A recent study by the Chancellor College a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima) has shown that Malawians have greater confidence in traditional leaders as compared to elected leaders.
In the study ‘the Paradox of Traditional Leadership in a Democratic Malawi,’ conducted in collaboration with the University of Oslo of Norway in November 2016, it was found that Malawians are comfortable to assign traditional leaders greater roles including those that would otherwise be expected to be undertaken by elected leaders.
According to the survey, 91 percent of the 1 200 households that were approached nationwide were of the view that traditional leaders are in a better place in spearheading development in their localities as compared to elected leaders who they deemed highly corrupt.
Speaking in an interview after presentation of the findings in Blantyre on Friday, Happy Kayuni, Head of Political and Administrative Studies at the Chancellor College said the results show that elected leaders have not done a good job to win confidence from their electorate.
Said Kayuni: “Even though some quarters have questioned the relevance of chiefs and suggested the abolition of traditional leadership in the country, the study has shown that Malawians embrace them. What is needed now is to put systems in place that will help provide checks and balances so that they are able to deliver without undermining others.”
Kayuni called for elected leaders to improve and revisit their roles so that they are able to deliver according to the principles of democracy.
Delegates to the meeting also suggested that there should be a National Council of Chiefs and that a subject be introduced at the Chancellor College to equip chiefs with skills on governance and public administration.
Professor Dan Banik of Centre for Development and Environment at the University of Oslo said until a strategic approach is implemented, traditional leaders and elected leaders should continue to work together to complement each other.
He said since traditional leaders live closer to the people, considering that 85 percent of Malawians live in the village and that they are cheaper as compared to elected leaders, chiefs will remain useful instruments for political leaders in terms of reaching out to the masses.
Professor Luis Zimbiri of the Chancellor College argued that suggesting that chiefs be abolished is like imposing principles that are contrary to facts on the ground.
For her part, Traditional Authority(T/A) Mlolo of Nsanje expressed satisfaction with the findings of the study saying they reflect the true picture of what Malawians think about chieftaincy and that democracy has established itself in Malawi as people are able to decide what they want.
She added: “Malawians are tired of lies from elected leaders. My advice to fellow chiefs is that they desist from engaging in any form of corruption to maintain the trust people have on them.”
Political analyst Boniface Dulani said the result of the study shows that there is a dilemma in Malawi as people want to be governed by democratic principles but at the same time acknowledge values of traditional leadership.
However, he emphasized that politicians should not be cheated by thinking that aligning themselves to a certain traditional chief would help them win elections as the study has shown that 93 percent of people approached would not be compelled to vote according to the preference of their traditional leader.
Said Dulani: “While the study has shown that Malawians are in support of principles and values of traditional leadership, politicians should be aware that aligning themselves to a certain chief is not a guarantee that all his or her subjects would vote for that particular politician. It is a waste of resources to spend on a particular chief in the name of wooing voters.”