Chieftaincy wrangles


The current chieftaincy wrangles over Gomani V show that we need to modernize our chieftaincy structures, to be in line with the countries needs in the 21st century. With a modern democracy in place, we cannot remain with 19th century chieftaincy governance.

All too often there are wrangles about chieftaincy. We need to be clear about the situation. We have to make difficult choices:

Either the chief are a historical curiosity, a symbol of a tribe and of Africanness. In that case they are not part of the modern governance structure, and will have no special powers over citizens. In this scenario the modern state will provide governance. Most developed countries with hereditary kings systems have chosen this option. For instance in Belgium and UK the king/Queen has very little if any formal powers, and only a ceremonial function. In this case chieftaincy wrangles will be obsolete, any person can be chief over anyone who recognizes the person as his or her chief, and no one will mind. In this construction, chiefs are not to be paid by the state, and it will be a volunteer occupation with no compensation beyond the idea of keeping tradition alive. Of course for this choice we will need a transition period in which the state builds up its structures to replace the tasks that chiefs are now performing like land policy. For the land we will need a register with clear rules of ownership. We will need more magistrates to take over these functions from chiefs. Of course voluntarily, people can respect the chief and ask for mediation. If one of the parties concerned in a dispute is not satisfied, they dispute can be taken to the magistrates court after mediation has failed to satisfy everybody.

The alternative is to incorporate the chiefs in the modern governance structure. First we will have to decide if chief is a political function or it is a section of the civil service. In case it is political, we will needs chiefs elections, so democracy is extended to this function. Or the chief will be part of the civil service. For modern governance we will have to separate the judiciary powers of the chief from the executive powers to satisfy the principle of the trias politica as formulated by Machiavelli. The trias politica is the separation of powers from legislature (parliament), executive (president and cabinet) and judiciary. It is essential to keep these powers separated to insure maximum checks and balances and prevent abuse of power. This means we have to make the chief part of the executive OR part of the judiciary, but never can the two be combined in one person or even institution.

If the chief is a political function, then he/she cannot have judiciary powers. Then the chief is part of the executive. The same goes for other duties: the judiciary must be completely separated from other, executive, branches of government.

In case the chief is part of the civil service, then the appointments must not be made in a hereditary way, but on merit, and chiefs will need to have minimum qualifications in the modern education system to be eligible for the function.

I realize that these are radical ideas, and that w will need time to modernize. But if we want to develop the country, we cannot afford to keep part of our governance system with outdated procedures that keep giving rise to wrangles because of unclear oral traditions that are interpreted differently by different people, usually to their own benefit.

Chose: chiefs are symbolic and important as symbols, OR chiefs are part of the modern African governance system and are treated as such. Not the unclear middle ground that keeps our communities undeveloped.


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