Chiefs in Malawi have a lot of influence. They solve customary disputes and are the connection for residents to governing district assemblies. They are gatekeepers of their residents and champions for local development. They influence the thinking of their people.
A sustainable developmental project in a community cannot begin without clearing it with the local chief. It will be the chief who calls the villagers together for a public meeting at which the benefits of the project, the procedure for electing leaders, or any other features of the project will be laid out. One simply cannot have access to the village community without going through the chief.
The chieftaincies are hereditary and hierarchical. The highest level is either the Paramount Chief (PC) or, for those groups without a PC, the Traditional Authority (TA). There are many TAs within each ethno-linguistic group and they cover all parts of the country. Below each TA are Sub-TAs (STAs), Group Village Headmen (GVH), and Village Headmen. All villages have a Village Headman, who takes the name of the village on assuming the chieftaincy, and several villages will be grouped under one GVH. All chiefs have a group of counselors
Traditional chiefs see one of their main roles as ‘preserving’ their distinctive tribal cultures. This is a key responsibility. In practice, they fulfill this mandate through various overlapping socio-cultural and political-economic functions that have emerged historically, including overseeing initiation rituals; keeping track of sicknesses, deaths, marriages and births; helping protect communities from witchcraft; caring for the poor, etc. Some of these tasks have been formalized by making chiefs responsible for ensuring peace and order, security and welfare within their communities.
Chiefs in Malawi traditionally are part of government machinery and play a crucial role in development structures even more so in decentralization. They are able to mobilize communities in rural areas to initiate and implement development projects with minimum supervision.
Therefore, a project is at risk of failure if chiefs are not involved. They need to be involved in assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation of a project. This is my tip!
By Mercy Chikhosi Nyirongo