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Tuesday, August 3, 1999 Published at 11:07 GMT

Does Africa need its kings and chiefs?

These despots have held back Africa's economic and democratic development long enough - it's time for them to go.
Steve Beat, Scotland

Hereditary kings are best. Everyone knows where they stand. When countries have a president it always leads to much fighting and bloodshed. I think staying with traditional ways is best.
Nazeem Ajas, African living in UK

Just two of the comments Talking Point received. Read more below.

Background ¦ Your reaction

The Background:

King Hassan of Morocco is dead. He was one of the few reigning monarchs in the world with more or less absolute power.

News and Information for Africa
Kings and chiefs remain a popular feature in many countries in Africa. In some, they have become purely ceremonial and been stripped of their powers, in other countries, there is an uneasy mix of the modern and the ancient.

But their traditional allure appears to remain and they attract fierce loyalty from their subjects.

So what should be the role of these traditional rulers?

Could they do better than the elected presidents or those who come to power through coups, or should Africa forget about hereditary rulers altogether?

Does Africa need its kings and chiefs?

Background ¦ Your reaction

Your Reaction:

Today's chiefs are grossly being manipulated by politicians and African governments to such an extent that their role is compromised. Tradition is not what it used to be. Why is it that you do not have women as chiefs even though they might be in line of succession? Women in Africa remain oppressed because the so-called traditions are chauvinistic. Does Cleopatra ring a bell? The modern African politician and traditional chiefs are far worse than colonialism.
Freedom Kwacha, USA

It's good to keep cultural traditions alive, but most of these demigods care more for their own position, power and wealth than for the subjects they dominate. Let them keep their titles, but let all rulers be accountable.
Brian Samuel, Zimbabwe

Certainly, so far states in Africa have been built by dynasties and on strategic family ties rather than on the ballot box. The ballot box has rather paved the way for ethnic voting. Besides, most of the wars and violent repression in Africa (it seems) have been started by students from European universities (Quite often, political science in the 70's). What does that tell us about western contribution to the general progress ?
Mikael Kjellstrom, Sweden

Why is it that anything that comes from Africa is viewed negatively compared to the rest of the world? I would like to ask 'Should Britain have monarch? If yes, what makes it wrong to have it in Africa? You should be asking of the possibilities of economic developments in Africa not about the chiefs and kings. They never exploited Africa like the colonial masters did in Africa. Please be fair and reasonable in what you write about Africa. Thank you.
Henry Chucks, USA

A king? Why not. It's gotta be better than communism or some bad socialist governments out there. Besides if Africa wants kings, what place do we have to tell them what kind of government they can have?
Carl, USA

Africa does not need these archaic, little chiefs. They are so incompetent that the only way to hang on to power is to initiate conflicts.
Emeka, UK

Africa doesn't need kings. What for? We are approaching 22nd century. Do we want to be a statistic by lagging back in every aspect? I think it's time for us to have a democratic governments. This will reduce tyranny and corruption.
Eric Sereti, Kenya-USA

Ethiopia needs very much its Kings and Queens, because they are the major part of our great history. The interruption of the Monarchy in Ethiopia, is like burying your past and denying yourself the future. Without The King Solomon's Dynasty in charge of Ethiopia, Ethiopia will disintegrate further.
Kassa Immanuel Gebrekidan, USA

I believe African Kings and chiefs should remain but with modified roles to make them less visible at the centre of national governance. The strong point here lies in their effectiveness in managing the grassroot politics. The local people and subjects have greater loyalty, trust and confidence in the kings and chiefs than in the government at the centre. This strength should be harnessed positively not weakened.
Olubunmi Ajayi, Australia

Yes! Yes! Yes! That is our tradition and we love to keep it alive. The chiefs and the kings are very important in our community, they help town and the people. As long as you need governments and presidents then Africa needs the chiefs and kings. Thanks
Edith Gilbert, Nigeria

Because one was born into a supposedly 'royal' family, the stupidest fool could become the king of a land.
Kofi Adu-Parko, Canada

I just do not want to bundle together all the monarchs as it appears to be the trend in this discussion. There are traditional leaders like the Kabakaship of Buganda which in spite of having been abolished by despots has stood the test of time and revived! Mind you, it is purely run not on tax payers money. So I believe the question should be asked with particular reference to the specific monarch in question, historic background etc. Thanks, and let the debate go on...
Kimbowa Richard, Uganda

No, Africa does not need them. Neither does England. We need more beneficial and less parasitic institution.
Wuyi Omitoogun, Sweden

Like Muthuvel Chelliah of the US I could hardly believe this question. Does Africa needs its kings? Why ever are we asking this in a country that has a monarchy that has become increasingly unpopular? Why don't we deal with our own problems before we start pronouncing on the problems of Africa? This is neo-colonialism I am afraid.
Lindsay River, UK

Of course, Africa needs chiefs! It is part of the culture. And, it is high time that the 'white world' respected the cultures of the African peoples. I don't believe there is one country that has not tried to tell any of those people how to be civilised. And, the sad thing is that we are a terribly uncivilised society to give advice to anybody anywhere.
Dave Adams, USA

What Africa needs is a transition from absloute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. The crown is, after all, the symbol of stability and peace. Look here, why is Ethiopia split into two nations and war broke out? The obvious answer is the desolution of the monarchy.
Hailu Gobezie, USA

The only leader of any country should only be chosen be it's people. As a Brit I used to find the idea of a monarchy ridiculous until I considered just how much American tourist dollars the British royal family generates. Who's laughing now?
Matt Huxley, USA

We need economic development not tax wasting monarchs. How about switching the debate to how economic development and good governance can be brought to the continent? We're to busy starving and dying to waste time on trivia such as monarchies.
Amoroso, Kenya

So long as the king is literate and experienced, he or she will do well for the masses. Otherwise, kings have no place in the modern world scene.
Basko Kante, Ghana

You guys, I mean the British, always view the rest of the world with double standards. Do you ever think, whether you (Britain) need a Queen in the first place. Most Americans laugh at you. Do you know that?
Muthuvel Chelliah, USA

Many countries are developed with or without Kings. Royalty governs traditional beliefs and ideologies, fundamental to the national family concept.
Oloo, Kenya

I vote yes. There are chiefs and there are chiefs - some good and others bad. The institution exists, despite over a century of efforts to weaken it. We should ponder why it still exists. So the issues is not whether we need it, but how it can become more useful and democratic.
Akwasi Aidoo, Nigeria

If the west can keep its queens and kings, I do not even know why Africa should do away with them. Why Africa? This is yet another of those issues that demean Africans and it appears that whoever started this debate has a hidden agenda. Should Britain retain its queen? I say yes, it is part of the continuity. Should the queen be involved in politics? I say no, that is for politicians. The same way for Africa and everywhere else.
John Kamau, Kenya

Let us not tar the entire continent of Africa with the same brush. I have recently visited Swaziland where the King appears to be held in very high esteem, local chiefs are respected and the country is safe and seems to function quite well. In many ways the Swazi monarchy just stepped into the shoes of the British one in 1968 and adopted many of the same institutions.
Ian Moseley, Germany (from UK)

It is still very important to the African society to have kings and chiefs. This tradition and every African tradition has to be preserved. Who has the right to say that because of the chiefs and kings African economy is not developing? Who has the right to define how Africa and the citizens have to act? Who is defining standards how economy and regimes in Africa has to be? Who has the right to judge Africans, saying they live far behind in the "stone age"?
Who has the right? The EC? The (saviour of our world) United States of America? All Africans living abroad since years and never been back home for years, having no ideas what really happens back home? Europeans that never been to Africa, that never even talked to an African? Do you really have the right to criticise? I do not think so.
Patricia Enogieru, Switzerland

I think we need kings and chiefs in order to preserve the traditions and cultures of those countries, tribes etc. I think if to abolish these kings and chiefs is like losing one's tradition, culture and so on. These kings and chiefs have great influence over their people and can prevent a lot of disorder and destruction of many kinds especially in the third world countries
Chulu Manalla, Tanzania

For cultural reasons, those institutions provide some stability. However, since most African chiefs and kings are well educated in western ways, the lure to interfere in modern state governance occurs ever so frequently. That can be conflict generating. Monarchies in the millennium are rather anachronistic. Mbaye's claim of the lack of tribalism in francophone Africa is incorrect. Why do we have the civil war by the Casamance?
Ed Edet, USA/Nigeria

Africa should embrace the ideas of constitutional monarchs, for this would be a symbolic identity of tribal groupings and a celebration of our diversity as Africans.
Bali Bukenya, USA

I'm certain that if the UK and the BBC concentrated their energies on solving the problems that they face today, they wouldn't have time to meddle and try to re-organise the cultures of people on another continent. The type of governments running Africa must surely be the business of Africans, and not the British or the BBC.
Jim Hubbell, USA

I believe there is a place for Kings in Africa. Democracy is something that requires years of practice on the part of people. The UK and US both went through a slow process of self-governing before we struck out on our own. Maybe that is what should happen in Africa. Too many countries seem to rush to democracy only to find they have lost their freedom, or created a civil war. A slow methodical movement toward democracy is best, look at history.
Richard Powell, USA

I was in the Ethiopian Armed Forces, I would argue we don't need them. But I have seen the good they can do. Prince Ermias Sahleselassie of Ethiopia is active on Community issues. They have uses for those things. I don't know about ruling, if people accept them by referendum (a real one not a moshed up job) they may be good constitutional bellwethers for the nation's cultural and historical identity, better than "presidents" any way.
Ayele Belay, Ethiopia

I voted no not because I dislike the idea of returning to our past, but because we have come too far to return.
Allie Kamara, USA

Africa needs kings because its like England because the kings represent something to the people there. They probably will not have any powers but Africa need them.
Annie, USA

I am so tired of the age old condescending ways of the former colonial masters. Do you never tire of trying to meddle in our affairs as if it is your God given right? Who questions or counsels you on matters relevant to your society aside from your own citizens? BUZZ OFF, will you? Let Africans be the deciders of their own destiny. Can you handle it this once?
Onyo in America, Uganda

Yes indeed Africa does need it's kings, and chiefs. That is one of the traditions that we Africans have. To have a King does not automatically pull Africa backwards. There are good, and bad kings, like there are presidents.
Surafel Mekonen, Ethiopian in USA

Of course, Africa need its kings and chiefs. It's funny that BBC is asking this question. Isn't the royal family in Britain instrumental for stability and ethnic unity of Great Britain?
Gabriel Agonafer, USA

They have no leverage in national affairs. Without armies or economic power, they are merely sitting ducks at the mercy of ruthless despots without vision. I say off with their heads.
Collins, Africa-USA

We need to change from old ideas to new one. Every generation must come up with little change. I don't mean to leave our own tradition but to shape it up to better.
Angong Woudich, Sudan

The main problem for Africa has been its lack of leadership. Tribal chiefs in Africa are cancers to their society and to the whole continent. First of all they are very greedy, they take countries' wealth into their personal account. Secondly, they cause war between two brother peoples in order to stay in power. Unless we Africans get rid of this curse, which is tribalism, we are not going anywhere. Traditionally, we Africans blame Europeans for all bad things that have happened in Africa. That has probably a little bit to do with it, but most of the problems have been created on our own. In history, the first slave trade took place between tribal chiefs. Even now for all major conflicts taking place in the continent, tribe is a major factor. Therefore Africa will never be united as long as these people are around us.
Kiros, Ethiopia

Strong traditional authority can have a strong positive role in the development of modern Africa if it operates within an equally strong constitutional framework. More western paradigms may follow in the future, but in the mean time, there is desperate need of stability and continuity in African governance.
John A. Melendy, Malawi sending from USA

Everyone, no matter what race or nationality, should have the freedom and God-given rights to their ancestral beliefs and customs. Although the chiefs and kings may only be representatives of that past history, It is important for people to feel like they have choices and freedom from religious and political persecution.

Should Africa maintain its Kings and Chiefs? I think not! The problem we face today in Africa is a direct result of hanging on to antiquated cultures. These cultures, although rich and note-worthy, would have been better served if colonisation had taken into account tribal demographics instead of land value.
Today, Africa consists of many countries with several tribal entities. These entities are (and have always been) struggling for control. This is the cause of our apparent inability to advance. By the way, the division of Africa without adhering tribal boundaries WAS NO MISTAKE!
Ato Arkaah, Ghana, West Africa

Nations like Ethiopia have a monarchy that has blazed the path of their history and united them in fighting off aggression and colonial ambition. That monarchy can not be judged by today's standards on whether it was humane or not, it did things the way they were done in its time.
Its reform can not only bring the nation (Ethiopia and Africa) back to the path of a principled peace but all our people ascendance into truly becoming determiners of their own stead. Europeans, and others that can not see this are at best superficial in their understanding of facts and at worst understand only too well Africa's true ascendance would bring about the decline of their influence in those neck of woods.
Andualem Beshah, Ethiopia

The problem with chiefs and Kings is that they are not accountable to anyone. The institutions lack the system of checks and balances demanded by modern day systems of governance. Generally, they also have no economic or administrative capacity to provide services or develop the communities they are supposed to govern. But they can play a vital role in society and are still held in high regard in rural communities, often overlooked by the central government. My suggestion is that traditional systems of government be modernised, not abolished.
Mambu Kawa, Sierra Leone/USA

Most of the original kings were beheaded or taken into exile before slave trade started. They were replaced by appointed stooges. Africa still needs its kings just as in Europe. But don't ask a tramp about his/her opinion about the Queen of England. What will their opinion change. Africa was once ruled by chiefs who were fathers of their nations. Today it is ruled by thieves. Africans will never become Europeans so they need to preserve their traditions. The kings are there to stay and their people will never replace them with elected thieves who are of dubious origins.
Chief Stan M.Touko , Cameroon/Nigeria

It is not important to have a king or queen. The only thing we need is peace.
Tegist Tsegai, Ethiopia

Well, Africa has to give up a lot of its "traditions" if it is to catch up with the rest of the world!
Navin Khadiya, India/USA

If the African nations are happy to stay like Europe in the Middle Ages, with all the pathetic feudal wars and superstitions (except with better weapons), then go ahead, keep your kings. If they want to move forward, then parliamentary democracy is the way to go. The monarch can remain as a figurehead, like in Britain or Japan, so that what's left of the nation's cultural continuity isn't broken.
Benjamin, UK

It probably does not really matter a fig if you have a king, chief, president or horse in charge when you have crippling debt repayments to the real power brokers in the west.
Dave Patterson, UK

It is a matter of tradition and it goes to the heart. Only Africans can understand. We Africans need to keep our tradition as it is. Today our countries have been assimilated, the western culture is creeping in and our people are adopting the views of the west whether bad or good.
For it is said that anything that comes from the west is good. After travelling around the western communities and living most my life in the west, I came to the conclusion that Africa and its culture remains the best in the world. Yes Africa needs to keep it chiefs and kings for our own prestige, we cannot do without them they are the corner stone of Africanism.
Prosper Isaac, Canada

Unlike the Kings and Queens of European continent, African Kings and Queen are wealth motivated parasites that suck blood from their subjects and destroy the very fabric that holds the community together. They are good for nothing blockheads that need to be got rid of.
The Presidents and Prime Ministers are not lesser of evil. Africa needs motivated and educated patriotism that can pull it from the economic quagmires and political uncertainties which plague the whole continent since the colonial days.
Jamal Hassan, Ethiopia

Like most parts of the world that have not benefited from a gradual development of democracy. Africa suffers from "instant democracy syndrome". The continent simply can't come to terms with effective, honest government. There has been the odd minor successes, but in general Africa has the most corrupt, self-serving politicians on the planet.
Graeme, England

Before the arrival of the west and their contemporary Arab thieves of African heritage and pride, not mentioning our stable economic integrity, it was the chiefs and kings who were solely responsible of our safe and educated well-being. Currently, it is hard to miss the devastating destructuring and catastrophic retardation caused by these so-called democratic-military despots of both the west and the Arab nations had inflicted on the ordinary African soul.
Peter diamond Sanyang, Finland

As long as traditional chiefs or kings accept the limitations of what their role should be: this is restricted to cultural or social issues, in that case their role could have a positive impact on society. On the other hand if too much power is attributed it may enhance tribal or ethnic differences which can result in a fragmentation of society.
Marc, Belgium

Whether Africa needs its kings or not in not the business of any other continent but Africa itself. There are kings and there are KINGS. Those countries interested in seeing African monarchy vanish for good, may be interested solely because of the profits of the consequences.
Lemlem Dawit, USA

Having one ruler such as a King isn't all that bad. The monarch has an incredible chance to do so much (with no-one to oppose them) while democratic governments sit around all day "discussing" what should be done, getting nothing done. The only problem is if you get a bad monarch in power then everyone suffers!
Matt, Ireland

That is one of the old institutions in our culture that is keeping us behind economically and socially. The roles of kings in modern day Africa have become redundant. As we enter a new millennium and totally different age the institutions of Africa, like the kings, have to change for us to be more competitive in the new age. The kings belong in the past. Let's keep them there.
Derek Obialo, USA

Just as the British, and other European countries still have theirs, we need our traditional leaders. A lot of them were democratic, then came Missionaries with a hidden political agenda and started destroying our traditional beliefs and are still continuing to do that. I just hope this question should also be directed to the British monarchy, why do you ask if we still need our Kings and Chiefs when you (British) still have yours?
BM Kwapa, African studying in Australia

While we are discussing about it is important that the traditional rulers are must to the African Nations, we should consider the Stability and Standard of the African Countries. The coming generation may like democracy and which is acceptable, but Traditional Monarch is a must for the stability of the nation. The King and Queen is the Symbol of National Stability, National Politics. On this ground we support the Monarch for the People of African Countries.

As an African living in Canada, I consider the African chief/King system to be hindering the democratic process and promoting sectarian tribalism. Of course, it is a quick and efficient way for political leaders to buy votes en masse.
Nom de Plume, Canada

I truly believe that Africa has not been able to go anywhere as far as development is concern because our kings and chiefs don't believe in doing what is right for the common good of the continent. They support all kinds of satanic lifestyles over any kind of development that would increase the chances of the people of Africa ever going to any length of human development. All they want the people of Africa to be is what they are right now; living behind the success of every human that is not black. They are my own people, but they are nothing but a bunch of devils! As long as they live, there can never be any kind of upliftment in Africa. They are sick and don't know it. Yes, they are really sick devils. How sad, but so true!
Abel G., Live in the US, from Liberia

In fact it is past time. Africa DOES NOT need Kings any more. Most of them accumulate wealth for themselves and their families at the expense of the common man. Let reason prevail, we are approaching the 21st century where their leadership will be untenable.
Dennis Areba, Kenya/USA

I really think African kings are still relevant.No doubt they have been involved in numerous atrocities such as slave trade, but have we fared any better without modern rulers who stay in power for 20 to 30 years are they any better. I think that if we have educated and honest traditional rulers who are custodians of values and do not sell traditional titles to maintain themselves.
Olumide Ogunremi, USA

Does the United Kingdom need its Queen? It seems to me that this question is much more interesting. I'm sure that Africans will decide for themselves, on a state by state basis, whether or not their rule by blood works for their political and social goals.
DD Kilgore, United States

I believe that we need to keep our tradition but we don't need our king to keep that they were just a part of it also most of our king were not good king , I don't think it's about king but it's about educating our leader and population
Henry Nyakarundi, Rwanda

COMMENTS: Kings and chiefs are part of the African tradition. Some abuse this position, such asMugabe, Buthelezi etc. Others, such as King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu tribe are respected and do nothing worse the Queen Elizabeth.
Zaki Moosa, South Africa

I lived in Zaire for many years and am convinced that hereditary kings and despotic "presidents" are an impediment to progress. Until Africans embrace true republican government, they will continue to take a back seat in the world economy and international affairs.
Tim Larsen, USA

The sad reality is that at present such rulers are necessary because many countries in Africa are politically immature. That does not mean however that moves towards marginalising their powers over the mid-term should not be an aim. In the short-term the best result in order to maintain stability is to forge a balance between the traditional forms of power and new democratic structures.
Mark Power-Stevens, UK

It seems that the only people who want monarchs are the dictators and 'kings' themselves. After seeing that 'African' dictators are just as bad as the rest of the world's we should have dropped this idea long ago. Much of the fighting results from the colonial powers drawing borders that never took into account the different groups, like Yugoslavia.
Nelson, USA

They do not need them. It is time to move on.
Samuel Omorogbe, USA

Despite the problems that have occurred under the rule of kings and chiefs in Africa over the past decades, these problems are not better nor worse than politicians. The kings and chiefs hold a place of respect and tradition amongst African people whose ancestry is being lost in the modern world.
Samantha Dalton, England

Ever since Europeans "scrambled for Africa" in the last century and then handed power back we have been trying to find excuses for the legacy we have left behind. The systems worked well before we changed all the political boundaries and now we can't understand why it is by and large such a mess. Chiefs and kings were part of a successful infrastructure.
Julian Miller, UK

Yes African traditional rulers have a role to play in modern Africa. One forgets that some African societies had some of the oldest democratic court systems. Do your research and you will be surprised. Their role need not be one of ruling over subjects but rather that of culture preservation, political neutrality and possibly avenues for community development.
Zambian, USA

Although I have never considered myself a Royalist it is only having read these answers that I realise I am. Surely a hereditary King, who is groomed to rule from birth, is better than a power hungry individual who probably only decides at least 25 years through their life that they have a desire to rule.
Hereditary monarchs have to learn the trappings of rule and have years before they need to use them, elected leaders learn whilst on the job. In countries that would otherwise more than likely be political unstable, surely a monarch gives them the continuity and stability that they need.
Steve Jolley, UK

I think the question should be: "what should be the role of traditional rulers in modern Africa?" We have them now, they have come to stay but their roles should be redefined.
Chudi Okafor, USA

So you think we should get rid of our royal family then?
Steven Hagger, UK

Does Africa need its kings and chiefs?

Final Vote:


Yes: 37% No: 63%

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