THE institution of chief is one, which has been there since time immemorial and commands respect by the greater majority of our people.
The evolution of chiefdoms is celebrated in traditional ceremonies to symbolise the country’s rich cultural diversity as a people and act as a constant reminder of the importance of tradition and culture.
To be a chief in Zambia, a traditional electoral college sits to elect a new chief at the passing of one. When the traditional establishment has accepted that new chief, the name is submitted to the Republican president through the Ministry of Local Government for presidential consent and approval. This process is called recognition.
Without recognition, the new chief is only a traditional figurehead devoid of all the trappings of pomp and authority, which nowadays include a 4×4 motor vehicle, monthly allowances, and representation in the district council and the House of Chiefs in Lusaka.
In recent times, we have read with sadness negative comments and utterances from Chief Bright Nalubamba of the Ila people in Southern Province attacking the Head of State. Chief Nalubamba’s record of issuing unpalatable and humiliating remarks against sitting presidents in the country is not new to those who follow media reports.
Going through a catalogue of his comments makes one wonder whether he is a politician or a traditional leader. Surely much as we can agree that he has the right to freedom of speech and indeed opinion, his utterances are dangerous and misleading to not only his subjects in Namwala but also the nation and indeed a disgrace to the position of chieftainship in our land.
Of late, Chief Nalubamba has taken a solid political position to support the United Party for National Development/Patriotic Front (UPND/PF) Pact while publicly denouncing and demeaning the leadership of President Rupiah Banda.
History has it that this same traditional leader lost parliamentary elections twice in Namwala Constituency while serving as chief in Mbeza.
He has now taken it upon himself to be the self appointed epitome of judgment of all heads of State starting from the first Republican president Kenneth Kaunda right through to the current president.
When it has been materially convenient Chief Nalubamba would praise a head of State and posture that presidency with a lot of accolades, and once he fails to have his material needs met, he fires all manner of invectives.
Zambians may recall that in June 1988, Chief Nalubamba complained of being neglected by the UNIP government, which he accused of not providing for his subjects with boreholes and of ignoring his request to turn his house into a palace.
A few years down the line, in October 1990, the same traditional leader while in a delegation of 15 other chiefs from the Southern Province pledged total support to Dr Kaunda.
When second Republican president Frederick Chiluba came into power, he became the darling of Chief Nalubamba, but shortly after Dr Chiluba left office, the Ila chief started calling him names. He even suggested to his successor the late president Levy Mwanawasa to defer Dr Chiluba’s benefits. (The Post April 2003).
Earlier in March, 2002, Chief Nalubamba was in the media again saying Zambians won’t be exposed to Chiluba’s ‘rubbish’.
As is characteristic of him, Chief Nalubamba praised Dr Mwanawasa who he said was an excellent legal practitioner and a good listener to the opposition.
As time went by, the chief launched his missile attacks at Dr Mwanawasa, in stories such as one where he called for the arrest of Dr Chiluba and Chief Justice Matthew Ngulube saying Levy’s Government risked being brought down if it failed to meet Zambians’ demands. (The Post Newspaper July 2004).
Later, Chief Nalubamba said Mwanawasa’s Government was dormant starting from State House to the district, saying Government structures had failed to alleviate the suffering among Zambians.
Yet the country knows too well that it was during the late president Mwanawasa’s rule, which Nalubamba called dormant that this country achieved enormous economic strides and brought the inflation rate to a single digit.
As if that was not all, this traditional leader was quoted as saying he doubted President Mwanawasa’s capacity to implement what he promised Zambians.
On Wednesday, August 17, 2005, Chief Nalubamba was again quoted in the media saying, Levy’s stance on new constitution spells disaster for the nation.
His inconsistencies have continued. He has been calling President Rupiah Banda names showing no respect for the presidency and a man he had earlier sworn he would abdicate his throne if he was not elected in the October 30, 2008 presidential elections. He has even resorted to attacking Mr Banda’s Cabinet ministers.
Chief Nalubamba has been on this public podium purportedly on behalf of all the traditional rulers in Southern Province.
On August 7, 2009, Chief Nalubamba said chiefs in the province regretted having supported Mr Banda in the 2008 presidential election, a position which was later denied by 15 chiefs from Gwembe valley.
Representing the group, Chief Sinazongwe said the statement reflected Chief Nalubamba’s personal opinion and advised him to resolve his differences with the Head of State if he had any.
Chief Macha of the Tonga people in Choma District who restated his unflinching support called upon the Government to come up with a deliberate policy to train chiefs in leadership, diplomacy and a code of conduct to avoid such embarrassing situations.
In the Sunday Post of August 9, 2009, Chief Nalubamba charged that he had no respect for presidents like Mr Banda who sang praises for people like former president Chiluba. Later, he even went to the extent of calling Mr Banda a liar in one of the private daily newspapers.
As MMD national chairperson Michael Mabenga pointed out, it is disappointing that a senior chief could be issuing derogatory remarks against a popularly elected president.
Mr Mabenga noted in an interview with ZNBC news that such an attitude has a consequence of undermining integrity of traditional leaders and called on traditional rulers to desist from meddling in politics to preserve the respect accorded to them.
With such behaviour, a question of law is then raised. One further wonders what really should be the relationship between a traditional leader whose subjects may number between 10 to 20,000 people in some cases and a head of State who is elected by the whole country.
With respect to recognition of a chief, should a chief who has been recognised by the presidency, be discourteous to the president of the country which is responsible for his recognition. At which point would the recognising authority, the national president, withdraw the recognition of a defiant chief.
From his daily negative comments on the Republican president and other former heads of State, Chief Nalubamba is planting seeds of destruction for the nation, and teaching children not only in his chiefdom but the country as a whole not to respect heads of state. By his actions, and utterances, one wonders how young Zambians will judge us adults.
The colonial government, which in fact formed these chiefdoms, did not hesitate to de-register a truant chief or one who goes against outlined requirements. For example in Kabwe, Chief Chipepo, renowned for elephant poaching in the 1940s, was removed from Native Authority office in 1948.
Martin Siwale of Nakonde in Northern Province said it was clear Chief Nalubamba has no respect for any head of State, past or future and it is an open secret that the traditional leader has no regard for the chief justice.
“If Chief Nalubamba has no respect for President Banda, how does he expect his subjects or society to respect him. It is evident that this chief has shown total disregard for the Judiciary and the chief justice with regard to the decision of the Judiciary to acquit the former president Frederick Chiluba.
“If he has no respect for the president who is the chief executive officer of this country, and has no respect for the chief justice, it follows that he has no respect for the National Assembly which makes the laws which the Judiciary interpret in the courts of law. I pity the subjects of Mbeza in Namwala where this chief regards himself as the only most important person next to God in heaven,” Mr Siwale said.
This is the same man who in December 2004 urged politicians to stop trading insults.
Chief Nalubamba is on record saying it was unacceptable for president Mwanawasa, Dean Mung’omba and Mr Michael Sata to continue insulting each other adding that he took strong exception to Mr Sata’s remarks.
“I do not like leaders who insult the governed from whom they derive their power to govern. The Tonga proverb that states…’Lemeka kana akalo kakulemeke sums it all,” Chief Nalubamba said at that time.
But from the happenings in Mbeza and indeed from his utterances, the traditional leader has not practised what he preaches.
Firstly, he has been in conflict with his own subjects for constructively advising him over the Mbeza Irrigation project even though he himself advised Mr Banda to embrace criticism in September last year.
He said then that great and wise men and women world-over learnt their greatest lessons from mistakes they make or have made in their human endeavor.
While he has continued enjoying his position as chief even after insulting authorities who recognise his chieftainship, he himself exercised his powers arbitrarily by unlawfully stripping and expelling five headmen in his chiefdom in February 2003 for allegedly rejecting the Mbeza Irrigation project. More than 6, 855 people of Mbeza voted against his irrigation project.
The growing insults against the presidency have become a concern of different groups and individuals.
“The Ministry of Local Government and Housing should also wake up. It is not fair to leave the president of the Republic of Zambia to defend himself from wanton uncalled-for attacks from a wayward chief who is subject to his recognition. If the ministry does not take action on such a self centred politician, who is leading his subjects and even Zambians by bad example, then let the Republican president take action by deregistering this man who has embarrassed his fellow chiefs, to save the decency of the institution of chief in the country,” says Kenneth Shimbilo of Chibombo District.
Chief Mumena of Solwezi in North-Western Province said Mr Banda should be respected as Zambians had given him the mandate to govern the affairs of the nation.
Chief Mumena said those in leadership should provide guidance to their flock.
He said it was not right for people to degrade the office of the Head of State by name-calling and wondered how other people from outside the country could respect the president if the Zambians themselves were not.
Similarly, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo said Mr Banda deserved respect and those who have ganged up to insult President Banda should not be respected in society. (Zambia Daily Mail November 30).
While it is evident that Chief Nalubamba is championing his personal cause by calling Mr Banda names, over the acquittal of Dr Chiluba, well meaning chiefs from the Luapula Royal Foundation (LRF) have pointed out that it is immoral to do so.
The spokesperson for the LRF who called on the people of Luapula to stand solidly behind President Banda said political manipulators should refrain from telling lies.
Chief Nalubamba should be cautious of his public utterances which if not halted could create anarchy and national unrest.
He too should know that as a traditional leader, he should promote peace and development instead of opposing the same government, which is working for the betterment of his people. Those he is supporting today should also be wary that they too would at a later day be his spitting platform. He cannot be trusted.