Namibia: Traditional Authorities Burden Government

Photo: New Era
President Hage Geingob.

President Hage Geingob yesterday said accommodating more applications for the recognition of traditional authorities would be financially unsustainable, and could lead to further tribal divisions.

Geingob was addressing the opening ceremony of the 22nd annual meeting of the Council of Traditional Leaders taking place at Gobabis, Omaheke region.

The conference, which started yesterday and ends on Friday, aims to deliberate on common issues affecting traditional communities, and communal land.

The Namibian understands that there are over 10 applications for new traditional communities to be recognised as traditional authorities.

The government spent over N$15 million per year on traditional authorities' allowances, The Namibian reported in 2017.

At the time, the government paid N$1,2 million per year on 51 recognised chiefs, N$6,7 million on 306 senior traditional authority councillors, and N$ 600 000 for fuel to each traditional authority per year.

"We cannot have a situation where people suddenly want to establish distinct traditional communities and chieftainships, premised on personal motives, preferences and ambitions, while all these years they have peacefully resorted under one traditional leader, sharing the same customs, values, language and culture without any problem," said Geingob.

Namibia has close to 52 officially recognised traditional authorities, of whom each are entitled to send two representatives to the conference each year. The president expressed concern about factionalism and ongoing leadership succession disputes between communities and their leaders.

"In this regard, I am calling on all citizens, especially our elders and traditional leaders, to uphold our traditional norms and customs, and avoid fuelling and planting seeds of division and dissent," he stated.

Geingob added that as leaders and elders, traditional authority figures are there to guide, and teach on moral and ethical conduct.

The president said support for traditional leaders and authorities will continue from the government in terms of capacity- building and the establishment of community trust funds.

However, he called on them to be accountable, and to put resources from the government to good use. "I would like to see these trust funds operational, and for resources provided either by the government or the community to be fully accounted for and utilised for their intended purposes".

Geingob also reminded the traditional leaders about their role of advising the government on the utilisation of communal land.

He said it is a critical role, given the centrality of the land question to the sustenance of the country's hard-won peace, stability and social harmony.

The president likewise urged traditional leaders to actively play a role in the implementation of the recommendations from the second national land conference, which took place last October.

"Through you, we are reminded that we are part of a history that defines our past, shapes who we are today, and who we are likely to become tomorrow," the president continued.

Considering the economic downturn and the ongoing drought, Geingob called on traditional leaders to also contribute to the government's efforts towards drought relief. Stressing the need for inclusive and constructive dialogue, he urged the traditional leaders to continue to work hand in hand with the government, as well as to deepen and strengthen peace, unity and inclusive development.

Geingob also touched on the topic of culture, describing traditional leaders as guardians of culture. According to him, culture is the glue that binds Namibians as inhabitants of the Namibian House, and it allows them to identify with one another.

The Namibian last year reported on Geingob warning traditional leaders against going to formal courts in order to resolve disputes, urging them to use the customary law as it should be. At the time, the now deceased king of Ondonga, Kauluma Elifas, had been dragged to court to testify on the succession battle between factions among the Aandonga. Immanuel /Gaseb, the acting chair of the council, was in agreement with the government when he also denounced the endless applications by traditional communities who are seeking recognition.

"The endless disputes among our traditional communities and endless applications by the traditional communities who are continuing to seek recognition for a new traditional authority to the already 52 existing recognised authorities, are destabilising the conducive environment our government has created for us," stressed /Gaseb.

He added that there are more than 10 applications which were received by the urban and rural development ministry from communities who are already represented under the recognised traditional authorities.

"With humility and respect, we therefore as a council request our minister to scrutinise such applications.

"It is due to these applications that our traditional communities are on a daily basis embroiled in disputes and they drag each other to courts, which is not the customary practice to move away from unwanted disputes," said the acting chairperson.

Urban and rural development minister Peya Mushelenga said the ministry's time is consumed by endless conflicts among members of the traditional communities and royal families who are disagreeing on chieftainship successions.

He said this affects the ministry's job of addressing socio-economic challenges facing the communities.

"Some of these conflicts are created deliberately and typically driven by self-serving interests that are divisive, obnoxious and self-defeating," stated the minister.

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