Saturday, June 30, 2012

The role of Chiefs in a democracy: Looking ahead to 2014

Chiefs have been dubbed as the most respected office in Malawi by some commentators, yet time and again the office has let down Malawians by partaking in partisan politics and being used by politicians.

Kamuzu Banda used the chiefs to spread his one party ideals Muluzi also used the chiefs to advanced his yellow ideals but the chief’s political prostitution hit hard during the Bingu wa Mutharika era where they were drafted in to defend controversial propositions some beyond the chiefs understanding.

The most recent gaffe the chiefs have dabbled in is when they unanimously echoed Mutharika anti-devaluation stance following the luncheons the men of the robe had with the late president. 

Chiefs are essential in implementing many programs at the grassroots level, with the upcoming 2014 election chiefs will be needed in civic education exercise, voter verification, helping to curb violence, just to mention but a few. 

With the chiefs dabbling in politics will they not negatively impact the process? What should happen to ensure that the chiefs serve their role professionally?  

Chancellor College’s Associate Professor, Mustafa Hussein says it’s difficult to bring democracy to an institution that is assumed undemocratically by way of heredity. He however emphasized the need for such an office to be democratic.

“Traditional Leadership is provided for in Malawi in the name of the Chiefs Act as such I feel chiefs should play a role in enhancing democracy by being accountable, avoiding corruption and avoiding political manipulation.”

Hussein called for a review of the Chiefs Act to include stipulations that Cleary speak about chiefs and their relationship with politicians and ways of enforcing procedures in case chiefs do not abide by the stipulations.
Dr Blessings Chinsinga who used to argue for chiefs has considerably reconsidered his stance and is now a big critic of the chiefs, in one of his writings Chinsinga says chiefs are a confusing office as they are listed as very corrupt and yet most trusted by Malawians.

Chinsinga says chiefs breach people’s trust In search of short term self-aggrandizement. He listed the chief’s support of Bakili Muluzi’s Third Term bid and Chiefs coming out in support of Peter Mutharika during the DPP rule. Chinsinga wonders how all chiefs in the country suddenly have one view on a matter.

He also trashed the defence the chiefs use saying they work with the government of the day saying that is an abuse of the term because everyone is entitles to work with the government of the day but that does not mean forfeiting constructive approaches to issues.

Chinsinga pointed out that the Chiefs Act empowers the Chief Political Officer to do away with chiefs he deems irrelevant a thing that traps the chiefs into self-censorship. 

Human rights activist, Billy Mayaya also called for a review of the Chiefs Act to repeal some things that are not in tandem with Malawi’s democracy and to bring in changes that enhance transparency, accountability, inclusiveness tolerance equity and equality

“Chiefs need to internalise values and principles of democracy in order to be at the forefront of a dynamic- not a static-institution that respects protects and fulfills the rights of all subjects irrespective of gender creed or political orientation,” said Mayaya.
For a chiefly perspective, Weekend Nation spoke to GVH Ngolowera from Kwa Golden, T/A Chikumbu in Mulanje. We asked the chief what should happen for them to avoid political manipulation.
“Yes, Chiefs are like parents, they should be impartial and should oversee everyone regardless of their political party. If chiefs are to be impartial, I think they should not be allowed to comment on political affairs or participate in political campaigns and instead just listen to all views spoken by politicians and subjects,” said Ngolowera.
GVH Ngolowera

Hussein echoed Ngolowera’s sentiments and added that chiefs should realize that their institution is one of the most respected and thus they should represent all interests of all by helping democracy flourish.
As 2014 comes around, chiefs will be the target of politicians looking to use the chief’s traditional popularity for electoral gains, chiefs will be looking to the various politicians, especially the highest bidder for a pay-off in exchange for a hand in selling the politicians to the people, until the Chiefs Act or some law comes in this is how things will be.

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