Woes of willful chieftaincy wrangles in Malawi

From the first chief in the late 1880s to the 21st Century, the transition of power had been peaceful. The succession process was very smooth. But in 2009, things went haywire for one of the prominent chieftaincies in the country due to succession wrangles.

Misheck Lemison Masula, said to be rightful heir to the throne,
Palani: The chieftaincy wrangles are retrogressive

This is the story synonymous with the Masula chieftaincy, a royal family of the Lilongwe Maseko Ngoni.

Accusations of greed, power hungry, insubordination and disregard for the rule of law run rife among two rival camps eyeing the throne left vacant by Inkosi Masula III.

Lemison Masula, who was the third Inkosi and Traditional Authority (T/A), died in 2008. Now his two sons from different wives are embroiled in one of the worst and long-running chieftaincy wrangles in the country.

There is bad blood between Sefasi Mathews Jonathan Masula and Misheck Lemison Masula.

In Ngoni tradition, the heir to chieftaincy goes to a child born from a mother who was paid lobola (bride price).

In October 2014, former Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Trasizio Gowelo and former Lilongwe District Commissioner, Charles Kalemba installed Sefasi Mathews Jonathan Masula as T/A Masula.

But Late Masula III is reported to have not paid bride price to Sefasi’s mother.  This opened a can of worms.

Misheck Lemison Masula, said to be rightful heir to the throne, obtained a court injunction restraining Sefasi from exercising his duties.

High Court judge Ivy Kamanga granted the order of injunction on June 18, 2015 restraining Sefasi from exercising the roles of T/A Masula.

“As at now, legally, Sefasi Jonathan Masula is not the son of the late Chief Masula who was Lemison Masula. He is, therefore, not entitled to hold the office of Chief Masula because Lemison Masula was his uncle,” reads in part Kamanga’s ruling.

But reports indicate that Sefasi is not complying with the court ruling.

Between June and July this year, he elevated three village heads to group village heads, according to the rival brother Misheck Masula.

“The office of the district commissioner is aware that Sefasi elevated Dickson, Mtengo and Tchale to group village heads. His defiance to the court order raises eyebrows,” says Misheck.

But Sefasi is not always forthcoming to clear out the accusations levelled against him.

“For nearly nine years, quarrels have rocked Msinja headquarters. I refer you to the DC, Ministry of Local Government or my relatives for details,” he says to this reporter.

Recently, some 18 group village heads wrote a letter to the DC’s office expressing their worry over the conduct of Sefasi Masula in demanding K10, 000 from every group village chief. The money was to facilitate his attendance to the Chewa’s Kulamba ceremony in Zambia.

“We are worried that Sefasi continues to discharge the roles of a T/A. We are confused because he says he does this with the blessing from your office yet you (the DC) told us that we do not have a T/A yet,” reads part of the letter which Malawi News Agency sourced from Lilongwe district council.

In an interview, one of the signatories of the letter, group village head Kalonga says he was baffled when he received the instruction to pay the money.

“He is not yet our T/A? Why he needed the money from us?” wonders Kalonga.

For all the accusations and denials, the fact is that the woes of this chieftaincy wrangle are having a negative impact on people’s daily lives and development initiatives in the area

“It’s disheartening because we are losing more on development. For many years, we have struggled to start projects or activities that directly need the T/A,” says Bazion Bauti of Phikira Village in Group Village Head Chaphuka,

He cites registration for public works projects and social cash transfer as the development activities that have suffered most with increased cases of corruption rocking the exercises.

“The rightful beneficiaries are not considered, strange names always come out because leaders only register their relations,” says the 55-year-old Bauti.

The wrangle has also brought divisions in this area, which has over 524 villages and 37 group village heads.

According to Bauti, there is no social relationship between people and villages because they align themselves to the two rival camps.

“Some give allegiance to Sefasi and others to Misheck. People from one camp cannot talk and participate in development activities that involve all of them,” he says.

Councilor Wilfred Chatupa for Nadzuma Ward in the area shares the same concern.

“It’s tricky to carry out development projects. When you invite people for an area development committee (ADC) meeting, committee members in other villages never show up because of the division in allegiance,” says Chatupa.

He adds that public projects like tree planting and other community initiated projects lack people’s active participation.

‘If we ask communities to collect sand or mould bricks they are reluctant as GVHs are divided too.”

Assistant district community development officer for Lilongwe Emily Chipata says the wrangle in Masula is a slippery ground for development activities.

“ADCs work jointly with Village Development Committees (VDC) guided by the Traditional Authority. In the absence of the T/A, development projects suffer,” Chipata says.

Director of planning and development for Lilongwe district council Douglass Moffat admits that the feuds have affected his office on Unified Beneficiary Register where the T/A is a key figure.

“The office of the T/A is key to development. We often engage the counsel of the T/A’s office but currently, we are unable to do that in Masula,” Moffat says.

The Masula wrangles have even degenerated into fights and running battles between followers of the two camps.

Last month, a fight erupted at GVH Kamtosa over a disagreement between the two groups in naming a new group village head. Others disagreed with the suggested name because of its allegiance to one camp. A fight ensued.

Lilongwe District Commissioner Lawford Palani bemoans the increase in chieftaincy wrangles in the district with the Masula case as the most glaring.

“We have similar disputes in T/As Mazengera and Chitekwere since 2009 and 2013 respectively,” Palani says adding that in T/A Kalumba, court restrained the council in installing a new T/A because the one chosen was not the rightful heir.

Lilongwe district council is not grappling with chieftaincy disputes only. Boundary conflicts between T/As have emerged as another challenge in recent past. T/As M’bang’ombe and Chitukula are engaged in an on-going wrangle over boundaries to their areas.

“The conflicts are stagnating development because chiefs are custodians of culture and a hub of community projects.  They are the entry points of development,” Palani says.

Immediate solutions are needed to address the wrangles especially those in chieftaincy succession.

The Chiefs Act empowers the royal family to be the choosing authority while the President is the appointing and firing authority.

Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe of the Tumbuka says greed and polygamy escalate wrangles in royal families.

He suggests that the heir must be readily introduced to arrest the wrangles.

“When a polygamous chief dies, children from several wives claim to be rightful heirs. There is a need to clearly choose the heir when the chief is still alive,” Chikulamayembe says.

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Phiri Jurius Masula
Phiri Jurius Masula
6 years ago

The truth of the matter is that Misheck Lemison Masula is not the legal successor. It is only those that do not know how the Masula chieftency succcession goes. Sefasi is the rightful Chief. If Lemison claims to be a chief then bambo ake sakanalowa u TA.

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