This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.
It remains difficult to confirm the existence of the Barotse Liberation Army, the supposed paramilitary wing of various groups calling for the secession of Zambia’s Western Province. However, if President Michael Sata’s order to the army to kill the rebel activists is anything to go by, the organization is nevertheless considered a serious threat to Zambia’s national security.
The November 30, 2012 order came after it was reported that the rebels were recruiting former soldiers and policemen to serve in the Barotse Liberation Army. Speaking at a Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional Defence Command Staff College graduation ceremony, Sata said:
In Lukulu (Western Province) people have formed a group called Barotse Liberation Army, they are recruiting people. As of today, I am aware that they have recruited 276 people. They are recruiting former army officers, police officers and former poachers they want to rise against us and we have to be prepared… And you the Army Commander I have told you before that I need troop career planes because how can I transport troops to Lukuku?
In a veiled criticism of the army’s lack of preparedness and alleged toleration for unrest in the region, Sata said:
Our soldiers are graduating but some of them, they have never fired a gun since they joined the army until they retire… because it is different to train and to go and do the action. You need to be well trained in order to defend this country.
On a Facebook group, Zambian Voice, Isikanda Wamulwange expressed concern at President Sata’s call:
If military force will be used on the so called “rebels” in the Western province, might this not lead to civil war, is there no better way to resolve this issue.
Chileshe Tayali responded on the same thread:
Surely the President's outburst is not the best way to sort out BRE [Barotse Royal Establishment] conflict. He is declaring war in public. I find his directives very careless.
A local online publication, the Barotse Post, reported that the soldiers sent to the area pulled out after failing to find rebels:
The Zambian troops began their disgraced pull out from Lukulu on Sunday, 2nd December 2012, after failing to find the imagined Barotse Liberation Army activists. Four helicopters were seen flying out with some of the special forces who were sent on what has proved to be a wild goose chase. In order to save face, the disappointed and ashamed Minister of Defense has pleaded for information on BLA from the locals. This only shows how panicky the Zambian Government gets to be whenever it comes to the Barotseland issue.
The same publication accused the Zambian government of allegedly fabricating lies against against Barotse people:
Not so long ago the Zambian people were fed on a lie that the Barotseland Freedom Movement in Kaoma was recruiting retired military personnel. This claim was recently followed by another malicious one, in the wake of Mr Clement Sinyinda's resignation as Ngambela [Prime Minister] of Barotseland, that some Lozi people in Senanga and Sesheke were organizing to dethrone the Litunga [king].
Calls for the secession of Western Province have heated up in the last few years over allegations that successive Zambian governments have ignored the Batrotseland Agreement of 1964 which united the region with the rest of Zambia at independence in 1964.
As an opposition leader, Sata promised restoration of the agreement within 90 days of assuming office but, surprisingly, he has now taken a belligerent stance against it and it seems dialogue is not yet on the horizon.
This post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.