The early days of the month of June (3rd and 4th 2017) saw the Malawi Deliberative Polling (DP) exercise take place in Nsanje District. The DP is an innovative citizens’consultative process that assesses the representative opinions of a population, both before and after it has had a good chance to thoroughly discuss challenges confronting their communities, and identifying appropriate solutions to them. The DP respondents in Malawi were from TA Ndamera (Upland) and TA Nyachikadza (low land). The DP exercise brought together a sample of 484 respondents, 254 respondents from TA Nyachikadza and 230 respondents from TA Ndamera. The event was graced by officials and traditional leaders including chiefs of the Traditional Authority (TA) Nyachikadza and Ndamera, officials from the Nsange District council, Ministry of Health, and Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA).  This Deliberative Polling (DP) exercise was facilitated by a team from Stanford University under the leadership of Prof. James Fishkin, Professor of Communication and Political science at Stanford University. These worked closely with the RAN Southern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab (RILab) team and the network plus team in Malawi led by Prof. Lekan Oyo Yusuf and Dr. Donald Makoka as well as the RAN research officer Christine Muhumuza as the RANSec representative on the activity.

Issues of Deliberation

Flooding is a common phenomenon in Nsanje district, the DP study area. In TA Nyachikadza for example, flooding occurs every year. The community is affected by flooding almost on an annual basis, but most of the time the floods are not life threatening. Additionally, the community is surrounded by the Shire River to the east and Ndindi Marsh to the West. When the Shire river floods, it takes its water into the Ndindi Marsh, and the Nyachikadza community gets seriously affected. Since the population lives in an isolated place (equivalent to an island), when the flood waters attack, people have to be rescued using canoes and motorized boats. Often, by the time the boats arrive, a significant number of people and property has been washed away.

Serious flooding occurred in 1989, then 1997; 2001; and the most recent floods of 2015 were the worst. Flooding is becoming a more frequent hazard because of the high siltation of the Shire River. Following the floods of 1997, the Government of Malawi declared TA Nyachikadza a flood-prone area and prohibited any individual from establishing a settlement in the area.  The community members however objected this decision and argued that they were not adequately consulted by the government to inform taking of such a decision. There are a number of ways in which flooding in TA Nyachikadza affects the community in TA Ndamera (upland). These include:

  • When it floods people from Nyachikadza relocate to make-shift camps, located in primary schools in TA Ndamera, thereby interrupting classes for weeks.
  • When they temporarily relocate to Ndamera, there are always serious problems with WASH facilities, leading to outbreaks of cholera and other associated diseases, which affect members of both communities.
  • When they temporarily relocate, there is great environmental damage, as people cut down trees to make temporary homes.
  • Additionally, there is usually an increase in crime, especially people stealing livestock as a result of relocation (as Nsanje is one of the leading livestock districts of Malawi).
  • There is a high risk of increased spread of HIV during the relocations.
  • The authority of traditional leaders gets disrupted, as members of different communities under the different leadership authorities ‘fuse’ and live together.

Therefore, the DP policy options in Malawi were categorized into three main themes namely; relocation and settlement, reduced vulnerability in the existing communities and population pressure, gender and social services. The event started with training of moderators, a pre-DP survey which was followed by the actual DP exercise and later the post DP survey to the same population. Below are some of the pictures from this exercise.