Officialdom usurping time of Council of Traditional Leaders

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The 18th annual meeting of the Council of Traditional Leaders came to an end last Friday in Ondangwa after five days of deliberations.

But from the post-meeting sentiments by some of the traditional leaders, especially as expressed on the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC)’s Otjiherero language service (also known as Omurari Wondjivisiro Ombaranga) the reference to the activities of this constitutional creation may just as well be an understatement.

In fact it is no wonder that the very people sitting in this Council, the traditional leaders, or some of them to be exact, are the ones starting to question its essence.

Among the sentiments coming through is that the traditional leaders do not set and define the agendas of the sessions of the Council.

In the first place, traditional leaders hardly ever meet after their last annual council meeting, saying their barely get time to converge and converse.

Ideally, they need to define and draft the agenda for the next session, a year after. Most of the time of the Council is devoted to matters set by the government and with various ministerial and/or government instances usurping most of the traditional leaders’ time.

Similarly, when traditional leaders get time to set the agenda of the next meeting, it is still never easy to have such items discussed because of the overload of ministerial/governmental matters on the agenda.

That overload leave little, if any, time to discuss matters they could define and perceive as their own as traditional leaders.

Clearly, for these traditional leaders the expectation that they need to play a bigger and more significant role than they are currently playing, whether in the Council, or elsewhere, is largely justified.

And there was no ambivalence either about the increased role they would want to play. Why the traditional leaders seem restricted in their role currently, and even in terms of setting the agenda for their own session, is anybody’s guess.

But perhaps this is also understandable in view of the nature of the function and reason for the existence of the Council of Traditional Leaders as per the Namibian Constitution.

“There shall be a Council of Traditional Leaders to be established in terms of an Act of Parliament in order to advise the President on the control and utilisation of communal land, and on all such other matters as may be referred to it by the President for advice,” reads Article 102 (5) of the Namibian Constitution.

As clear as the Constitution is, that the Council is only there to advise the President on matters he/she refers to them [Council] for advice, the role of the Council cannot and should not stop there. As it transpires from the traditional leaders who featured on the said NBC show, these traditional leaders had for year issues from their own communities that they wish to have discussed at the annual Council meeting but no opportunities were availed to them.

This is because as it stands, the only items that enjoy ‘airtime’ at this annual meeting are those whose agenda is set elsewhere, by the powers that be.

And because the Council sits only once a year and for five days only, many matters that individual traditional leaders hold dear to their hearts have been standing over – some for as long as seven years on the agenda.

This is because the agenda has been overloaded with items from the government. As a result the communities from which the agenda matters emanate would wonder if their leaders are competent enough to find solutions to their problems.

To say the least, there seems to have been an imbalance if not an overkill of matters from officialdom on the agenda of each session of the Council of Traditional Leaders every year that today traditional leaders looks only like shadows of what they should have been and as true representatives of their respective communities if only by having matters pertinent and relevant to such communities put on the agenda of the Council, and eventually deliberated on.

More often than not the essence of traditional communities, let alone that of the Council itself, has been called into question to the extent that they have been likened to nothing but historic relics.

One of those who recently have been questioning the existence of traditional authorities and/or communities, is none other than the President, albeit in a different context of being cornered about mushrooming and polarisation of these traditional authorities to the extent that they have become self-serving in terms of personal interest of self-aggrandisement rather than serving the interests of their communities.

But somehow it is becoming apparent that blame cannot solely be laid at the doors of these traditional communities and leaders. Similarly, there have been groundswell doubt as to the raison detre of such traditional authorities/communities, and of the Council of Traditional Leaders as much. That is given their seeming state of moribund, which is partly something of their own making but on the other hand it is becoming clear that they are not solely to be blamed.

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