I was appalled today 4 February 2015 to read a contribution by one Lubasi Lubasi on “Facts and misconceptions on Barotseland, Part 2.” It is a very misleading and inaccurate paper particularly regarding the pre-colonial borders of Barotseland. In fact, he has deepened the misconceptions about the pre-colonial borders of Barotseland. Below is my response.
But first, I wish to give a brief context to the matter of the borders of Barotseland. This will help us to understand why the pre-colonial borders of Barotseland were deliberately exaggerated by King Lewanika. As historians of Central Africa know, the creation of North Western Rhodesia was a direct result of the ambitions of John Cecil Rhodes, the Briton who had made his pile on the Kimberley diamond mines and the Rand by the turn of the 19th century. He wanted to bring under British rule vast territories of central Africa and beyond. In his strongly imperial and capitalistic mind, Rhodes could see immense quantities of minerals and precious stones in the African interior north of the Limpopo river. A major part of the imperial plan of Rhodes was to finance and build a railway line from the Cape to Cairo, for two reasons: (a) for the transportation of rubber and copper from central Africa and, especially, labour for the Kimberley and Rand mines; and (b) for the efficient administration of central Africa. In order to realise his dreams, Rhodes created the British South Africa Company (BSAC) for the realisation of these goals. On 29 October 1889, the Company was granted a Royal Charter by the British Queen, Victoria. The Charter gave Rhodes the right to make treaties with African rulers and acquire territories on behalf of the British empire north of Bechuanaland. Rhodes saw his Charter as “a royal permit to conquer, occupy, administer, and absorb a vast hinterland … The territories of the Ndebele, the Shona, the Lozi, the Bemba, the Ngoni, and a host of others were ripe for the plucking.” (Rotberg, 1988: 285. My emphasis.). The imperial grand plan of Cecil Rhodes was to spread British influence from South Africa northwards up to Cairo, with all the lands in between as parts of the British Empire. As Brian Roberts, a biographer of Cecil Rhodes has recorded: “This was one of the reasons why no northern boundaries had been set when the Charter was granted; the less Rhodes was confined, the freer he would be to realise his imperial ambitions.” (Roberts, 1987: 168) The relevance of these two quotations to the Barotseland case, as we will see below shortly, was Rhodes’ ambition to acquire as much African territory as possible. Rhodes also hoped to “secure new territory for British trade and investment” in south-central Africa, an important consideration since at the time, other powers, notably France and Portugal were also expanding into Africa and shutting out British goods through customs barriers. (Gann, 1957: 45). Rhodes, therefore, was in a hurry about the acquisition of territory.
On the basis of the BSAC charter, Rhodes sent Frank E. Lochner to the Lozi kingdom of Barotseland where, in June 1890, he and its king, Lubosi Lewanika, signed a treaty giving the Company possession of mining rights in the kingdom and confirmed the Company’s protection over Lewanika and his people. Lewanika would receive £2, 000 per year and a royalty on minerals exported by the Company under the treaty. A Resident would be sent to live in Barotseland. (Wills, 1985: 164). This agreement became known as the Lochner Treaty. In that treaty, Lewanika’s account of the size and exent of his kingdom was very vague and highly exaggerated. He claimed that it “extended in the north from Lovale country as far as the Katanga, while in the east it included all the tribes as far as the Lenje, including the Ila, and the Tonga and the peoples of the Zambezi valley above the Victoria Falls” (Wills, 162-163).
Writing as late as 1988, Robert Rotberg repeats the same error and grossly exaggerated the size of Lewanika’s kingdom as follows: “The Lozi … had imposed their own regional hegemony over a vast area between the Kwando river on the west and the Kafue river on the east, and from the Chobe and Zambezi rivers in the south to the headwaters of the Zambezi and the Congo watershed in the north.” (Rotberg, 1988: 320) Lewanika deliberately grossly exaggerated the extent of his kingdom and was very vague about its borders to the BSAC. This, of course, suited the BSAC’s imperial and economic agenda, which we have noted above. We have also noted that Rhodes and his Company wanted to possess as much territory as possible. Rhodes did not care that Lewanika exaggerated the borders of his kingdom because that was exactly what he wanted: the more imprecise the boundaries of Barotseland were made out to be by Lewanika, the freer Rhodes would be able to realise his imperial ambitions. Lewanika knew very well, for example, that the Luvale and Lunda people of what was soon to be named Balovale District at the beginning of colonial rule, were never a part of his kingdom, but he claimed their district anyway. This suited Lewanika because in pre-colonial times, the more territory and people a chief or king had under him, the more economically powerful and influential he became. Thus, it was on the basis of Lewanika’s erroneous territorial claims that the BSAC created North Western Rhodesia in 1900, without any consultation with, or knowledge of, the Luvale and the Lunda who got included into it. It took about 40 years of vehement protest and petitions by these two groups to the government of Northern Rhodesia, resulting into the Macdonell Commission of Enquiry which ruled in their favour, and hence the creation in 1941 of what is today the North Western Province of Zambia. Today, whose agenda does the continued perpetuation of the myth of the borders of Barotseland serve? And what is the agenda?
Professor Bernard Mbenga
Department of History