Contemporary Zambian laws allowing the President to regulate traditional chiefly appointments have been declared unconstitutional. The laws, based on colonial-era ordinances, were tested when a prominent traditional leader disputed the President’s power to legitimise a chief’s appointment through ‘recognition’. The court found that these presidential powers infringed the amended constitution saying ‘no law’ could allow anyone the right to ‘recognise or withdraw the recognition of a chief’.
Is it possible for the institution of chieftaincy and its associated traditions to fit comfortably under a system of democratic constitutionalism? Many African countries are working out how the two can coexist. One of the most recent examples comes from Zambia where three judges of the constitutional court have just had to resolve something of a conundrum.