Deliberation, Difference and Democratic Practice in Malawi
Fletcher O. Ziwoya
University of Nebraska at Kearney, US
About Fletcher O.
Fletcher Ziwoya is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. His research interests are in the area of grassroots democratic participation especially in non-Western settings. His work in this area includes a book chapter he co-authored on the Australian Citizens’ Parliament featured in “The Australian Citizens’ Parliament and the Future of Deliberative Democracy” published by Penn State University Press.
Since the introduction of multiparty politics in Malawi in 1994, grassroots communities have been engaged in dialogue on issues affecting democratic and national development processes in the country. This paper employs Martin Heidegger’s hermeneutics and James Paul Gee’s discourse analysis to examine community views regarding public deliberation as a form of political participation in Malawi. Heideggerian hermeneutics provides a foundation for Hans-Gorg Gadamer’s principles of philosophical hermeneutics that are limited to historicism, non-authorial intention, and the fusion of horizons. This study adopted Heideggarian phenomenology of Dasein (“being there”) as an interpretive framework to analyze interview text. This paper argues that the main issue for the grassroots communities in Malawi goes beyond democratic participation. Central to the interpretation of the communal dialogue is an understanding of the socio-cultural, economic and political atmosphere within which the Malawian grassroots social actors perform. As a way of understanding how citizens at the grassroots frame democratic participation in a volatile atmosphere, a study was conducted involving 30 citizens ranging from local villagers to government officials in select local councils in Malawi. This paper documents the analysis of citizen sentiments regarding some democratization problems facing local councils and their solutions. The study was guided by three main research questions: 1) What does civic participation mean for the citizens? 2) How do the citizens define social problems? 3) What needed to be done to facilitate effective participation by citizens?