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Sunday, 20 April 2008

Insights from Chiefs (Chief Chiwala)

Chief Chiwala reflects the frustration of many chiefs (and those interested in Zambia's development) when he noted the current irrelevance of the House of Chiefs:

"This is a constitutional office and discusses national issues. We want to know why there is no response to our resolutions otherwise what is our contribution to national issues ?"
No one actually knows the current role of the House of Chiefs. We know that it was created by Kaunda to keep chiefs quiet. Now with Zambia having resumed the democratic path, the chiefs are now rightly asking whether they are providing value for money to the tax payer. Its interesting that it is the chiefs who are asking these questions. Many people am sure think chiefs simply enjoy to sit tight and enjoy the money. There's no doubt, that with the National Constitutional Conference currently sitting, with chiefs heavily represented, they now sense that the time is right to redefine the role of the House of Chiefs.

Although the initial calls are based on the desire for independence, it strikes me that the problem is one of a clear rationale for a House of Chiefs, rather than the degree of independence it should have. We need to first define what it is there for, before we can decide the appropriate institutional framework. Depending on the "rationale", we have three basic options : a) do-nothing - keep the House of Chiefs in its current state; b) abolish the House of Chiefs, or: c) reform. Option (a) is clearly not sustainable given its poor value for money. I have not heard a compelling reason for Option (b) within the existing constitutional framework. Option (c) is attractive, but the national goals again need to drive the sub-options.

My current view is that what Zambia is missing is a holistic approach to development. It is missing a view of development that is wholly integrated from the bottom up. Rather than superimposing institutions on people, we need to ensure the institutions reflect the local aspirations of the people. This calls for national institutions to mirror local institutions. Just as there is a stronger role of traditional leadership at the bottom, there is also need for these local institutions to be adequately mirrored at the national level. We can do this either through an independent traditional body that directly advises Parliament on development matters or an expanded stronger second chamber, where chiefs are strongly represented, that directly keeps Parliament in check. Politically, the former would be easier to implement.


  1. Cho,

    I was thinking about Henry Kyambalesa's focus on Provinces, to decentralize power, and a possible role for traditional leadership.

    I was thinking of the traditional (colonially enforced) hierarchy of:

    Paramount Chief
    Senior Chief

    What if the headmen had the role of Local Councillor? They would need to have some management education for the job. There could be special management colleges for them, which could overlap with existing management colleges/business schools.

    Headmen would already be elected by their own people, so this would not have the drawbacks of an inherited position. They could be replaced in case of incompetence or fraud.

    The number of headmen would be limited by the size of their population (an X number per 30,000 people, for instance).


    The headman would receive revenues directly from an independent ZRA (external check) and would be tasked to manage and direct development in his location.

    There could be a local royal tax, which would be paid up to the chief. The Chief would pay a small percentage of that to the Senior Chief. The Senior Chief would pay a small percentage of that to the Paramount Chief.

    This way, they would become financially independent from central government.


    A system based on this model, could be based around Provinces (see Henry Kyambalesa's work on provinces). There would be a Bemba Province, a Chewa Province, a Tonga Province, a Lozi Province, etc.

    With international cooperation, these Provinces could be rationalized across present day (colonial era) borders.

    The focus on elected headmen (as opposed to inherited positions) would ensure that anyone not belonging to the major group of the area would still receive all the financial support, irrespective of their ethnic/tribal background.

    The benefit would be that:

    - Education could take place in local languages right up to college
    - The inherent legitimacy of central government (paramount chief)
    - Stronger local identity
    - More social stability


    The role of federal government would be national defense, international relationships, federal highways, and the coordination of national initiatives. (To name a few.)


    The human and civil rights, including protection against discrimination, would be laid down in a federally active Bill Of Rights, which must be enforced by the headmen and the courts (external check). It should be illegal for anyone, including a paramount chief, to direct a headman to act against the bill of rights.

  2. Cho,

    What do you make of this model? It would fuse traditional leadership and local government.

    Too fascist? :) Too much power going to traditional leadership?

    However, it does address the issue of nationalism, people being divided by borders, etc.

  3. Mrk,


    I think the concept of “elected headmen” is slightly problematic. How would it work? Who will they stand against? You could actually argue that this devalues the very institution you are trying to involve in development. Hereditary aspect is part and parcel of many local traditions.

    On the question of education, we are in agreement. I think any locally development model must have some educational element. This is not new. During colonialism many of the treasuries where run by educated nephews and brothers of chiefs. The emergence of the local boma class is indeed attributed to them.


    I am unsure about the local royal tax. Will this be a tax on top of other local taxes? What about local corruption? How would that be handled?

    The other issue relates to your proposal for cumulative contributions from chiefs, senior chiefs and through to the Paramount Chief. What will be the role of the Senior Chiefs? And what about paramount chiefs? If they will get all this money…what will they do with it?


    Your proposal for a system based on tribes is interesting. But what will you do about those Zambians who associate with place rather than tribe? For example people along the line of rail and in copper belt? Incidentally you need to explain where urban areas fit in into your model.

    An issue which cannot be ignored is whether by moving towards you framework for government, Zambia might socially disintegrate. Could this deepen social divides e.g. strong parties in places where leaders herald from? Also if other areas become richer than others….what then?

    We must remember the Barotse Agreement problem – moving towards that framework could form the basis for cessation for them. Would it not?

    Federal Government

    Tackling regional inequalities presumably has to be top of the pile.


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