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Dilemmas of Democratic Decentralization in Mangochi District, Malawi: Interest and Mistrust in Fisheries Management

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Hara, Mafaniso
Date: 2007
Agency: World Resources Institute, DC, USA
Series: Representation, Equity and Environment Working Paper, WP # 28
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3942
Sector: Fisheries
Region: Africa
Subject(s): fisheries
resource management
governance and politics
Abstract: "This paper explores the politics of local representation and belonging during the devolution of authority for fisheries management decentralization in Mangochi District, Malawi. To establish 'participatory' fisheries management, in 1993 Malawi's Fisheries Department established democratically elected Beach Village Committees (BVCs) with village headmen as ex officio members. But, the struggle between elected BVC members and traditional authorities over benefits from fisheries undermined the authority of elected members. Legal ambiguity as to whether the appointed or elected elements of the BVC should make decisions facilitated the takeover by some headmen. In addition, because the BVC was elected by universal suffrage, the members reflected the population as a whole - not just fisher interests whom these elected committees were designed to control. Being stacked against the fishing communities, these 'vested' interests resisted BVC activities - further hampering their effectiveness. Ironically, reflecting and being accountable to the population as a whole undermined the effectiveness of these elected BVCs. In 1998, a broader decentralization reform placed 'community inclusion' in fisheries management under Village Development Committees (VDCs), whose members would be appointed by elected District Assemblies. The proposed establishment of VDCs unleashed a struggle over how to arrange BVCs-VDCs relation. But, due to lack of a shared vision for decentralization and a shared mistrust of local democracy, higher-level battles for authority and relevance among government, politicians and traditional authorities have brought the decentralization process to a halt. In addition, donors supporting these reforms, who also mistrust the new democratic institutions created under decentralization, have an inadequate appreciation of the political complexities involved. The institutions chosen and recognized by government under donor pressure are the site of political struggles in which representation, belonging and downward accountability are losing ground."

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