Lilongwe — Traditional chiefs have expressed concern over how political and economic changes over the years seem to have weakened their powers and authority making them less effective in their traditional leadership role related to management of natural resources.
This was noted when they recently met in Lilongwe to discuss their roles in Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) organized by Community Partnerships for Sustainable Resource Management (COMPASS) as part of its planned activities to sensitize traditional authorities in the country. "History has it that we, chiefs were in the past instrumental in defending the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources such as forests, fisheries and wildlife by among other things, upholding to regulations set up by the ancestors on the utilization of natural resources," said Senior Chief Kwataine from Ntcheu.
He said chiefs are custodians of the people in that they coordinate various aspects of the community, including caring of natural resources, to create harmony amongst people for the realization of their dreams and aspirations, however this is slowly being eroded.
The new legislative policies and Acts on natural resources advocate for community participation in the management of natural resources on both customary land as well as surrounding protected areas. "Despite the existence of these policies for close to a decade, there have been few opportunities for traditional leaders to acquaint themselves with the policy and even comment on them," Kwataine said.
Another traditional leader T/A Makanjira from Mangochi said that the role of Traditional Authorities is not well integrated in either the Act or the Strategy for decentralization of environmental management. "Government should steadily intensify building capacity of communities on new policies and their expected roles whilst gradually weaning out its involvement. It would also be better for government to give ultimate authority to the chiefs to design and administer fines on natural resources without external influence as what used to happen in the past," said T/A Makanjira.
During the workshop, the chiefs also suggested that for genuine collaboration to be attained between government and chiefs, there has to be demonstrated commitment to share the benefits from the protected areas with bordering communities that can in turn be used for development of the areas rather than government controlling all the financial resources.