There is more Malawi govt could do on the city chief

The decision to put to an end the practicing of urban chieftainships has triggered some debate on whether the government is right or wrong. To me that’s not an issue, if anything the query could have been whether the government has done justice to only correct the error without probing the genesis and dent left behind.

President Mutharika with the Deputy Mayor of Lilongwe City  Kwame Bandawe at KIA - Pic by Stanley Makuti
President Mutharika with the Deputy Mayor of Lilongwe City Kwame Bandawe at KIA – Pic by Stanley Makuti

But, congratulations are in order for the hardliner public servant who remembered that ‘better late than never’, otherwise there are times when sin is sanctified just because it is persistently practiced and there is nobody to quash it.

It is not the banning of the nonexistent entity (called urban chiefdom) which is cause for alarm for the concerned, but rather the failure to sweep under the carpet, entertaining the practice, even though it is so clear that it brought about chaos in many urban areas.

Nevertheless, I thank government for the diplomatic path used otherwise mass arrests were eminent for the law is clear on urban chieftainships.

Mayors in our cities in vernacular are referred to“Mfumu ya Mzinda” or loosely put chief of the city.

Generally, a traditional chief is determined by custom and is hereditary hence exercise leadership amongst people of their bloodline which is not  practically possible in an urban setting where it is not a surprise to see neighbors staying a decade without knowing each other’s identities.

Legally the Mayor enforces the by-laws, serves as the top conservator of peace in the city, manages the city’s operations, and recommends legislative actions to city council, among others. He also delivers a “State of the City” address in a chosen month.

Entertaining customary leadership in urban setting was duplication and a waste of resources, for urban chiefdom is ably headed by the Mayor and managed through chairpersons and Membership of different standing committees, just as it is in the rural setting where there are group village heads or village heads assisting chiefs.

There are no villages in cities and it would be interesting to learn who was drawing the budget for the treasury to be releasing money to pay people who had no village to head.

We all know that in cities petitioners submit their grievances at the Civic Centre but on this matter it was through the District Commissioners office an indication that it is indeed in a District (rural) where chiefs have a legal mandate to exercise powers unless if the petition was solely about the honorarium which they were getting through the district councils.

The decision to invoke the Local Government Act and the Chiefs Act which clearly states that they shall not exercise jurisdiction within the area of a city, municipality or township except with the written approval of the appropriate council established under the Local Government [Urban Areas] Act is actually long overdue for no council in Malawi approved such chiefdoms.

There are fears that the government decision might have implications and challenges as hinted by one petitioner, but who does not know the essentials of law and order, or consequences of deliberate moves to destabilize a legitimate government in sabotaging development projects?

Sadly, the damage brought about by the government’s insensitivity in allowing certain people create urban chiefdom is irreversible and costly, but you surely would not expect Mfumu ya muMzinda or his councillors indulge in illegal activities like allocation of land at a national telecommunication hub or I a mountain which is supposed to be reserved as conservation.

Contrary to what some are thinking, it is not Councillors who have pushed for the reminder that there are no chiefs in the cities. It is the law. What is known is that city residents and ratepayers need councillors to represent their interests and ensure the smooth running of the city and the well being of the community whether socially, economically, environmentally and culturally, in accordance with the Local Government Act.

But if someone is looking for a chief in an urban setting, then the answer is at the Civic Centre; the sitting of Mayor, and no other.

  •  A city resident Peter Chipanga who likes commenting on social issues contributed the article on ‘My Turn’ column in the Nation of Friday June 24 2015

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6 years ago

I tend to agree With chalo that before cities there were traditional leaders or chiefs and people living in the area. The question is are these chiefs and their people still living in these now called city areas? Very likely they are not and therefore these areas are now under the mayors. If these chiefs and their subjects are still living in their original areas now taken by cities, then to continue the tradition of our cultures, they must be given some recognition. Just as there is clear separation of power and responsibilities between district councils and Chiefs or traditional… Read more »

6 years ago

The chiefs were there before the cities. They are the ones who allocated land to the government to build the cities. What should happen now is to sit down with the chiefs explain to them what was initially agreed upon when their ancestors were made to give up their land to pave way for the cities and find a way forward. It is fair that the chiefs who have lost their land in such cases should be entitled to a certain percent of what the city collects on rates.

6 years ago

The problem is with the government otherwise the column is rich with facts and truth be told that there are no chiefs in cities and all who contributed to the mess should be taken to task.

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