By Malama Katulwende
I first made my public opinion on the Barotseland Agreement 1964 known when, in 2005, I published my second book, Bitterness in New York. I had decided, as I researched the book that was partly set at the University of Zambia, to include a political discourse on this subject because I had seen, with some historical hindsight, the possibility that the question of the Barotseland Agreement would explode in our face at some point- as it has done now.
In my work, Bitterness, I asked some philosophical questions which, although admitting of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 as a fact of history, nonetheless interrogated the elitist and royal version of the history of Western Zambia and its official intent to distort and appropriate into oblivion the social narratives of the indigenous, ethnic peoples in the region.
In today’s column, then, I wish to go back to the memory sites of the indigenous people of Central Western Zambia. In particular, I want to test whether, in the context of the demands for the restoration of Barotseland Agreement 1964, or indeed secession from Zambia, it makes historical sense to ignore the concerns and fears of an indigenous people such as the Nkoya, who had settled in Central Western Zambia much earlier than the Luyana (Lozi) had done. Secondly, I want to provide a viable solution to the problem over the demands for either the restoration of the Agreement or the secession of Barotseland from the rest of Zambia.
As I indicated earlier, I published my views on the Barotseland Agreement 1964 in my second book titled, Bitterness seven years ago. Since then I have followed this up with two articles on the same subject – namely, “Should Barotseland Secede from Zambia?” and “Barotseland: The Law and the Politics of Secession – A Missing Link in the Natural flow of Zambia’s Political Discourse”, respectively. In all my previous writings I have never put the Nkoya people at the centre of my historical narrative.
The present discussion, however, has been necessitated by the need to recast history in a manner which takes into account various perspectives. In our attempt to explain the causes of the conflict over the Barotseland Agreement 1964 and the desire of a group of Barotse people to threaten the Zambian government with hoisting the “Barotseland flag” over Western province, we need first to interrogate the official historical accounts of Western Zambia.
Our first approach will be to quiz the methodology of constructing history itself. To quote Jan Vanshina in “Tears of Rain: Likota Lya Bankoya as Cosmology and as History” by Wim vom Binsbegen:
“All history as reconstruction of the past is of course mythical. Myths are held to be ‘true’.
De Heusch is to be faulted for not using all the traditions about the past, however recent that past, and considering them myth. But, conversely, historical accounts reflect the past. The well-known problem is to find exactly how a set of data reflects the past as well as how it expresses the present. The succeeding problem, then, is how to reconstruct the past most
objectively, and in doing so create a new myth. Not because the account is not true, but because it will be held to be true.”
The history of Western Zambia has, I am afraid, not been presented most objectively by the majority of historians. This is so because most of these accounts – whether those of Max Gluckman, Gerald L. Caplan, L.H Gann, Richard Hall, A.D Jalla, Mutumba Mainga, David C. Mulford, and Robert Rotberg, respectively – have tended to frame the content of the perennial myths, cosmologies, ethnic-consciousness, ideologies and identities of Western Zambia solely in terms of the conquerors (who in this case are the Barotse) and not in terms of the Nkoya, Kwangwa, Mbunda, Mbowe, Luchazi, Totela, Shanjo, Lovale, Lukolwe, Lushange, Simaa, Mashi and more than 30 other ethnic groups in the same geographical area.
I specifically dealt with this problem of constructing history in an article in which I reviewed Pierre Nora and David Gordon’s concept of social memories: “Narrating Our Past: Memories and The Politics of Our Time-Space”.
Therefore the challenge for historians, as Binsbegen has indicated in Tears of Rain, has been “How to negotiate between (1) a traditional mythical content as shared throughout a culture or even an extended cultural region, (2) the myths (in the way of idiosyncratic restructuring) that latter-day transmitters of that content (informants and narrators) impose upon (1) on the basis of their own particular intellectual, artistic, moral and political interests and pursuits, and (3) the scholarly myths which we create as academic historians on the basis of both (1) and (2).”
Yet the Likota Lya Bankoya , as a “first extensive and more or less coherent statement of ‘Nkoya’ history, [and] a necessary element in the building of a ‘Nkoya’ ethnic consciousness in recent decades,” [Papstein] presents an opportunity to contest the official Lozi version of the social memory of Western Zambia.
In their petition to the late president of Zambia, Dr. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa dated 30th December, 2005, the Nkoya Royal Council sought the indulgence of the government to create a separate province called Kafue Province for them: http://www.barotseland.com/nkoya-hist9.htm.
Let us quote at length:
“During those years [early 1800 A.D] and before the Lozis were forced into the present day Barotse Plains by the Sebitwane army from across the Zambezi, there were only four Chiefs in the present day Batotse Plains. These are: 1. Shihoka Nalinanga – Paramount Chief of the Nkoya People 2. Mange – Chief of the Kwangwa tribe 3. Libebe – Chief of the Mashi tribe 4. Imenda – Sub Chief of the Mbowe tribe.
Smarting from his defeat of the Kololo under Sebitwane, the New Lozi Chief Sipopa started encouraging his warriors to systematically eliminate the native tribes who were refusing to accept his self-appointed Chieftainship.
“Among the tribes that fell victim to this criminal and cruel project by Sipopa were the defenceless elderly Nkoya men – because the Nkoya people were the only tribe that refused to submit to the authority of these new settlers in their native territory. Over a period of time, the Nkoyas were increasingly growing uncomfortable sharing Mungulula (Mongu) with the hostile Sipopa. So Nkoyas of that area slowly but surely started migrating towards to the uninhabited lands and to join their other Nkoya relatives on the eastern side of the present day Mongu District.
“This is the area which eventually became known as Mankoya District. This area was not assigned to the Nkoya people by another tribe but it was the Nkoyas who on their own volition chose to settle there if only this move would help reduce hostilities between the Nkoyas and the Lozis in the then Mungulula ( Mongu) District originally inhabited by the Nkoya people and the Kwangwa people.
This and the chronology of events between 1936 and to date are some of the true historical facts which some of the current generation of Lozis will never admit.
“This is because this type of history would sound malicious and demeaning to the Lozis current status and image which they have fraudulently built for themselves over a period of time. Secondly, the records that the Lozis thought would work against their tribal project of dominance over other tribes were systematically removed from public eye especially those concerning Kaoma (Mankoya) District.
“This destruction of vital history was done soon after Independence and the Lozis taking advantage of their numerical superiority in the field of European education which they obtained by selling Zambia through the redundant Barotse Agreement 1964 (sic) which they obtained from a private company BSAC and using the plundered money and agreements to send to school only members of the Lozi Royal Family at the expense of other tribes and their God given heritage, they have quickly moved to rewrite the history of the Western Part of Zambia to suit their ego.”
This description of Nkoya social memory is, to the best of my knowledge, a correct reflection of the content of events as they happened. The history of the Barotse people as an ethnic group in Ngululand (which is the true and original historical name of Western Zambia) is a very recent phenomenon in historical time. Having migrated into the area from the Congo Basin or the Luba-Lunda of Mwata Yamvo the Luyana or Luyi (which meant “foreigners” to the indigenous people in the area), moved south down the Kabombo river in the latter part of the 18th century, and found other Bantu such as the Nkoya, Sotho, Shona and Nguni already living in the land we now call Western Zambia. The new settlers conquered and subdued the locals through the use of arms. The Twa or Kwengo were driven south. By the 1800 AD the migrants had founded the “Barotse nation” with their greatest chief known as Mulambwa, who imposed himself on the locals and ruled from 1812 – 1830.
However, it is worth noting that the conquered tribes of early Bantu had settled in the Zambezi plains even as early as the 1500AD, and these existing inhabitants such as the Nkoya were subsequently displaced. They also lost the control of much of their natural resources such as land and the Zambezi plain. Among the major dialects in Western Zambia are the Nkoya, Mashasha, Mbowela (Mbwela, Mbwera), Lushange, Lukolwe, Shikalu, and Lubanda, respectively.
In assessing whether or not the Barotseland Agreement 1964 should be restored or not, or indeed whether Western Zambia (Barotseland) should secede from Zambia or not, it is important to cast the net wider and take into account the Nkoya narratives of history, or indeed the narratives of other ethnic groups in the region. In the opinion of the Barotse people, though, Western Zambia belongs to them “historically”. They also contend that the existence of their right to have an ‘autonomous nation’ was prior to the formation of Zambia as a state. That is to say, their right to exist as an independent country cannot be bestowed upon them by Zambia – whose polity is more recent.
Now let us suppose that this position is correct. When we look at the history of Central-western Zambia, as we have done, we learn that the migration of a Barotse people who were later referred to as Luyana, or Luyu (to denote “foreigners”) is a more recent phenomenon in historical time than the indigenous peoples such as the Nkoya, Kwangwa and Twa who had lived in Western province and surrounding region since 1500AD. Although these local people were conquered by the Lozi in the early 1800AD through the use of force and diplomacy, it is a fact of history that the land which is now called Barotseland was theirs. It did not belong to the Luyana.
These historical facts force us to ask this question: What is the origin of land ownership in Western Zambia and why? Should later settlers (Barotse) be allowed to possess land which did not historically belong to them, or should there be need to establish a platform to correct the wrongs of history? If the Barotse acquisition of land through force can be justified, then why should they resist other alternative discourses which attempt to rewrite the historical accounts of Western province in terms of the Nkoya, for example, as the true owners of that land?
In the recent past the Nkoya Royal Council (NRC) presented a petition to the Republican President, Mr. Michael Chilufya Sata, in which they reiterated – again – their opposition to the restoration of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 or the secession of Western Zambia from the rest of the country.
They have argued that contrary to attempts by Barotse intellectuals and members of the Barotse Royal Establishment to falsify history, Nkoyas are not part of the Barotse-speaking people. According to a Nkoya traditionalist, Robert Litungu at http://www.ukzambians.co.uk/home/2010/12/27/zambia-mankoya-part-barotseland/:
‘The Mankoya people do not want to belong to a feudalistic and tribal grouping that does not provide them with the right to exercise their right to self-governance and reinforces the colonial legacy of tribal subjugation of weaker tribes. They want to be part of a democratic society, that is, the Republic of Zambia, which espouses the freedom of speech and association.
‘The argument that the Nkoya had invited the Lozi to protect them against the Kaonde and thus should continue to accept Lozi hegemony does not hold water in this day and era.
Surely, can the Marotse accept to be ruled by the British since they offered them protection from the Ndebele and Portuguese?
‘The Government should set up a commission of enquiry to examine the Lozi claims of hegemony over the Mankoya just like the government of Northern Rhodesia did in 1938 when they freed the Lunda and Luvale.
The Nkoya were denied educational opportunities as part of the scheme to subjugate them.
‘In this regard, the Government should not be seen to be giving privileges to one tribal chief whose establishment has subjugated other tribes.
If the worst comes to the worst, the Government should call for a referendum in Western Province on whether the people of that region should be granted the right to govern themselves.
Having been victims of the autocratic Barotse system of governance, the Nkoyas and many other tribes in the province will certainly vote against such self-governance and elect to continue being part of a democratic and unitary Zambia.’
In historical truth the Nkoya are, indeed, a distinct ethnic group who do not speak Silozi, the resultant language which arose after the assimilation of the Aaluyi (conquered) tribe and the Makololo–Sotho (conqueror) tribe from South Africa.
The Nkoya live in the Mankoya area of Central-Western Zambia, an area which spans the Lyambai (Zambezi) River in the west, the Machile in the south and the Luenge (Kafue) River in the east, and the Congo watershed in the north. Once a victim of slave raids from the Mambari from the west coast and the Yeke of Msidi from the north-east of Africa in the 17th century, the Makoya had other tribes such as the Mambowe and the Kwangwa on the west, the Matotela and Subiya in the south, the Ila in the east, and Kaonde and Lunda in the north.
Recent migrants from Angola such as the Luchazi and Chokwe have since settled amongst them.
After the creation of Barotseland protectorate in 1905, the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) set up parallel administrative structures in Mankoya district and sent indunas to live amongst the Nkoya, notwithstanding the fact the Nkoya had their own tribal chiefs. In present-day Lukulu, for example, the Nkoya have their own chiefs such as Mwene Nyati, Mwene Njungu, Mwene Pumpola, Mwene Yaboka and Mwene Kangombe, respectively. All these, however, have since 1968 been made to pay tribute to the Lozi chieftaincy at Namayula.
I have argued before, as I am doing so now, that the Barotse hegemony over ethnic groups in Western Zambia is a historical fallacy that can be contested. In the context of the Barotse demands for secession from Zambia or the restoration of the Barotseland Agreement 1964, it would be a very grave mistake on the part of the government of the Republic of Zambia to restore the agreement in its entirety without taking into consideration the fears and concerns of the Nkoya and other ethnic groups in Western province.
For the sake of the reader, let me summarise the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) submissions to the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in Lusaka, in 2010, which were rejected. To start with, the BRE demanded the acknowledgment of some provisions in the “Barotseland Agreement 1964” in the new Draft Constitution – which is again under review by the Michael Sata government.
The BRE had noted that the Draft Constitution 2010 did not consider the provisions of the “Barotseland Agreement of 1964” and proposed that Articles of the Constitution which define Zambia as a unitary state should acknowledge the “Barotseland Agreement 1964” to be the instrument by which the unitary state was constituted.
They argued that Clause 3 of Article 4 which reads, ‘the Republic of Zambia shall not be ceded, in whole or in part, to another country’ was unnecessary because it underlined the overprotection of the indivisibility of the unitary state. They also said Article 4(5), was targeted at the Barotseland which, according to the BRE, was the only region of Zambia that had a clear right to establish a regional government. They contended that the right of forming a regional government preceded the birth of the Republic of Zambia and was, therefore, not bestowed on Barotseland by Zambia.
The BRE also submitted that Article 213 (1) of Part XII of the Draft Constitution was inadequate as far as legislation for provincial, districts and local authorities’ administration was concerned. Instead they proposed that the aspect of government administration had to be placed under the Litunga (King of the Lozi people) and the Council as per Barotseland Agreement of 1964.
Under Clause 8 of the Barotseland Agreement of 1964 it says that “The Government of the Republic of Zambia shall take steps as may be necessary to ensure the laws for the time being in force in the Republic are not inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement”.
Furthermore, the BRE also condemned Article 290 (2) of Part XIX of the Draft Constitution, saying it had failed to include land vested in the Litunga within the definition of customary land. They therefore proposed that Clause II of Article 290, which defines customary land, should be amended by inserting land vested in the Litunga as part of the customary land.
“Under Article 293 (1), the powers of the President over minerals and petroleum should not be so sweeping as to override the existing powers of the Litunga over land in Barotseland,” read the submissions.
The BRE further suggested that this article should therefore be re-aligned with the provisions relating to the control of land in Barotseland.
Now the demands, either for the restoration of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 or the secession of Western province from Zambia, are founded on a belief that the region belongs to the Barotse people who had signed agreements with the British South Africa (BSAC) Company and the British Colonial Office. While the some agreements might have been signed, the historical context in which Barotse hegemony was wielded over other ethnic groups such as the Nkoya compels us to rewrite and demand the correction of history.
How could claims of mineral and land rights ceded to the BSAC by Chief Lewanika have extended all the way to the Copperbelt province – an area traditionally inhabited by the Lamba people? In 1964 the Northern Rhodesian nationalist government (of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda) successfully disputed the BSA’s claims to mineral royalties in Northern Rhodesia.
The Government demonstrated that Lewanika’s territory in 1890 and after did not include the Copperbelt area and therefore the Company could not lay claims to mineral royalties in that area on the basis of the Lochner Concession of 1890 and later agreements with the Barotse Paramount Chief, Lewanika, who had lost sovereignty as King to the Queen and Her Majesty’s Government, by virtue of the 1899 Order in Council. He was simply a paramount chief.
Secondly, assuming that the Barotseland Agreement 1964 was restored in its current form, where would the boundaries of Barotseland be drawn since the text of the agreement does not, directly or remotely, make reference to Western Province whose physical boundaries are well known? According to the boundaries of the Barotse Kingdom as reported in Francois Coillard’s work, The Frontiers of the Barotse Kingdom, however, the Litunga’s territory was demarcated as follows: ‘On the south, the Zambezi and the Chobe Rivers, on the west the 20th degree longitude east, on the north, the watershed of the Congo and the Zambezi rivers, on the east the Kafue river’.
This included, later on, claims to areas as far as Lake Nyasa and the Tanganyika plateau, which were however, criticised for their distortion and exaggeration of the extent and influence of the Lozi kingdom. Some of the tribes listed as subjects of the Litunga such as the Lunda and Luvale respectively have since disputed such claims as farfetched. The Administrator of North-Eastern Rhodesia, Cadrington, for example, also agreed in an answer to Wilson Fox, Secretary of the British South Africa Chartered Company (BSAC) in March 1904, that such claims of land and territorial rights by Lewanika were ridiculous.
Furthermore, Roy Welensky, who was to become governor of Northern Rhodesia, in address to the Northern Rhodesian Parliament on March 22nd 1948, echoed the same sentiments. The authenticity and authority of treaties and concessions between African chiefs and mineral hunters and companies were not only vulnerable to doubt but were also deceptive. In some cases, these concessions and certificates of claims were later repudiated.
In essence, then, the boundaries of Barotseland as defined in 1900 did not include the Copperbelt, Central, Southern, Northern and parts of Western provinces. It is also important to state here that during the colonial period from 1924 to 1964 the British government granted semi-autonomous status to Barotseland and made it a protectorate within a protectorate of Northern Rhodesia and administered as part of Northern Rhodesia. However, this protectorate status was not was not at the same level as that bestowed upon Lesotho and Swaziland who were recognised as independent. The Barotseland status was similar to that of Zululand in South Africa and the Baganda in Uganda. It was like a charter colony.
Thirdly, even assuming the above observations were taken to be in favour of the BRE, the fact remains that the indigenous people of Western province who, in my view, have better claims over the region than the Barotse are still existent today. Why, then, should non-Barotse ethnic groups be forced to accept Barotse hegemony when they are, in fact, the majority?
Let us also recall that when, in 1963, the Litunga of Barotseland presented the Barotse case for secession to the British government – on the basis of three records, namely (1) Barotseland’s existence as a nation prior to the creation of Northern Rhodesia; failure of the colonial government to develop Barotseland; unsuitability for Western democratic institutions to thrive in local conditions; and the benefits of being an independent state of Barotseland (2) Barotseland case becoming a state along the line of Swaziland, Lesotholand, Basutoland and (3) a recall of guarantees as set out in various concessions and affirmed by constitutions of 1911, 1924 and 1953 in respect of Barotseland – the British government rejected such a case.
Further, the UNIP delegation in London refused to include rights, privileges and the special status that the Barotse demanded in the Zambian constitution. Instead, the Barotseland Agreement 1964 was concluded and became an annex to the Independent Constitution of Zambia. Since then, all successful governments of Zambia have ignored the agreement.
For my part, therefore, the solution to the debate on Western Zambia does not merely lie in taking cognizance of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 but also the concerns and fears of more than thirty ethnic groups such as the Nkoya, Mbunda, who have been victims of Lozi domination for a long time. The agreement cannot be restored in its current form. It has to be renegotiated and established in the legal framework which allows for the devolution of power through the creation of a federation of semi-autonomous states. When this is done, then each state would have an assembly in which local chiefs, such as the Litunga, would be permanently represented, including elected representatives.
If, however, the contrary were the case, there would be disastrous consequences to follow. Firstly, other chiefs in the country would demand secession. The facts of history demonstrate that all traditional chiefs in Zambia did not welcome colonialism with open arms: they resisted it through wars and other forms of passive resistance. Although the chiefs did not sign agreements to become part of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia,) they might also argue convincingly that their kingdoms existed before colonialism. Therefore, their right to organise their own regional governments preceded the creation of the state of Zambia.
Secondly, the impact of this might spread to other nations such as Botswana, Angola and Namibia, respectively, whose small, minority populations may perhaps want to annex their traditional territories to Barotseland. Ultimately, this would lead to the redefinition of boundaries.
Thirdly, it may be argued that demands for the “restoration” of the “Barotseland Agreement 1964” are not supported by the majority of ordinary Lozi but by the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) and some power hungry “radical” groups such as the BFM who have failed to influence events at the national level.
However, ordinary citizens and non-Lozi ethnic groups who would have an illusion of “freedom” would have a lot to fear from the absolute powers of the Paramount Chief. Like a closed polity such as Mswati’s Swaziland where the citizens live in fear of the King who does not respect human rights, abuses the treasury and is not answerable to anyone, Barotseland would be a continuation of the legacy of Lozi colonialism over indigenous peoples.
Fourth point, the restoration of the “Barotseland Agreement 1964” could have serious repercussions in the administration of local government in Barotseland. As things stand now, Zambia is not a federal state in which the provinces exercise powers of local administration. The policy framework and implementation strategies come from the top to the bottom.
That is to say, the Central Government makes decisions and passes on everything to line-ministries for implementation and monitoring in the provinces. Given that scenario, then, it would be a nightmare to align the Central Government’s development policies and strategies to that of the Litunga and his Council. Where public resources were in question, for example, it would be difficult for the Paramount Chief to allow auditors to scrutinise the books of accounts to ascertain whether funds were prudently managed or not.
Given that some funds were either misappropriated or misapplied, how would the Litunga be subject to the “abuse of office” clause and stand trial?
Fifthly, the constitutional differences which exist between the Central Government and the Paramount Chief of Barotseland would make the relationship between the two parties very difficult to manage. The Litunga rules by decree, or so we understand, whereas the government of the Republic of Zambia is a democracy whose leaders renewed their mandate to govern after elections. Their tenure is subject to their performance in office. Suppose the Litunga made a law which stood in conflict with the Republican Constitution and the culture of democracy in general, would the Central Government repudiate that law?
Would the laws crafted by the Litunga and his Council be always subject to the Laws of Zambia and the Jurisdiction of the Courts of Zambia, or would the monarch be allowed to frame whichever laws he liked?
I have taken stock of the Nkoya history, mythology, symbolism, truth and its bearing on the demands for the secession of Barotseland from Zambia.
While, in its current format, the “Barotseland Agreement 1964” does not grant any disgruntled party the right to secede, nor indeed the right to riot, the document is not tenable in its current form. This is because the agreement poses more challenges than benefits to the unitary state of the Republic of Zambia. In the context of Nkoya memory sites, for instance, it would be absurd for anyone to recognize and implement the agreement in its entirety when it is a fact of history that the real owners of Western Zambia are, after all, the Nkoyas and other marginalised, ethnic groups who settled in the area much earlier than the Lozi did. In this sense it is an affront to the truth of the Nkoya historicity.
Lastly, the boundaries of Barotseland as suggested by colonial authorities were much exaggerated and suspicious. In this sense it would be a terrible mistake to place under the jurisdiction of the Barotse chief, the Litunga, territories which he never traditionally held nor influenced. This would be a betrayal of the ethnic groups who might have preferred to belong to the democratic Republic of Zambia.