Top lesson from Tanzanian chiefs

 

Some chiefs in Malawi usually hog the limelight for meddling in politics. This is unlike in Tanzania where government abolished the institution of chieftaincy. Our Staff Reporter JOHN CHIRWA visited the neighbouring country and caught up with Tanzania Union of Chiefs secretary George Sangija, a chief in Mwanza Region, on lessons their Malawian counterparts can learn from them.

 

Banned chiefs in Tanzania: Nyerere

Q: Tell us more about the ban on chieftaincy in your country?

A

: It was around 1963 under Julius Nyerere’s rule when government stripped off some powers from chiefs. Previously, chiefs could do some government jobs like revenue collection and acting as judges. But government removed all the executive powers. They [chiefs]were left with cultural powers only. In fact, the policy was misunderstood. It was only government powers that were taken away and not the cultural powers. Cultural affairs were left as they are. Chiefs were allowed to deal with cultural affairs. People misunderstood that. They thought that chieftaincy had been abolished completely. So, some chiefs were given other jobs. Others, with some education, decided to look for greener pastures. I was one of them. I didn’t see any reason to be crowned chief after the death of my father. So, I decided to join the army where I worked for 30 years and rose up to become a general.

 

Q

: So, what is the status of chiefs in Tanzania now?

A

: We have formed a union to persuade government to recognise us. We are not a political party. We are people who want to maintain the culture; our culture. We understand that a nation without a culture is a dead nation. If you don’t have any culture you pretend to be someone else. So, what we are trying to do now is to make government recognise us. We are trying to register ourselves and go ahead with our cultural affairs. Some chiefs, of course, are doing well. But the problem is with chiefdoms in towns. People in towns are confused people. They are a new generation who don’t really know the role of chiefs. So, we want to bring back the good ole days.

 

Q

: What effect did the Maji Maji War, in which some traditional leaders were hanged, have on chieftaincy?

A

: The war hugely affected Songea Region

because its people were war-like [ngonis]. Some historians call it a rebellion, but we prefer calling it a struggle for independence. So, after the war, chiefs from other regions were also stubborn. They joined the struggle for nationalism and independence. This put us on a clash course with those in power.

 

Q: In Malawi, chiefs have taken an active role in politics. What do you do in Tanzania to make sure that chiefs are not actively involved in politics?

A

: In Tanzania, chiefs are not involved in politics, unless one is a chief and wants to take up politics as an individual. That should not taint the image of chiefs as politicians. If a chief wants to play active politics then should do so in his/her personal capacity, and not as a chief. Chieftainship means ruling people within your clan. Politics is a mixture of clans. So, chiefs should deal with cultural affairs within their chiefdoms. Not politics. One is allowed to do politics. But should do it as a person, not as a chief. We should not take advantage of our chieftaincy to drum up support for a particular party.

 

Q

: For a long time, politicians in Malawi have been hijacking cultural events. But we have noticed that the Maji Maji commemoration was run smoothly without  any political interference. What’s your secret?

A

: Not with us. We haven’t allowed politics in our events and we can’t allow that. Since the executive powers were taken away from us, there has been sanity in public events. Every person knows his or her role. We don’t politicise people. We want unity. Let politics be for politicians and cultural affairs be for chiefs.  As chiefs we need to know our roles in society and avoid divisive comments. We don’t need to side with one political party. And we need to know that politicians are greedy people who want everything. We need not to fall victim of their game.

 

Q

: Lastly, tell us more about the union of chiefs in Tanzania.

A

: As a union, we are uniting all chiefs in the country. So far, we have brought together over 60 chiefs. We want to revamp the chieftaincy and return to our old ways of doing things because we have had chiefs even before colonialists came. So, chiefs are fathers of everybody. We are heads of clans. We want to maintain that. We want to maintain our culture. As it is now, everybody is doing his or her own things.

 

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