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The right to development, the quality of rural life, and the perfomance of legislative duties during Malawi's first five years of multiparty politics1

Garton Kamchedzera2 and Chikosa Ulendo Banda3

The Faculty of Law, University of Malawi

SARPN acknowledges the University of Malawi as the source of this document.
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The quality of life is a useful indicator of a country's state of human development. Accordingly, Malawi's Constitution requires the state actively to promote the welfare of the people of Malawi through policies and legislation.4 Although macro-indicators can indicate the level of general well-being in a country, the quality of rural life may be conflated. Levels of human development and well-being in rural areas are generally poorer than standards of life in urban areas.5 Malawi's Constitution hence stresses that "rural standards of living" must be recognised as "a key indicator of the success of Government policies"6.

The Government however has not issued any report to account for its performance of the obligation to enhance the quality of rural life. To issue such a report would be a step of good governance. As Sunstein has demanded, [d]emocratic governments should produce an annual "quality of life report", designed to measure their performance in producing good lives for their citizens."7 This paper is a contribution towards independent evaluation of the performance of the state in carrying out its obligations to meet the human rights of people living in rural areas.

The paper is based on research conducted in 2001 by the authors. The aim of the research was to establish an indication of the performance of state legislative obligations in the improvement of the quality of rural life in Malawi. The research focused on legislation passed during the first five years of Malawi's multiparty politics, 1994-1999. Legislation was the focus of the research because the law has a claim to normative regulation, implying that it can be used as a prescriptive and facilitative instrument for development. The evaluation of the quality of life by rural communities however occurred as of at the time of the research, two years into the second five years of multiparty politics.

The paper is in six parts of which this introduction is the first. The second notes that Malawi's Constitution was intended to be within liberal democratic paradigm and underlines the dangers of contract doctrine regarding rural life. The third part examines several methods to measure well-being and advocates a human rights perspective for assessing well being. The fourth part describes the human rights-based methodology that the research used. Some early findings are also presented in this part. The fifth part presents the results of the assessment well-being in the context of the right to development and the legislation that Parliament passed or failed to pass during 1994 to 1999. The analysis in that part is based on six community visits carried out in six districts in Malawi. The sixth part is the conclusion, which underlines two points. The first is that the enjoyment of the right to development for rural populations has generally dropped since the inception of multiparty politics. The second point is that the poor quality of rural life is partly due to the state's failure to perform its legislative duties, to exercise such duties properly, and the state's disregard of human rights principles in its legislative and programmatic roles.

  1. The authors are grateful to the European Union's Rule of Law Programme for providing the funds for the research upon which this paper is based and to the illustriously and wonderfully insightful research team that was flexible in work methods, styles and time: Martha Chauya, Phoebe Chikungwa, Faith Kampanje, Grace Lipato, Rex Mapira, Austin Msowoya, Chimwemwe Msukwa, Willam Nhlane, Yankho Samu, and Felix Tandwe. Mr J.T. Nkumbira completed the composition, as the team's very reliable driver. We are sincerely and speechlessly grateful to the communities we visited, for their warmth and interest in development. In one community, despite apparent poverty, the community members insisted that to treat the research team to a traditional meal specially prepared. We are also, of course, thankful to the European Union for providing the funds to enable the team have rich and life-changing experiences.

  2. PhD (Cantab), LLM (Warw), LLB (Hons) (Mlw); Associate Professor and Dean of Law, Faculty of Law, Chancellor College, University of Malawi; ,

  3. LLM (Essex), LLB (Hons) (Mlw); Lecturer in Law, Faculty of Law, Chancellor College, University of Malawi; ,

  4. Malawi Constitution, section 13(e).

  5. SAPES, UNDP, SADC, SADC Regional Human Development Report 2000 (Harare; SAPES Books, 2000), at 21.

  6. Malawi Constitution 1994, section 13(e).

  7. Cass R. Sunstein, "Well-Being and the State", Harvard Law Review [Vol. 107:1303 1994], (in this paper referred to as Sunstein:Well-being), at 1304.

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