What exactly is in Chikulamayembe


By Feston Malekezo

 On Saturday, save for unforeseen episode, all roads in the Northern Region will lead to Rumphi where government will install Joseph Bongololo Gondwe as the 13th Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe of the Tumbuka people.

The chieftaincy has been boxed in controversy since the death of Walter Mtima Gondwe— Themba la Mathemba Chikulamayembe the 12th in 2018.


According to information from historians, Chikulamayembe is a dynasty of chiefs established among the Tumbuka in the Nkhamanga-Henga area of northern Malawi.

Origins of Chikulamayembe date back to 1805 but lost power in the 1870s due to inter-tribal wars.

However, their dynasty was re-established in 1907.


It is said, initially, the chieftaincy was rotated among the royal families, a trend that stopped after it was conquered.

When the chieftaincy was re-established, the first Themba, who died in 1931, was succeeded by his son Ziwange, generally known as John Hardy Gondwe, who ruled from 1932 to until his death in 1977.

He was succeeded by his son Walter, who died in November 2018.

Subsequently, Walter’s son Mtima took over the reins as Themba.

This, however, did not go down well with some families of the dynasty.

Due to the misunderstanding, two camps emerged; one siding with Mtima and the other Bongololo.

Position of Mtima Gondwe

Since the death of his father, Mtima has been the acting Themba la Mathemba up until 2019 when he was crowned the Tumbuka chief by the previous administration.

From this point, drama and chaos has not been kind to this chieftaincy.

The erstwhile regime held that the Chikulamayembe chieftaincy is passed on from father to son; hence, government crowned Mtima Themba la Mathemba.

This is the same thrust held by the Mtima camp.

Position of Joseph Bongololo Gondwe

For Bongololo, the chieftaincy rotates among the 12 families that make up the dynasty.

And he holds that this was their time to welcome the chieftaincy’s attire in their family.

No compromise.

They stepped up and assembled all arsenal for the kingship’s fight.

Pointers that the chieftaincy will be stained with controversy beamed brightly when former Minister of Local Government Ben Phiri secretly crowned Mtima as the Tumbuka chief.

Bongololo and his empire were not happy.

Resultantly, chaos brewed up leading to, among others, the office of the paramount chief being set up in flames by unknown arsonists.

Afterwards, Bongololo took the matter to court with a prayer that the court nullifies the chieftaincy.

Court verdict

After a rigorous court process, the High Court in Mzuzu nullified the chieftaincy of Mtima, saying his appointment was “unlawful, unconstitutional and procedurally unfair”.

Judge Thomson Ligowe said Mtima, who was crowned the Tumbuka chief on October 23, 2019, would continue serving in an acting capacity while awaiting the country’s President to appoint another paramount chief.

Ligowe emphasised that the powers to appoint a paramount chief and senior chief are vested in the President as read in Section 4 of Chiefs Act.

The section says the President may by writing under his hand appoint to the office of paramount chief, senior chief or chief such person as he shall recognise as being entitled to such office.

“No person shall be recognised under this section unless the President is satisfied that such person is entitled to hold office under customary law,” reads the part of the section.

The court directed the divided families to sit down and choose for themselves their leader.

A commission of inquiry comprising members from both families and other nonaligned parties was set up and a rigorous search for a right heir began.

Status quo

The search ended when a communication from Ministry of Local Government dated March 10, 2022, which opened another can of worms, said President Lazarus Chakwera was satisfied that Bongololo should be the next heir to the Chikulamayembe throne.

Mtima feels betrayed.

He claims politics has infiltrated the process.

He alleges Chakwera invited him to Mzuzu State Lodge on March 2 where the Head of State assured him of the throne.

He further says after it turned out that the President appointed his counterpart, there have been offers such as a diplomatic mission, allegations the State House has dismissed.

What is at stake?

Under the Customary Law, paramount chiefs preserve public peace, assist in the general administration of the district in which their area of jurisdiction is situated and enforce any lawful directions of the district commissioner.

They also have control of customary land in their area and, apart from honorarium (which, of course, many consider as meagre), the chief is entitled to several benefits from government, organisations and companies.

Simply, the chief is an authority who reigns supreme.

Perhaps, more the reason the Mtima camp, among others, at a recent press briefing, threatened to supernaturally disturb the installation ceremony on April 30 should other means not come up to scratch.

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