IN ZAMBIA, like many other African countries, traditional leaders bear an importantly solemn role of uniting the nation through tradition and culture.
This is because traditional leaders carry distinguished authority and influence over their subjects.
In most cases, traditional leaders are known for their wisdom and ability to resolve conflicts between family members, within and among communities.
Their role transcends political boundaries because within their chiefdoms, they have subjects with different political inclinations.
However, with heightened political interest prior to and after the August 11, 2016 general elections, we were taken aback by some traditional leaders from Southern Province, in particular, who, instead of helping defuse tension, were actually fanning it.
These are traditional leaders who stood on podiums to declare their political inclinations, which was obviously based on tribal and ethnic lines.
This is despite the Zambian Constitution giving clear guidelines for chiefs not to engage in partisan politics.
Recently, some chiefs from Southern Province suspended all traditional ceremonies as a protest against the incarceration of United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema, who they fondly refer to as “son”.
This kind of behaviour is detrimental to the values that have defined us as a nation. It lacerates the very fibre on which we were founded decades.
What if other provinces behaved the same way every time a tribesman was arrested?
We remember when former President Frederick Chiluba was arrested, Luapula Province did not go up in arms with all sorts of threats against the government nor did we hear them make utterances which bordered on tribalism.
Former President Rupiah Banda was also arrested but chiefs from Eastern Province did not behave in the dishonourable manner we have seen in recent years from some chiefs in Southern Province.
When Michael Sata was arrested as Patriotic Front leader before his ascension to power in 2011, the Northern Province traditional leadership did not collapse into sycophants hanging to a loose tribal thread. They were above board.
We cannot afford to mortgage our status of being a beacon of peace in Africa and beyond for anything.
Traditional leaders are better placed to understand the importance of national unity and peace to our country.
As leaders, they should understand better that it cost our founding fathers a lot, including lives, for us to enjoy the peace that we have today.
We do not, therefore, expect our traditional leaders to be in the forefront inflaming divisions or simply sacrificing national unity and peace at the altar of political or ethnic expedience.
We expect that in whatever they do, traditional leaders should contribute to the promotion of ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ motto coined by our visionary forefathers.
If politicians are fighting, we expect traditional leaders, together with other neutral stakeholders such as the Church, to step in and help resolve the conflict instead of taking sides.
It is, therefore, encouraging to hear that Southern Province chiefs have committed to working closely with their counterparts in other parts of the country to foster unity.
During the recently held Ukusefya Pa Ng’wena traditional ceremony of the Bemba people in Mungwi district, nine traditional leaders from Southern Province were in attendance.
Senior Chief Chikanta said it was not the first ceremony traditional leaders from Southern Province were attending in a bid to foster unity and peace.
The senior chief said the traditional leaders had also attended the Mutomboko ceremony of Lunda people in Luapula Province, among others.
Such interactions are commendable and should be encouraged among traditional leaders and their subjects.
As Chief Nkula of Muchinga rightly noted, such interactions are vital in holding the nation together in tandem with the ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ motto.
One of America’s former Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
This was to signify the importance of unity at whatever level of society.
It, therefore, goes to say a country divided against itself cannot stand or indeed attain any significant development.
We are also happy that the Southern Province chiefs have decided to reverse their ill-contrived and tribally-motivated decision to halt traditional ceremonies.
The importance of these ceremonies as a unifying factor cannot be overemphasised as they have nothing to do with politics or indeed crime.
It is our hope that our chiefs will always prioritise their obligation of supplementing Government efforts in safeguarding unity and peace instead of becoming an extension of political parties.
There is absolutely no need for the traditional leaders to play the role of pantomime villains on matters of national importance.