Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Chiefs and Africans

From the Times of Zambia, something that looks like a light-hearted local colour story of the sort that occasionally livens up the "Dog Drinks Beer" column of the Financial Times. It's got everything that the neoliberal journalist about town likes about a local press piece - plenty of "chiefs", a gob of accusations of corruption and a scatter of slightly archaic Precious Ramotswe language like "wrangling". Print one of these every month and you can reassure your readers that Africa is a continent full of people sitting around in circles round their chief out in the bush, with the tedium only enlivened by the occasional visit from a corrupt politician. And thus that they need never take any interest in it and can go back to wondering why the price of copper is through the roof these days.

But the closer you look at it, the more interesting it is. For example, what's this business about "THE Government has warned that it will de-register traditional leaders involved in succession wrangles"? Does Zambia keep a register of traditional leaders? Do chiefs in Zambia hold their position by governmental fiat, and if so how does this affect their legitimacy in the traditional culture? How has the position of chiefs "become lucrative"? What's going on here? It was surprisingly difficult to find out, and involved quite a tour into the Zambian constitution.

Zambia is one of not very many African countries which does have a role in its constitution for traditional leaders; they are represented in the House of Chiefs, which has a constitutional status more or less equivalent to the House of Lords (unsurprisingly), and which is made up of 27 elected representatives (three from each province of Zambia), elected by the recognised chiefs from among their number (a model which was later copied by the House of Lords in selecting the hereditary peers who would keep their seats post-reform, although without the geographic constituencies).

But this doesn't really advance the ball much, as the Constitution is vague about the recognition mechanism for chiefs (saying only that it shall be "according to an Act of Parliament") and the existence of the House of Chiefs doesn't really explain why the position of a chief might be lucrative (by the way, I do not necessarily take it as a given that this is even true, see here and here). So we go further into the Zambian legal system.

As far as I can see, it turns out to be the case that the whole system is a bit of a mess. I very much might have got this wrong, because I'm going on the basis of a few very sketchy web news references here in the ToZ and here in the People's Daily(?) and a few more substantial but rather tangential references here and here, but as far as I can tell, the basis for the registration of traditional leaders and therefore for the Zambian state's role in their selection is the Village Registration and Development Act 1971 (also referred to as the "Village Registration Act" to make things more difficult for internet searchers). This act is a total anachronism, belonging to the Kenneth Kaunda one-party-state era. As far as I can tell, it is real 1970s development stuff, dealing with local planning committees, village production councils and all sorts, but it's still the basis for the registration of traditional leaders in Zambia. The Mwanawasa government was planning to reform it in 2006, but as far as I can tell, nothing's happened yet (reform of hereditary constitutional bodies is difficult folks, ask your local duke). I am still not sure how credible Ms Masebo's threat is to de-register traditional chiefships which persistently bring their succession disputes into the courts; as I read the Zambian constitution, if the chiefship has popular support in its local area, the government has to recognise it. But I am hardly an expert here and it certainly would make sense to have the whole thing on more sensible legal ground.

And as far as I can see, the reason why reform of the registration is difficult is that it's tied up with the question of land tenure reform. Traditional leaders have a big role in land tenure in Zambia for large parts of the country, where they are given stewardship of their tribal land. It is very unclear (and seemingly not just to me) what the chiefs are able to do with the land under their supervision - they can grant 99 year leases with government permission, but they don't control hunting rights and it isn't clear to me what rights they have over minerals concessions or planning permission. Successive Land Reform Acts don't seem to have cleared it up much, as is to be expected; the reconciliation of traditional forms of communal land tenure with the objective of attracting domestic and foreign investors (who want something much closer to European-style ownership rights) is, once more difficult - the link there is to a blog covering a variety of these issues, from an advocate of a trust-based solution. A lot of potential land reform solutions might involve taking a maximal view of the chiefs' personal rights over traditional lands; even more restricted "communal property" settlements like those which govern traditional land in the USA have the potential to turn some chiefs into very important individuals indeed. Which would explain why the current succession is so important (although as far as I can tell, governmental complaining about traditional leaders dragging them into local battles goes back to at least the 1980s); particularly if someone decides that a "shock treatment" propertisation of communal lands is the way forward, the current generation of chiefs might be the ones sitting at the table during a very fundamental paradigm shift indeed.

More to come on this - note that once more it's all about land.

BLOGOLOGICAL NOTE: I note there has been a bit of a controversy elsewhere in the world of blogs, to do with attribution when writing about "people of colour" on subjects which "people of colour" have themselves written about. Something similar is a very great risk in my "project Africa". In general, if you're typically a developed markets kind of guy, there is a real temptation when you're writing about an LDC topic to do a lot more "lifting" than you might otherwise do; I know because I've felt the temptation, regularly. It's partly a subconscious perception that local bloggers are just sitting around like a natural resource to be scooped up and partly a canny feeling that there's much less risk of a) them noticing you've done it, b) them making a fuss c) anyone caring. It's not OK and I'm really trying to be on guard. Anyone reading this will have noticed that I've got material from the New Zambia blog (which is actually written by a Zambian expat living in London I think) in quantities which rather exceeds that which might rate a "hat tip" or a "via". The convention that I've used is that stuff I found on my own while trying to understand this story, I've linked to directly, while stuff that I found on Cho's blog, I linked to the relevant New Zambia post; I ought to add that I also found the Zambia Landsafe blog via New Zambia.

I reiterate my recommendation of New Zambia, by the way, as I say, it is much better than 99% of OECD economics blogs. Very very obviously, all failures, mistakes and ignorant remarks are entirely my fault.
3 comments this item posted by the management 5/07/2008 10:11:00 AM

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