Decentralisation, Not The Horrible Barotse Agreement, Will Save Western Province.

Decentralisation, Not The Horrible Barotse Agreement, Will Save Western Province.

By Maurice Makalu


The Barotse Agreement has strongly come alive in the recent past culminating in riots in Mongu on January 14, 2011, where two lives were lost. A closer look at certain provisions of the agreement reveals that it doomed Western Province to languish in limbo, neglect and confusion. Not because anyone intended to, but because it was not well thought out. Both in its content and on its face, it is a horrible document pretending to be complex. Whether the agreement gets restored, honoured, recognized or whatever word one chooses to describe the purported solution, western province is doomed to poverty and confusion because of it.

This fact about the BA made Dr. Sondashi to lament that, “The confusion surrounding the agreement is due to the fact that the Barotseland agreement of 1964 appears to have been reached and signed half heartedly with the Barotse delegation led by Litunga Mwanawina Lewanika the third.” The doctor urged that it be renegotiated.

It is a waste of time to try and apportion blame for this regrettable state of affairs. We cannot know for sure whether it was the Litunga who lacked understanding or just wanted to save his throne forgetting his people; or Kaunda who lacked understanding or just behaved crookedly; or Britain who deliberately sowed seeds of conflict and confusion to set up Zambia for possible failure as an independent country or just desperately wanted to wash its hands out of the burden that was Barotseland. (I say all this with due respect to the three); or it was just the difficulty of circumstances at the time. We cannot know for sure.


The two major “culprits” for this calamity are clauses 4 and 7, which deal with power over land and power over money respectively.


Clause 4: The Litunga and his Council

Subsection (3) states:

The Litunga of Barotseland, acting after consultation with his Council, shall be authorised and empowered to make laws for Barotseland in relation to the following matters, that is to say-

(a) The Litungaship;

(b) The authority at present known as the Barotse Native Government (which shall hereafter be known as the Barotse Government);

(c) The authorities at present known as Barotse Native Authorities;

(d) The courts at present known as Barotse Native Courts;

(e) The status of the members of the Litunga’s Council;

(f)  Matters relating to local government;

(g) Land;

(h) Forests;

(i) Traditional and customary matters relating to Barotseland alone;

(j) Fishing;

(k) Control of hunting;

(l) Game preservation;

(m) Control of bush fires;

(n) The institution at present known as the Barotse native treasury;

(o) The supply of beer;

(p) Reservation of trees for canoes;

(q) Local taxation and matters relating thereto; and

(r) Barotse local festivals.

Clearly the Litunga has power over land, traditional matters and other natural resources.

Commenting on this clause, Dr. Sondashi said, “It is surprising that the agreement creates a state within a state. The position of Barotseland resembles that of federation with Zambia. Clause 4 of the agreement confers upon the Litunga of Barotseland and his councils with powers to be responsible to administer land, forests, fishing, local courts, local taxation, and game preservation among many others. How should the Zambian government pretend to enjoy supreme authority over Barotseland when it does not exercise control over matters relating to land.” (

Clause 4 is the inspiration of those advocating cessation (although these are misguided), restoration, honouring, recognizing, etc; and those who praise the document as great, complex, etc. It is the good news. But when one reads Clause 7, a lamentable state of affairs emerges, effectively rendering clause 4 hollow and worthless.

Clause 7: Financial Responsibility

The Government of the Republic of Zambia shall have the same general responsibility for providing financial support for the administration and economic development of Barotseland as it has for other parts of the Republic and shall ensure that, in discharge of this responsibility, Barotseland is treated fairly and equitably in relation to other parts of the Republic.


This is the bad news.

What clauses 4 and 7 do is give Barotseland territorial autonomy without financial autonomy. And without money, you inevitably end up with an autonomous piece of land wallowing in abject poverty.

Admittedly, the Litunga has power over “local taxation” laws but these pattern to land rates and other levies similar to those charged by local councils. And as seen everywhere else in Zambia, these local taxes are inadequate to bring the needed economic development.


Centralised Governance, Not Abrogation of BA, Is The Real Bad News.

From clause 7, it is obvious that when it (clause 7) was provided, it was envisaged that Central government would be apportioning shares of its revenue to local governments for their general  “administration and economic development.” Since independence however, central government has only mostly apportioned money for administration. This money has been fairly and equitably apportioned, in form of grants, with marginal variances based on geographical and population sizes of each province.

Money for economic development has always remained with central government, hence the need to have representatives in Lusaka, MPs, to lobby for this money. This is not only in reference to western province alone but all regions (provinces) as well.

In view of clause 4, this centralization of money for economic development is what has caused poverty in western province. It turns the BA into what the Bible calls a “broken cistern.” This is how:

The land law in other areas has been that the President (central government) owns the land and everybody else leases from him or her for 99 years renewable. When the president wants to build a university in Lusaka for example, he will identify a piece of land. If it is occupied by others, he will compensate and relocate them. He will then channel the money to this developmental project.

This is how Kaunda and others, using money from the Copperbelt, built roads, airports, dams, schools and hospitals everywhere in Zambia.

Because of this modus operand from central government, of channeling development funds into specific projects instead of apportioning to regions in general, clause 4 effectively turns out to be a hindrance to development in Western Province. This is because the president would first have to obtain land from the Litunga, who has the right to agree, disagree, modify, ask for more time, more details, seek God’s guidance, consult his council, seek clarification, put on hold, etc. This bureaucracy is cumbersome for anybody. That is why Zambia itself has been reviewing land policies in order to enhance its attraction of foreign investment.

In terms of the BA, disagreements and misunderstandings between central government and Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) are bound to happen. Egos are bound to be bruised. Visions, preferences, etc will differ. And based on human nature, there are even possibilities of power “contests” between the Litunga (BRE) and the President (central government). The Litunga can withhold land using all kinds of excuses to assert his authority and autonomy; the president can withhold his money because presumably the Litunga is dilly dallying to give him land to build a school.

He cannot give the Litunga money for economic development in general because this is not what happens in other areas, so it would make western province a “special child,” which is contrary to clause 7. Inevitably, this eventually leads to a “standoff,” a position of indifference or disengagement from both parties, each pointing an accusing finger at the other.

This is exactly what exists today. Government says development land is difficult to get in Western province; western province disagrees and is infuriated that government does not just take equitable development there. The result is an impoverished western province as a status quo.

A child born today in western province is not interested in this debate, which will never end because it is “my word against yours.” All that the child wants is to realize its dignity and freedom through economic empowerment and development. This right must not be denied because three people half a century ago did not think properly, and hence have condemned people of today to finger pointing, arguing and debating.

Decentralisation Mends The Cistern.

The way forward therefore is to get rid of this room for “standoff” and finger pointing, by getting rid of the separation of powers over land and money by converging these powers in the same institution.

Given that central government has failed to effectively develop the areas where the land and money powers have always converged in it, the point of convergence must shift from central government to local authorities. Like Sata once said, “Nobody can run this country from Lusaka, it is too big.”

With regard to western province, economic development power must be added to the Litunga on top of existing land powers. With regard to other provinces, both land and economic powers must be conferred upon local authorities from central government.

In other words, the effective way of restoring, honouring or recognizing the Barotse Agreement is by decentralization. When this happens, government will be GENERALLY apportioning money for administration and economic development from central treasury to various local government treasuries. Only then can the Litunga stand on clause 7 and demand a fair and equitable share.

The PF Government Is Implementing Decentralisation

In his speech to Parliament, President Sata said, “The PF government is committed to establishing a system of local government which will promote local economic development, improved delivery of essential infrastructure and services through local self government. Our government will also devise an appropriate formula for sharing national taxes collected at the centre within the jurisdiction of every local authority in order to strengthen their revenue base and ensure that all government grants are remitted on time.”

In pursuant of this, the Minister of Finance said, in his budget speech, “It is a priority of this Government to decentralize appropriate functions to councils over the medium term. The focus in 2012 will be to build capacity at local level in preparation for the phased devolution of functions from 2013. The Government will also restructure financial relations between the centre and the local level. This will ensure that these extra mandates devolved to the councils are adequately financed, in line with the principle of ‘finance follows function.’ In 2012, I have increased the grants to councils by more than 100 percent to K257.1 billion. This is to demonstrate the PF Government’s commitment to capacitate councils ahead of devolution.”

Clearly, decentralization is already under way. The real salvation for western province, and indeed all provinces, has come. We need everyone, opposition or not, Barotse or not, pulling in this decentralization direction or else it will become one of those beautiful political promises that never get fulfilled. In the end the ordinary Zambian loses, while those who assume power based on unfulfilled promises get richer.


Other Disasters of the BA 1964.

The other provisions that make the BA horrible are:

  1. At independence, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) was becoming a multiparty democratic republic. Why should clause 4(2) recognize a chiefdom, whether you call it paramount, establishment, highness, king, etc as a local government in such a republic? People were definitely going to prefer voting for their leaders instead of family succession. It did not matter how “great” the Litungas believed they were. KK, Gadaffi, Mobarak, etc believed they were great but people still did not want them. Europe itself banished its “great” kings more than two centuries ago. Already, the Mbundas, Nkoyas and some other non-aluyi tribes in western province don’t want to be ruled by the Litunga; they are citizens of a republic with a fundamental right to choose their leaders.

As regards the land law (clause 4), even with the dawn of decentralization, the land problem that has existed between central government and the BRE will continue, now with the elected local government in western province. Those who think it won’t are exhibiting the same myopia that created it in the first place.

  1. Part of the preamble to the agreement states: “It is the wish of the government of northern Rhodesia and of The Litunga of Barotseland to enter into ARRANGEMENTS concerning the POSITION of Barotseland as part of the republic of Zambia TO THE PLACE OF the treaties and other agreements hitherto subsisting between Her Majesty the Queen and The Litunga of Barotseland:”

What does “to the place of” mean?

Does it mean the BA was done to replace the treaties that were hitherto subsisting between Barotseland and Britain, which automatically terminated at the independence of Northern Rhodesia? If this is the case, then “to the place of” means “IN place of” the treaties.

Or alternatively, does it mean the BA was done to take Barotseland’s position with Zambia to the place it always had in the treaties with the British? In other words, to maintain and uphold its protectorate status, but now as a Zambian, instead of British, protectorate? Protectorate from what? Kaunda’s tyranny? Kaunda’s independence? Could this be what Dr. Sondashi perceived as “resembling federation with Zambia”?

This latter meaning creates more confusion because an earlier part of the same preamble says, “Where as it is the wish of the government of northern Rhodesia and of the Litunga of Barotseland, his council and the chiefs and people of Barotseland that northern Rhodesia should proceed to independence as ONE COUNTRY and that all its PEOPLES SHOULD BE ONE NATION.” A protectorate and its protector can never be one country with their peoples as one nation. The protector will be superior to the protectorate.


So the confusion over the BA is not because of complexity but because of ignorance, oversimplification and myopia; albeit we cannot know whose among Britain, KK or the Litunga. The BA in itself is a confused document. To resolve it once and for all, it is better to invoke clause 9 – Interpretation.

“Any question concerning the interpretation of this Agreement may be referred by the Government of the Republic of Zambia to the High Court of the Republic for consideration (in which case the opinion thereon of the Court shall be communicated to that Government and to the Litunga of Barotseland and his Council) and any such question shall be so referred if the Litunga, acting after consultation with his Council, so requests.”

True to the confused document that it is, only the Litunga can request referral to the High Court. If people in western province are causing confusion because they misinterpret it, government cannot request the High Court for expert and objective interpretation. Should government then be blamed if it brutalizes them as a result of its misinterpretation as well! More confusion.

Clearly, this document is not worthy the paper it was written on. It just flattered the Litunga by assuring his continued authority over land, forests and traditional affairs, and promised him free money to entrench that authority like he did before as a British protectorate. In the event that that authority got threatened, he could seek recourse by seeking the High Court’s intervention. The BA did not care about the ordinary person living in Barotseland and his right, from time to time, to choose his government as a free man. For such a one, decentralization, not the horrible BA, is the answer.

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