Chieftaincies and Chiefs in Northern Namibia: Intermediaries of Power between Traditionalism, Modernization, and Democratization

  • Michael Bollig
Part of the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series book series (CIPCSS)


Chiefs, in academic literature often addressed as neo-traditional chiefs, traditional authorities, or intermediaries of power, have been popular topics of research among social anthropologists, political scientists, and sociologists, and perhaps to a lesser extent also among historians since the 1990s.1 One might wonder justifiably why they have stirred such interest among social scientists. It may be because of their ambiguous and almost paradoxical stand within a modern setting, as chiefs are legitimized through ancient genealogies, networks of patronage, and accumulation of power and often of property. Yet many still see them as essential for the establishment of a civil society based on democratic principles in rural Africa. Or maybe it is because of the astounding resilience of the institutions of chieftaincy. Although firmly established only through colonial administrations in many parts of rural Africa, and co-opted by colonial administrations in the 1950s and 1960s for colonial projects of modernization, they have successfully integrated themselves into postcolonial states and are nowadays well-fettered partners of governmental, non-governmental organizations, and political parties. Chiefs are highly influential in all matters pertaining to land tenure, the regulation of social relations and social security legislation in the rural communities. It seems that especially in southern Africa traditional authorities are strong and have successfully bolstered their elite position in the process of decolonization.2


Land Tenure Local Leader Administrative Structure Communal Land Local Elite 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  • Michael Bollig

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