By Shuwanga Shuwanga
The long waited for and perhaps the most important Barotse National Council (BNC) Meeting is finally taking place on the 26th March 2012 as recently announced by Barotseland’s Ngambela. This will only be the third BNC meeting since the 11th February 2008 one which was also the only one in recent memory to come up with serious resolutions. Unfortunately, those resolutions were never implemented.
The last BNC meeting took place shortly after the Barotseland shootings, from 31st January 2011 to 2nd February 2011. That meeting too had come up with resolutions. However, those resolutions were more cosmetic in nature than serious. As expected, they yielded nothing apart from being seen then as a means by which the Barotse Royal Establishment wanted to save face over its suspected role in the killings of 19 unarmed innocent people by the Zambian police. All that the 2011 BNC came up with were unrealistic and contradictory resolutions which were more confusing to well informed Lozi person who had followed events leading to the 14th January 2011 massacre.
The 2008 BNC Meeting Resolutions
Perhaps the most serious one of the two recent Barotse National Council meetings was the one that took place in February 2008 as mentioned above. This meeting had come up with relevant resolutions demanding the enshrinement of the Barotseland Agreement 1964, in its entirety, in the Zambian Constitution. The Council had further strongly stated its unwavering support for all persons and individuals who had petitioned the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) demanding that the Agreement be included in the new Zambian Constitution. In emphasising the foregoing, Resolution No. 3 of the Council had stated inter alia that;
“…unlike in the past when the concerns over the Barotseland Agreement 1964 were never taken beyond mere submissions of petitions and protests, this time around the people of Barotseland would demand that appropriate and legitimate actions are taken to achieve a speedy redress to the issue…”
More forceful perhaps was Resolution No. 4 which provided as follows;
“That unless the Barotseland Agreement 1964 is honoured and implemented, the peace and stability of Barotseland and by extension Zambia, will not be guaranteed.”
These resolutions were ratified by all Barotseland chiefs (with the exception of His Royal Highness Chief Kahare who was not present at that BNC meeting) and assented to by His Majesty the Litunga.
From the above, one would note that we may be in the situation that was predicted by Resolution No. 4. The revelation of such a huge number of people killed, maimed, missing and so many young girls molested by the Zambian police on 14th January 2011 only breaks our hearts further. Under normal circumstances, a civilized nation would have held a mourning period soon after the extent of the damage was known. Gross human rights abuses were committed in Barotseland.
Had the BNC abided by its 2008 resolutions, particularly Resolution No. 2 which affirmed its “unbridled support and leverage to all those persons and individuals” who had petitioned the National Constitutional Conference (NCC), events of 14th January 2011 were going to be prevented. Sadly, that promised support failed to materialise at the time people of Barotseland needed it the most, in the wake of the defunct NCC’s rejection of the Barotseland Agreement 1964. Barotse activists (largely followers of Barotseland Freedom Movement/ Linyungandambo) were suddenly abandoned and left exposed as sitting ducks for blood-thirsty Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) cadres, masquerading as law enforcers, to murder and molest in unthinkable of ways. Houses were also pillaged in a barbarous manner. Before 14th January 2011, we had only heard of such behaviour taking place in countries like Congo, Somalia and elsewhere in Africa, but never in a truly democratic State that Zambia claims to be.
It is without a doubt that a lot has happened since the 2008 BNC meeting. The issue of Barotseland has since been raised to a higher level at which it can only be taken for granted or trivialised by base minded sort of individuals. Therefore, the upcoming Barotse National Council Meeting cannot afford to be an ordinary one for several reasons. These are genuine reasons which have also necessitated its being convened. Amongst them are;
- Successive Zambian governments’ refusal to restore or satisfactorily address the Barotseland Agreement 1964 issue for the past forty-seven years.
- Successive governments of Zambia’s failure to clearly define the meaning of a “Unitary State” in relation to Zambia even when the first Zambian Constitution, which came after the signing of the Barotseland Agreement 1964, did not define Zambia as a unitary state and, furthermore, when Zambia was first established as a republic there was no Unity or Union Act which would have legally and correctly classified the republic as a truly Unitary State from which if any particular territory sort independence such an act would be rightly termed as secession.
- The rejection of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 in August 2010 by the National Constitutional Conference. This became the catalysis of all that is currently taking place concerning the Barotseland issue as Barotse people seriously wanted to know their future in Zambia.
- The 13th and 14th January 2011 indiscriminate arrests, maiming, molestations and cold blooded killing. This became a major turning point in the way the Barotseland issue has to be approached as compared to past mere petitions, protests and directionless clandestine dialogue between BRE and the MMD government. The Zambian government had clearly demonstrated that it was ready to even kill its “own people” just in order to force a unity that never was in the first place while on the other hand claiming to be involved in dialogue.
- The shocking about-turn made by the now Head of State, Mr. Michael Chilufya Sata, who during his campaign for president had explicitly and voluntarily stated that if elected he was going to restore the Barotseland Agreement 1964.
- The lack of legal action taken against all those implicated by the Dr. Roger Chongwe Commission of Inquiry as being the architects of the Barotseland shootings. Some these suspects have continued to work as public servants in sensitive positions such as Members of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.
- The deafening silent from fellow Zambian citizens even when the scale of atrocities suffered by the Barotse people can be classified as atrocious in international law. This and the immediately foregoing point only suggests that even though most non-Barotse Zambians want Barotseland territory to continue being a part of Zambia, Barotse people are not and will not be considered as belonging to Zambia.
It is for these and several other reasons that this BNC Meeting must be above ordinary and come up with a truly historical position. Barotseland has struggled with an identity problem for far too long. Clearly, the same old approach will get us nowhere still. A new and poignant one is needed in order for us to get out of this uncalled for quagmire.
At stake also is the relevance of our monarchy system which, as a system, has been challenged and insulted repeatedly by the State ad some of its own subjects. The system has also been suspected to serve its own interests at the expense of the Barotse nation and against all that Lubosi Lewanika I stood for. Therefore, this BNC Meeting cannot afford to not deliver according to the people’s expectations.
In the light of the above and more, we can conclude that indeed the Barotse National Council finds itself at the cross-roads that it has arguably, never been to before. Any false move lacking the people’s support will not be welcome. Logically speaking, anything short of a true way forward for the survival of the Barotse nation and Barotseland as a territory (or state) will only set a massive time bomb for Barotseland and Zambia as a nation. The people of Barotseland will no longer accept resolutions which will not be implemented forthwith. Another string of non-practical cosmetic resolutions will only confirm that we do not have leaders whose primary interest is our well being. If we fail to decide on our own future on 26th March 2012, then our enemies are going to do so for us. Barotseland is indeed at the cross-roads.