Chief Ndake received us in the community land rights office of the small compound that constitutes his “palace.” As one of Zambia’s traditional authorities, he reigns over a swath of Nyimba District in the country’s Eastern Province, and he is working with the Zambia Land Alliance to improve land rights and tenure security for his subjects.
The only thing traditional about Chief Ndake was the formal greeting we were expected to offer, on one knee. He greeted us casually and warmly, smiling from beneath his glasses. Perhaps in his forties, the chief wore a polo shirt emblazoned with the slogan-of-the-day: “We use a toilet—do you?” The chief explained that they had just installed a lot of toilets across his kingdom, a major public health advance.
Chief Ndake is one of a number of traditional leaders trying to bring order and tenure security to those who live without land titles on customary land, which covers more than half of Zambia and is home to the vast majority of its small-scale farmers. These leaders are seeking to construct a middle ground in a battle over Zambia’s new land policy, one that rejects efforts to privatize customary land through formal titling but improves tenure security by granting villagers traditional landholding certificates.