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Chiefs and Partisan Politics

Last updated on December 15, 2011

Of late, the behavior of some of our chiefs has become inimical to the functioning of a vibrant and peaceful multi-party political system that we are attempting to create. I have two examples of such behavior.

The first example relates to Paramount Chief Chitimukulu, who has been quoted by Chibaula Silwamba of *The Post Newspaper* as having said the following in an article entitled “Chitimukulu Vents His Frustration on The Post” of October 23, 2009:

“We have to be on the side of the governing party and the government. There is no chief who could be on the side of opposition political parties. I can never be on the side of an opposition political party.”

The second example pertains to comments made by Chief Puta, which appeared in an article by Patson Chilemba of *The Post Newspaper* entitled “Rupiah Won’t Go Anywhere with ‘Terrorists’—Puta” of May 5, 2009. In this article, Chief Puta is quoted as having said that President Rupiah Banda should rid himself of people like Mulongoti and [the late] Tetamashimba because of their comments concerning Katele Kalumba, who had been found with a case to answer for alleged corruption.

He is also quoted in the same article as having said that he would instruct his subjects to start throwing stones against the government if government leaders pushed him too hard, and that he would tell his people to de-campaign President Rupiah Banda, who he supported during the 2008 presidential by-election!

In an article by Ernest Chanda of *The Post Newspaper* dated November 1, 2009 entitled “Chief Puta Bans PF Activities,” Chief Puta is quoted as having banned Patriotic Front (PF) activities in his chiefdom on grounds that the party’s leadership is opposed to former Republican president Frederick Chiluba’s acquittal. In the same article, he is also accused of having tried to block the nomination of a PF candidate for the November 19, 2009 local government elections.

Since independence in October 1964, there have been complaints and sentiments from some segments of Zambian society about the use of traditional leaders by ruling political parties to gain political advantage, particularly during political campaigns. The revelation that chieftains in the Eastern province were consulted in the process of picking an MMD candidate for the Milanzi parliamentary by-election last year, and that the Republican president urged chiefs to support the MMD candidate in the Chitambo parliamentary by-election this year, are cases in point.

If we are not careful, we could be paving the way foranarchy in our 286 chiefdoms by pushing chieftains into the political arena. We could be planting the seeds of destruction for the Zambian nation, and for our nascent democracy; we could be starting a vicious fire for our children and grandchildren to extinguish—and they will not judge us kindly if we leave them a country that will be in flames!

I believe very strongly that the partisan stance by some of our chiefs is partly promoted by the subsidies, electrification of palaces and the car loans extended to them through the office of the Republican president.

*I, therefore, wish to call upon President Banda to initiate, by Executive Order, theremoval of public assistance to chiefs from the office of the Republican president and placed under the aegis of the Parliamentary Committee on Local Governance, Housing and Chiefs’ Affairs in order to forestall any suspicions that assistance to chiefs is designed to woo their support for the ruling political party during elections*.

There is also a need to uphold Articles 65 (clauses 3 and 4) and 129 of the 1996 Republican constitution (as recommended by the National Constitutional Conference), which bar chieftains from participating in or joining partisan politics unless they formally abdicate their traditional leadership roles. If they are allowed to participate in partisan politics, they can consciously or otherwise abuse the absolute traditional authority they wield by imposing their political views and choices on their subjects — a situation which can lead to tribal politics in our country.

Moreover, traditional leaders’ participation in politics can lead to the disintegration of their chiefdoms. Let us consider a number of scenarios which can culminate in such a situation.

Firstly, a chieftain is, ideally, an impartial leader of all the people in his or her chiefdom regardless of their political affiliations. However, his or her participation in partisan politics can inevitably place him or her in an adversarial position against subjects who may have different political alignments.

Secondly, the political arena naturally requires participants to advocate certain causes and articulate their ideological convictions which, for a traditional leader, are likely to be at variance with the causes and convictions of some of his or her subjects. Thirdly, partisan politics is fraught with slander, snobbery and discourtesies to which traditional leaders can choose to subject themselves only at the immense cost of losing the abounding and unconditional respect accorded to them by their subjects.

Further, chieftains’ participation in active politics can frustrate efforts aimed at creating a level playing field for all political contestants, since they (the chieftains) already have a faithful following in their areas of jurisdiction.

We would do well to address allegations of election-rigging, vote-buying, intimidation, and access to public resources by the ruling political party without opening up other avenues for unfair political advantage.

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