance in Malawi: the Constitution itself, with its division of powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, the relative independence of the police and the military, the proven ability of the religious bodies, civil society organisations, and the media  to challenge at times misuses of power by the Executive.

However he warns that even these institutions, and individuals within them, have been, and still are, vulnerable to having their independence and effectiveness insidiously undermined by a pervasive culture of patronage

In his last chapter Dr Lwanda, in framing a series of questions, suggests changes which, if implemented, could help lead to the introduction of what he calls 'clean, ideological, non-ethnicised politics shorn of its neo-patrimonialism.' 

How few of the answers to these questions involve action from people other than Malawians themselves is one indication of the importance of the choices facing the voters in the forthcoming elections. It is also is a pertinent reminder to the nation's friends and partners of the extent to which the responsibility and the means of establishing a sound system of governance in their nation lies in the hands of Malawians themselves.

Copies of the book are available from the author at: 41 The Fairways, Bothwell, G71 8PB, £10 including P&P.  Payment to John Lwanda.

About the Author:

Educated in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Scotland, Dr John Lloyd Chipembere Lwanda has worked in Malawi and Scotland as a medical doctor, researcher, publisher, farmer and writer. He works part-time for NHS Lanarkshire and is a Senior Honorary Research Fellow in the school of Politics and Sociology at the University of Glasgow.

Since his first book, Kamuzu Banda of Malawi (Kachere), John Lwanda’s Malawi political analysis has been well received across a range of audiences. He says of his political writings: “I try to take as independent a line as possible. But in politics, culture and economics, as in religion, that can be a matter of dispute.”

His other books include: Politics, Culture and Medicine (Kachere) and Promises, Power, Politics and Poverty  (Dudu Nsomba).

Scotland Malawi Partnership:

John Lwanda is one of the SMP’s 1,200 members across Scotland; as is David Bone who has very kindly written this book review for the Partnership. There are a diverse range of views within the network and those expressed in this book are not necessarily representative of SMP or its wider membership.

As a network, we continue to create space for members and partners to share their views. We look forward to welcoming John Lwanda to speak at a forthcoming meeting of the SMP’s Governance Forum, alongside a number of other speakers.

All are welcome to join this. Please email David for further details.

The SMP has a library of books relating to Malawi, including Dr Lwanda’s Malawi: The State We Are In?, which are available for loan to members. Email us to arrange access to the library.

Malawi: The State We Are In?’ by Dr. John Lloyd Chipembere, Montfort Media, Balaka, Malawi, March 2019.  ISBN 978-99980-84-42-2