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'SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF BAROTSELAND AND ITS SELF-DETERMINATION!' - Barotseland Post commentary on Barotse plains and cultural landscape nomination as a World Heritage Site

18 December 2020
Map showing nominated property (Green Border) – Courtesy of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) - Click Image to Enlarge


While the agenda to nominate both the Barotse plains and the cultural landscape as a World Heritage Site may often be presented as beneficial to the Barotzis at face value, the devil may be in the actual details because the proposal is being forcefully pursued by the Zambian State which continues to refuse to dialogue over the equally important matter of Barotseland's political status.

What many people may not know is that the Barotse landscape in question is a vast expanse of open land, covering almost the entire Kingdom of Barotseland as it stands today, technically rendering the entire Kingdom a World Heritage Site as the demarcation map of what is to be nominated will show!

Its floodplain stretches from the Zambezi's confluence with the Kabompo and Lungwebungu Rivers in the north to a point about 230km south, above the Ngonye falls, south of Senanga.

Along most of its length, its width is over 30km, reaching 50km at the widest, just north of Mongu, the main town on the plain, situated at its edge while the main body of the plain covers about 5500km².

Its maximum flooded area is 10750km² when the floodplains of several tributaries are taken into account, such as the Luena Flats.

So, assuming this decision to nominate the Barotse plain a World Heritage Site is so critical; shouldn’t that decision and proposal be made by the people of Barotseland themselves – since it is their entire homeland at stake?

Why is the Zambian State insistent and seemingly in such a hurry to declare more than half of Barotseland a World Heritage Site, amidst so much controversy and the imminent political sovereignty of Barotseland today?

The people of Barotseland, especially the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE), should read between the lines and employ the age-old wisdom of King Lewanika and reject this application - at least for now.

Currently, Zambia is largely seen as Barotseland’s colonizer who cannot be trusted to make decisions of such magnitude as the proposed listing of the Barotse Cultural landscape as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO without thorough consultations with all stakeholders in Barotseland.

Therefore, we dare say Barotzis should seek first the KINGDOM of BAROTSELAND and its SELF-DETERMINATION and all these other things shall follow later on!

It is not a secret that in 2012, the Kingdom of Royal Barotseland, through its supreme decision making organ, the Barotse National Council (BNC), unanimously voted to separate from the Republic of Zambia and reclaim its own sovereignty after repeated appeals to have the pre-independence Barotseland Agreement 1964 union treaty implemented by the Republic proved futile for over five decades.

The Barotseland Agreement 1964 is the sole treaty that conjoined the separate Protectorate of Barotseland to the Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia to establish the Sovereign Republic of Zambia and, therefore, the treaty's unilateral abrogation by the Zambian government in 1969 consequently spells the dissolution of the envisioned union once accepted by the parties involved.

In announcing the resolutions of the 2012 BNC to the Zambian State, who were officially in attendance at the BNC in Limulunga, and in the presence of Their Excellencies, the Ambassadors and High Commissioners representing several Foreign Missions accredited to Zambia, the BNC clearly spelt out that Barotseland would, from that moment on, pursue and institute steps that would peacefully reclaim its lost sovereignty after the botched ill-fated union with the Republic of Zambia – a de facto independent political existence outside of Zambia.

In response, however, the Zambian state embarked on the most brutal documented ill-treatment of Barotse people in Zambia, continuously arresting hundreds of peaceful Barotseland independence campaigners and administering the Barotse region with unpronounced State of Emergency powers.

The Zambian State has continued to deny Barotse people their basic human rights of free speech and free expression, freedoms of assembly, conscience and association, among many others.

For example, key independence leaders, Afumba Mombotwa, Inambao Kalima and Likando Pelekelo were in 2018 slapped with 15 years prison sentences that would run from their arrest in 2014, each with hard labour, over some trumped-up treason felony charges for their respective roles in peacefully implementing the unanimous 2012 BNC resolutions. Sadly, Likando Pelekelo died while serving this unjust sentence earlier this year from suspected deplorable prison conditions and general neglect in the Zambian prison system.

Amidst all this unresolved and ongoing controversy on the political status of the Kingdom of Barotseland, the Zambian government through its agency, National Heritage and Conservation Commission (NHCC), has intensified its campaign to have the entire Barotse cultural landscape declared as a World Heritage Site, purportedly for its benefit to the Republic and, by extension, the local people of Barotseland through the anticipated tourism spinoff.

Therefore, our candid advice is to wait until such a time that the people of Barotseland could not only be consulted but also educated on the implications of nominating their entire homeland as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO - bearing in mind that the Barotse plains and landscape are not only home to thousands of Barotzis but that the people of Barotseland also depend on it entirely for a sustainable existence!

Further, the consultative process must be undertaken without the current associated political overtones. Therefore, the Zambian government must, as a matter of priority, firstly resolve the outstanding issues surrounding Barotseland’s political status within or outside the Sovereign Republic of Zambia.

We are not against the protection of the landscape and the possible tourism benefits that may result from its listing as a World Heritage Site, but we are merely advising that given Zambia’s inability and unwillingness to widely consult key stakeholders, including Barotseland independence campaigners, on the advantages and disadvantages of the nomination, and also looking at other available sustainable conservation alternatives, the BRE should not be forced or enticed to make that decision right now, especially not under the current heated political atmosphere.

What is of utmost priority to the people of Barotseland at this moment, we think, is a conclusive resolution over its political status.

Is Barotseland still part of Zambia and under which constitutional guarantees or is Barotseland now an independent state, as declared and affirmed at the 2012 BNC?

Consequently, is Zambia governing and occupying Barotseland illegally now that the defunct Barotseland Agreement 1964 is dead and buried on both sides of the ill-fated union?

It is this political limbo and quagmire that must be resolved, sooner rather than later so that Barotseland can then be in a better position to make decisions over issues like the proposed nomination of the Barotse Cultural Landscape as a World Heritage Site.

Going by the 2012 BNC resolutions, it is very clear that the people of Barotseland no longer wish to be governed under the Republic of Zambia whose government already decided to unilaterally abrogate the Barotseland Agreement 1964 and decreed that by the Amendment (No. 5) Act. No.33 of 1969, all rights that were vested to the Barotse by the pre-independence 1964 agreement ceased to exist in the Republic of Zambia.

With Barotseland self-government, however, the Royal Barotseland Government (RBG) will legitimately engage objective consultants to advise both government and the monarch on how to proceed with this UNESCO application.

For now, the people of Barotseland must again reject this application as they have done before because Zambia currently lacks the legitimacy to objectively engage the people of Barotseland over their homeland.

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