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The Role Of The Local Government Essay

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The Role of the Local Government in Poverty Alleviation

Case study in Blantyre District, Malawi


This research has been conducted to investigate the role of the local government in poverty alleviation, in reference to the projects they design and implement and the contribution this makes in the efforts to develop the society as a whole, focussing on the Malawi business capital city of Blantyre.

The following terms have been defined for clarification purposes and to enable a better understanding of the study.

GOVERNANCE: “Governance is the process as well as the result of the making of authorities’ decisions for the benefit of the society”

Bathwall, c.p 2003


“Traditionally associated with local government in England, Wales and German and a principal feature of the English local government system; Very crucial in the idea of the electoral basis of the system which shields it from becoming purely dependent organs of the State”


“A system of government controlled by a local council which is authorised by the central government to pass ordinance having a local application, levy taxes or exact labour within limits specified by the government, and vary centrally decided policy applying it locally”


➢ “Refers collectively to administrative authorities over areas that are smaller than a state. The term is used to contrast with offices at nation-state level, which are referred to as the central government, national government, or (where appropriate) federal government.”

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.html accessed on the 14-05-2010.

➢ “A political sub-division of a nation or a state in a federal system which is a constituted by law and has substantial control over local affairs including the power to impose taxes or exert labour for prescribed purposes.”

The United Nations documentary on Public administration


➢ “Refers to the transfer of government functions and power to both agents and units of the government in any given country”


➢ “The delegation of authority adequate for the discharge of specified functions to staff of central departments who are situated outside the head quarters”. Alderfer (1967) adds that it is the transfer of power to subordinate authorities whether offices, individuals or units.


➢ “The legal instrument conferring of power to discharge specified power upon formally constituted local authorities.” Local governments can therefore, be classified as a deconcentration. Local governments that have devolution of power are more likely to be more autonomous than local governments that are deconcentrated.


“Any sub-organization, department, administrative agency or ministry that operates outside the headquarters”


“The process by which the efforts of the people are united with those of the authorities of the government to improve economical, social, political and cultural conditions of communities and ultimately integrate these communities into the life of the nation to enable them to contribute fully towards national development”


➢ “Carry out a systematic or formal inquiry into (an incident or allegation) so as to establish the truth.”

➢ “Make a search or systematic inquiry”

➢ “Carry out a research into (a subject)”

Concise Oxford Dictionary, 10th Edition, Oxford University Press.

➢ “Carry out a systematic or formal inquiry to discover and examine the facts of (an incident, allegation etc) so as to establish the truth”

➢ “carry out research study into (a subject, typically one in a scientific or academic field) so as to discover the facts or information”

Webster’s University Dictionary, Office Edition, Houghton Muffin Company

➢ “to look for evidence, explain and analyse” accessed o the 14-05-2010.


➢ “A person’s or thing’s function in a particular situation”

Concise Oxford Dictionary, 10th Edition, Oxford University Press.

➢ “A function r position”

Webster’s University Dictionary, Office Edition, Houghton Muffin Company

➢ “A set of responsibilities, activities and authorizations” accessed on 14-05-2010.


➢ “The process of giving authority or power to; authorize”

➢ “Give strength and confidence to”

Concise Oxford Dictionary, 10th Edition, Oxford University Press

➢ “The process of giving (someone) the authority or power to do something”

➢ “The process of making (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights”

Webster’s University Dictionary, Office Edition, Houghton Muffin Company

➢ “The process of transferring decision-making power from influential sectors to poor communities and individuals who have traditionally been excluded from it” accessed on 14-05-2010

This investigation has, therefore, been carried as a formal inquiry to deduce and highlight the Malawi as a whole, a financially and socially stronger and confident nation through the empowerment of individuals in controlling their lives and claiming their rights, focussing mainly on the city of Blantyre.


Economic growth in Malawi has not translated into improved living standards for the majority of the population because of structural and policy rigidities in the economy. Between 1964 and 1979, the economy registered an average annual growth rate of about 6%, well above the population growth of 2.9%. However, following the rising energy prices, disrupted external trade routes, influx of refugees, drought and the declining terms of trade, the economy slowed down in the 1980s averaging only 3% per annum. Most of this growth emanated from the estate agriculture, government services and manufacturing sector. Unlike in the 1970s and 1980s, economic growth in the 1990s faltered because of fluctuation growth in the smallholder agriculture sub-sector due to vagaries of weather. As a result, the average growth rate between 1990 and 1994 was only 0.6%.

Agriculture still dominates the economy with a share of over 35% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The smallholder production of subsistence food crops like maize accounts for the bulk of this. The industrial sector accounts for an average of 20% and the service sector accounts for 41%. Evidently, the structure of the economy is very fragile and susceptible to external shocks like weather and shortage of foreign exchange. Further, the low linkage between the dominant smallholder agriculture and formal sectors has led to low multiplier effects even in years of good economic performance.

The smallholder agriculture did not get as much focus in terms of relief initiative as the estate agriculture subsector. Labour productivity in smallholder subsector has, therefore, remained low forcing smallholders to offer themselves as ganyu (temporary) labourers, estate workers, tenant farmers and urban job seekers at very low wages.

Employment in Malawi is heavily dependent on the smallholder subsector. The formal sector absorbs only about 12% of the total labour force which includes the estate agriculture sub-sector and the formal industrial sector. The remaining 88% get their livelihood from smallholder agriculture and other informal sector activities.

The donor supported structural adjustment programmes adopted since the 1980s had aimed at achieving macro-economic stability and private (formal) sector growth. These were characterised by market liberalisation and stringent Government spending which in themselves have not impacted favourably on the general welfare of the poor population.

The recurrent budgetary expenditures up to 1990 were biased towards productive and service sectors like agriculture and transport. The budgetary allocations to the social sectors (education, health and social welfare) were not only below other Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries but also lagged behind inflation and population growth rates implying that the allocations had been declining in real and per capita terms. This trend had started to change since 1991 as the share of these sectors had increased from about 20% to 25% in 1994. However, even within the sectors, the allocation to activities that affect the poor population had been low. The allocations of social sectors expenditure in total development expenditure (in nominal terms) had been on the increase particularly after 1992. Yet such allocation had not improved significantly the quality of social services in real and per capita terms in the subsequent period

The economic growth registered in the economy over the years compares favourably with many SSA countries. However, the structure of the economy and orientation of the policies and expenditures generated a paradox of growth which is evident in the increasing income disparities and the growing poverty phenomenon in the country.

With the advent of multiparty democracy and the ushering in of a new party (UDF) in May 1994, a new chapter had been introduced on how the Government would manage poverty. Evaluation of the prior centralised approach to poverty alleviation and public consultations with government, the private sector, universities, NGOs, donor community and economic players indicated that the centralised approach was outdated and that poverty alleviation should be specific to local conditions. Poor communities should not be positioned as objects of development, but rather participate as part of the solution. President Dr. Bakili Muluzi (Oct.1995) in Policy Framework For Poverty Alleviation Programme said that “I launched the Poverty Alleviation Programme on the 25th August, 1994 outlining my vision on poverty alleviation centred on a process of economic and social development in which people are directly involved and empowered, right from the community level to the national level, to improve their livelihoods.” This means that people at all levels of the government should be involved in the planning, Implementation, supervision and evaluation from the outset of poverty eradication programmes.

With decentralisation and regional autonomy in Malawi, provincial and district governments now have the opportunity to improve the livelihoods of the communities they oversee? Regional autonomy has given local government the authority and right to make policies more autonomously (LAW) and to organise their budgets more independently (LAW). District governments are now expected to be more responsive to issues in their regions and meet community needs directly. However, among these complex issues the community has to also deal with problems such as rampant corruption and weaknesses in economic freedom- problems they frequently face and that hinder attempts to alleviate poverty.


Founded in 1876 through the missionary work of the Church of Scotland, Blantyre’s historical importance is rivalled by no other Malawian city. It has many historic and cultural heritage resources, which constitute a vital part of the city and are crucial for its identity, cultural and social well-being and attractiveness to business and tourism.

It became a British consular in 1883 and attained municipality status by 1885, making it Malawi’s oldest municipality. Blantyre is one of the oldest urban centres in East, Central and Southern Africa; it out-dates Nairobi Harare and Johannesburg, hence has the longest historic and cultural heritage in the region.

The city’s stature as Malawi’s centre of commerce and industry began through its role as a centre for colonial trade in ivory. Thus, Blantyre quickly established itself as a crossroads for trade in Southern Africa. Today the city is Malawi’s main manufacturing core with shoe, cotton, metal and plastic factories.

From 1876 to 1905, urban development was confined to Blantyre only. Blantyre Mission of Henry Henderson Institute (HHI), Mandala (European commercial venture), and the government zone and commercial centre triangle marked by Haile Salassie Road, Glyn Jones Road and Hannover Street.

Limbe, a neighbouring town to Blantyre saw development commence in 1906 following the establishment of the Shire Highlands Railways Company headquarters and repair centre and Imperial Tobacco Group (ITG) packaging and tobacco grading in the town. As a result of these big operations, easy accessibility, and topography , Limbe experienced a development boom of Indian wholesale and retail shops to the extent that by 1910 Limbe town surpassed Blantyre town.

Blantyre development had principally been dictated by piecemeal uncoordinated effort as a result of individual and interest group decisions relating to evangelism, commerce, farming, industry and administration.

It is named after the town in South Lanker shire, Scotland, where the explorer David Livingstone’s missionary endeavours saw the establishment of the St. Michael and All Angels church. The church dates back to 1891 and was famously built by a team of local workmen with no knowledge of architecture. Urban development was further stimulated by the construction of the railway. In 1956 it was merged with its sister town Limbe to form the city of Blantyre.

Blantyre is Malawi's centre of finance and commerce and it’s the largest city, by population, with an estimated 732,518 inhabitants as of 2008[update]. It is sometimes referred to as the commercial capital of Malawi as opposed to the political capital, Lilongwe. It is the capital of the country's Southern Region as well as of the Blantyre District.

There is a small but very influential expatriate population of about 25,000. These people are mainly from South Africa, England, and the rest of Europe. The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), the country’s state broadcaster and the provider of Malawi’s only television channel, has its headquarters in Blantyre. The Supreme Court is also located here.

The city also houses the College Of Medicine, The Malawi Polytechnic and the Kamuzu College of Nursing, constituent colleges of the University of Malawi, located along the Chipembere highway. And the State house was initially situated in Namiwawa, a suburban area about 4 kilometres from Blantyre city centre before it was moved to the capital, Lilongwe along with the House of Parliament.


The World Bank’s “1994 World Development Report” ranks Malawi in the bottom ten countries in terms of per capita income. In terms of standard of living as measured by the Human Development Index, UNDP’s “1994 Human Development Report” ranks Malawi as the 157th out of 173 countries. In fact, Malawi’s social indicators compare unfavourably with most of Sub-Sahara countries.

Recent studies on poverty in Malawi, notably the “Malawi Growth Through Poverty Reduction” and the “Situation Analysis of Poverty in Malawi (SAPM)” have shown that poverty in Malawi is a pervasive problem, affecting about 60% of the population. In particular, rural and urban poverty is estimated at 60% and 65% respectively. The evidence of the pervasiveness of poverty in Malawi is reflected in the country’s social indicators, some of which include:

High Mortality Rate:

According to the “1992 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey” (MDHS), infant mortality is estimated at 135 per 1000 live births, under-five mortality rate is 234 per 1000 live births and maternal mortality rate is estimated at 620 per 100,000 births. Life expectancy at birth i...

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