Chieftaincy wrangles that rose in gory ways


In most traditions in Africa, if not all, chiefs are said to be custodians of culture. They are revered members of society who must also complement a government’s development projects.

Chiefs are, essentially, supposed to be servants of the people. At least, that is the traditional understanding that has stood through generations and generations.

But why should someone whose duty is to serve people fight for the position which is inherited through blood? This is a question which, up to now, has not been sufficiently and properly answered.


It is rare to witness smooth successions of chieftaincies almost everywhere in the country. A few that are so organised that any attempt to circumvent the system can seldom succeed have also had their fair share of wrangles before the customary laws finally take charge.

At various levels of senior chieftaincies— Paramount Chief, Traditional Authority (T/A) and Sub-Traditional Authority (STA)— wrangles erupt when it comes to succession.

The common example is the chieftaincy wrangles between the Joseph Bongololo camp and Mtima Gondwe of Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe in Rumphi.


This is an important chieftaincy because it is about a leader of an anthropological group. He wields so much power that even governments want to be aligned with him.

The Bongololo camp says the Chikulamayembe chieftaincy rotates in families and that now it is the turn of Joseph.

But Mtima Gondwe, who is the son of the late Paramount Chief Walter Gondwe, says he has to inherit the chieftaincy from his father.

At one of the cultural festivals of Mkuramchere of Senior Chief Mwankhunikira, Mtima Gondwe, who by then had not been installed at Themba la Mathemba Chikulamayembe, said Joseph is not from the royal family to inherit the Chikulamayembe chieftaincy.

“Tell them [Bongololo camp] that they are not from the royal family to claim this chieftaincy. I have been acting chief Chikulamayembe for eight years even before my father died,” Mtima Gondwe said.

The matter went to court but the court ruled that two camps should seat down and choose a successor amicably. Courts have always resisted the temptation to meddle into chieftaincy affairs and often refer the parties at variance to their own laid-down customs for succession.

But it does not always work and the courts are still forced to come in and interpret what should have been straightforward cases.

Regarding the Chikulamayembe chieftaincy wrangle, the directive by the court that the matter should resolved among the concerned families seemed to further polarise the saga.

The families could not agree who could be their next king.

But in the thick of things, Malawians witnessed both camps choosing their own Themba la Mathemba—Mtima Gondwe and Joseph Bongololo Gondwe.


Further drama ensued when Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Ben Phiri, installed Mtima Gondwe as Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe at Senior Chief’s Mwankhunikira headquarters within Rumphi District.

There was chaos at Themba la Mathemba Chikulamayembe headquarters at Bolero on the day as some communities torched the chief’s office, some houses and shops at the trading centre.

There were bloody clashes and insecurity reached bad levels in the area despite that police officers were deployed to calm the situation.

The Gonapamuhanya Cultural Festival of the Tumbuka people failed to take place despite that preparations have reached advanced levels.

Later, the Bongololo Gondwe camp, through their lawyer Michael Goba Chipeta, challenged the installation of Mtima Gondwe as Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe in court.

“I have received instructions from my client that there were so many anomalies which could not allow the ministry installing Mtima Gondwe. So we are challenging the installation,” Chipeta once said.

But the court threw out the application of the Bongololo camp that the installation that happened, of Mtima, should be nullified as the matter continues in court.

The case continues on Jun 24 2020.

The security at Bolero is still not guaranteed as some people, especially from the Bongololo camp, claim that they were beaten by police officers for unknown reasons.

The victims recently petitioned President Peter Mutharika to instruct Police Inspector General Duncan Mwapasa to transfer Rumphi Police Officer-in-charge Ulemu Kaluwa.

They claim he had failed to address security issues and that police officers brutalised them.

In Mzimba District, two families are also fighting for the crown of Inkosi Mzikubola.

In Nkhata Bay district Traditional Authority Mankhambira chieftaincy wrangles have stayed for over 10 years.

The two camps, which are fighting for the chieftaincy, reached the extent of threatening bloodshed if one of them is installed.

In the same district, families fought for eleven years on Traditional Authority Kabunduli chieftaincy wrangles. The chief was later installed in 2018.

Social commentator Moses Mkandawire says such wrangles contribute to stagnated development in the affected areas.

“If leaders are fighting, communities suffer. Development cannot work in an area where there are misunderstandings. Therefore, we need to find lasting solutions to such conflicts,” Mkandawire said.

But responsible minister Phiri said during the installation of Mtima Gondwe as Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe that government would wish there should be smooth succession of chieftaincies, arguing this also helps the smooth succession of development projects.

These are just examples of chieftaincy wrangles for ‘big’ chiefs. What about wrangles that happen at Group Village Head and Village Head levels?

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