The Barotse Issue-Hitting the Nail on the Head

By Franco Davis Kapijimpanga

……with scarcity a major constraint in politics, ethnicity becomes a crucial and critical criterion for regulating political conflict and distributing public goods and bads in situations of plural diversity. In other words, the political salience of ethnicity is due to its being deployed for competitive purposes by political entrepreneurs.

It is clear as in the words of one author that ‘Ethnicity is such a powerful sentiment that once mobilized, it cannot always be controlled’. Its potential political significance is informed by the fact that it is situated in a particular type of social or plural diversity in this case Western Province in Zambia.

Ethnic heterogeneity however, has been the character of the Zambian landscape even before coming of age. Many ethnic groups have and still inhabit this nation Zambia. Notwithstanding the richness of its cultural diversity, ethnic heterogeneity has the potential to become a liability politically if not carefully handled.

Therefore at the centre of the Baroste debate “a potential melting pot” is certainly not the lack of equality of treatment of the various ethnic groups. Zambia has since independence been characterized by national integration and consolidation informed by the concept of ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ ably lead by the father of the nation, former President Kenneth David Kaunda.

Our country Zambia is anchored on the notion of national equality as a basic ethos driving national policy. Enshrined in the republican constitution is the idea of a unitary state in which all ethnic groups live in equality. This equality not only subscribes to the belief of all ethnic groups being equal, but precludes chauvinism and narrow nationalism, in order to ensure the unity of the ethnic groups in the country.

The constitution of Zambia is also very clear that all ethnic groups are equal before the law without discrimination on the basis of nationality, sex, religion, occupation, social or other status. Equality in this regard means that all these groups are guaranteed equal participation in political, economic, social and cultural affairs of the country.

It is not also the issue of equality of languages. As regards equality of language, nowhere is this more pronounced than in Zambia, where the legal and actual equality of languages of all ethnic groups is a clear demonstration of the character of equality in Zambia. With the recognition of all the 72 tribes and Six Major Languages, there is not a single predominance of an official language.

This is evidenced by the use of the various local languages in educational institutions, the mass media and at the place of work. Underlying this is the idea that allows equality, development and respectability of the languages of ethnic groups.

Religion is also another example of the equality of ethnic groups in Zambia. The constitution has ably provided and guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion as long as it is not against national interests and freedoms of other ethnic groups.

The Barotse Issue is also far from being a matter of Self-Determination being a human right as provided for in various international instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as captured by Art: 1.1, as well as Art: 1.2 or indeed the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights Art: 20.1, due to the fact that there is a lack of a basis and evidence to suggest a fight for liberation against local “colonialism”. There is not a suggestion that merely retaining an already existing part of Zambia back to itself constituted incorporating people of the Western Province against their will.

There is ample evidence that clearly shows that Westerns Province constitutes part of Zambia. This part of Zambia was not an exception as a spring-board through which attempts were launched by the colonial power in this case Britain to occupy and control Zambia. This was part of the greater scheme of things to penetrate the hinterland in the quest to fully satisfy the colonial powers ambitions.

In order to acquire Self-Determination status, a higher stand of qualification must be attained as expertly captured in this position under international law

When a nation exercises its right to self-determination, form [s] an independent state, voluntarily remains in a multinational [multicultural] state or joins another multinational [multicultural] state, its right to the free determination of its further internal political, economic, social and cultural status passes to the sphere of state law of the state to which the nation belongs. But this holds good only as long as the conditions on which the nation became part of the given state are not violated by its state and as long as the nation’s desire to stay within it remains in force, and it is not compelled to do so by coercive means. As soon as one of these phenomena occurs, the question again passes from the sphere of state law into the sphere of international law

Yet still even the fundamental elements for secession such as; the degree of internal cohesion and self identification of the proponents of self-determination; the nature and scope of their claim; the underlying reasons for the claim and the degree of deprivation of basic human rights for the people in question are not satisfied due to the fact that there is not evidence to suggest a stronger degree of cohesion and self identification and stronger historical claims to justify separate identity and also the lack of evidence to show a greater degree of the deprivation of the basic human rights for a prima-facea case for secession.

It is clear that none of the above constitute the basis for the claim for secession. And if that be the case, it is then evident that the premise for such treasonable acts or efforts is the deployment of this ‘Ethnic element’ for purely competitive purposes by political entrepreneurs who have not national unity at heart, but conflict and disintegration as their core value towards self preservation.

With hindsight of the potential ethnic conflict eminent from the colonial master plan “Barotse Royal Establishment” whose prime objective was the subjugation of other ethnic groups within and beyond illegally extended boundaries in Zambia and that Africa had been bedeviled by tragic and unfortunate ethnic based conflicts with adverse effects and also the fact that Zambia like other African countries could not afford the luxury of wasted resource on conflict that would improve the plight of its people, our leaders wisely and timely engaged the “Barotse Agreement”.

The hallmark of the Barotse Agreement was a political vision and statesmanship expertly devised to preclude the potential for conflict due to ethnic divisions and guarantee political stability, a sense of community and justice and also a country in which all ethnic groups would have a stake and work for its preservation.

Of importance and for greater security, political stability and development is a greater degree of national unity. It follows then that at the core of our nation’s ethos is the principle that glorifies unity and integration rather than separation and disintegration.

Fundamentally the security, political stability and development must at all costs be anchored in the constitutional framework that secures equality for all the ethnic groups, guarantying equality in participation in political power, economic and social development while at the same time ensuring each ethnic group within the nation is able to maintain and develop their distinctive cultural identities.


It is clear that Zambians of all ethnic groups desire nothing more than a stable and viable multi-ethnic, multi-national community because this is what defines us as a people and as a nation. Serious Zambians are no longer sympathetic to separatist intention of every ethnic group. We all want this to be what defines us forever.

We must not abandon the ethos of nation-building and this must be sustained without reserve. And as such we cannot afford the luxury of any form of diversion from a critical ingredient that ensures a shared common destiny. And those at the forefront perpetuating this evil without justification must pay the highest penalty.

Of equal importance is that the realization that equality of all citizens before the law, prohibition of discrimination on tribal, national or race grounds, the equality of languages, freedom of conscience and so forth, are an essential, but far from adequate condition for solving this issue.

However the main intention and focus of our leaders and that of all Zambians is that of securing and guarding jealously the equality of all the people in economic, social, political and cultural arenas. This is the Zambia we grew up in and this is the Zambia that has held peace since independence and it is the Zambia we will endeavor to preserve for our children and that of future generations.

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