Mulhako wa Alhomwe has come under fire for forcing some Yao chiefs to attend Lhomwe cultural grouping Muhlaho wa Alhomwe annual feast preparatory meetings in Blantyre.
Malawi News has established that, on September 28, some Yao chiefs from Machinga were forced by government and Mulhako wa Alhomwe officials to attend the preparatory meeting for the celebrations scheduled for tomorrow at Mulhako’s headquarters at Chonde in Mulanje.
The meeting took place without the blessing and knowledge of Yao Paramount Chief Kawinga.
However, Mulhako wa Alhomwe Chairperson Leston Mulli said he does not see anything wrong with Mulhako inviting some Yao chiefs to the meeting ahead of the cultural grouping’s annual celebrations.
“If the Yao heritage or anybody has a problem with what we did, let them contact me and not the media. Our chiefs have attended other cultural feasts and they do not change their tribes. So, what you are asking me is stupid and uncalled for,” Mulli said.
He then hung up on the reporter.
Some chiefs, who corroborated each other, confirmed in an interview they were forced to attend the indaba, adding they were made to pledge support for businesses of Mulhako wa Alhomwe in their respective areas.
“I was surprised to receive a phones call that government has sent a vehicle to pick me up to attend the meeting. It was so unexpected that I was afraid of going. But after seeing other chiefs in the vehicle, I relaxed. It felt like we are in a dictatorial system where we can be forced to do things against our will,” said the chief who opted for anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Another chief, who also did want to be mentioned, said, during the meeting, it was clear Mulhako wa Alhomwe wants to extend its territory into the Yao land by, among other things, elevating some Lhomwe chiefs who are found in Machinga, Balaka and Mangochi.
Senior Chief Chamba confirmed that he was invited to the meeting but he declined the invitation because he was not aware of its agenda.
“They invited me but I did not go because I was busy with other things. I could have gone to the meeting if it were the actual Mulhako cerebrations because, as chiefs, we need to visit each other. But I was not comfortable being invited to the meeting by politicians under a cultural grouping,” Chamba said.
However, this has angered Paramount Chief Kawinga and Chiwanja cha Ayao (CCA) grouping, who are demanding an explanation from Mulhako wa Alhomwe.
Kawinga said he was not informed that Mulhako wa Alhomwe wanted to meet some of the chiefs in his jurisdiction.
“Chiefs visit other places but it is bad for people to invite chiefs from other areas without the knowledge of their superiors. People who invited the chiefs could have at least realised that there is a paramount chief for Yaos in Malawi,” Kawinga said.
Although he is aware of the people who invited his chiefs, Kawinga said he is waiting for the chiefs who attended the meeting to officially report to him on what transpired during the meeting.
“Everyone knows that Mangochi, Machinga, Balaka and part of Zomba is occupied by more Yaos and they have their paramount Chief. If they want the chiefs they invited to be under them, they can take them. I don’t mind if I remain with three Yao chiefs in Machinga,” he said.
CCA National Chairperson Abdul Aziz Yassin accused government and the Lhomwe grouping of disrespecting Yao chiefs.
“What government and Mulhako wa Alhomwe did is an ambush on our chiefs. Our friends are using government’s connections and are taking advantage of poverty among the chiefs, hence threatening them to support them [Mulhako] against their will. This is bad and we demand an explanation as to why Mulhako wa Alhomwe decided to engage our chiefs without the knowledge of our paramount chief,” Yassin said.
As a Yao heritage, Yassin said they are in close working relationship with Mulhako wa Alhomwe; hence, he is shocked that the Lhomwe grouping decided to bypass the Yao and engage the Yao chiefs separately.
“What our friends are doing is to divide the country. We know chiefs are meant to work with government on developmental issues. But it is wrong to force them to support a particular tribe. I am told that the chiefs were also meant to be thanked for producing governing party Members of Parliament in their areas. This is all politics and we are not happy with this practice as a grouping,” he said.
In January last year, government managed to bulldoze its way to expand the Lhomwe belt into Machinga, a predominantly Yao territory, despite protests from two traditional authorities (T/ As), namely Chamba and Mlomba.
In 2017, the two chiefs told Malawi News that they had been asked to cede part of their respective areas so that some Lhomwe group village heads could be elevated to Sub-T/As
The Lhomwe ethnic grouping is arguably the most influential tribe in the country at the moment.
Their political power is embedded in the presidency and the influence of the Mulhako wa Alhomwe grouping.
Mulhako wa Alhomwe was formed in 2007 by former president late Bingu wa Mutharika to revitalise, preserve and promote culture and customs among different tribal groups in the country.
Members of this cultural grouping are spread across the country but are highly concentrated in Thyolo, Mulanje, Chiradzulu, Phalombe, Zomba and Blantyre.