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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Is federalism the answer?

Delegates at the recently ended Southern Province Constitutional Convention proposed that Zambia adopts a federal system of governance. They amended the Preamble to the first draft constitution, dropping the words “devolved system of governance” and replacing it with the words “federal system of governance”. The delegates believe the amendment will allow the local people to "manage their own resources in a more amicable manner".

This will be interesting because PF through Wynter Kabimba have already rejected the idea. The real issue with federalism is - of what sort? Zambia already has some element of federalism because at the basic level federal structures are any structures that exist at two distinct levels – the “central” and “local”, each within a well defined scope so that it enjoys autonomy with respect to that scope.

The BIG issue that needs national debate is the degree of federalism that is needed to support social and economic progress in Zambia. Ultimately this is a question about what society we want. The USA federal system is different from the Switzerland or Comoros or Nigeria or Australia. Each country must ask the question - What model of government suits us? Not all issues must be fully devolved. Indeed not all issues are currently devolved, even though we have elements of federalism. Some issues can only be efficiently or fairly handled at the central government level. We need to be clear what those are.

Then there's the question of thinking through some of the negatives. For example, there are huge dangers of large distributional and inequality problems. Under a federal system provinces will compete with one another. That is a good thing but competition of that kind is optimal where there’s perfect mobility of people and resources in general. If you find yourself in western province under a corrupt governor heavily influenced by regional politics, you will begin to envy other provinces. Deep structural inequalities due to resource endowments may create problems of instability, as we seen in Nigeria with huge inequalities in the north. Without accountability federal systems can create more problems than it solves.

In short it is not obvious the extent to which a proper debate has been had on this issue. A huge change towards deep federalism requires strong public debate. It would represent a deep structural change to how we govern ourselves. Government needs to facilitate discussion more widely - before we make up our minds.


  1. We do not need separatist forum in this country at list for now whether north, south ,east or west. It is divisive.


  2. Yeah, Western Province had to be put there as a dog whistle! Corrupt and regional politics? And dont tell me that this was just a random example. There is method here! And the irony of it all , it is as if under the current system there's no regional politics and a corrupt and tribal government!

  3. @Aunjuane, what exactly is a separatist forum. Do you know what devolution means? The USA, Australia, Germany , UK, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, China, Switzerland, India, Nigeria and soon Kenya and many others more have forms of devolution between the central and regional, state or provincial governments. And is this what passes for a 'separatist forum'? I think there's need to raise the level of discourse!


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