In Malawi, as in most of sub-Saharan Africa, the under-provision of basic public goods is a key factor in the persistence of widespread poverty, while public goods’ provision is strongly related to patterns of local governance. But exactly which local governance institutions are associated with better or worse provision? This paper explores that question, drawing on fieldwork carried out in 2009 and the authors’ previous studies on political and social change in Malawi.
It draws on evidence from three contrasting urban research sites concerning public goods’ provision in four particular fields, and assembles an account of changes in the proximate determinants of the adequacy of provision over three major periods of Malawi’s political history. The proximate variables identified are: the strength of the ‘sanctions regime’; the presence or absence of cohesive communities capable of sustaining collective action; and the extent to which the relevant actors and agencies coordinate their activities.