South Sudan may hold the record as the newest nation in the world but this may no longer hold if the developing situation in Zambia in which advocates of an independent Barotseland, better known as Western Province, force matters and secede from the rest of the country.
The predominantly Lozi people of the province, bordering Angola, Namibia and Botswana, met on the 26 March, 2012 under the auspices of the Barotse National Council (BNC) and resolved, among other things, that:
We the people of Barotseland declare that Barotseland is now free to pursue its own self-determination and destiny
We are committed to a peaceful disengagement with the Zambian government in the same manner that we attempted integration as a state within Zambia.
We call on the international community to support our legitimate right to self determination as a people and nation by resolving as follows:
1. That all the people in Barotseland shall continue to enjoy the centuries old harmonious peaceful co-existence by all the ethnic groups as had always been the case.
2. That the people of Barotseland shall not, in any way, take kindly to any individual, authority or groups of individuals bringing the institution of the Litungaship into public ridicule and disrepute by making derogatory remarks with intent to undermine the authority of the Litunga and Barotse Government.
3. The Zambian government to immediately refrain from committing actions of violence and intimidation against the people of Barotseland.
4. That no part of Barotseland shall be ceded to any other country.
The Barotseland Agreement 1964 issue has been brewing for sometime now but it came to prominence once again in the run up to the 2011 elections when the then opposition Patriotic Front (PF) leader, Michael Sata, promised that once elected, he would restore the agreement. In partial fulfilment of his election promise, he set up a Barotseland Commission of Inquiry to look into the grievances of the people of Western Province but rejected the recommendations saying they would open a pandora’s box.
A number of Zambian netizens have weighed in on the issue as it has been unfolding. One such netizen is former Zambia’s ambassador to Libya and blogger, Mbita Chitala who gave three options of how to resolve the Barotse question and recommended the following:
To re-negotiate the Barotse Agreement so as to ensure more regional autonomy of all the regions of Zambia anchored on liberal democratic values and federalism. This will require that the PF government provides for Zambia a new constitution that entrenches federated structures in our governance. The Technical Committee appointed by President Sata can be requested to negotiate with the Litunga and the BRE and other Royal Establishments together with all civil society on the historical necessity of devolution and recommend in the new draft constitution the federated way in which Zambia would be governed. It is a notorious fact that no country has ever developed under the so called unitary state structures. In fact, this is a colonial legacy that suited despots. All serious countries only developed when they federated. This is true for the UK, Germany, Japan, India, RSA, Brazil. USA, France, Russia, India even small countries like South Korea, Switzerland and so on.
On the Zambia Peoples Pact group page on Facebook, Derrick M Muwina questioned the sincerity of President Michael Sata for not fulfilling his election promises:
No matter which side you are on the Barotseland issues, is it not true that President Sata promised to “honor/restore” the agreement whatever he meant? Is he now paying the price for making promises he could not fulfill to get votes only to renege after the election? Should we not be holding the President to accountability on this one?
The Barotse issue, whose BNC resolutions was being debated in the national assembley brought despondency among netizens. Rueben Lupupa Lifuka, a well known governance activist, after watching the proceedings, presumably on TV, wrote:
Watching the MPs debate the resolutions of the Barotse National Council in Parliament, confirms my worst fears- the calibre of some of our representatives leaves much to be desired. in part, it explains the reason why this country is lagging behind in its development
There were a number of reactions to Vice President Guy Scot’s ministerial statement in parliament on the issue in which he said that the resolutions by the BNC to breakaway from the rest of Zambia would have to be considered by all Zambians through a process that involves elaborate and credible consultation because the resolutions of the BNC have severe consequences and ramifications if not correctly managed.
Commenting on Zambian Watchdog website, Kafue Province Advocate wrote:
Well said Mr. VP. These Lozis are fraudsters, how do they claim that all the seven districts have indorsed there nonsense when Nkoya Chiefs did not attend the silly and tribal meeting.
The fraud they have committed in now is the same as the fraud that was committed during the BA64 signing by making bogus claims.
The VP and indeed the President are alive to the fact that Nkoyas will NEVER indorse any rubbish coming from the Litunga and the BRE.
In fact the VP even attended Kazanga Ceremony of the Nkoya people in Kaoma last year so he is personally aware of the official position of the Nkoyas and others on this BA64 matter.
These are just acts of desperation from the BRE since most of them are now unemployed since PF took over government.
Another reader calling himself Dagga, in support of secession, wrote:
Guy [Scott]. A salute you for helping keep peace in western because fat fat [Defence Minister Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba] and [Home Affairs Minister] sakeni I would have acted emotionally to attack the lozi.
However, I disagree with you when you condense lozi people for choosing to secede as irresponsible and unacceptable and yet you do not condemn the Zambian government for abrogating the agreement as irresponsible and unacceptable.
Lozi people chose to live with northern Rhodesians through trust and love, and today the must pay the price of condemnation for doing such a humble thing.
For forty seven years, they have tried to ask you to honour the agreement so that we Ramon the same, but pride has failed all reasoning.
Now,vyou still want to tell us that we are wrong, why?
This is wrong.
Come back to the table and negotiate. Otherwise we are going to our sand
Surelyz, you guys can’t be so stubborn and proud. We shall surely perish together.
The Barotseland Agreement 1964 was signed on 18 May, 1964 by Litunga Mwanawina III, King of Barotseland and Kenneth Kaunda Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia to establish Barotseland's position within Zambia in place of the earlier agreement between Barotseland and the British Government.
Barotseland activists have created an official web portal to make it easy for the public to get Barotseland Government information and services online.
On 29 March, 2012 Barotseland Prime Minister Clement Wainyae Sinyinda was arrested by the Zambian security forces.