African Traditional Deliberative and Agonistic Democracy: A Maravi Perspective

Grivas M. Kayange


This essay traces elements of democracy in the history of African political thought, mainly in the Maravi Kingdom which once spanned the regions of present-day Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. Based on the study of Maravi history, language, and some published philosophical reflections on democracy, elements of both deliberative and agonistic democracy are demonstrably present in these traditions. These elements include consensus-building, democratic legitimisation of leaders (such as kings) and the capacity to tame agonism in the community. While some of the main studies on African traditional theory of democracy build on an exotic and exceptional conception of African culture as communitarian, this paper argues for using the model of moderate communitarianism as representative of African societies through the ages. On this view the understanding is that indigenous African political cultures accommodate both communitarian and individualistic elements independently of Western influences. It is the accommodation of these cultural elements as indigenous to Africa that allows democracy to flourish in various African settings.


Key words: democracy, Maravi kingship, communitarianism, consensus, agonism

Full Text:



Ake, C. 1990. The Case for Democracy. In The Carter Center: African Governance in the 1990s: Objectives, Reserves and Constraints. Atlanta: The Carter Center of Emory University.

Ake, C. 1990. Rethinking African Democracy. Journal of Democracy 2(1): 32-44.

Akintoye, S. n.d. The Democratic Foundations of Traditional Yoruba

Government. Retrieved from Accessed 16 December 2018.

Austin, J.L. 1962. How to do Things with Words. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Bradley, T. 2011. African perceptions of democracy. African Journal of Political Science and International Relations 5(11): 456-464.

Braugel, J. 2001. Chewa Traditional Religion. Zomba: Kachere.

Chakanza, J.C. 2000. Wisdom of the People: 2000 Chichewa proverbs.

Kachere Book no. 13. Blantyre: Christian Literature Assocation in


Chimakonam, J. 2016. The end of ubuntu or its beginning in MatolinoKwindingwi-Metz debate: An exercise in conversational philosophy. South African Journal of Philosophy 35(2): 224-234.

Dahl, R. 1971. Polyarchy: participation and opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Doorenspleet, R. 2000. Democratic Transitions: Exploring the Structural Sources of the Fourth Wave. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

Eboh, P. 1990. Is Western Democracy the Answer to the African Problem? In Philosophy and Democracy in Intercultural Perspective. Ed. Heinz Kimmerle. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Eze, M. 2008. What is African Communitarianism? Against consensus as a regulative ideal. South African Journal of Philosophy 27(4): 106-119.

Gyekye, K. 1992. Person and Community in African Thought. In In Person and Community: Ghanaian Philosophical Studies 1. Eds. Kwasi Wiredu and Kwame Gyekye. Washington DC: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, pp. 101-122.

Gyekye, K. 1997. Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical reflections of the African Experience. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gyekye, K. 2004. Beyond Cultures: Perceiving a Common Humanity. Accra: The Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Habermas, J. 1994. Three Normative Models of Democracy. In Democracy and Difference. Ed. S. Benhabib. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 21-30.

Huntington, S. 1993. The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs 72(3): 22-49.

Kayange, G. 2012. Modern African Nationalistic-Ideological Philosophy: Its Controversial Development in Malawi (1958-2012). African Philosophy 6: 16-30.

Kayange, G. 2018a. African philosophical foundation of a pneumatological controversy inside the church of central African presbyterian in Malawi. Filosofia Theoretica: Journal of African Philosophy, Culture and Religions 7(1): 79-100.

Kayange, G. 2018b. Rediscovering individual-based values in Ubuntu virtue ethics: Transforming corporate entities in post-colonial Africa. In An African Path to a Global Future. Ed. R. O. K lá. Washington: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, pp. 107-129.

Levitsky, S. and Way, L.A. 2001. Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Levitsky, S. and Way, L.A. 2002. The rise of competitive authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy 13(2): 51-65.

Lévy-Bruhl, L. 1985 [1910]. How natives think. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Matolino, B. and Kwindingwi, B. 2013. The end of ubuntu. South African Journal of Philosophy 32(2): 197-205.

Mbiti, J.S. 1969. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann.

McCracken, J. 2012. History of Malawi 1959-1966. New York: Boydell and Brewer.

Menkiti, I. 1984. Person and Community in African Traditional Thought. In African Philosophy: An Introduction. Ed. Richard Wright. Lanham: University Press of America, pp. 171-181.

Metz, T. 2012. Ethics in Africa and in Aristotle: some points of contrast. Phronimon 13(2): 99–117.

Metz, T. 2014. Just the beginning for ubuntu: reply to Matolino and Kwindingwi. South African Journal of Philosophy 33(1): 65-72.

Molefe, M. 2017. Critical Comments on Afrocommunitarianism: The Community versus Individual. Filosofia Theoretica: Journal of

African Philosophy, Culture and Religions 6(1): 1-22.

Mouffe, C. 2000. Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism. Vienna: Institute for Advanced Studies.

Mutharika, B. 2011. African Dream from Poverty to Prosperity. Limbe: The Gurdian Publications.

Nthara, S. 1973. The History the Chewa. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH.

Nyerere, J. 2000 [1966]. Leaders must not be Masters. In African

Philosophy: An Anthology. Ed. E.C. Eze. Malden: Blackwell

Publishers, pp. 77-80.

Offor, F. 2006. Democracy as an issue in African philosophy. In Core Issues in African Philosophy. Ed. Olusegun Oladipo. Ibadan: Hope Publications.

Oluwole, S.B. 2003. Democracy and Indigenous Governance: The Nigerian Experience. In Philosophy, Democracy and Responsible Governance in Africa. Ed. J. Obi Oguejiofor. Münster: LIT Verlag, pp. 419-430.

Phiri, D. 1975. Malawians to remember: Charles Chidongo Chinula. Blantyre: Christian Literature Association in Malawi.

Phiri, D. 2004. History of Malawi: From earliest times to the year 1915. Blantyre: Christian Literature Association in Malawi.

Popper, Karl. 1945. The open society and its enemies. London: Routledge.

Przeworski, A. 2000. Democracy and development: Political institutions and well being in the world, 1950-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ramose, M.B. 1999. African Philosophy through Ubuntu. Harare: Mond Books.

Ramose, M.B. 2001. An African perspective on justice and race. Themes. Polylog, Centre for Justice and Reconciliation. Accessed October 10, 2018.

Ramose, M.B. 2003. The ethics of ubuntu. The African Philosophy Reader. Second edition. Eds. P.H. Coetzee and A.P.J. Roux. New York: Routledge, pp. 324-330.

Rawls, J. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Salami, K. 2006. The Democratic Structure of Yoruba Political-Cultural Heritage. Journal of Pan African Studies 1(6): 67-78.

Schumpeter, J. 1947. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Tambulasi, R. and Kayuni, H. 2005. Can African feet divorce Western shoes? The Case of „Ubuntu’ and democratic good governance in Malawi. Nordic Journal of African Studies 14(2): 147-161.

Tambulasi, R. and Kayuni, H. 2012. Ubuntu and corporate social

responsibility: the case of selected Malawian organizations. African Journal of Economic and Management Studies 3(1): 64-76.

Teffo, J. 2004. Democracy, Kinship, and Consensus: A South African Perspective. In A Companion to African Philosophy. Ed. Kwasi Wiredu. Malden: Blackwell, pp. 443-449.

Tempels, P. 1959. Bantu Philosophy. Paris: Presence Africaine.

Tutu, D. 1999. No Future without Forgiveness. New York: Random House.

Wamala, E. 2004. Government by Consensus: An Analysis of a Traditional Form of Democracy. In A Companion to African Philosophy. Ed. Kwasi Wiredu. Malden: Blackwell, pp. 435-442.

Wiredu, K. 1997. Democracy and Consensus in African Traditional Politics: A Plea for a Non-Party Policy. In Postcolonial African Philosophy: A Critical Reader. Ed. Emmaneul Eze. Oxford: Blackwell.

Young, I.M. 2010. Responsibility for Justice. New York: Oxford University Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.