Respecting elders is a tenet of Malawian culture supported by several passages in the Bible but there is one group of elders that does not deserve the respect or admiration of the nation—most of our traditional leaders.
The so-called custodians of culture were at it again this week when they left their homes to come to ‘town’ in a bid to give their input on the much talked about electoral reform bills.
In their view, the Law Commission neglected to consult them and in particular their villagers on the proposed electoral reforms.
In their petition calling for a halt of the processes to table the bills in Parliament until they are consulted, the thorn in the traditional leaders flesh seems to be 50+1, that recommendation which will result in the amendment of Section 80 (2) of the Constitution and Section 96 (5) of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act.
Ironically, the chiefs also believe other stakeholders such as civil society and the clergy, as representatives of the majority of Malawians should have no say in business carried out at Parliament, the supreme representative of citizens of this country.
The parade by the traditional leaders was not shocking as the palpable desperation by the government to prevent the tabling of their own bills is clear.
The manoeuvres are nothing new. For as long as this nation has existed, traditional leaders have been used and abused in this manner.
It was chiefs who connived with slave traders to sell to unknown lands the strongest and productive subjects of their land.
It was traditional leaders who paid a blind eye as the colonial government imposed harsh taxes and conditions on the people.
As early as 2011, chiefs were being used by the government then which spearhead the changing of the beautiful flag with the rising sun symbolising hope to one with white round rays that could not, even by a two year-old symbolise a fully developed nation that lacked for little.
Not long after the ugly flag flew in government buildings, the chiefs were on the state broadcaster again telling us the evils of devaluation.
From these accounts, it seems our traditional leaders have not been custodians of culture but destroyers of hopes, pride and dreams of Malawians.
In their attempts to voice their concerns, they neglected to note exactly what it is that everyone else is really fighting for: A credible and fair election devoid of mistrust and violence as it has happened in the past.
This can only be assured when there is no doubt as to the credibility of a president elected and when any party that is dissatisfied with the election result is given ample time to challenge those results in the court of law.
The electoral reform bills that the traditional leaders seem to be against contains an amendment that would ensure that a president is sworn in after 30 days not few hours after midnight ruling on electoral anomalies leaving no room to challenge otherwise.
The subjects of these so-called custodians of culture includes the majority of women who are not ably represented in political spheres, save as dancers.
This government has the opportunity to go down in history as the one that changed the landscape for women participation by ensuring that 28 of the 193 seats in Parliament are reserved for women. But the traditional leaders are clueless on this.
One then wonders, who are they representing if not the voters who by now must be tired of being ruled by an illegitimate government?
Who did they themselves consult before that press conference to describe the presentations and submissions from various stakeholders and consultative workshops in all the regions of this country on electoral reforms as mere charades?
Where is their evidence of consulting their subjects before they drafted that petition, if at all it did not originate from some individual in the government fearing the unknown?
Traditional leaders have become shameless mercenaries for hire, individuals who put money before the nation’s interests and wishes.
It would be unfair to describe them as ignorant but the nature of their petition clearly shows something is amiss. n