The Alur and Jonam People. The power of chiefs

September 15, 2016

The powers of chiefs are legally defined by the Uganda Native Authority Ordinance. Although there was a combination of new and old features, the general principle was that the status, powers and duties of chiefs were to be exactly as they had been under conditions of indpendence inso far as they were "not repugnant to morality or justic" and had not been otherwise restricted or added to by the foreign Administration. Thus chiefs were to maintain order both by new conferred powers and by virtue of "any law or native custom for the time being in force"; and they were to issue order both with respect to native law and custom and for a large number of newly-defined purposes. These latter comprised the restriction of liquor, drinking bouts, noxious plats, and the carrying of arms; the prohibition of any conduct likely to cause a breach of peace; the prevention of water pollution and the wasteful cutting of timeber; the employment of male natives for restricted periods on various public works; the prevention tax evasion, the control of human or animal dieases, the reporting to another, the control of human or animal diseases, the reporting of stolen property, the provision of food for sale to govenment officials on tour, the prevention of unfair eviction, and any other purpose which the Governor might authorise by rule. Furthermore, chiefs might be directed to make or cancel orders under any of these heads by the provincial or District commissioner. Chiefs might employ persons to assist them in the exercise of any of these powers, and they could require the attendance before them of anyone under their jurisdiction. They also had special powers of requiring movement, labour or cultivation for the prevention of famine. By chief is understood "any native chief who is recognised as such by the Government, or, subject to any orders of the Government, any native chief who is recognised as such by the tribe over which or over part of which he has jurisdiction and includes, except where such an interpretation is repugnant to the context, any body of chiefs exercising collective authority. This covers without discrimination all levels of native political authority of sufficient importance to gain recognition at all. All details as to the system of subordination, number of grades of chiefs and division of powers between them, are left for decision on the spot by the District permits considerable variety, and few chiefs have identical power. Between them, are left for decision at all. All details as to the system of subordination, number of grades of chief and division of powers between them, are left for decision on the spot by the District commissioner with the provincial commissioner's sanction. This pessimists considerable variety, and few chiefs have identical powers. It is clear that during the early years of the establishment of British domination the reportion of chief's powers and duties which stemmed from native law and custom remained very large. As control became more effective this sphere was progressively restricted, and more recently its relative importance has been reduced still further by the ever-growing complexity of modern administration resulting from economic development and the accumulation of local bye-law concerned with marriage, markets cash crops, rules for cultivation, and so on. Chiefs are subject to fairly heavy punishment for failing in any of their duties. They are liable to a fine of not more than 600s or imprisonment for not more than six months for failing to keep appointment with a Government official; neglecting their powers for preventing offenses, bringing offenders to justice or recovering stolen property; failing to issue, enforce, or cancel orders as directed; failing to carry out lawful orders of a superior chief or abusing their authority under native law or custom. Technical offenses under these regulations must occur fairly frequently, but the rigor of the law has only been visited on them in rare flagrant cases. However, during the first few years a number of wakils were taken to the district header quarters at Arua for "courses of correction." One was goaled for desertion, and in another case three headmen received twenty-four lashes for bad road work.

The sultans were the highest native authorities, mediating the new administration from the European officers to their tribal. The wakils constitued the courts of first instance from the official point of view and bore the primary local responsibility for administration. Headmen were granted no officially recognised judicial functions, though there was no objection to their excercising whatever powers of arbitration their status and personal ability conferred on them. In the main their job was to carry out the instructions of the wakils in each ward of his sub-county and the the nyampara were their agents in this

It was the two most powerful chiefs of the Uganda Alur who were choosen as the first sultans. All the first wakils were appointed from among the tradtional chiefs and chieflets, or their sons, excepts in the case of parombo, which was such a large localised clan section that its head became wakils, and Erusi sub-county which had and ex-askari of th First World War as its first wakil. On the other hand, headmen have most frequently been the heads of localised clan sections.

Chiefly lines which failed to obtain the office of Sultan usually found recognition as wakils. On subsequent amalgamation some at the same time, amalgamation of headmen was going on, and, as a result, many headmen who had held office by virtue of clan headship the dignity of a headman or clan head to accept the job of nyampara as an alternative. Besides loss to the desire of the Government to introduce non-hereditary office holders with suitable qualifications. This was sometimes acieved when a herditary office holder had to be dismissed for a minor offences or imcompetence, or when he retired or died. More commonly office holders ceased to hold office owing to a combination of old, readiness to retire, and pressure from the Distrct commisioner to reduce the importance of the hereditary principle in office desire to reduce the importance of the hereditary principle in office holding made very little progress during the first thirty years of administration. To an increasing extend hereditary office holders had to be prepared for transfer, ruling in areas other than their own, though within the same county. But office holders to be very largely drawn from families forward to equal them in ability to rule. The families of chiefs holding the office of sultan exercised a wide degree of control over the system as a whole, with many sons or other close agnatic relatives holding office as wakils or headmen. In 1951 the four wakils of Jonam county all had hereditary claims to political office, though not neccessarily in the areas where they were excercising it, and four out of the eight Okoro wakils also had hereditary claims.