07:36 pm - Monday 19 November 2018

Chiefs do we need them?

By Amalawi - Wed Apr 17, 8:13 am

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Malawi: Today’s chiefs are repulsively being manipulated by politicians and African governments to such an extent that their role is compromised and in some cases not clearly defined. No wonder throughout the world, commoners are questioning the powers of traditional leaders who have duped their subjects that they are chosen by the gods to govern over mortals.

Understandably with the coming of modern institutions of leadership to places like Africa, traditional leadership is not what it used to be. So according to chiefs the same reverence they enjoyed in olden days would be akin to calling for the reintroduction of high priests and rain-makers of the past.

Modern leadership with its emphasis on transparency, rule of law, elections and collective governance, modern courts and Westernisation have made chiefs largely irrelevant.
Though many traditional leaders know this they are still upholding traditions that are fading to justify their relevance in a society that is questioning why we should keep these demigods who care more for their own position, power and wealth than for the subjects they dominate.

Maybe if they were accountable, we would let them keep their titles and redefine their roles to suit modern structures that usually exempt or keep them at the peripheral.

Chiefs in Malawi

Chiefs in Malawi

Apart from their leadership being irrelevant, in Malawi, many chiefs are acting as agents of ancestral worship by keeping some traditional ceremonies that are an affront on the Christian nation tag that missionaries rightly outlawed as paganism.
Some non-governmental orgnasations (NGOs) have also correctly identified chiefs as proponents of sexist’s practises that marginalised women explaining the cruel fact why we rarely have women as chiefs even though they might be in line of succession.

Women in Africa remain subjugated because the so-called customs usually upheld by traditional leaders like chiefs are chauvinistic despite the fact that the womenfolk remain pivotal in raising family which is the smallest unit of any society.

Malawian chiefs should keenly follow the debate in Swaziland where commoners are questioning the significance one of last absolute monarchies in Africa whose relevance is more decorative than progressive.

Recently, thousands of Swazis have been involved in running battles with police demonstrating their disapproval of King Mswati 111 and what they have rightly fingered as rampant corruption in the country.

The demonstrations, held in a number of Swazi cities and rural areas as part of the second country-wide Global Week of Action should be a wake-up call for traditional leaders in Malawi whose only claim to power is some father, uncle or grandfather who was undemocratically accorded leadership.
To show their disapproval of the king, tens of thousands of activists across the country turned out for the march where images of the king were burned. Police responded swiftly and, in some cases, violently.
Even Swazis in the Diaspora who should know better because they have been to civilised societies which are against one man becoming too powerful reportedly held parallel protests in Europe.
In Swaziland where the king shares power with his mother, the king is almost infallible with political parties remaining officially banned in the country.
Many Swazis and critics of the African monarchy have noted that despite the King’s excesses in both wealth and power, Swaziland is among the poorest nations in Africa. Unemployment in Swaziland has reached an estimated 40 percent, and some 70 percent of Swazis live on less than US$1 a day. The cash-strapped country is considering a US$355 million loan from South Africa later this year. Despite this, the king has been accused of siphoning away public funds. His net worth is estimated at US$100 million while his trusteeship may be as large as US$10 billion.
Some pro-chief proponents argue that for cultural reasons, traditional institutions provide some stability for tribes and act as custodians of cultural heritage that is greatly being threatened by Westernisation.

However, since most African chiefs are well cultured in western ways including politics, the lure to get in the way in modern state governance occurs ever so frequently raising the questions of what boundaries should these traditional leaders consider when it comes to traditional and modern leadership.
The main argument used why we do not need chiefs and kings is that they unlike elected political leaders, are not accountable to anyone: the institutions lack the system of checks and balances demanded by modern day systems of governance.

Generally, they also have no economic or administrative capacity to provide services or develop the communities they are supposed to govern.

But they can play a vital role in society and are still held in high regard in rural communities with high level of illiteracy and minimal understanding of modern leadership.

My suggestion is that traditional systems of government be either modernised or abolished.

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