The Swazi king rules by decree
Chiefs and kings have for centuries been custodians of Africa's culture and heritage.
They have also been a symbol of the people's voice.
In Swaziland King Mswati III remains Africa's last absolute monarchy. He rules by decree in the small southern African nation where political parties remain banned.
But in Ghana, although the institution of chieftaincy is guaranteed by the constitution, chiefs are not permitted to participate in politics.
However, they have authority over traditional laws and customs, and chiefs have a great deal of influence in the community.
BBC World Service Africa Live asks: What role should traditional leaders have in a democratic Africa?
Should they wield political power, just stick to cultural affairs or be abolished altogether?
Join the BBC's Africa Live debate Wednesday, 18 February at 1630 & 1830GMT.
Use the form to send us your comments, some of which will be published below.
If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number, which will not be published.
We do appreciate the vital role played by the chiefs and kings as custodians of Africa's culture and heritage for centuries. This is 2004, lets move on with time. Leadership of a country should go to the politician of the day elected in a free and fair election. Values of societies have since changed. The days of a one-man band, however less clever he may be, are long gone.
Mataka Mposa, United kingdom.
I don't think abolishing the traditional system will be of any good. Perhaps, integrating the traditional rulers into governments would ease the representation of minority and marginalized groups of society. Traditional leaders still have a significant role in governance of rural set-ups and are popular amongst various societies for different reasons.
Yitatek Yitbarek, Ethiopian/South Africa
Make them ceremonial rulers with no political clout. They are greedy, womanisers, cry babies and obstacles to change. Politically they abuse power, practise favouritism and tribalism. They are non-secular and hold the nation hostage. In the long run, abolish them!
Ndlovu Kazi, Lesotho
Yes, the chiefs should continue to rule because they are the only pride we have left after colonisation. We had chiefs ruling many many years ago and everything was in good order, no voting, no rigging, no starvation and we still had our pride as a nation because we respected and obeyed the chiefs and they did the same to the ordinary people.
NO!!!! Why is Queen Elizabeth not also the Prime Minister of England?
Maxxwell, Lagos, Nigeria
I am very disappointed that the BBC is SO NEGATIVE about traditional leaders in Africa. We do have our own traditions and culture - British/French and German colonisers of Africa came to destroy our norms and beliefs, and now the BBC is crying loud about African leaders. My problem is: Why can't the BBC address fully the racism and Xenophobia that Asians and Africans experience in England?
Noxolo, South Africa
I support the total abolition of our traditional leaders from having any role whatsoever in politics because most of them are corrupt and support corruption in their kingdoms, they give chieftancy titles to known looters of their country's wealth. Most of them are womanisers. They champion tribalism and they are an obstacle to development. Abolish them all in the interest of peace in Africa.
A traditional form of government is a useful check against democracy in Africa. Critics of this form of government do not understand Africa's mistrust of democratic rule, forced upon them by external powers.
Mubarak Saleh, England
I think Ghana has it about right. Traditional chieftaincy systems have an important role to play outside conventional politics. An attempt to replace democratically elected governments with traditional rulers is likely to backfire and create more confusion, conflict and inequality. Whatever the situation may have been before colonialism, too much water has passed under the bridge to turn back now.
Peter Takoe, Ghana
I have the strongest opinion against traditional rulers and their roles in government. However they became traditional rulers is long gone and therefore should be abolished. Having a place in government is dictatorial to say the least. Please get rid of them or we will.
Henry Williams, New York/Sierra Leone
There is absolutely no place for traditional kings or chiefs in Africa. Their role in society is not only obsolete but also repugnant to the core principles of democracy. Africans must not condone any possibilities of autocratic rule. Otherwise we will continue to perpetuate a culture that will stifle any form of political, social and economic development.
George Kyalo Mutua, Kenya
Abolished forever I say! Some of these traditional leaders inherit their positions from their fathers regardless of the fact that some of them have absolutely no leadership qualities. Anyone who wants to be a leader should face the ballot box!
Mary W, Kenyan in Germany
Traditional leaders should be banned completely. They are too pompous and after all, they are full of dictatorship. The Swaziland leader has got dozens of wives - that is even opposed in the Bible. Some people are struggling to get wives but some traditional leaders because of their positions are having multiple wives.
Webster Mdluli, UK
Chieftaincy is the oldest traditional custom that remains in Africa today. It brought orderliness then and it was OK in that century. Today, we live in a modern society and Africa should work hard toward civilization. One significant way to start that is to introduce pure democracy. One will still debate that by doing so tradition would be lost. But do we prefer tradition over security and peace? As we continue to be educated and exposed to other cultures, Africans will continue to be rebellious against it. Let's act like the civilized world such as United States and Great Britain and stop this stupid culture that makes no sense.
Abdoulie Jobe, The Gambia
Rulers should be representative of their people and not just individuals who by accident of birth happen to be born in the 'right' family. The leadership qualities found in any one individual are unique to them and not passed from parent to child. Therefore all these monarchies and chiefdoms should be replaced with elected leaders though the monarchs may retain a ceremonial or non-political role as the community wishes.
Wairimu Kuria, Kenyan in US
I strongly believe that Swaziland, Ghana and other African countries that maintained traditional leadership in part should in fact be commended for keeping parts of our great culture alive. Moreover, it remains to be said that the majority of our people are not fully educated to all the norms of modern or Western political system. Hence, abolishing
traditional systems of governance will not only be a cultural problem, but a total marginalisation of the indigenous people who in fact, make up the majority in most African countries. The two systems can be brought into consonance with one another.
Joe Harris, Liberian in US
Traditional rulers should be in government. Western democracy has shown itself - for instance in the US state of Florida during the year 2000 elections - to be just a smokescreen behind which greedy corporations can buy the rulers that they want. This is reflected in Zimbabwe where foreigners have bankrolled the opposition.
Zangaphee Chimombo, UK
I believe traditional leaders have a key role to play. One way of enhancing public participation in decision-making is to involve traditional leaders, although this does not need to happen at all levels of government. Politics is all about trust and our people respect their traditional leaders a lot more than the so-called modern elites. So, if the latter have to succeed in improving governance then they need to be inclusive, tapping into traditional mode of government. This releases a good deal of latent energy and substantially improves conflict resolution, natural resource management and public trust.
Boruu Hifa, UK
Traditional rulers are still here today because they serve as the custodians of our rich cultures and traditions. They shouldn't be included in government because if they are, it might fuel the many tribal clashes across the continent. Each ruler would want to vie for his or her tribal group. African governments have been run along tribal lines for so long that we don't need traditional rulers getting involved in an already bad situation we all want to correct. Such as there is separation of church and state so should tradition be separated from state. Yet, their advise could be sought now and then.
I think modern and traditional politics each has their own place in African life and mixing them can be very explosive.
That goes for the involvement of traditional rulers in modern politics, but also in the opposite way. For instance in Ghana you can clearly see how JJ Rawlings' (and to a lesser degree Kufour's) involvement in the Dagomba chieftaincy issue has caused most of the tribal unrest in Dagbon over the last decade. The two systems have their merit and can live alongside each other, but only if there is a mutual respect and understanding.
Traditional rulers are still here today because they serve as the custodians of our rich culture and tradition. But, I have the strongest opinion against traditional rules in government. I think Ghana has it right. An attampt to replace democratically elected government with the traditional rulers will result in confusion, conflict, inequalities, tribal war, and disorder. So let's abolish the chieftancy issues from politics and have peace and stability in Africa.
Yaw Amoah, New Jersey, USA.
The Swazi king is just one huge dictator with a kid's brain. However, his behaviour is just the same as any other African politician. They are inhuman and have no respect for their citizens. It will take the next two generations to even think of change.
Benson Magaba, Zimbabwe
Anyone who wants leadership should face the ballot box. These chiefs are just a bunch of uneducated people who just want to take advantage of poor people. Get rid of them I say.
As an African who is proud of his heritage, I feel greatly insulted by those who are calling our chieftancies as stupid. Stupid? My foot, this is a system that maintained law and order as well as harmony among us as Africans for centuries and now is being condenscendingly called stupid by so called educated Africans. Be proud of your own culture for once.
Chishimba Milongo, Zambia
Dictators parading themselves as democratically elected representatives of the people in Africa should not be given absolute powers to preside over the affairs of the oppressed majority by abolishing traditional institutions. They should operate side by side.
Kaputu, Senegal/United Kingdom
Why have Kings who give out titles to the highest bidders? At least the Queen honours the best in the British society not always the richest. The idea that someone is born to rule is crazy. I dont want my tax money to ever support a mere mortal like me to lord over me.
James Stewart, USA
I believe cultural leaders should remain our cultural custodians as European religious leaders do. We should separate cultural leadership and state as developed countries separate church and State. Traditional leadership is the last stand of our African heritage.
Moses, Uganda, Living in US
The general trend in world affairs has been toward the adoption of democratic institutions; if African's can actively seek ways in which to transform their traditional institutions into democratic ones, then these traditional institutions ought to be permitted access to political authority.
G. Mutaya Msisha, Malawi
The power that kings wield are central to promoting autocratic rule and this tradition of having a dozen plus wives in the King's Kraal does not help in the fight to preach chastity to the populace in these days of AIDS. The king is a role model and should be seen to be at the fore-front in this campaign to fight HIV/AIDS for his subjects. If the king does it wrong who is going to do it right. He may need caution that he will soon be presiding over sick and dying subjects
Mxolisi Mahlangu, United Kingdom
Why should anyone I never elected have political power over me? The world has moved on from the times when people were leaders through "accident of birth."
Yusuf Musoke, UK
I agree with most of what everyone has said about the vitality of the chiefs and kings but I feel that their time has passed and they should recognize that their "king" is the newly elected political figure. I feel most of the problems in Africa come from the tribe based factions, even amongst the government. I'm not saying that tribal leaders should be disbanded but chiefs should have less influence.
Brisbin Skiles, USA/ Ivory Coast
Traditional rulers should have a role similar to that of civil servants. They should not be involved in politics but should work with the government (not a party). Rural development can be assured if traditional rulers and not politicians take a leading role.
I do believe that Swaziland would benefit from a system which integrates traditional forms of governance as well as political parties, because of the rapid rate of social change over the past century.
Catherine Essar, Canada
It is a good idea to preserve African traditions and culture through chieftaincy. But this should remain only as long as there are people who still feel connected to the system and find peace and tranquility in it. Chieftancy in Africa should evolve with time to embrace new values while preserving the rich and important African traditions and cultures.
Ciza Selerintah, USA
The writer rightly observed that chiefs in Ghana wield some political power even now. Sadly though, a lot of chiefs have become corrupt, greedy and morally bankrupt, thus bringing the institution into disrepute and compromising whatever political power they may exercise.
Kwasi Poku, Canada
So often we see people make poor decisions which lead to famine and disease by keeping to some of their traditional practices. I do respect tradition but when it has a negative effect on an entire people, then I think the process needs review. We have come too far as a people for one person or a family to be deciding the future of a country forever.
Weldon, St. Johns Grenada
Those countries which have never experienced living with kings and kingdoms, have missed a lot. They are the foundation of politics for the whole world. Their preservation is a great honour to those who still have them.
Wilfred Kusemererwa, Kasese-Uganda
Chiefs and kings should not only be custodians but also be part of the democratisation of Africa. They can be essential for grassroot organisation and development.
Festus Minah, Sierra Leone
Be they kings, chiefs, lords, presidents, prime ministers or whatever, the two words "Africa" and "leadership" just don't rhyme.
I salute the efforts of some African kings and chiefs for preserving some of Africa's rich cultural heritage in the face of European invaders. I remember with pride the likes of Oba Ovaremwen Nogbaisi and Jaja of Opobo of Nigeria, and Nana Yaa Asantewaa of Ghana. I remember also with horror that it was because of some of Africa's Kings and Chiefs that slave-trade and Colonialism flourished on the continent. In all a very chequered history.
Chidi Nwamadi, Nigeria (living in France).
I think that it is vital in the future development of Africa that traditional leaders have their say. They should have a role that will help the polititians understand the impact of their ideas and decisions will have on some of the smaller communities. Without this understanding there may be a decrease in some of the traditions and cultural differences found in Africa.
Lindsey Hudspeth, England
Traditional rulers can be a resourceful element in the democratization process in Africa and should therefore be allowed to take part in politics. To deny them that opportunity is like depriving them of the right to know and engage on a democratic platform like everyone else.
Dominic Woja Maku, Canada
What is wrong with traditional rulers getting involved in politics if they can deliver the goods? The role that was played by traditional rulers in pre-colonial Africa, was nothing else other than politics in all its form. What is needed perhaps is a system whereby their views can be taken into account but not put above the needs of the majority.
Be they kings or presidents, most African leaders are lifetime rulers anyway. I think it is the attitude of people to leaders and governance that should change. As it stands, we tend to worship and fear "our" leaders.
Getnet T Fetene, Ethiopia/USA
The truth of the matter is that traditional leaders have indirect influence in the politics of their countries whether the world acknowledges them or not. In certain places, like parts of South Eastern Nigeria, these men are paid by the government for their roles as traditional chiefs in their local communities. So if the government is able to pay them, they could as well actively and openly demonstrate political competencies coupled with their cultural portfolios. Abolishing their roles in society could be detrimental, as they have been identified as alternate leaders that democratic politics is not able to provide.
L. Isang Akpan, Nigerian in the US
We don't need traditional rulers to be directly involved in government policy making. Every tribe that recognizes traditional rulers has a defined role for them. If they are allowed to be involved in the decision making process of government, governance would be worse than we now see it.
Livinus E. Inordee, US
I agree that you should not totally abolish the system of chiefs. It should be integrated into a political process. The chiefs should simply be used for ceremonial duties.
Andrew C, USA