By. Dr. Mbita Chitala
Executive Director, Zambia Research Foundation
www.mbitachitala.blogspot.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Mobile +260 211 976 030398
Both the recommendation by the Rodger Chongwe Commission that the Barotseland Agreement be restored and the off the cuff comments by President Michael Chilufya Sata that he would not recommend that view to his cabinet, are both legitimate. The Chongwe Commission’s recommendation is anchored on the Commission’s interpretation of the law, namely, status of the abrogated Barotse Agreement 1964, while President Sata’s view is anchored on the political realism of the present day Zambia as a sovereign united nation. The challenge is to harmonize the two world outlooks and still end up with a united and prosperous Zambia.
There is generally little debate on the colonial history of Zambia. Following the Berlin Conference of 1884, the territory we started calling Zambia in 1964, was part of Land in Central Africa ceded to the British on 19th September, 1893 in a Land and Mineral Concession Certificate of claim signed by Henry Hamilton Johnson - the Commissioner and Consul General for the territories under British influence on behalf of British Government and witnessed by James Francis Cunningham - Manager of the African Lakes Company Limited and Lord Monteith Fortherington - the Manager of the African Lakes Company Limited. The whole Region was then known as British Central Africa.
The Barotse Question
The Barotse question has its origin with the Lochner Concession of 1887 when Lochner as the representative of the British South Africa company signed a treaty with the Litunga of the Barotse people for protection against slave traders and in turn gave mineral exploration and mining rights in his land to the BSA company. These were the rights which the BSA company kept enjoying and extending at their will until they were revoked by the Zambian government at independence.
The land of the Litunga where the Barotse people had sovereighnty was defined in 1878 by Litunga Lewanika (who ruled from 1878-1916 with one break in 1884-5) . In describing the Barotse Nation, he described true Barotseland as the Land in the Zambezi River Flood plain and about 40km East of Limulunga and Senanga (Gann, Rotberg). This characterization is historically correct as it agrees with the fact which affirms that from 1864 when the Basotho led by Sebitwane and who spoke kololo and had ruled Baroseland since 1838 were defeated and expelled by the Barotse (who now spoke a lingua franca known as Lozi and in some quarters came to be referred to as the Lozi people), the Boundary of the Lozi Nationality was restricted to the Zambezi valley.
In subsequent years, the boundary of what the British Colonialists named as Barotseland kept shifting as other tribes were brought and made subject peoples of the Barotse Nationality.
On 25thJune, 1898 at a meeting held at Victoria Falls, the Litunga Lawenika together with 7 of his Counselors and witnessed by 5 other people on behalf of the Barotse Nationality, signed with R.T Corydon - representing the British South Africa Company - a concession in which he ceded Land to the BSA Company that included “the whole territory of the Nation or any future extension there of including all subject and dependent territory.”In term of Geographical Boundary, the Barotse Nationality’s Boundaries were defined as:
a) Northern Boundary – from the Headwaters of the Dongwe along Kabompo Rivers to the junction of the Kabompo and Zambezi rivers.
b) Western Boundary – from the junction of the Kabompo and Zambezi Rivers along the Zambezi River to its Junction with the Majili River.
c) Eastern Boundaries – from the Junction of Zambezi and Majili Rivers along the Majili River to its head water hence Northward along the line of the watershed at the Headwaters of the Dongwe River.
In 1900, Britain formally annexed Barotseland and governed it as part of North Western Rhodersia. The people of Barotseland enjoyed equal rights as all other peoples of the territory as the British declined to give any special status to Barotseland.
In a letter of complaint by Lewanika to Coryrdon dated 23 January, 1906 Lewanika reiterated what he had conceded to the BSA Company in the concession of 1900. In defining the territory where he had jurisdiction, that is to say, the boundaries of his Nationality “Baroseland”, he noted that his nationality comprised of” Barotse Valley and round Sesheke”The letter acknowledging this fact was signed by Lewanika and witnessed by his Ngambela – Masika and Ford Aitkens.
Later in another concession dated 11th Angust, 1909, Lewanika extended his anthority to include
a) The Country on the West lying between the Zambezi River and the Anglo Portuguese Boundary
b) The Boundaries of Barotseland as defined in 1900
c) North Western Rhodesia as defined by the BSA Company particulary the areas of Batoka and Mushukulumbwe countries in which according to Art 3 of the concession , Lewanika retained right to graze Cattle in unoccupied Lands.
The tribal and linguistic map of Zambia is also very clear on the identification of peoples of the Barotse Nationality. The Barotse nationality did not include Lands of other tribes such as that of the Kuanga, Kuandi, Nkoya, Totela, Shanjo, Subiya, Toka, Leya Lumbu, Mashi, Kwandi, Nkoya, Totela, Shanjo, Subiya, Simaa, Ndundulu, Mbunda Nyengo, Mwenji, Makoma, Mbewe, Lovale, Lukolwe, Lushange. The Litunga and the Barotse people in general, having defeated the Kololo and who were now enjoying British protection, were concerned with keeping their original home as described in the 1900 concession inviolate. The Litunga and his people realized that with the advance of colonialism, they would no longer be able to retain any influence outside those initial boundaries. They wanted to protect the Barotse Reserve from European settlement. And this, they succeeded as, unlike the other areas under British rule, no European or Indian settlement was allowed and no private ownership of Land was ever permitted.
The claim by the Litunga Lewanika in his letter dated 11th August, 1909 that his authority included North Western Rhodesia , is not borne by historical evidence. At the time Lockner signed a concession with Lewanika in 1900, other Chiefs of other tribes of the British Central African Protectorate also signed concessions with another envoy of the BSA Company named Joseph Tomson. The concessions were so numerous that the British Government decided to issue to the BSA Company “Certificate of claim” for each area where Tomson had signed concessions with chiefs who could not be identified . The areas were identified as A,B,C,D etc and the Company built forts in those areas such as Fort Rosebury and Fort Abercon representing present day Mansa and Mbala respectively.
The area covered by certificate of claim ‘’A’’ which included present day Copperbelt, Central and parts of Eastern, Southern Provinces, the BSA Company decided to transfer for administrative reasons, to the “suvereinty of Lewanika as the Land was inaccessible from Fort Jameson. The Administrative move effected on 30th March, 1905 by the BSA Company enabled Lewanika to benefit as he was now entitled to the share of the Tax Money that other Tribes people paid to the BSA Company. Lewanika never claimed ownership of the Copperbelt or any other Lands outside Baroseland.
These administrative changes that gave Lewanika “care taker” status resulted in the creation by the BSA company of an entity known as “ Baroseland - North Western Rhodesia” and was initially headquartered at Kalomo. The other area known as North Eastern Rhodesia was Headquatered at Fort Jameson , now Chipata. In 1911, the two territories merged into the Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia. The name “Barotseland” was not featured in the new entity. However, the Almagamation Order contained specific provisions securing the Litunga Lewanika relative authority over Baroseland alone without North Western Rhodesia.
During the time of colonial rule, Barotseland had features of a charter colony although the Treaty and the Charter gave the territory protectorate status but not as an official protectorate of the United Kingdom government. Britain granted Barotseland semi autonomous status and made it a Protectorate within a Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia and administered as part of Northern Rhodesia. Other ethnic groups in the country such as the Bembas, Ngonis or Chewas did not ask for this status from the British. Barotseland was also denied recognition as an independent Kingdom in contrast to Lesotho and Swaziland which were recognized as such. This fate is shared by Zululand and the Baganda . The British refused to recognize the Litunga as a King. The British designated them as simply Paramount Chiefs. The British recognized only one King in their Empire- King George then and later Queen Victoria.
There is also a text description of the Boundary of Barotseland as at 1953 during the short lived Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasasand and an accompanying map drawn at the same time. This is probably the same spatial definition of Barotseland which Article 125 of the Zambia Independence order used to define Barotseland as the territory that as at midnight 23rd October, 1964 is comprised in the “Barotseland protectorate”. Documentary evidence of this description of Barotseland protectorate is not readily available anywhere. It certainly does not include Copperbelt, Central, Southern and parts of Western and Northern Provinces. What is evident is that the Barotse Nationality had influences in adjacent areas of its Borders. “From the Tribes which the Barotse subjugated, they exerted tribute in kind but in exchange, their vassals received gifts , loans of Cattle and protection from their enemies and the region remained relatively safe from the Slave Trade. Subject Tribes participated in the system as many had specialized products for exchanges.” ( Ghan ) These Tribes, as was the case with the Barotse, also enjoyed, relative autonomy and practiced different Governance systems.
As the wind of change which began with the independence from colonialism of Ghana in 1957, it was evident that this wind of change would come to Northern Rhodesia too. The African Welfare Societies first formed by Dauti Yamba in 1920’s at Mwenzo in Nakonde grew in stead and culminated in the formation of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1948 where one Mbikusita Lewanika who was later to become the Litunga of Barotseland was elected as the first President of the nationalist movement. The Barotseland question, namely, that Barotseland should have relative autonomy as was the case with the British High Commission territories of Bechuanaland, Basutholand and Swaziland has always been the demand of the Litunga but was always refused by the British colonialists. They preferred that Barotseland was administered by the Commissioner of North Western Rhodesia at Kalomo and later Livingstone, the Governor of Northern Rhodesia at Lusaka and later the Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in Salisbury. This rejected by the British had merit. Martin Meredith (2006) has observed that in Africa, there were over 10,000 African polities which the European colonialist amalgamated into 40 European colonies and protectorates. Zambia alone had more than 73 ethno linguistic groups. The British were correct in merging Barotseland into Northern Rhodesia to create a viable modern state.
However, in spite of use value of this unity of the people of Northern Rhodesia, the Litunga and the BRE continued to demand for autonomy of Barotseland. This demand became a side event at the independence talks at Lancaster House in London. Ealier in 1963, the Litunga had hired a lawyer named L.K Wilson to prepare the Barotse case for secession. Three records were prepared.
a. A record of quarantees of Barotseland‘s status as set out in various concessions signed and affirmed by constitutions of 1911, 1924 and 1953 .
b. The Barotse case for secession presented along the lines of the High Commission territories of Swaziland, Basutholand and Lesotholand;
c. Barotseland’s existence as a nation prior to the creation of Northern Rhodesia; failure of the colonial government to develop Barotseland;unsuitability for Western democracy for African conditions; and advantages of becoming an independent state of Barotseland.
The British government rejected the Barotse case. The UNIP delegation also refused to entrench rights, privileges and status that the Barotse demanded in the Zambian Constitution. Instead the three parties (UK, Northern Rhodesia and the Litunga representing Barotseland) opted for a separate agreement as an annex to the Independent Constitution. The three parties signed the agreement on 18th May, 1964. The Cabinet of the new Zambian government reaffirmed the agreement at its 63rd meeting on 30th October, 1964 to formally bind it to the Republic of Zambia.
However, despite there being an agreement which provided among others for the Litunga of Barotseland to continue to have power to make laws for Barotseland in relation to the Litungaship, Barotse Native Government, Barotse Native Authority, Barotse Native Courts, the Litunga’s Council, local government, Land, Forests, traditional and customary matters of Barotseland, Fishing, control of hunting, game preservation. Control of bush fires, native treasury, supply of beer, reservation of trees for canoes, local taxation, and Barotse local festivals, the agreement was not implemented by the UNIP government.
The UNIP delegation and later its cabinet did not sign the agreement and affirm it respectively in good faith. As soon as Independence was granted and the new leaders were confident of their power, they quickly moved to abrogate the agreement by introducing the Local Government Act of 1965 which abolished the Barotse Government, the Barotse Native Authorities, he Barotse Native Courts, the Barotse Native Treasury and provided that Barotseland would from then on be administered through a uniform local government system applied in all districts and provinces of the country. Barotseland was renamed Western Province. The Barotse National Council was abolished by statutory instrument and five district councils were established.
The Litunga and the Barotse opposed this unilateral move and insured that in the elections of 1968, UNIP lost all seats to the ANC. In the Referendum of 1969 which removed all entrenched provisions that gave the Litunga rights on land, the people of Western Province gave a 75% NO verdict to allow the UNIP government to wrestle land from the Litunga. Furthermore, the Litunga and the BRE continued to promote the Sichaba(National) Party or the Barotse National Party (BNP) whose political aims were to lobby for secession.
In July, 1991, just as the MMD was coming into power, in order to entice the votes of the Barotse, the BRE met President Kaunda and demanded that if he won the multi-party elections and formed government, he would accede to their demands to restore the Barotse Agreement and refund UK Sterling 400,000 which Finance Minister Arthur Wina had taken from the Barotse Native Teasury in 1964. President Kaunda agreed and undertook to meet all the demands. (Sichone and Simutanyi, 1996:188). Unfortunately, President Kaunda lost, but the demands of the Litunga and the BRE did not end.
The new government of President Frederick Chiluba viewed the demands of the BRE as unimportant and irrerevant. The Minister Without Portfolio Brig. General Godfrey Miyanda now leader of the Heritage Party, was appointed to negotiate with the BRE. The effort failed and in 1993, President Chiluba threatened that anyone making demands for the restoration of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 would be charged with the high crime of treason.
In the successive governments of President Levy Mwanawasa and President Banda, the National Constitutional Conference which had been set up unilaterally by President Mwanawasa (it was boycotted by the Catholic Church and the PF among others) ignored the submissions of the BRE. The draft Constitution that was made excluded principles of regional autonomy or devolution of power. President Banda’s government had absolutely no time to consider the BA 1964 question. The NCC contemptuously ignored the BRE demands and chose instead to continue with the divisive doctrine of unitary state.
What Should Be Done?
President Michael Chilufya Sata and the PF government have the opportunity to resolve this question of Barotseland. The demands of the Litunga and the BRE cannot be casually dismissed or ignored or wished away as has happened since 1964. However, in trying to resolve the impulse, the following questions must be addressed.
1. Was the Barotseland Agreement ever repealed or revoked? Could the Parliament of Zambia repeal the BA 1964 annexure to the Independent Constitution? Was its abrogation supported by law? If the agreement is alive as observed by the Chongwe Commission, how can it be implemented without destabilizing the country?
2. Is the Litunga and the BRE justified in demanding for the restoration of the BA 1964? If relative autonomy as demanded is granted, what political institution will be in place – multi party democracy or a return to monarchical hegemony? What will be the response of other nationalities in Western Province such as the Nkoya, Mbunda, Nyengo, Luvale and others who are not Barotse? What will be the view of other nationalities like the Chewa, Bemba, Tonga, Ngoni, and so on that constitute the totality of the peoples of the Republic of Zambia?
3. What is the consensual view of the BA 1964 in Western Province? Are present demands of the BRE representational of all the people of Western Province including the Nkoya, Luvale, Mbunda Nyengo , non indigenous peoples who have settled there and so on.
4. Should the dispute be taken up by the High Court of Zambia as provided by Art. 9 of the BA 1964 in resolving any disputes on the agreement? What is the dispute and how does it impact the wider Zambia?
5. To what extent should the Right to Self Determination including secession as provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relevant to the BA 1964? Are the Barotse nationality an oppressed people in Zambia?
For sure, valuable lessons can be learnt from the experience of other countries. Some examples include the case of Serbia and Kosovo which ended up with Kosovo declaring UDI in 2009; Sudan in which South Sudan emerged as an independent state after such a long and terrible civil war; Canada and Quebec in which Quebec has been recognized as a nation within a United Canada; Tanzania and Zanzibar in which Zanzibar is relatively autonomous; the example of South Africa where local government has been integrated within federated structures, and so on.
For many observers and analysts, there are three possibilities in resolving the Barotse Question.
1. To re-negotiate the Barotse Agreement so as to ensure more regional autonomy of all the regions of Zambia anchored on liberal democratic values and federalism. This will require that the PF government provides for Zambia a new constitution that entrenches federated structures in our governance. The Technical Committee appointed by President Sata can be requested to negotiate with the Litunga and the BRE and other Royal Establishments together with all civil society on the historical necessity of devolution and recommend in the new draft constitution the federated way in which Zambia would be governed. It is a notorious fact that no country has ever developed under the so called unitary state structures. In fact, this is a colonial legacy that suited despots. All serious countries only developed when they federated. This is true for the UK, Germany, Japan, India, RSA, Brazil. USA, France, Russia, India even small countries like South Korea, Switzerland and so on.
2. To uphold the status quo holding Zambia as a unitary state with power concentrated in Lusaka. To continue giving lip service of support to decentralization and devolution demands of the people. To ignore the demands of the BRE and the Litunga and treat advocates of the restoration of the BA 1964 as treasonous. This option is not only reactionary and divisive, but will make Zambia forever poor. This plays in the hands of Zambia’s enemies who celebrate at our inability to manage our country efficiently and effectively. Only despots who want to continue stealing peoples resources in Lusaka and abusing their powers unfettered support the maintenance of a unitary state.
3. To dissolve the state of Zambia and allow Barotseland to secede from the former Northern Rhodesia and divide the Zambian people into two or several balkanized separate entities. To divide the people of Zambia who since 1911 have lived and inter-married and created a unique Zambian national character? This is the demand of some separatist elements in Barotseland. This will require, among others, the determination of the boundaries of Barotseland, the holding of referenda in both Barotseland and other previously subject peoples like the Nkoya, Nyengo, Mbunda, Luvale to determine whether they would want to revert to be ruled by the Litunga again and so on. Such an option is obviously retrogressive and will tend to revise a backward and oppressive governance system of feudalism. This option does not support the development project and is inherently reactionary.
For sure, President Sata and the PF government can and should resolve the BA 1964 problem. Option one is not only historically necessary, but is also a historical inevitability as it is borne and steeled by history.