Paramount Chief Chitimukulu is wrong, here is why?
By Prof. Michelo Hansungule
During my country wide workshops for chiefs on good governance, human rights and development organised by Women for Change in late 1990s, a Chief said that when they are installed to the chieftaincy, they are told that a chief is never wrong. Straight away, I responded that they cheated you your Royal Highness! She was of course not happy with my response and I could see it on her face but I explained that as a matter of fact every human being gets it wrong at times. It is human to be fallible, unnatural to always be right.
These workshops taught me a lot of things some of which to this day I try to practise. Women for Change at the time was led by Ms. Emily Sikazwe then a vigilant human rights and gender activist before she joined politics at the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ). I was recruited to resource for the workshops which took place in all the country’s provinces and later in the SADC region. It was this time I had occasion and privilege to meet now Paramount Chief Chitimukulu who came as one of the participants. In the course of those workshops, now paramount Chief Chitimukulu shared two fundamental points with me first about how he and others convinced the first Chitimukulu appointed to the UNIP Central Committee that first president Kenneth Kaunda hoodwinked him into believing it was a promotion. They explained to him how being member of the Central Committee he will have to kowtow to Kaunda who chaired this committee and therefore be Kaunda’s subordinate which was a strategy to weaken the power and influence of the Chitimukulu.
Second, he shared with me his views on the politics of the underdevelopment of the north which since independence had as at that time at least produced two presidents but remained poor. He said it was in this respect that he advocated for a Tonga to be president because not coming from the north he would be listening to them and therefore favouring the north in the sharing of the national resources in order to calm our restive people unlike when one of our sons from the north was president. He said their ‘Bemba sons’ didn’t fear them however much they demanded development but Tongas or people from outside the region would fear them on first complaint and facilitate development of the region. I thought there was sense in the logic.
Against this background, I was quite happy when later I learnt from the media that he was aspiring to succeed to the throne as paramount Chief of the Bemba people because I thought a man with that kind of intellect and consciousness once in that seat will dramatically advance the north and by extension further civilisation of the country. Therefore, I was shocked this week to listen to the video on Zambian Watchdog in which he boyishly report Hakainde Hichilema to president Lungu on their differences. I cannot believe the paramount Chief would so radically about-turn and literary do what he warned his predecessor against doing to Kaunda. The question is why should a whole paramount Chief reduce himself to that level where like a school boy feels obliged to report to the president differences he has with the president’s political competitor?
When the question was raised as to whether Chiefs can make mistakes, I took the liberty to explain that they could and to detail how they could make mistakes. For example, to explain that the Chiefs powers regardless of the culture of that Chief are not absolute but at all times relative to traditions, cultures and to the law. In modern society chiefs powers are not only governed and therefore limited by culture and tradition but more importantly by applicable constitutions and laws. This requires the authority or power of president, Chief or other officials to be accountable to independent institutions and the law. If a Chief violated the human right of an individual, for example, she or he would similarly expected to account to the victim in much the same way as any other authority. It is important to elaborate this further for clarity. In Zambia, there are no subjects, a term Chiefs like. Rather by the constitution, there are citizens with equal rights vertically in relation to authority and horizontally against each other. In relation to the Chief, this means they cannot go ‘scot free’ upon trampling the right (s) of citizen enshrined in the constitution. Zambia being a republic, citizens enjoy equal rights and should be so treated.
Consequently, a mistake the Chief makes either in their action, decision or omission would provoke an action for a remedy by the victim even if such victim is helplessly poor. Because the constitutions and laws contain the sacred principle that we are all equal before the law, it follows that no one not even a Chief or paramount Chief is above the law or can do as they like without being made accountable.
Most Chiefs of course did not like this but it had to be said because it is true. It is in this respect that I thought I should correct my Paramount Chief Chitimukulu in regard to the current stand-off between him and UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema and the Alliance of opposition parties. What prompted me to make this comment is the video on Zambian Watchdog in which the paramount Chief is seen and heard addressing president Edgar Lungu about relations between him and Hakainde Hichilema. According to the video, the Chief is heard saying Chiefs must be impartial but they must serve the government of the day. He went on to disclose that he had declined a request from Hichilema for a courtesy call meeting with him because as members of the opposition United Democratic Alliance, they had called him an ‘illegal chief’ and that when they get into government, UPND will withdraw his recognition as paramount Chief. How this was going to happen isn’t clear from the video given that article 165 (2) of the constitution clearly forbids parliament from enacting legislation which provides for withdrawal of recognition of chiefs? Is it being suggested that UPND when it comes to power will ignore the constitution or amend article 165 (2) and make lawful withdrawal of chiefs recognition? The whole gossip is frivolous at best.
First, it is wrong for a paramount Chief to disclose his private discussions with leader of the main opposition to the president. There are many things a paramount Chief does or gets to know in that position and what makes him ‘Chief’ is the capacity to keep most of what he knows and does to himself. This is leadership in its basic sense. Edgar Lungu and Hakainde Hichilema are competing in fact fighting for political power and they are bound to interact with the paramount Chief quite often because of his status. As paramount traditional leader in the area, the Chief will not betray or seek to impeach the respected institution of Chief to that of president and vice versa. It is just not expected of a Chief to effectively break the oath of office they take on assuming the throne regardless of status of relations with those people concerned.
Second, who is the president for the paramount Chief to report to him and why? Incidentally, by reporting to the president as the Chief did, he is effectively subordinating the chieftaincy to the presidency which in fact historically predates the latter, a mere political leader. The Chief was the first state before the modern state which is why in crafting the constitution we elevated Chiefs to the level well above politics and charged them with the responsibility to oversee politics and not the other way round. This is implicit in the constitution which requires Chiefs to relinquish the throne upon entering the political field because the former is higher than the latter regardless of the powers of the two.
What is the motive for the Chief reporting a politician to another politician? In my workshops, I would emphasise to Chiefs that their hierarchy should begin and end with their people. A Chief is a Chief because of his or her people. It is wrong for Chiefs like some did during colonial rule to reduce themselves to mere appendages of colonial rule and therefore serve the ‘colonial government of the day’ (as they often say) instead of serving their people.
Similarly in post independence era, there is no benefit for Chiefs to reduce themselves to servants of government. This thing they call ‘serving government of the day’, is iniquitous to Chieftaincy as construed prior to colonial rule. If your role is to serve the ‘government of the day’ so that you are like a prostitute who is after every woman on the streets, then you are a ‘government paramount Chief’ and not a ‘paramount Chief’ which is tragic to say the least. A Chief is someone who is there to serve his or her people for whom she or he was enthroned, not government which in any case does not even need you because they have sufficient capacity to govern without you.
Also, president Lungu should grow up. He can’t sit there ‘ndwiii’ smiling foolishly while listening to the paramount Chief immorally confiding in him decisions he took in confidence against his main political competitor. This is ‘Watergate scandal’. Lungu should have stopped the Chief in his tracks and rebuked him sternly for betraying the oath of his office sharing his decisions about his main political opponent. Instead, he should ask the Chief if he has to report to him at all to concentrate on reporting or more appropriately sharing challenges facing the welfare of his people.
If the paramount Chief can do this to Lungu about Hichilema, he is likely to do the same to Hichilema about Lungu in the latter’s absence. This is bad for the institution of Chief most Zambians revere and highly respect. Zambians respect Chiefs but understandably not necessarily persons for the time being holding those institutions and here is the reason why? As political leaders, it is incumbent upon Lungu particularly as president and Hakainde as leading opposition to rebuke recalcitrant traditional leaders and put them in line when they try to bring the office of Chief to odium generis. Writing in his book, Facing Mount Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta made it clear the duty in African culture to respect elders and leaders. However, he said if the elder or leader behaves as a rascal, you have a duty to put him right. The duty to respect does not extend to rascals in garments of Chiefs, leaders or elders.
Further, it is utterly wrong for the paramount Chief or any other Chief for that matter to decline a courtesy call from a ‘subject’, political affiliation regardless. The palace of the paramount Chief is a place of all people to come and go. This cuts across ethnicities. Anyone from any part of the country and even beyond has a right apparently without prior appointment to have an audience with the Chief during the day or at night. This is what we know of Chief in Africa. A Chief cannot say ‘I am tired I cannot meet you or that you have no appointment, I can’t see you’? Since when have appointments been part of African culture? Don’t traditional African courts sit and preside over issues even in the wee of the night or at dawn? Aren’t these the features which make this African institution unique?
No person can be banned from accessing and meeting the Chief at his or her sojourn. A Chief has no jurisdiction to ban some ‘subjects’ from visiting him whatever the differences and regardless of affiliation. In fact in some African cultures, Chiefs and other traditional leaders would go as far as they can to embrace those with dissenting opinions because that is the character of a African democratic society. Opposition is cherished rather than scorned in Africa. Instead of only embracing those with views and ideas they share, an attribute of good governance is to positively look out for dissenting views and embrace them. So if a Chief heard a rumour that some subject was planning to dethrone him, it is an occasion not to be vengeful against the perpetrator of the plan but to give him space to state their views and if possible justify them. This helps strengthen chieftaincy governance rather than weaken it. It is a sign of lack of leadership and therefore an indication of juvenile governance for the Chief to be hot in the collar and hit the alleged perpetrators heinously.
Why was the paramount Chief sharing his decision against Hichilema with Edgar Lungu, why? Was he trying to befriend Edgar Lungu and to prove to him that he was a loyal person or Chief? If this is the case, then it is against fundamental principle of traditional governance wherein it is said that a King or Chief has no friends. This is a positive characteristic of African good governance that because the King is concerned with the interests of all under his jurisdiction, he is a friend of none. In order to govern a community or country, good governance entails that you have no friends literary because all are your friends.
What is a take away especially for young people from this debacle by the paramount Chief? It is that next time you meet a Chief, run for your life! Anything you share with the Chief especially about someone who is not there even if in confidence is very likely to be shared by the Chief to that other person. This is a pity. As custodians of traditions, morals and cultures, Chiefs are supposed to practice minimum ethics which entails good governance. It is bad governance to the extreme to share what one has come in possession of by virtue of his or her office.
Perception is that Paramount Chief Chitimukulu is increasingly becoming partisan especially flirting with the ruling Patriotic Front which is not just an affront to the institution but a violation of the spirit of the constitution. Evidence of this is the actions of the Patriotic Front which has been publishing his movements and utterances on their website. For example, the PF has prominently published the following on their website:
‘Paramount Chief Chitimukulu Kanyanta Mainga 11 is among Kings from southern Africa gathered at Patrice Motsepe and Africa Mining Resources annual conference at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg South Africa. In the picture is Paramount Chief Chitimukulu meeting Mr. Motsepe and Mrs Dr. Motsepe’;
Similarly, on 24th July 2929, they published a lengthy article by Paramount Chief, an apparent altercation between the Paramount Chief and HH titled ‘CHITIMUKULU RESPONDS TO HH Alleged UPND plot against Chitimukulu: Kalulu Tapusuka Mipya Ibili – Part 3. This article by the Paramount Chief sought to summarise the source of the differences between the Chief, UPND, democratic alliance and HH.
Without further going into the merits of this article, Patriotic Front is totally wrong at law and fact to actively promote the Chiefs positions. Rather, it should be actively maintaining a reasonable distance between it and the paramount Chief in keeping with the stipulates of the country’s constitution and the calling of democracy. Particularly as ruling party at the moment, the party should make an effort to ensure some Chiefs are not made to appear too close to it for the comfort of all the members of the public which isn’t helpful to the institution. Members of the public should feel a Chief is also a Chief for them which is unlike when the party actively seeks to portray the impression he is one of their members. By publishing these messages PF is actively and deliberately creating the impression the paramount Chief is its sympathiser or even member to win advantages from sections of the public which is detrimental to the standing of the institution of Chief. Why does the PF only publicise activities and utterances of one Chief and not others? They must realise this is not good for democracy and for the Chief concerned that he is portrayed to look as if he is their member.
On his part, His Royal Highness the Paramount Chief must realise he has nothing to gain from partisan politics. Rather, his institution and himself have everything to gain by standing with people under their jurisdiction who by definition belong to diverse political homes. His Royal Highness the Paramount Chief should accept the country’s constitution which eloquently espouses the democratic creed as the basis of our political system.