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Barotseland: The Law and the Politics of Secession – a missing link in the natural flow of Zambia’s political discourse

Malama Katulwende

I have always believed that the Barotseland Agreement 1964 was a missing link in the natural flow of Zambia’s political discourse.  Why has there been silence and secrecy over an issue which should have been in the public domain in the first place?

Recognizing how important this subject was, however, I decided to incorporate the Barotseland Agreement 1964 in my book titled “Bitterness” (New York: 2005) in order to share with ordinary Zambians the pertinent issues around the Agreement. With some historical hindsight I was very sure that unless the Agreement was resolved urgently, it would resurface and explode in our face the way it has now done.

Having said this, though, let me express my profound disappointed with the manner in which the ruling MMD party has, since 1991 when it assumed office, had to let this problem degenerate into turmoil.  Officials in the Banda-led government have, no doubt, patted themselves on their backs for having the arrested over 123 “secessionists” who had allegedly plotted to separate Western province from the rest of Zambia “by the use of force.”

They have captured the “culprits” and charged them with treason and conduct likely to cause the breach of peace. The government has sent the armed forces into Western province to quell any possible insurrection.  The question is: has the problem been mopped up?

I indicated in my article, “Should Barotseland secede from Zambia?” that on the balance of probabilities, the Barotseland Agreement 1964 posed more challenges than solutions. I suggested that the best course of action would be to arrive at a negotiated settlement which took into account the concerns of the Barotseland Royal Establishment (BRE), government, separatists, Lozis, chiefs and ordinary non-Lozi Zambians.

All these elements have a stake in the outcome of the discussion.  What needs to be appreciated from the outset, though, is the fact that the Barotseland Agreement 1964 cannot be restored in its current form without disconcerting the political economy of what constitutes Zambia today.

What would prevent Mwata Kazembe of the Lunda people of Luapula province, for example, from telling the government of Zambia that he also wanted to secede and become part of the Katanga province in the Congo? After all, some of his subjects are still in the Congo – and the Mwata visits them even today.

Kazembe might not have engaged the British South Africa Company (BSA) and British Colonial office for protection, but the fact remains that he did not invite British colonialism. Since his kingdom has a prior existence over colonial domination, he might argue that he were therefore just coerced into being part of the state we call now “Zambia” and therefore reserved the right to secede.

I have attended discussions about the Barotseland Agreement 1964 on at least two occasions. What baffles me, however, is the amount of historical distortion with which such debates are associated. There was a Zambian professor (resident in South Africa) who said at a meeting held at the Chrismar hotel last year – “We just want to ask the government of Zambia to give us what naturally belong to us. We have been quiet for a long time but now we just want to part ways peacefully. Barotseland existed as an independent nation since time immemorial and so we want to revert back to our previous status.”

What “naturally” belong to the Lozi people? Western province? Regrettably, this argument is flawed because Barotseland has not always existed as a nation. The Barotse plains were inhabited by other people whom the Aluyi (foreigners) conquered to set up the Barotse nation in the nineteenth century. Like most tribes in Zambia, the “Lozi” have origins in the Congo. So, what do secessionists mean by that which “naturally belong to us”? For my part, history does not start at the creation of the Barotse nation.

It goes all the way down when the plains were populated by the Twa, Khoisan, Kwengo, Shona, and so on. These people are still there today. Should they claim Barotseland?

Sadly, the argument was supported and elaborated on by a lecturer from the University of Zambia, a Mr. Austin Mbozi who teaches ethics and philosophy of governance at the institution. To be sure, I was very disappointed by the organizers of the discussion for having invited panelists who had scant knowledge of Zambian history. Mr. Mbozi was, in my view, the least qualified to discuss the Barotseland Agreement 1964 in historical context because he is not a trained historian. He should have hesitated to appear on that panel and saved his face.  On the other hand, he probably might have made an impression on me if he had discussed the origin of land rights and claims in the context of the Agreement.  On what score should the rhetoric of secession be justified?

What came out of the discussion were slogans for the separation of Western province. This, as I have already said, has absolutely nothing to do with the Barotseland Agreement 1964. Unfortunately, some youths in Mongu who have been rioting have been fed on this diet of deceit – that there’s a connection between the Agreement and secession.  If, on the other hand, the reasons for secession have to do with underdevelopment, then I am afraid almost all the provinces in Zambia could claim to be so. The hunger, shame and destitution which our people in Barotseland feel are the same that is felt in Luapula, Northwestern, Eastern and Southern province.

Someone told me at the discussion: What these guys are planning to do is use the Litunga to endorse the separation of Western province from Zambia, and then they shall depose him and create a system where the he (if he is lucky) shall be the ceremonious figure much like the British system today.  Considering what has happened now, it looks to me that this might have been the grand plan.

I am not sympathetic to the separatists because these people, who are staunch tribalists, would mistreat Zambians if Barotseland were to become an independent nation. I heard some of them speak of Zambia in the most despicable manner, as if they were citizens of another country. I found them extremely insolent  and cynical – I am afraid to say.

Having said this, nonetheless, I disagree with the harsh measures that the government has used to suppress the separatists’ right to assemble and express themselves. Zambia is a democracy and should embrace diversity of views and interests.  The government should have granted these people the right to assemble and be heard.  After all, the state has an obligation to respect dissenting views no matter how absurd. Repression does not work.

Category : Columnists, Malama Katulwende.
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Comment:

16 responses to “Barotseland: The Law and the Politics of Secession – a missing link in the natural flow of Zambia’s political discourse”

  1. Chishala22 says:

    Sichaba u are right but i think u are missing the point. what malama is trying to say is that B land as it is stated in BA64 did not exist as a unified country. Moreover ‘the Lozi’s’ should not emphasis that they are oppressed in their land. It is not their land we all came from somewhere. u also try to quote some European authors to make a point but to be honesty with u these are the same guys who distorted our history. there is no Zambia tribe in Zambia. We have tribes in Zambia and Lozi is part of that. I agree with malama the gvt would have allowed the pipo of zambia to freely express their views on this issue rather than supressing it.

    • Sichaba says:

      Well to go further with regard to custodian of traditional land, each village in Western Province just as in other province has head-men who oversee allocation of traditional land, so the Mbunda chiefs have the right within their domain, the Nkoya chiefs have similar rights, so on that score it is not true that all issues pertaining to land are all directly controlled by BRE. With regard to the history I was quoting, these are the books that we used at school and the writers such as Jalla lived among the locals so did Francois Coillard, it is our own ancestors who narrated and the writers merely complied, it is up to you to believe or not, the late Bob Marley said, “A people without a history are a people without a direction!”. We need to be proud of our history and also pass this on to our children and grandchildren. I merely dwelt on the point of when the Luyis’ came to settle in modern day Western Province.to offer clarification. As for the BA64 we have read that the Government is dealing with that directly with the BRE so why not give them a chance. You may be surprised to note that the Nkoyas, the Mbundas and the Nyengos in fact fought alongside the Lozis’ to defeat the Kololos’ so unity has always existed..

  2. malama katulwende says:

    Sichaba>>> Hi and thanx for the write ups. You have made some good points. Now – like the Bemba, Lunda, etc, the Lozi are not indigenous to this country. When they arrived into the country, they found other people ALREADY settled there and defeated them at war. The plains were taken by force. My point of contention is: what should be the origin of land rights and ownership of Barotseland? I would like you to answer that.

  3. malama katulwende says:

    Sichaba>>> Hi and thanx for the write ups. You have made some good points. Now – like the Bemba, Lunda, etc, the Lozi are not indigenous to this country. When they arrived into the country, they found other people ALREADY settled there and defeated them at war. The plains were taken by force. My point of contention is: what should be the origin of land rights and ownership of Barotseland? I would like you to answer that.

    • Sichaba says:

      Western Province as an area as it stands today covers 17% of Zambia, which is quite significant. There are two types of land; one managed by the BRE and other by the state. Any Zambian can apply for a commercial or residential plot through town planning and still get title deeds from Ministry of Lands in Lusaka, u can also apply for traditional land through BRE accordingly, local courts are mandated to oversee any disputes pertaining to traditional land as well as a last resort.

  4. malama katulwende says:

    Sichaba>>> Hi and thanx for the write ups. You have made some good points. Now – like the Bemba, Lunda, etc, the Lozi are not indigenous to this country. When they arrived into the country, they found other people ALREADY settled there and defeated them at war. The plains were taken by force. My point of contention is: what should be the origin of land rights and ownership of Barotseland? I would like you to answer that.

  5. malama katulwende says:

    Sichaba>>> Hi and thanx for the write ups. You have made some good points. Now – like the Bemba, Lunda, etc, the Lozi are not indigenous to this country. When they arrived into the country, they found other people ALREADY settled there and defeated them at war. The plains were taken by force. My point of contention is: what should be the origin of land rights and ownership of Barotseland? I would like you to answer that.

  6. malama katulwende says:

    Sichaba>>> Hi and thanx for the write ups. You have made some good points. Now – like the Bemba, Lunda, etc, the Lozi are not indigenous to this country. When they arrived into the country, they found other people ALREADY settled there and defeated them at war. The plains were taken by force. My point of contention is: what should be the origin of land rights and ownership of Barotseland? I would like you to answer that.

  7. malama katulwende says:

    Sichaba>>> Hi and thanx for the write ups. You have made some good points. Now – like the Bemba, Lunda, etc, the Lozi are not indigenous to this country. When they arrived into the country, they found other people ALREADY settled there and defeated them at war. The plains were taken by force. My point of contention is: what should be the origin of land rights and ownership of Barotseland? I would like you to answer that.

  8. malama katulwende says:

    Sichaba>>> Hi and thanx for the write ups. You have made some good points. Now – like the Bemba, Lunda, etc, the Lozi are not indigenous to this country. When they arrived into the country, they found other people ALREADY settled there and defeated them at war. The plains were taken by force. My point of contention is: what should be the origin of land rights and ownership of Barotseland? I would like you to answer that.

  9. Sichaba says:

    Point of correction in my first submission meant to write, “how far back should someone or a tribe have settled or entered Zambia to be considered indigenous if ones that came in 1500s’ are now being referred to as foreigners?

  10. Sichaba says:

    It is also recorded that the Lozis had never been defeated at battle except by the Makololos’ who invaded under Sebitwane from Basutuland. Prior to the makololo invasion the language used by the Lozis was different. When the Lozis’ hit back after 25 years they killed almost all the Makololo men, the few that survived fled across the Zambezi never to be seen again. After the Barotse had overthrown the Makololo, the leading indunas and chiefs took makololo women as wives their language, “Sikololo” became the lingua franca of Barotseland. I hope this explains the origin of the language used this day known as Lozis. You may be interested to know that in our own original language, siluyana, Bwino Bwino means fine similar to Bemba. This also just to demonstrate that the Lozis did not originate from south.

  11. Sichaba says:

    Bwana Malama, I would like to set certain records straight in respect to origins of the Lozis’ or Luyanas. It appears to me that some discussants on the Barotse issue especially those opposed to restoration or refreshing of BA1964 use the term that after all Lozis’ are also foreigners in Western Province and that is why the way called Luyis’. How far back should have someone settled in any part of Zambia to have become an original? Historians have documented that the Lozis originated from ancient Lunda Kingdom of the Mwata Yamvos in what is today Western Zaire. Originally they were known as Luyis’ The leader of the Lozi in the southward advance was a man called Mboo, he is said to have been the son of a woman called Mbuyawamwambwa. Sometime in 1500s’ he and his followers settled in Zambezi planes on what is the Zambezi plain in present day Western Zambia. The Lozis’ conquered a number of groups that were already living there, Twa, Mbunda Nyengo and Imilangu. It is also stated that Nkoyas, Lundas’ Kaondes’, Luchazis’ and Luvales’ also came from Luba-Lunda empire. As you may be aware around 1650 the Bembas’ crossed Luapula River from Buluba in what is Zaire today. Of all the ruling groups that came to Zambia from Luba Kingdom the Bemba were the latest.

    There seem to be a general belief that Lozis only came to Western Zambia just before the Makolo invasion which is not true. A book written by Gervas Clay published in 1968 states that the Barotse royal family goes back several hundred years as also confirmed by Jalla the first historian of the Barotse. Remember this is hundreds of years before even King Lewanika was born in 1842. I can comfortably also indicate that I have the facts and books right in front of me and I will be happy to learn from you if the Nkoyas’ came to Western Province before 1500. I regard myself as a true Lozi in that my origins are of; Nkoya, Kwangwa, Toka-Leya, Luyi and Nyengo and above all a true Zambian who has also intermarried from a different province of Zambia and we live in perfect harmony!

  12. Chola says:

    Malama you have a point. Why not write to Banda or do Banda people read this website?

    • malama katulwende says:

      Hi Chola>>>> I am not sure if the govt of Zambia reads what we write. I hope, however,that they read my latest publication “The Fire AT The Core” to be published in New York April 2011.

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