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Heritage taken action against me," she explains. But the challenge failed: nobody, not even the chosen one, can overturn the decision of the elders. Her Royal Highness Mukuka Mfume presides over 14 villages in northeast Zambia. On the threshold of her grass- roofed palace, this fi ne septuagenarian widow describes how she sees her duty. " It is God's will that I lead my people, and I obey Him," she explains. " To decline to become chief is unthinkable." She has now exchanged her city house for a grass-roofed palace. Royal Highness, a job for life, is not always the sinecure you might imagine: the post brings her no remuneration, unlike some lucky chiefs indemnifi ed by the government. The power of these leaders is not what it once was. They no longer arbitrate in witchcraft affairs as they formerly did - black magic does not exist, according to Zambian law - and serious crimes are sentenced at national level. Her Highness, nonetheless, is authorised to act in local confl icts, neighbourhood quarrels and cases of land theft. She also serves as government spokeswoman on such issues as the education of girls and the struggle against AIDS/ HIV. To be faithful or to abstain, to live peacefully, to work hard in the fi elds, to take care of the sick, elderly and orphaned: these are the messages that she, or one of her numerous delegates, delivers daily. And then there are the special days. Chief Nkomeshya's begins early one morning towards the end of October, when she dons her extravagant outfi t of skins, pearly headdress and jewels. Dressed in clothes bearing her image, her subjects gather in thousands to hear her implore God to bring good rains and a plentiful harvest. For these are also the duties of a chief. Traditional leaders must also lobby on behalf Above: Mukuka Mfume offers words of advice to her subjects " It is God's will that I lead my people, and I obey Him" November 2009 Travel Zambia 29

of their community. " One of my functions is to exert pressure on politicians, administrators, business leaders and well- wishers," explains Nkomeshya Mukamambo II, " so that my people get their fair share of the national cake." She has experience of community development issues from both sides, having formerly been both a deputy and a minister, so knows the right questions to ask: who will fix the road, when do we get more mattresses for the hospital - and so on. " The chiefs own the land, which make them obligatory go- betweens for state and investors," explains Doctor Manda, scholar and member of the Zambian House of Chiefs. " They also have a strong moral and ethical influence on their people, which can count heavily in the polls," he adds. " So any politician who wants to be elected needs to be conciliatory towards them." Some women chiefs bring business skills and strategies to their position. Her Royal Highness Chieftainess Chiawa, formerly both a secretary and teacher, has governed the Gova people on the Lower Zambezi for over 20 years. " Since I have held this position," she explains, " electricity has come to the villages and investors have followed." She lists the safari lodges that have opened in the area and the local jobs that they have created. For women like Chieftainess Chiawa, who owns a big farm near Lusaka, the responsibility has been liberating. Others however, surrounded by male councillors, controlled by their husbands and distrusted by local politicians, have only the semblance of power. Some even share their crown: Her Highness Be Diango, eighteenth chief of that name, shares responsibility for the Leya people in the Livingstone region with chief Mukuni. He runs political and economical affairs while she handles social issues, such as visits to the sick and the organisation of traditional feasts. He is paid by government; she is not. He travels; she stays in the village. " But I must beware," jokes Mukuni. " If I am a bad chief, she can poison me." It is clear, then, that there is still a way to go before men and women achieve parity. " Men are not prepared to offer us power on a silver plate, so we must help one another," suggests Chief Nkomeshya. " Personally I have engaged women as councillors and I militate for women to replace deceased male leaders," she adds. " I advise young chief women to put aside their shyness: men are waiting for a chance to catch We must encourage girls to take power and responsibility - be it chief, minister or even president 30 Travel Zambia November 2009