Contested Succession of Senior Chief Tafuna

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Sorry it is a crappy picture.

Reading this week:

  • Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
  • Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean by Abdul Sheriff (extremely illuminating)

So here is a story I only really recently dived into concerning the succession of Senior Chief Tafuna. If I haven’t mentioned the role of traditional leaders before, the traditional system of government is still very much in place. The Chiefs of Zambia are officially recognized by the government, and hold office in the House of Chiefs, which advises the government. In addition, Chiefs get a stipend from the government and act as an intermediary between the people in their chiefdoms and the government. In addition to those powers granted by the government, the Chiefs hold very real traditional power in their chiefdoms. People seek them out to settle disputes, Chiefs appoint village headmen which run the villages, Chiefs have a large role in land management and apportioning land use to different people, and command the respect of the people of Zambia. The power of Chiefs isn’t limited to the village; I have seen educated city-slickers get nervous in the presence of a Chief. And between the government stipend and the gifts people are required to bring to the Chief when visiting or asking him (or her!) to settle disputes, being a Chief can be a pretty lucrative gig.

This story begins in July of 2013, when the previous Senior Chief Tafuna died. As can be seen in the top diagram, Senior Chief Tafuna is the senior-most traditional leader among the Lungu people (I live in a Lungu village). Besides the fact that dying left the role of Senior Chief open, even the decision about where to bury the late Senior Chief caused contention, with one group objecting to burying him among the previous Senior Chiefs. Since he didn’t complete all of the traditional ceremonies when he was elected 45 years previously, they held he wasn’t really the Senior Chief.

Though the previous Senior Chief Tafuna died in July of 2013, it wasn’t until November of that year that the Lungu Royal Establishment elected a new Senior Chief Tafuna. I’ll note at this point that the names sometimes get confusing, because the name of the Chief is linked to the job, ie, although (in this case) Rafael Sikazwe Chipampe is elected, he is then known as Senior Chief Tafuna. The news articles from the election noted that there may have been some contention about who get elected Chief, but it was only the faintest of foreshadowing of what would happen next.

The first real grumbles of trouble came about a year later, when Chief Chitosi started to say that Rafael Chipampe (aka the elected Senior Chief Tafuna) was elected improperly. Without much detail, he complained that the Lungu chiefs did not follow the right channels in electing the new Senior Chief, and therefore Rafael Chipampe was not a legitimate Senior Chief. Meanwhile, the other Chiefs were saying to not entertain anyone other than Rafael Chipampe claiming to be Senior Chief Tafuna.

The crises became acute, however, when the government officially recognized Ben Mukupa Kaoma (aka Chief Mukupa) as the new Senior Chief Tafuna in 2016. This was contrary to the wishes of the Lungu Royal Establishment. Nonetheless, Chief Ben Mukupa Kaoma proceeded to Isoko (near Mpulungu) to assume the throne at the palace of Senior Chief Tafuna. This incensed Raphael Chipampe Sikazwe, the elected and acting Senior Chief Tafuna. This prompted Raphael Sikazwe to lead an angry mob which murdered Chief Ben Mukupa Kaoma.

As a suspect in a murder case, Raphael Sikazwe, acting Senior Chief Tafuna, went on the run. He eventually turned himself in. Although he plead not guilty to the crime, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Since then, the succession dispute has not been resolved.

This story interested me at first because of its own proximity on my life; when I first showed up to the village I had heard that our Chief was “in exile” but I didn’t really ask more questions than that. When I saw the story about “Senior Chief Tafuna sentenced to death” I took a closer look. Between the witchcraft stories and succession disputes over thrones, I am always vaguely amazed at the Game of Thrones sort of stuff that goes on around here. On the other hand, the number of people that died over this is very sad, but goes to show the influence that traditional leaders still have here in Zambia and the lengths people will go to in order to get these roles.

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