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Chieftaincy wrangles in focus

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When Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, became the first president of independent Malawi, himself a keen follower of Chewa history and family tree, and a heroic fighter of the ‘stupid’ federation, decided to correct the ‘historical accident’ by reestablishing the Kaomba chieftaincy in 1974.

Oral history from Kamuzu’s close living relative in Chiwengo has it that Dr Banda’s parents, Chifensanga Mphonongo Banda and Kupingani Chiwengo Phiri, had themselves fallen victim to Jumbe/Mwase slave trade in the 1890s and they were taken to, most likely, Jumbe Mwenya Heri’s (1895-1896) camp in Nkhotakota.

The story has it that in the middle of the night the two decided to escape from the slave camp and trek back to Mtunthama, Kasungu. This, according to the source, was how they got married. They called their first son ‘Kamnkwala’. This name was later changed by Dr Banda to ‘Kamuzu’ and his baby sister became ‘Chatinkha’. Later, she became ‘Jenala’ Banda. “Did this story influence Kamuzu’s decision on Mwase’s chieftaincy when he became president?” Some have asked me whenever I narrate this anecdotal story. “I have no idea. These events happened in 1974 when I was too young to know.” I always tell them. All I know now is that the current sitting Kaomba, Dr Elia Elisha Ngalande Phiri, is Kaomba number nine (9). He has been chief since 1974.

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Dear reader, events that surrounded the power transition between Mwase Kasungu and Kaomba under the influence of Dr Banda, remains a topic for another day. Suffice to say that one Group Village Headman who is under Kaomba today is Suza. His village is situated about five kilometres North of Kasungu Municipality on the road to Mzimba. Suza’s peers in Kaomba’s jurisdiction are, among others, Gogode, Chisazima, Mankhaka, Kalikwembe and Mduka. Suza has been Kaomba’s subject as a group-village headman for some time. Unlike Kaomba and the five chiefs mentioned above, Chewa history in this area indicates that Suza did not exist as a ‘chief’ in government records in the 1950s. This shows that he is a new GVH who was apportioned land by Kaomba. Surprisingly, recently, the government made Suza Sub-Traditional Authority from the blues. The ‘big’ five (Gogode, Chisazima, Mankhaka, Kalikwembe and Mduka), rejected him from the beginning. They challenged the appointment in court. The court is yet to give a verdict on the matter.

Five things are of concern to me. First, the government affected Suza’s appointment although Senior Chief Kaomba did not authorise it. Secondly, when the wrangle erupted, Suza’s peers took the matter to court for resolution.

However, the government has allegedly implemented the appointment before the court pronounces itself on the matter.

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Thirdly, Government has allegedly enthroned Suza as Sub-Traditional Authority despite a written protest from Kaomba and GVH’s Gogode, Chisazima, Mankhaka, Kalikwembe and Mduka. The DC allegedly conducted the enthronement without informing or inviting Kaomba.

Fourthly, although in his ‘authority’ as ‘STA,’ Suza has no powers, under the law, to appoint junior chiefs and, let alone, create land boundaries for his ‘subjects’ without the authority of the sitting TA, he is allegedly currently discharging these duties in total defiance of the law. Fifthly, although tempers are rising, public officials in the district seem to pay little attention to complainants. Those close to the matter allege that partisan politics are at play.

Two questions: does the law matter in the way chiefs’ wrangles are sorted in Malawi? There are two pillars of the popular Chakwera Super HI5: Uniting Malawians and Promoting the Rule of Law. Are we seeing forces of unity and rule of law at play in this Kasungu matter? Your guess is as good as mine. Politics cannot be ruled out here. Let’s wait and see!

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