By Isaac Salima:
Senior Chief Mbwana under Themba Mbwana Chieftainship in Nkhata Bay has challenged President Peter Mutharika’s elevation of Group Village Head (GVH) Siyalimba to Sub- Traditional Authority, accusing the country’s First Citizen of flouting procedure.
Mutharika last month promoted Siyalimba who has been GVH since 1951.
Nkhata Bay District Commissioner (DC) Rodney Simwaka on January 25 2019 wrote Siyalimba informing him about the elevation.
“I am pleased to inform you that His Excellency the State President Peter Mutharika has elevated you to the position of Sub-Traditional Authority. In view of this development, you are asked to prepare a date for elevation ceremony and inform me accordingly,” the letter reads in part.
But the development has not gone down well with the Mbwana chieftainship, which, in 2016, recommended to Mutharika that either GVH Mundango or GVH Chikondo be elevated.
Suspicious of the development, Mbwana sent chairperson for the royal family Tryson Phali to the DC’s office to enquire about the development.
“I went to the DC’s office to get a copy of elevation letter from the President for our record but I was told that they did not have the letter at that moment because the communication had come through a WhatsApp message,” Phali said.
Mbwana Monday said, as custodian of the land, he was supposed to make a recommendation.
“I know that it is prerogative of the President to elevate a chief but that is conditional. In this case, how will he [Siyalimba] perform his duties without my blessing? Chiefs perform a lot of duties and one cannot freely operate in an environment where his superiors are not happy with him. In 2016, I recommended GVH Mundango and GVH Chikondo but there was no response. The elevation has come to me as a surprise,” Mbwana said.
He said they suspect that Siyalimba’s promotion was influenced by Democratic Progressive Party parliamentarian for the area (Nkhata Bay North] Ephraim Mganda Chiume who is the chief’s cousin.
Mbwana said they are now seeking legal action through lawyer William Chibwe.
In a brief interview, Chibwe of John Tennyson and Associates said they want to obtain an injunction stopping Siyalimba’s elevation.
Chiume, who confirmed his relationship with Siyalimba, denied having a hand in the chief’s elevation.
“These people maybe just don’t know; Siyalimba was recommended [to be elevated] by the late T/A Mbwana in 2002. And I have it on record that, in 2005, the T/A wrote the DC reminding him about the issue.
“In 2006, another follow-up letter was written by Mbwana to secretary for Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development on the same issue. So, I don’t understand when they say I influenced a decision to have Siyalimba elevated,” Chiume said.
Simwaka said he was surprised with Mbwana’s action since the President’s decision cannot be challenged.
“The Chiefs Act empowers the President to make elevations and the chief knows this. That is why, when we received a communication from the ministry about the elevation, we proceeded to inform him [Siyalimba] about the news. However, I don’t know that anybody is challenging the elevation and tell those people to come to my office,” Simwaka said.
Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho and Mutharika’s press secretary Mgeme Kalirani expressed ignorance on the matter.
The Chiefs Act says: “At the request of a chief, the President may, by writing under his hand, appoint any person to the office of Sub-Chief and may in such appointment or subsequently specify the boundaries of the area of jurisdiction of such Sub-Chief and may from time to time alter such boundaries.”
University of Malawi’s Chancellor College-based political and governance analysts Ernest Thindwa and Mustapha Hussein have since urged politicians to desist from politicising traditional institutions.
“Politicians tend to fulfil their personal agenda by interfering in traditional institutions. Much as the President has a prerogative but, certainly, those powers cannot be exercised exclusively.
“There is need for consultation because chieftaincy is a cultural position and custodians of that culture need to be consulted. When the President starts to appoint anybody to chieftaincy, it disturbs authority of that particular area,” Thindwa said.
Hussein said, before the President makes a decision to elevate a chief, “he is fed with information so the best way is to remove politics from traditional leadership.”
Chieftainship wrangles have been common in the country.
Among others, recently, angry communities in Traditional Authority (TA) Chekucheku sealed offices of Neno District Council demanding installation of Stranger Chekucheku as TA Chekucheku.
In Nkhotakota, succession wrangles have rocked T/A Kanyenda chieftainship as the family is yet to come up with a name of a person to take over from the chief who died in 2016.
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