Discursive Construction of Citizen Participation in Democratic Decentralisation Discourses in Malawi
This paper examines the discursive construction of citizen participation in democratic decentralisation discourses in Malawi. The aim is to understand how rural Malawians have appropriated the notion of citizen participation that is embodied in district development planning processes- a major plank of democratic decentralisations and, how this has influenced the ways in which they take up their positions in the formal participatory processes and the actual nature of citizen participation taking place. Drawing from a mixed methods study which employed a household survey and qualitative key informant interviews, this paper argues that the way village chiefs have been declaring participation and engaging communities to prepare in a particular way, has produced a particular discourse of participation that has set the platform for the ways rural citizens understand participation. As a result, communities appear to have internalised this discourse, so that the phenomenon of participation became one of voluntary work and contribution of voluntary resources for brick-driven projects; a limited conception that does not fully capture the notion of citizen voice, influence, monitoring, and evaluation that is evident in the official government decentralisation documents.
Keywords: Democratic Decentralisation, Participation, Discursive Power, Chiefs