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Zambia: Restless Western Province Erupts Over Independence Agreement

The Western Province administrative capital, Mongu, on Friday erupted when Lozi tribal loyalists who want to secede from the rest of Zambia fought running battles with police on the day they “declared independence.” Two people were shot dead by the police, a number of people were injured and over 200 arrested and are likely to be charged with treason.

The Lozi loyalists want the Zambian government to restore the 1964 Barotse Agreement which gave formal recognition of the authority of the Litunga, king of the Lozi whose predecessors signed agreements with explorers and colonial governments. These agreements entitled the kingdom to royalties from minerals mined from faraway Copperbelt Province.

Lozi loyalists started clamouring for the restoration of the agreement around 1992, just after the defeat of Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president who signed the agreement a few months before independence with the reigning Litunga at the time and the British government, the departing colonial authority. Ironically, Kaunda is the one who ignored, constitutionally or otherwise, the provisions of the agreement. He also ran an oppressive one party government which did not tolerate dissent like is arising from the people now calling for the agreement’s restoration.

A few months after the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) under President Frederick Chiluba took over, Lozi loyalists from all walks of life, from within and without the country, including those holding positions in the new government, gathered in Lusaka to discuss the Barotse Agreement.

Most Zambians who had been young or not born at independence heard of the Barotse Agreement for the first time after the Lusaka gathering. The momentum was, however, somehow lost especially after other ethnic groups in the province, notably the Nkoya, indicated that they were not part of the Barotse Agreement. They called for the establishment of a tenth province they wanted called Kafue Province if the agreement was restored.

With the current unfolding events in Western Province, government has recently shut down Radio Lyambai for allegedly broadcasting inflammatory statements inciting violence and promoting the so-called independence of Barotseland. It has also banned radio stations from airing phone-in programmes discussing the Barotse Agreement. The minister of home affairs also said government would not  negotiate with “anarchists” on the issue.

This time around, bloggers have waded into the debate giving their views on the unfolding events in Mongu.

Sity Mwitu, writing on the Zambian Watchdog website in an article entitled “Tracing the Lozi Hatred in Zambia” says:

The debate on the restoration of the Barotseland Agreement of 1964 has exposed the hatrage that exists against the Lozis not only from Bembas, but also from Nyanjas. The hatrage for the Lozis has not just started now; but it is a long story that began immediately when Zambia attained her independence. The basis for this hatrage originated from the fact that at the time Zambia became independent in 1964 many Lozis were more educated than Bembas and Nyanjas. Of course, it may have been natural considering the fact that education first began in Barotseland at Sefula mission in March, 1887.

That is why Dr. Kaunda’s first Cabinet had seven (7) elite Lozis of profound standing; of which six (6) were University graduates. As a result, evil schemes were put in place to deprive the Lozis of their dignity and cultural pride. Therefore, it should not surprise to anyone to hear of PF leader Mr. Michael Sata’s recommendation to the former President Dr. FTJ Chiluba regarding their stance on the Barotseland Agreement and his suggestion to the then President to drop the recognition of the Litunga in 1996. How can someone drop the recognition of state that was founded in 1550? The hatrage for the Lozis is rife in every sphere of life in Zambia and now it has even turned into a terminally illness without cure, hence the justifiable call of the Patriots for secession. For the past 46 years, Lozis have been intimated, suppressed and oppressed, so Lozis are terribly hurt. If you talked to any Lozi hailing from Barotseland from all the walks of life except those whose stomachs are fed by the MMD oppressive regime, they will confess that they are genuinely hurt. Lozis are not seeking attention, but respect and equity in every sphere of life.

The first Republic President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda knows this too well and that is why this issue is now haunting him since most of his colleagues who penned their signatures on the document have since passed on. What this means is that Dr. Kaunda is the solution on this matter and his availability should not being ignored completely. He must not continue to be silent on this matter. He must realize that his continued silence is doing harm to this nation. His guilty of his past actions should not keep him out of what is happening in the country now.

Mwitu’s article attracted quite a number of reactions (the website does not have permanent links for individual comments).

Rhupiaitis wrote:

Well written. Some people may try to downplay the contents of this writeup but the issues brought out are true to the bone. I live in Luapula province and I hear such negative urterances from Ushis and Bembas around me. I am Tonga by tribe and I notice that the hate Bembas have for Lozis is sometimes extended to my tribe probably because of the chimbuya relationship we have with Lozis.

KAPATAMOYO disagrees with the author arguing that tribal hatred comes from Lozi people:

I would have said that if there was any tribal hatred in Zambia, it was coming from some “Lozi” people who are now advocating a seperation from the rest of us, and ordering people from other tribes to leave Western Province of Zambia in the name of Barotseland.

“Let’s start judging humans as individuals and not the tribe they belong to!,” wrote The Dude:

Well, well..well! God forbid that many people read this article! The begining is no good at all. But I must say that super K should break his silence on this issue. I also question as to why I had to learn nyanja as a venacular in Lsk west and my cousins learning bemba in Kabwe. And also why these languages without even translation in some soaps. (He likes of Phiri as a bloger who talks about ‘ a tonger will never rule Zed’ should take a leaf from this article. They manifest hatred and make other tribes regroup and turn against other tribes as a defensive mechanism! Let’s start judging humans as individuals and not the tribe they belong to! Calculated schemes are always unearthed. For now comments reserved!

The author's basic argument is contradictory, declared Ansenga Woyamba:

I find so many contradictions in this article. How can President Kaunda who hated the so called lozis appoint 7 “Elite Ministers” from the ethnic grouping he hated so much?? Bo Mwitu please you are eldery and you seem to be quite learned in the manner you have written this article, but you least understand the dynamics of societal changes and growth. You have a one small problem of distinguishing facts from mere oral history which you have gathered in the archives of your fallen grand parents who meant well though.
Kindly reflect on this very seriously Bo Mwitu, your approach to matters is so divisive for the modern world not the 1550 that you are referring to. Come back to earth and enjoy the realities of life Bondate!!!

mak wrote:

This emotional, unverifiable write is the reason we have a problem in western province. i have not seen a critique on the agreement itself, it therefore means that the writer has not even read the agreement.its quite straight forward,its simply a matter of implementation of the Litunga’s customary powers(like any other traditional leader) to work in line with that of legislation and government policy over tax, fishing and timber rights.Read the writeup at p.16 of the Post of 14/01/11. that is a real appropriate view on the matter not this piece of hogwash.

Zambian netizens have also responded to an article appearing on Lusaka Time website in which the opposition UNIP, the party Dr Kaunda led at independence, is urging government to accept responsibility for the deteriorating situation in Western Province.

Mr. Capitalist was disappointed with the statement from UNIP :

I’m disappointed with the statement from UNIP because this whole Barotse agreement issue started with UNIP. Once again, the MMD has to clean up UNIP’s mess just like they had to clean up the $6 billion USD debt UNIP left behind.
I find this statement interesting though, “In Mongu Mr. Lungu said a group of 20 people carrying matchetes was in the early hours of Friday rounded-up by police. Five other activists from Lusaka believed to be inciting people over the 1964 agreement had also been picked up.” end quote. So they were a danger to other citizenry. Zambia Police had to use whatever action necessary to protect the greater citizenry. I do not support killing but Zambia Police had to use whatever action necessary to calm the situation.

Enka Rasha noted that the government cannot engage anarchists in dialogue:

Heck no.Big NO ,NO.You do not engage anarchists,rioters and killers in dialogue,freedom of speech and such.That is called appeasement and the moment you do that you’re finnished.Remember PM Chamberlain trying to engage Hitler in dialogue-what happened?

Smoothcriminal wrote:

A statesman is a politician who places himself at the service of the nation. A politician is a statesman who places the nation at his service.

Has the shooting and arresting of these activists sorted the problem NO.Only a **** will ignore an issue hoping it will evenually vanish,this issue needs to be faced head on.Someone created this problem many years ago.The significant problem we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.There”s need to refocus and rethink on how best to solve the problem than running in circles,surely there are more wise people in gvnt who can brainstom to finding a lasting solution

Zele warned: God is watching:

People in Zambia may not like the Lozi agreement doc but the truth is that they are the only one who have well documented leadership the missionary found with solid leaders when they come, and above all they are the who have define the map of Zambia. Otherwise, the Belgium would have colonized the larger part of the current national called Zambia. You can see from the stripe that petrudes into Zambia on the C.belt, tells the great Story. The talk with LOVE than hate esp if you claim you are Christian. One wonder the legitimacy of the ZAMBIAN elegance to Christianity when police go out shooting and calling armless man. who is more dangerous Chiluba or that small boy the have massacred? Remember, whatever, we do comes back to us, God is watching, Nebuchadnezzar was send the bush lived

Ichalo Lifupa wrote:

Two wrongs cannot make a right. The police should be restrained by all means from using maximum force on its own people. Its a pity RB, the head of state has chosen to remain mute but only allowing this Mkhondo fimo fimo who cannot see beyond cheap politics to talk bull. RB, you are president for Zambia and not for a few individual provinces. If you are still snoozing, its now time to wake up before the situation in Western province escalate. Where is the ‘Tiyende Pamodzi’ spirit?

The feeling by many people is that government’s position not to engage the loyalists in dialogue will not make the issue go away.

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