Granting Chiefs Diplomatic Passports Ahead Of 2023 Elections | SENSIBLE or NONSENSE?
22 July 2023
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Sensibility of Granting Diplomatic Passports to Traditional Chiefs ahead of Zimbabwe’s 2023 Elections

The call for granting diplomatic passports to traditional chiefs in Zimbabwe has sparked a debate on the sensibility and implications of such a move, particularly in the context of the upcoming 2023 elections. Chief Clemence Nembiri of Mt Darwin made this request during a workshop with the national council of Chiefs, arguing that traditional leaders should be treated as leaders and granted this privilege for ease of travel across borders. However, the proposal raises concerns about potential perceptions of bribery and the abuse of power among some traditional chiefs. This article will analyze the merits and drawbacks of granting diplomatic passports to traditional chiefs and the potential consequences it may have on Zimbabwe’s political landscape.

The Role of Traditional Chiefs in Zimbabwe:

Traditional chiefs play a significant role in Zimbabwe’s governance and societal structure. They are recognized as custodians of cultural heritage and are often considered as important local leaders, especially in rural communities. Their primary responsibilities include settling disputes, overseeing communal affairs, and maintaining order within their respective villages. Many chiefs enjoy deep respect and loyalty from their communities.

Chief Nembiri’s Call for Diplomatic Passports:

Chief Nembiri’s request for diplomatic passports stems from the perception that traditional chiefs are also leaders and should be granted the same privileges as other government officials. He argues that temporary leaders, such as politicians elected by the people or appointed officials, often receive diplomatic passports despite having limited terms in office. In contrast, traditional chiefs hold hereditary positions and remain in their roles throughout their lives, yet they do not enjoy the same travel privileges.

Perceived Bribery and Abuse of Power:

One of the main concerns surrounding the granting of diplomatic passports to traditional chiefs is the potential perception of bribery. Diplomatic passports are typically reserved for government officials and diplomats who represent the country’s interests abroad. Providing these passports to traditional chiefs could be seen as an attempt to buy their loyalty or secure their support for political purposes, especially in the lead-up to the 2023 elections. This perception could undermine the credibility of the electoral process and erode public trust in the government.

Moreover, there have been instances of abuse of power by certain traditional chiefs in Zimbabwe. Reports of corruption, misuse of authority, and failure to act impartially have marred the reputations of some traditional leaders. Granting diplomatic passports to chiefs without appropriate checks and balances might exacerbate these issues, leading to increased exploitation of power and privileges.

Potential Benefits of Diplomatic Passports for Chiefs:

On the other hand, proponents argue that diplomatic passports could enhance the chiefs’ ability to engage in regional and international matters on behalf of their communities. Facilitating their travel could enable them to participate in conferences, workshops, and cultural events, fostering cross-border collaboration and enhancing cultural exchanges.

Finding a Balanced Approach:

Instead of automatically granting diplomatic passports to all traditional chiefs, a more prudent approach would involve assessing each individual case based on merit and necessity. Chiefs with a proven track record of promoting community development, preserving cultural heritage, and fostering regional cooperation could be considered for diplomatic passports, provided there are transparent guidelines and stringent accountability mechanisms in place.

The call for granting diplomatic passports to traditional chiefs in Zimbabwe ahead of the 2023 elections presents both opportunities and challenges. While it could enable chiefs to represent their communities on the international stage, it also raises concerns about potential perceptions of bribery and exacerbation of power abuse among some chiefs. Striking a balanced approach that considers merit and transparency in the selection process is crucial to ensure that the move, if implemented, promotes responsible leadership and benefits Zimbabwe as a whole. Ultimately, the decision rests with the relevant authorities, and careful consideration of all implications is essential before any action is taken.