Kangaroo Court: Of Chief Lundu orders to ban ECG church

Chief Lundu of the Chewa tribe with his jurisdiction claiming some territory in the southern region of Malawi delivered some very unfortunate remarks during a DPP rally in Nchalo. In his remarks, Lundu ordered that the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church should stop operation in Chikwawa, furnishing his order with some crazy remarks that the church is promoting satanism and also because Prophet Bushiri has political ambitions.

This Court commends the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Francis Kasaila, for coming in quickly and distance the party from these outrageous remarks by the seemingly overzealous Chief. When the government, through the ruling party said it is in good terms with any church operating in Malawi, it brought excitement and hope for respect of the dictates of the Constitution governing our State. The country’s Constitution provides for the freedom of worship and the disassociation from Lundu’s remarks demonstrated that as a ruling party, the DPP would not tolerate seeds of violation to this sacred freedom that Malawi enjoys at present.

Further, this Court joins the renowned civil rights activist, Billy Mayaya, in wondering where Chief Lundu actually draws his authority to bar the branch of ECG from operating a branch in area where his chieftaincy reigns. It must be emphasized, at this point, that there is and there shall never be any authority in Malawi which shall override the Constitution. Since the Constitution of this republic guarantees freedom of religion and its domicile, no chief has the power to decide which church can enjoy domicile and which one cannot in the area of his jurisdiction. Any such attempted act would translate to dictatorial doctrine which is frowned upon by our Constitution.

Chiefs are recognized and respected because of their customary roles they play in our communities and they form traditional political institutions. The role and relevance of these traditional political institutions in general, and traditional leadership in particular, continue to generate intense, and sometimes, quite acrimonious debates in Malawi. Heated, bitter and rancorous debates on whether those who preside over indigenous political institutions who are variously designated numerous nomenclature as chiefs, village heads, ndunas and so on, should have any formal role in the political affairs of Malawi continue to occur.

Frankly speaking, the institution of traditional rulership is some historical relic that belongs to antiquity. These relics of by-gone instruments are irrelevant to a society currently subject to the objective laws of our modernized society.

The term, traditional rulers actually hints at the common fact that these rulers operate outside the formal structures of modern state power and it underscores the fog surrounding the locus and permitted extent of powers exercised by this class of leaders in our modern society of legal framework.

As we speak, chiefs in Malawi appear have a lot of sway. In rural areas, they solve customary disputes and are the connection for residents to governing district assemblies. They were outlined in the country’s 1967 Chiefs Act as gatekeepers of their residents and champions for local development.

Recently, the lines between heads of state and heads of village aren’t nearly as clear. Malawi’s late dictator Kamuzu Banda was known for using chiefs to assert his power all the way down to the local level, and the tendency has carried through to multi-party democracy today. Only that sometimes, the Chiefs nowadays pledge themselves to the government as instruments of dictatorial orders. They believe they still have the ultimate influence in their localities and sometimes countrywide.

This is not for all chief but some who often act like ruling party functionaries largely due to weaknesses within the Chiefs Act which was enacted at the peak of single-party dictatorship in 1967 and was clearly designed to sustain dictatorship by containing provisions that compel chiefs to have personal loyalty to the president. This tendency is rooted from the aberrancies inherent in the said Chiefs Act.

Among several anomalies, the Act (in Sections 3, 4, 10 and 16) gives the president powers to appoint, promote or remove chiefs or increase or decrease the area of a chief’s jurisdiction. It also gives the president discretionary powers to determine the chiefs’ remuneration. As a result of those provisions, the survival of chieftaincies is dependent on the goodwill of sitting presidents, resulting in chiefs acting in a manner that shows loyalty to the president and, often the president’s political party.

However, some chiefs are cautious and depart from the careless behaviour of such chiefs like Lundu who has, for many times, demonstrated misunderstanding of this loyalty concept. Habitually, Chief Lundu has demonstrated deep-rooted hatred towards anything of which description is complete without the word ‘government’ or ‘ruling party’. He appears to be a full politician operating from the ruling party than a Chief. I must state that he is exhibited dictatorial ambitions lack the support of the law in this country.

It is the conduct of chiefs like Lundu that leaves this Court contemplating that the framers of the 1994 constitution were actually heroes for seemingly being uncomfortable to provide a constitutional role for this set of rulers, called chiefs, whose very mode of exercising power appeared to conflict with the ideals of democratic governance. Malawi is a democratic polity and this Court pays so much respect to the architects of our Constitution for this great insight.

While some chiefs are doing great in complementing the very ideals of democracy in championing community activities that responds to citizens’ roles in a decentralized governance, it is unfortunate, however, that Chief Lundu will have to be used as a barometers of the ebbs and flows of the powers of traditional rulers.

Malawians have sacrificed everything to fight for a better future but at every stage, the promises given by those who assume some fade of power have always been diametrically opposed to the reality. It is sad that, Chief Lundu has the appetite for this kind of power that would enable him throw commands and take civil control of ‘his jurisdiction’.

In the pre-colonial era, traditional rulers exercised effective powers in their domains. In those civilisation-empty days, chief were rulers in every sense of the word as they derived their executive, legislative and judicial functions from traditions long rooted, recognized and revered by the people of their respective areas of authority. Many of the rulers combined temporal and spiritual powers. But, unfortunately, those days are long gone – swept off by the wind of democracy which has been blowing our country.

What Chief Lundu and his like-minded have managed to let this Court think is that some of these traditional leaders inherit their positions from their fathers regardless of the fact that they have absolutely no leadership qualities. This Court is of the view that anyone who wants to be a leader of the people in our democratic dispensation should face the ballot box. Leaders should be representative of their people and he who has to occupy the position of leadership has to demonstrate the prowess so required and not just individuals who, by accident of birth, happen to be born in the ‘right’ family.

The leadership qualities found in any one individual are unique to them and not hereditary passed from parent to child. Therefore all these chiefs should not be trusted with any significant authority in the governance realm and never should they be allowed to attempt to replace elected leaders.

Lundu must know, or be made to know, the actual size of his tail. It is not as big as he wrongly thinks.

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