Friday, January 20, 2012

The Barotse Question - A dialectic failure of reason

Now that the Barotseland Agreement is in the open domain, already there are comments being made that border on extreme intellectual deficiency in understanding historic contexts of the evolution of nation-States in Africa. In any case, could be this is because such individuals never made any attempt in the past to understand the evolution of the nation-State we call Zambia. And this is, because if they did, they would have unearthed the Barotseland Agreement decades ago. The document has been in the public domain on the World Wide Web (what is erroneously called the internet) for decades.

With its undoubtedly welcome politically initiated release, it is clear that there are many in our country who do not understand the context of the Barotse Question or who merely seek to be blind to the objective facts. It is an inarguable dialectic failure of reason to assume that as a people, we ourselves gave unto ourselves the nation-State we call Zambia.

No we did not! Sic.

A comment that made me take pen to paper is an assertion that the Barotse Question is tribal. The sentiment went further to assert that Lozis are tribalists. Not much very different from the excruciating political rhetoric that Tongas are tribalists! But, in the context of the Barotse Question there is a difference.

First, Lozi is not a tribe. It is a complex language group. It is rather unfortunate that a language can be imputed to be tribal. How possible is that, when Lozi comprises dialect/language groups that include Kwangwas, Luyanas, Subiyas, Makomas, Nkoya (which is a language constituting Mashasha, Lushange, Lukolwe, Mbwela), Nyengos, Mbundas, Mashi, Mbowe, Kwandi, Mbukushu, Simaa, and Totela?

For instance, Lozis like Makomas and Subiya can only understand each other in Lozi (which is a Sesotho dialect). These groups were either subjugated by the assumed superior group the Luyanas/Kwangwa or did seek protection, thereof. Thus constituting what was historical called the Kingdom of Barotseland.

Dialectically, how often do we hear of a Welsh or Scot saying the English are tribalists? Why is the term tribe not often used among Europeans? Does it mean there are no tribes in Europe?

To which end, I have consistently reasoned that the term tribe has historically only being used to refer to colonised, oppressed, or subjugated groups of people. The term tribe has a negative connotation. It is a term that historically was used to refer to what was perceived as inferior groups of people. That, as Africans we have continued using the term basically reflects an assumption of superiority by one group or the other. It is a term that we even use in political competition to appeal to a sense of one's assumed tribal superiority and the legitimate claim to rule others.

How often, have we come across expressions like "I can not be ruled by a Tonga, Lozi or Luvale"? Exactly what is the connotation of such expressions?

Second, with respect to the Barotseland Agreement, the recognition of the Kingdom of Barotseland, by the very colonisers to whom we today euphorically ascribe our existence as a nation dates as far back as 1890. For instance on June 27, 1890, King Lewanika I and the British South Africa Company signed the Frank Lochner Treaty resulting in Barotseland becoming a British protectorate.

Another record worth mention is the 1905 Barotseland Boundary Case between Britain and Portugal, which explicitly observes that, “For the purposes of the arbitration the expression the territory of the Barotse Kingdom shall mean the territory over which the King of Barotse was paramount ruler on the June 11, 1891”. This case was arbitrated by Victor Emmanuel III, King of Italy on May 30, 1905, and basically considered the determination of the limits of the territory of the Barotse Kingdom.

Thence, they should not be any shred of doubt in any reasonable individual to accept that the very colonisers who defined the boundaries of the State we call Zambia, are the ones that recognised that there was a traditional nation called Barotseland and a British South African territory called Northern Rhodesia. At no time in our history was there any other territory recognised as a nation, other than Barotseland.

Without showing disdain, can any of the individuals that are pooh-poohing or spurning the existence of a Barotse nation before the existence of Zambia, show historic evidence of any such language group in Zambia that was recognised as a defined territory in the 1800s or even in the pre-independence period?

Perhaps, research should be done to evidence which other ethnic groupings in today's Zambia were recognised as such by the colonisers. And, indeed how many even have a national anthem!

Retrospectively, I thus write somewhere that "Xenophobia is a tragic failure of reason of which space it is after all, we even kill for". And, in "The Barotse Question - Epitomising historical romanticism? I note that, "Our nation-State existence is an illusion of well-being in a geographic space defined by forces that knew little of existing social spaces”.

To conceive the Barotseland Agreement as "a whole load of nonsense" is not only unfortunate, but a failure to recognise the evolution of the State of Zambia. I always find it obtuse that as Africans we often run to talk of the spaces we call our States without realising that these were basically defined by Europeans that in most cases did not take cognisance of already existing ethno-realities. However, at least in the evolution of the Barotseland Agreement they did. How many of us even ask as to why Caprivi, despite having ethno similarities to Barotseland is part of Namibia and not Zambia. So how then can it be so difficult to comprehend the Barotse Question?

Sincerely, how can a sense of nationhood that was recognised by the very colonisers that "manufactured" Zambia be construed as tribalism?

Let us not delude ourselves, the Barotse Question is simply a governance paradigm that in all fairness should “serve to provide a dialectic framework for interrogating political and public service governance representation within a diverse and dichotomous population”.

For more reading from Mbinji Mufalo on the Barotse Question, please read:
1) "Re-Examining the Argument for the Restoration of the Barotseland Agreement" at []
2) "The Barotse Question - Epitomising historical romanticism?" []

Endnote: This is an adaptation of a FaceBook comment I made on a fellow citizen’s comment on the Barotse Question, on January 20, 2012