Barotseland votes for independence

01 April 2012 - 02:42 By ARTHUR SIMUCHOBA

As expected, the old kingdom of Barotseland has responded to President Michael Sata's "reluctance" to restore the Barotseland Agreement of 1964, which fused the Barotseland Kingdom into Zambia, with a decision to secede and constitute itself into a sovereign state under the traditional ruler, the Litunga.

The decision came on March 27 in the form of resolutions by the Barotse National Council (BNC) which had opened the previous day at Limulunga, the traditional winter capital, not far from Mongu, the provincial capital.

Mongu was already crawling with police and soldiers by the time delegates sat in council to consider Sata's publicly expressed reluctance to restore the agreement, which also gave oversight of most local issues to the area's traditional authorities.

Police reinforcements and the army had been deploying in the Western Province all week as March 26 approached. The police Inspector-General Stella Libongani had flown there and on the eve, Defence Minister Geoffrey Mwamba, warned delegates against discussing "treasonable issues" which he did not specify.

Still, all seven districts of the province resolved that, in the circumstances they were for a "divorce."

"We now inform Zambia and the international community that we finally accept the unilateral nullification and the abrogation of the Barotseland Agreement of 1964 by the Zambian government, which has freed Barotseland from being part of Zambia . we declare that Barotseland is now free to pursue its own self-determination and destiny.

"We are committed to a peaceful disengagement. in the same manner that we attempted integration..." the resolutions said.

They called on the international community to support the legitimate right of the area's people to self- determination and said the Zambian government should refrain from violence and intimidation.

Delegates said it was clear the aim of the agreement was to provide "a safeguard against encroachment on the powers of the people of Barotseland to self-government by the government of Zambia."

"The people of Barotseland shall exercise their right to revert Barotseland to its original status as a sovereign nation, so that the people of Barotseland shall determine their political, cultural, social and economic development," the resolutions said. "The Barotse government" was instructed to immediately formalise the declaration of a dispute with the Zambian Government and to notify the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), the Commonwealth and United Nations of it. The council mandated the "Barotse Government" to within 30 days request the United Nations to oversee the transition process and put in place a transition process leading to taking over all government functions in Barotseland, and the election of the Legislative Council known locally as the Katengo.

"We mandate the Barotse Government to immediately engage the Zambian government with the sole purpose of working out transitional arrangements towards self-determination for Barotseland within the shortest possible time under the auspices of the United Nations."

The next BNC would convene at the end of June to receive reports on the progress on these resolutions.

Few were taken by surprise. The meeting opened with delegates refusing to sing the Zambian national anthem preferring instead the old anthem of Barotseland.

Further, the immediate reaction in February to the president's reluctance to restore the agreement, on the basis that it would open a "Pandora's Box", with all provinces demanding the same rights, met with a hostile reception from protagonists.

There was a certain hardening of attitude and even as March 26 was announced as the date for the BNC, it didn't require much to realise what would follow.

The traditional Prime Minister of the area, Clement Sinyinda, who was a deputy minister of education in former President Rupiah Banda's government, set the tone. He said in his opening speech that enough was enough:

"We have been insulted enough, ridiculed enough, teased enough, mocked enough, dribbled enough, used enough, hurt enough, misunderstood enough, marginalised enough, sidelined enough, victimised enough, neglected enough, tossed back and forth enough, subjugated enough, segregated enough, mistreated enough, and we must put this to an end," he said.

Present during deliberations was a solidarity delegation of four chiefs from the Southern Province, where the decision of President Sata to transfer two districts from there to other provinces has been opposed from day one.

There was no immediate government reaction, with the President still in India for treatment - the real reaction could come only with his return. What was unclear was whether this position was consensual or just that of the forces massed around the traditional authorities. For, though the issue is heating up, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about it .

In the run-up to the meeting the defence minister sounded anxious to remind delegates that he had deployed soldiers in the area.