THREE ARMS OF GOVERNMENT (OR FOUR, OR FIVE?)

 

In any democratic system we are supposed to have three arms of government: the legislature, which makes the laws and also keeps oversight of the executive, the judiciary which interprets the laws in any case of conflict, and the executive, which executes the laws. In many African countries the executive has overshadowed the other arms of government, which does happen in Malawi. The legislature eats out of the executive hand, being bought with privileges, bribes and illegal lucrative government contracts. The judiciary lets itself be bullied into submission to the executive (maybe they are also backhandedly allowed to take bribes, maybe the executive does not care, probably a combination of both). This means there is no opposition to the executive, which perform dismally and is corrupted top to bottom.

civil-society

With no opposition in government, the opposition moves to civil society and press (sometimes referred to as the fourth arm of government). The press can only expose, and does so pretty continuously. This to the chagrin of government, but otherwise it cannot really interfere. Civil society is a bit more difficult to deal with for government: they can and do appeal to international bodies like the UN commission for human rights, or some international judiciaries that Malawi has signed on to. This exposes the lack of patriotism in government, but otherwise it is again pretty toothless.

 

If the complex of government and its closely allied private sector cronies is the ruling class, then civil society and to a slightly lesser extend the press are middle class. They oppose the bad practices in government from a middle class vision. They cannot do otherwise simply because they are middle class. The middle class has a middle class vision.

But now, who represents the large majority of the population? The proletarians, in Malawi overwhelmingly smallholder farmers, with a few labourers. They have no representation, and do not form a block against the other powers: the ruling class and the middle class.

Now government people, often the President Himself, get very annoyed with the opposition they get from civil society and even more from the press. But, one would ask, why bother? The middle class in Malawi is very small, and the abysmal government policies do everything to keep it that way. With education so badly funded and supported, and the threat of draconian rises is school fees over every student’s head the next generation of middle class may well be even smaller than it is today, keeping the ruling class out of any threat to its stealing, lying and bullying.

If the ruling class were more cynical, and less vain, they would not bother to react to a middle class that due to its lack of size has no power to threaten the privileged position of the ruling class.

 

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