Paramount Chiefs to be accorded state funerals in Malawi, declares President Banda

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda says she has no regrets in according state funeral to the departed Ngoni Paramount Chief M’mbelwa IV of Mzimba, who died on Tuesday at the age of 56 at Mwaiwathu Private Hospital in Malawi’s commercial city, Blantyre, where he was treated for a diabetes attack.

In her eulogy during the burial ceremony that took place Saturday at the paramount chief headquarters at Edingeni in Mzimba, President Banda said she had known the late Ngoni King as an accommodating chief who had no time for segregation and whose mission was to unite the all the Ngonis in Africa.

“He was a person who has been visiting Ngoni people in several African countries’ including Swaziland, South Africa and Lesotho to bring unity among all the Ngonis,” said Banda.

The Malawi leader said it is against this background that her government decided to accord state funeral to Chief M’mbelwa.

President Banda: M'mbelwa deserved a befitting last post

President Banda: M’mbelwa deserved a befitting last post

“I want to set precedence that judging from their role in their various societies paramount chiefs have to be accorded respect they deserve.  And my government will ensures that all the paramount chiefs are given such full respect and I have no regrets in according state funeral to the Paramount Chief M’mbelwa.”

President Banda hailed the Malawi Army Commander General Henry  Odillo for allowing her to accord M’mbelwa state funeral chief.

“I remember that when you [Odillo] came to the state house I told you that you are free to give all honors to him during the funeral ceremony but allow me to give my respected chief state funeral. You had all the powers to say ‘no’ to my request therefore it is against this reason that I should thank you for giving me a go ahead, ” she said.

However, some Malawi’s political commentators and human rights groups had earlier expressed mixed reactions over government’s move to accord Chief M’mbelwa state funeral

Some commentators said the move is giving a bad precedence considering that government did not give a state burial the funeral of another Ngoni leader, Paramount Chief Gomani who died in 2009.

But others say it is illogical to compare Mbelwa with Gomani arguing that the two were worlds apart in terms of power and political influence.

A historian who is also a political scientist in the University of Malawi Simbalashe Mungoshi said the issue is that Gomani died during the reign of different political administration.

“This is because of the differences in policies of administrations. The previous administration considered not necessary to accord Paramount Chief Gomani state burial while the current administration has deemed it necessary to respect the funeral of Chief Mbelwa in such manner,” Mungoshi said.

Mungoshi ruled out speculations that Mbelwa has been accorded state funeral because of his political influence on Malawi’s political arena arguing that even the Gomanis have been actively involved in the day-to-day affairs of Malawi politics since time in memorial.

“Mind you that another Inkosi Gomani was literally killed in around 1895 because of his active involvement in domestic politics,” said Mungoshi.

He said  there is nothing wrong in according Mbelwa state burial taking into account that he was the King of Ngoni Kings in Malawi.

However, a human rights activist Billy Banda is describing the government’s move as questionable, saying Mbelwa is not the first Chief to die while in office.

He said while it is understandable that each and every person in public office deserves being accorded respect on his or her own,but adds that Malawians should remember that there were many people who contributed positively to the country but were not accorded state funerals.

“We are talking of people like Aleke Banda who contributed positively to the country’s politics since his younger days, Stanley Masauli who has been a renowned person in Malawi’s aircraft industry and many more. These are some of  people who also deserved state funerals,” said Banda

Banda said speculations have it that Mbelwa has been given state burial because of his close association with vice president Khumbo Kachale who is believed to have influenced the move.

“Or this is a deliberate move by President Joyce Banda to be perceived as close friends of chiefs and appease the people from the north.”

A vocal political science lecturer at Chancellor College Blessing Chinsinga categorically refused to comment on the issue without giving reasons.

But Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Grace Maseko said Mbelwa deserves a state funeral because he was not only a leader of Ngoni but also the presidential advisor on Ngoni chiefs in the country whose office fall under the Office of president and Cabinet.

“Paramount Chief in the Chiefs Act is an employee of government this is why government has declared that the late Chief Mbelwa should be accorded a state funeral,” Maseko told reporters in the commercial capital Blantyre.

M’mbelwa IV, one of the most prominent chiefs, has been involved in political activities, attending and, in some cases, speaking at rallies organised by ruling political parties.

First to recognise him was Bakili Muluzi and his billing went up during Mutharika’s era when he stirred controversy by conferring on Mutharika the title Ngwazi. He also revived the Ngoni cultural events such as umtheto.

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