Chiefs in the Trenches. Politics of Tradition and Citizenship n the Lake Chilwa Basin, Southern Malawi


(di Seamus Murphy)  (abstract)



The following case studies, recorded during 14 months of field work in the Lake Chilwa Basin in Southern Malawi, illustrate some of the conflicts and tensions unfolding between groups of migrant and local fishers and farmers. While significant rises in conflicts have led in some instances to violent protests, riots and fatal shootings, there is a need to investigate how successful current management systems are in representing the lake’s predominant migrant populations. This paper takes a critical look at the historical developments leading up to the lake’s current fishery management framework and surrounding local governance structures. Reflecting on colonial and post-colonial market-driven and administrative legislation, two recent policy changes are examined, including the Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1997 and the Local Governance Act of 1998. Specifically, while post-democratic policies have been promoted under populist agendas, two important questions remain: how have chiefs’ historical and contemporary roles contributed to the redefining of property-rights and the recent rise in contradictory conflicts, and how have chiefs’ roles in local governance contributed to what some caution over Malawi’s processes of ‘re-proletarianization’? Considering regionally varying developments in local governance in Southern Malawi, this paper concludes by calling for both moral and political economy perspectives in future analyses of autochthony in natural resource management.

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