The Barotse Question is embodied in the restoration of the Barotseland Agreement. Today, it merits interrogation as to the validity of the nature of influences that determine when “a sense of Lozi nationhood” arouses demands of self-rule as presumed to be proclaimed in the Agreement.
Clearly, a dichotomous citizenry has always emerged in post-colonial States in Africa. There is the citizenry whose sense of belonging to the new State is subsumed more by their allegiance to the traditionally and culturally defined nationhood. And there is the citizenry whose sense of belonging to the new State is subsumed more by a sense of socio-economic and political inclusion. In Zambia, the former are mostly the rural populations who live in areas where traditional authority is still the dominant governance authority with respect to livelihood entitlements. And, the latter are the urban populations who live in areas where statutory authority defining the State is dominant.
In a democracy like Zambia there is an assumption that both ends of this citizenry dichotomy have controlling influence on the decisions and affairs of government, and that there will be equitable and equal socio-economic development. To which end, dissent to a sense of belonging to a State premised on a sense of socio-economic and political exclusion (or marginalisation) should not arise.
Yet, in the Barotse Question it has!
The Barotse Question calls upon us to accept that in pre-colonial times only a few of our ethnic groups had politically centralised chieftainships with developed bureaucracies. Lozis have always had a sense of Lozi national consciousness.
The re-emergence of the Barotse Question today is politically claimed to be because of a sense of socio-economic and political exclusion (or marginalisation). That Western province is the poorest and least developed province in Zambia, is not a subject of debate. But, it should also be acknowledged that all rural Zambia has comparatively been neglected for sometime in our country’s development history, is also not a subject of debate. There is an evident rural-urban dichotomy relative to the social-economic status the country’s population.
In short, rural Zambia has always been short-changed!
The question then is why is this so, if we hold valid the assumption that “access to positions of political and administrative power is important for competing social groups in that it provides them with visible recognition, a ‘say’ in decision making and control over government resources”.
In this respect, can it be assumed that rural populations are under represented in our democratic governance representative framework? Or can it be assumed that inequities in governance representation at the national level have produced inequalities at the regional levels?
On the contrary, governance representative indices by regional and or ethnic groupings in periods of the years 1964 to 2008 do not show significant ethnic marginalisation, though variances are observable. Governance representation in Zambia has been void of inequities likely to cause ethnic dissent in the dominant ethnic groups. This has been a result of Kenneth Kaunda’s policy of ‘tribal balancing’, and its continuance.
The objective facts of this representativeness is a trend that is not commensurate with the obtaining poverty levels in rural Zambia, as most ethnical groups have had relatively equitable representativeness, and yet the evident results of this equitable representativeness is abject poverty for most of the populations in rural Zambia.
Therefore, it is clear that in Zambia, equality at the ‘political elite level’ has produced inequalities at the regional level. To which end, the assumption that “leaders with access to positions of state power will tend to redistribute to their ‘own’ social groups”, as the mainstream argue on the case of poverty in Western province is sophism.
In addition, that the re-emergence of the Barotse Question is because of a sense of socio-economic and political exclusion (or marginalisation), is merely a travesty of reason. The Barotse Question should be rationalised by the sense of belonging to a historically and colonially recognised traditionally defined nationhood, and the consequent Lozi national consciousness.
Admittedly, the Barotse Question has over the years been used as a tool for a more representative national governance mode. Thus, a see-saw semblance of Barotse sentiments is evident whenever Lozis feel marginalised.
It should be understood that, the critical elements of the Barotseland Agreement of May, 1964 are a definition of the terms under which the Litunga of Barotseland assented to Barotseland protectorate’s merger with Northern Rhodesia protectorate to create the new nation-State called Zambia. Dominant of which are the continued protection and respect by the government of Zambia of the obligations and rights contained in treaties and concessions between the British government and Barotseland, and that the “customary law of Barotseland shall be the principal local authority for the government and administration of Barotseland”, and that the Litunga of Barotseland, acting after consultation with his Council, shall be authorised and empowered to make laws for Barotseland in relation to the matters that include the Litungaship; the Barotse Government; local government land; forests; traditional and customary matters relating to Barotseland alone; the institution at present known as the Barotse native treasury; and local taxation.
Thus, the Barotseland Agreement manifests a superfluity of governance paradigms. These are:
(a) Quest for self-rule as evidenced in the affirmation of asserting protection and respect by the government of Zambia of the obligations and rights contained in treaties and concessions between the British government and Barotseland protectorate, which duly recognised that Barotseland was an autonomous colonised nation within another colonised nation;
(b) Monarchic form of governance where kingship is duly asserted as evidenced in the Agreement’s affirmation that the “customary law of Barotseland shall be the principal local authority for the government and administration of Barotseland”, and that the Litunga of Barotseland, acting after consultation with his Council, shall be authorised and empowered to make laws for Barotseland, evidences recognition of a monarchic form of governance as kingship is duly asserted. Due recognition should however be made that Barotseland had over time developed an inclusive form of traditional governance, despite royal heredity being supreme to the subjects; and,
(c) Federalism, as the Agreement also provides the government of Zambia sovereignty over Barotseland on the administration of justice; the public service; fiscal responsibility, administration and economic development of Barotseland; and leasehold land administration.
The Agreement thus recognises Barotseland’s quasi-sovereignty of self-rule and preservation of a monarchic governance system. But, the delegation of powers to the central government over certain matters in Barotseland provides a dichotomy of governance. This dichotomy is self-rule within a monarchy; and, federalism.
In short, the character of the State of Zambia that should have evolved out of the Barotseland Agreement is a federal state. In this respect, an attempt should be made to understand the quest for self-rule in this context. In any case, for traditionalists, the sense of belonging to a historically and colonially recognised traditionally defined nationhood, and the consequent Lozi national consciousness, dates far beyond the Frank Lochner Treaty of 1890.
Further, the Barotse Question’s perseverance is sustained by the dichotomous nature of political governance in Zambia, which is rooted in the country’s State-building process. The country’s political governance has evolved from a pendulum of polarity between traditionalists and nation-State building advocates or what have been termed nationalists.
There always have been the traditionalists and the nationalists, and this has historically being more pronounced in Western province, than in any other province in Zambia. Whereas the traditionalists sought to preserve their customary and or traditional authority over their subjects within an independent State, the nationalists (mostly urban subjects) favoured the creation of a more cohesive State that recognised boundaries of colonial domination of peoples with similar aspirations, traditions and culture.
Consequently, the resulting political governance has been one of political and public service elitism, which has not served the socio-economic interests of most of the populations in rural Zambia that still live under traditional modes of governance.
In retrospect, the Barotse Question is not ashes of history, nor is it an inane emotional attachment to historical romanticism. Its re-emergence, can in part, be attributable to the usurpation of the traditionalists autonomy and privilege during the country’s State-building process.
Therefore, it is here argued that the Barotse Question provides a governance re-think. This is based on the fact that:
(a) The country’s political and public service elites have not substantively equitably determined development entitlements; and that,
(b) There is no elite bargaining based on social group or regional representation.
The Barotse Question lends credence to the fact that historical events shape inter-regional relations within a centralised State. The Barotse Question provides the State of Zambia the opportunity for a non-dichotomous governance system, which can integrate traditional and customary governance frameworks under which the majority of the rural populations exist.
A governance re-think premised on the Barotse Question is simply an affirmation of the need for equitably determined development entitlements, and elite bargaining based on social group or regional representation. After all, every region has its own history, traditions and culture, in addition to peculiar political, social and economic problems.
In conclusion, the derivative political governance paradigm from the Barotse Question is federalism with its consequent self-rule for the regions.
Federalism is a reconciliatory political governance structure that recognises historic, traditional and cultural diversity. It is a governance paradigm that can provide government space for statutory institutionalisation of traditional and customary authority, which is inarguably integral to the Barotse Question. Federalism provides equitable local and central political and administrative representation, which is critical for populations characterised by historic, traditional and cultural diversity.
The Barotse Question is a product of the rural poverty vis-à-vis political governance representation disconnect evident in Zambia. It is not a parody for political opportunism!
Endnote: Edited version of Re-Examining the Argument for the Restoration of the Barotseland Agreement
 Article 7., Financial Responsibility, The Government of the Republic of Zambia shall have the same general responsibility for providing financial support for the administration and economic development of Barotseland as it has for other parts of the Republic and shall ensure that, in discharge of this responsibility, Barotseland is treated fairly and equitably in relation to other parts of the Republic.