Africa may be full of democratically governed countries, but it is still the land of many kings. Sure, there are only three African countries with constitutional monarchies – Morocco, Swaziland and Lesotho — but there are several hundred traditional monarchs dispersed across Africa in urban, semi-urban and rural communities in independent countries. Mostly, these monarchs wield little or no formal political power, but they fulfill spiritual and ceremonial obligations to members of their community.
Being a traditional monarch in Africa can be a lucrative affair. A significant number of these rulers are formally recognized by state institutions and as a consequence, many of them receive generous stipends and allowances from the government. For example, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, the traditional King of the Zulu people, South Africa’s largest ethnic tribe, receives an annual allowance of about $6 million to cater to the needs of his royal household. He also gets to enjoy other perks like frequent private air travel and keeps an exotic collection of automobiles, all paid for by South Africa’s taxpayers.
Many African monarchs also earn a significant income through the goodwill and generosity of their communities. It is not uncommon for wealthy members of a tribe or community to give substantial sums of money, cars, land or houses to their traditional Kings in return for spiritual blessings or unrelated favors. And since these traditional monarchs may wield significant influence in political circles, some of them get invited join boards of large corporations. Obi Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi (King) of Onitsha, a mid-sized commercial town in Nigeria’s southeastern region, serves as the Non-Executive Chairman of Unilever Nigeria, a large publicly-listed manufacturer of consumer goods, and he previously served as Chairman of Diamond Bank, a leading Nigerian commercial bank. Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, who is the Alake (King) of Egbaland, a clan of Yoruba-speaking people in Nigeria, is the Chairman of Oando, a large Nigerian energy company.