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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2008  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 74-86

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


Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape, P/Bag X17, Bellville 7535, Republic of South Africa, South Africa

Correspondence Address:
Mafaniso Hara
Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape, P/Bag X17, Bellville 7535, Republic of South Africa
South Africa
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


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To establish 'participatory' fisheries management, in 1993 Malawi's Fisheries Department constituted elected Beach Village Committees (BVCs) with village headmen as ex-officio members. But, struggles between elected BVC members and traditional authorities (TAs) over benefits from fisheries undermined the authority of elected members. Legal ambiguity on who should make decisions facilitated the takeover by headmen. Further, the BVC was elected by the population as a whole, representing more than just the fishers, whom these committees were designed to control. This resulted in the sabotaging of the BVCs activities by the fishers. Under these conditions, representing the whole population undermined the effec­tiveness of the BVCs. In 1998, decentralisation reforms placed 'community inclusion' in fisheries man­agement under Village Development Committees (VDCs), whose members would be appointed by elected District Assemblies (DAs). This reform is likely to unleash a struggle over BVC-VDC relations. But, different visions of decentralisation, shared mistrust of local democracy, higher level battles for au­thority among the government, politicians and TAs stalled the decentralisation process. Donors support­ing these reforms were also mistrustful of representative local institutions. The institutions chosen and recognised by the government under donor pressure are the sites of political struggles in which represen­tation, a sense of belonging and downward accountability are losing ground.


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