Why Malawi’s Democracy Endures

Issue Date April 2024
Volume 35
Issue 2
Page Numbers 122–135
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While other African states experienced democratic erosion, Malawi has defied the odds and weathered attacks on its democracy, including those initiated by its powerful presidents. As a “hard place” for democracy — a poor country with a long authoritarian past and politically relevant ethnic divisions — what explains the resilience of Malawi’s democracy? The courts and civil society served as countervailing forces against democratic backsliding. Through legal challenges and popular mobilizations, they have countered attempts by presidents to consolidate power and extend their terms. Unfortunately for Malawians, these countervailing forces were likely facilitated by other negative conditions, namely economic distress and presidential unpopularity. Malawi’s experience, complemented by Zambia’s recent pivot away from authoritarianization, provides some optimism for those concerned about democratic backsliding in Africa by demonstrating the potential for resilience even in challenging contexts.

About the Author

Kim Yi Dionne is associate professor of political science at the University of California–Riverside. She is the author of Doomed Interventions: The Failure of Global Responses to AIDS in Africa (2018), editor-in-chief of the political science blog Good Authority, and cohost of the Ufahamu Africa podcast.

View all work by Kim Yi Dionne