TRADITIONAL leaders, as custodians of our culture and customs, are God’s greatest gift to the African race.
We do not hold elections to put them in office but each tribe or area has found a way of choosing a chief. There may be a few squabbles here and there during the process of finding a successor but by and large Africans have come to accept that the institution of chieftaincy as handed down to us by our forefathers must prevail.
The decision therefore by Government to increase salaries and allowances of chiefs throughout the country is praise-worthy. They deserve it and it has been long overdue.
Chiefs play a critical role in the governance system of our country. Very few of the so-called educated Zambians really appreciate the multi-faceted role of our traditional leaders in our society.
In fact one would wonder what Zambia would be like without chiefs.
Chiefs are not only the protectors and encyclopedias of our traditions, culture, customs and history, they hold the land in perpetuity on our behalf as their subjects. They are court justices in their own right, law enforcers, disciplinarians and protectors of the weak and vulnerable. In fact they are more visible and effective in matters of local development than the Member of Parliament and councillor.
Unfortunately although so many people expect so much from the chief, these traditional leaders in most cases have nothing to show for it. They apparently wield so much power and influence and yet many of them are paupers. They live in squalor, isolation and are prisoners of rigid customs and traditions.
We expect so much from them and yet give very little in return.
Some chiefs are forced to leave their palaces every day to go and work in their fields for fear of starvation. The age-old practice where subjects ensured that the chief was looked after has been swallowed by the white man’s way of life which demands each man must fend for himself and his familiy.
The chief, by our tradition, is too proud to beg. Now that the social fabric that protected and enhanced the institution of chief has collapsed, our chiefs have become laughing stocks, bottled and imprisoned by a system and a people who do not care for their own. Zambians deliberately ignore the reality that if they value their tradition and custom, they must pay for it.
It is therefore gratifying that President Edgar Lungu has listened to the cries of his parents and has given them a pay rise. Some chiefs were getting as low as K400 (rebased) per month while their attendants were receiving as little as K9 (rebased). And yet many of these chiefs’ retainers have left their villages hundreds of kilometres away to go and serve their chiefs full time so that the African way of life can continue.
Following the salary increase, paramount chiefs will now get K15,000; senior chiefs K12,500 and ordinary traditional leaders K10,000 per month. The new salary scales are a far cry from the pittance chiefs were receiving all the 50 years of Zambia’s independence.
In a land of 288 chiefs only and a national Budget of K28 billion, Zambians should be ashamed to regard their God-given institutions of governance as pre-historic appendages that have outlived their usefulness.