Non-governmental organisations and the politics of mining law review in Malawi: subjectivities and bifurcated loyalties
Zuka, Sane Pashane
This thesis examines the factors and relationships that impacted Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Malawi in shaping the review of the 1981 Mines and Mineral Act (MMA). In response to public outcry against environmental harm generated by mining activities, the Government of Malawi reviewed the 1981 MMA between 2007 and 2018, during which a group of NGOs in the country positioned themselves as championing the interests of the communities living within the mining sites. The review of any law is a political process among policymaking agents holding different interests, ideologies, and power, which takes different forms under different institutional contexts. Employing a qualitative research approach (drawing from key informant interviews, focus group discussions, document analysis and participant observation), and mobilising the analytical frameworks of environmentality and historical institutionalism, this thesis contributes to the theoretical debates relating to the (in)ability of NGOs to shape public policy towards the interests of marginalised communities. Fieldwork for this study was conducted in Karonga and Rumphi, Malawi’s only districts where coal was mined during the period of this study. The key argument of this study is that NGOs’ involvement in the technocratic processes of reviewing the 1981 MMA resulted into NGOs’ subjectivities into government and international donors’ rationalities of mining governance. Rather than addressing how environmental harm was negatively impacting the local communities’ ecological environment, livelihoods and health, the reviewed Act advanced technocratic solutions that commodified environmental harms as goods for monetary compensation. The study highlights how the state and international donors controlled the institutional channels that guided the review of the Act, and that NGOs’ financial dependence on international donors, combined with their competition for a seat in the national forums governing the extractives, resulted in NGO bifurcated loyalties between the local communities on one hand and the state and international donors on the other. Thus, this thesis explains how the state in Malawi was not only confronted by the NGOs, but also how the NGOs were themselves variously co-opted into the dominant structures of power. This thesis, therefore, questions the conventional argument on NGO empowerment agenda by demonstrating how technocratic processes of policymaking within hegemonic structures produces new political subjects that (re)construct agendas along the interests of powerful actors.