They nicknamed him Captain, a military rank that personifies his dedication, hard work and hands-on approach to developing his area.
Many people in Traditional Authority (TA) Makata, Blantyre, speak well of group village head (GVH) Chilipa.
To many, GVH Chilipa, 51, does not bark orders, but leads by doing what he wants done.
“The community has registered continuous flow of development projects because our GVH is vigilant, humble and takes the development of his area as a priority,” says Jafali Muli.
Chilipa was enthroned in 2002, after his uncle’s death in 1997.
GVH Chilipa’s servant leadership is inborn and comprises simple techniques: leading by example, attention to detail and humility.
“According to him, a leader must be the first person to show humility and maturity, to offer direction and, most importantly, to take part in public life,” Muli says.
Dalitso Kambewa, a community member, says the GVH finds it easy to motivate his community to participate in development work because he is always on the ground.
“He works closely with us to achieve our shared goals. Before a new project begins, the GVH briefs the community, especially on its importance and why we need to take part. Captain is always in the forefront to get things done,” he says.
This is why his area has improved roads, healthcare and education systems and increased agricultural production.
According to the self-taught ‘Captain’, leading people is no rocket science.
“It’s a simple task,” he says. “A leader needs to be humble, must understand the people and their needs and be patient. The main problem is that most leaders forget that they are just people’s servants, not bosses. “
He adds: “If you consider yourself a boss, it is difficult for people to participate fully in development work. They feel underrated and do not own everything they are doing,” he advises.
Chilipa has established transformative partnerships with his people, government agencies and non-governmental organisations.
Projects from Blantyre District Council secretariat keep flowing to the area where projects by Action against Hunger, Local Development Fund, Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development, Save the Children Ubale Project, Masaf 4 and Malawi Drought and Recovery Resilience Programme are underway to improve their well-being.
Besides, the GVH, a father-of-four who dropped out in Standard Five, champions a community irrigation scheme. He worked with the villagers to construct a dam for harvesting rainwater and flows from streams that run past the drought-prone zone. The villagers contributed cash and construction materials for the irrigation scheme.
“Ours is a rain shadow area. The dam will offer farmers water for irrigation throughout the year. We want to improve our yield to achieve food security and increase household income,” he says.
Chilipa also advocates gender equality, ensuring that women take the lead in development initiatives and that their voices are heard. He believes women have been left behind for decades, but men and women need to work together to develop the country.
The GVH also supports the elderly and other needy groups, periodically donating foodstuffs to them.
His leadership style attracts praise from fellow traditional leaders.
“He is a role model to us. He is passionate about his job and that’s why his area is developing rapidly,” says Traditional Authority (T/A) Makata, terming him the first GVH in the area to convince communities to adopt modern farming methods and participatory development activities.
Chilipa lies in Mudi Ward.
Councillor Joy Jalani says the GVH is in a class of his own.
“He takes a different path. Some traditional leaders take advantage of their royal blood to abuse their power,” Jalani says.
Blantyre District Council director of planning and development Francis Matewere wants chiefs in the country to emulate GVH Chilipa for the success of projects happening in their areas.
“The chief delivers his best. Because of his dedication, the area attracts a number of developmental projects,” Matewere says.
Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho says it is time councils started recognising and rewarding exceptional village heads like Chilipa.
“It appears the chief has passion for the area and he really wants it developed, an urge that lacks in many leaders. Such talents and exceptional hard work can best be identified and rewarded at the council level. If there is need for more, the council and royal family may then advise the ministry,” she says.