An Interrogation of the Barotse Question within Poverty & Nation-State Governance Representation
a press release by Mbinji Mufalo
(Human Rights & Governance Consultant)
Thursday, 10 February 2011
"It is the failed past we fail to correct today, that lead to the failed future we live in the day after today."
I, Mbinji Mufalo, holds this press conference as a concerned citizen. My national identity is Zambian, and my ethnic group heritage is Lozi. The unorthodox opinions I will herein express are solely mine and are based on my long years of human rights, democracy and governance consultancy in the NGO and public sector and study.
Some, I am sure, asked themselves, who is he and why is he holding a press conference. I always express myself on governance issues in this country and I have been doing so for close to more than two decades now. I do so (have been doing so) mostly in print media that allow me space to express my unorthodox expressions. In recent years, my contentions and thoughts on governance issues in my country have been expressed through my personal blog and website (http://mbinjimufalo.blogspot.com and http://miliko.vndv.com, respectively).
But, on the Baroste Question, it became clear to me that my modes of expression do not serve the greater interests of our knowledge and information deficient population. The Internet is a luxury in our context, to which end the people with whom I seek to share my contentions will rarely, if not never, hear my voice. Thus, I conceived this idea of a press conference, as you the media are a broader knowledge and information communication instrument.
In my opening remarks, I must first say the loss of life by individuals asserting their right to dissent is unfortunate and unacceptable. And that individuals are incarcerated for asserting their right to dissent is also unfortunate and unacceptable. I do sympathise with them, sometimes.
But, their contestations and plight should not be reduced to a mere political exercise of gaining political competiveness when the underlying causes of the dissent on the Barotse Question should be conceived within the broader context of how Zambia came to be, rural poverty and democratic governance representation.
The issues I here seek to share with you were evoked by the sentiments recently expressed by General Malimba Masheke and (maybe) shared by his peers on the incarcerated individuals from Barotseland. And indeed the general thought that “little attention has been paid to Western Province”, and thus that it is the poorest region in Zambia. But be mindful that these are issues that I have always held and expressed in one form or the other.
That Western province is the poorest and least developed province in Zambia, is not a subject of debate. Similarly, that rural Zambia has comparatively been neglected for sometime in our country’s development history is not a subject of debate. What is debatable and what citizen’s should question given today’s worrisome polarity of our political space is the legitimacy of criticisms of the causes of poverty and underdevelopment in parts of our country, irrespective of a regional dimension or within the rural-urban dichotomy.
To argue that a president that has been in office for a period of slightly more than two years is responsible for this unacceptable and undesirable situation in some regions of our country is a travesty of reason.
First, the measure of any government's commitment to socio-economic development is not only the extent to which a government institutes mechanisms to redress underdevelopment, but more so the extent to which a sitting government or administration accepts the failure of preceding governments. This, I believe, has in the last decade been acknowledged by subsequent presidencies.
Second, there is a general assumption in this country by politicians and political commentators that as a people we are afflicted with historical amnesia, we are not analytic, obsequious and gullible. Historical amnesia, in this particular case, is the state of forgetting acts of political elitism and power appropriation by individuals tasked with the governance of a people.
Thus, the Barotse Question should, in part, be conceived within the framework of poverty, development and governance representation.
The objective facts of poverty in Zambia are known (figures not reproduced as not permitted in blogs)
What is evident on poverty statistics in Zambia is that indeed Western province has over time had the worst levels of poverty, but so do other rural provinces in the country.
This picture is similar even if we considered indices like employment levels, literacy, or nutrition status of our children in rural Zambia
It is clear that statistics show a rural-urban dichotomy in terms of the social-economic status of our people. In short, rural Zambia has always been short-changed!
The question then is why is this so? Are rural populations under-represented in our democratic governance representative framework?
The answer is NO. The governance representative index by regional groupings and or ethnic groupings does not show any overt marginalisation.
In my unorthodox opinion it is clear that democratic representativeness as practiced in Zambia (and indeed most of the developing world) has failed the people. Elections, within this framework of a dichotomy of rural-urban/subject-citizen have not served to redress the development injustices of our colonial heritage.
Our practice of democracy overtime has merely created political and governance elites whose interests are at variance with the people they so claim to represent.
The underlying meaning of the socio-economic tensions of people in Western province, I argue provides us a premise upon which as a people we should interrogate the continuance of poverty of our people in rural areas and the modes of our democratic governance relative to national development. Every province, and indeed most ethnical groups have a relatively equitable representativeness in the governance of our country, but the evident results of this representativeness is abject poverty for most of our people in rural areas. And this is the scenario in which eminent persons like General Malimba Masheke and his peers should interrogate their sentiments on the victims of the Barotse Question.
Democracy and governance representation in its current practice, has failed the people. And past, present, and may be future leaders, have failed/and will fail if we do not interrogate the fundamental basics of democratic representations, political and socio-economic accountability to the people, and national development.
The obtaining concerns and contentions on the Barotse Question should serve to provide us a premise for interrogating our governance modes. Political and governance elitism has been characteristic of our democratic governance realities.
There should be nothing partisan about the Barotse Question. To reduce it to a partisan question, when a myriad opportunities to redress the fundamental issues inherent in socio-economic tension in rural Zambia as provided in the Constitutional Review processes we had over the years, does not serve the National interest.
Thus, it is unfortunate that the Barotse Question is being used for political competitive advantage, and not as a framework for governance rethink. We are just victims of our failures of yesterday.
I here ague that eminent persons like General Malimba Masheke and his peers should be honourable enough and say to the people of Zambia, “that us the political and governance elites have failed the people of Zambia and indeed rural provinces like Western province over time, and we apologies”, instead of evoking anti-government sentiments when the objective facts of the country’s governance representativeness show a trend that is not commensurate with the obtaining poverty levels in rural Zambia.
Undoubtedly, it is evident that in the last half a decade some semblance of a national development framework to redress the lost gains of rural provinces, like Western province, has been put in place. But to expect gains today is fallacious.
Eminent persons like General Malimba Masheke and his peers should shed their political elitism, which in any case has been a historic cause of social and traditional tension in Western province since the struggle for independence, and in the post-independence era. Lozi political elites and Lozi traditionalists have been at different ends of the governance pendulum in Zambia’s nation-state building process.
Eminent former leaders in this country should show leadership by allowing interrogation of their failings as a means of providing a framework for reconciling the historic divide between the political elites and the traditionalists. It is illogical for them to want us to believe that elitism is not responsible for the underdevelopment of rural provinces like Western province.
Political elites are surely cognisant of the fact that the dialectics of traditional authority in Western province (and indeed other provinces) have never been interrogated within the paradigm of the country’s development frameworks. For example, to what extent, have they at any one particular time in our history, interrogated the opportunities and constraints of customary land tenure realities obtaining in rural provinces like Western province? Have these political elites, ever argued for a statutory paradigm that recognises customary land tenure rights, as a means of providing security of tenure redeemable (cashable) at financial institutions? What paradigms have they in the past, argued for integrating dialectics of traditional authority within a broader nation-state development agenda?
What advances were made, and who stood in their way to attaining a desirable democratic dispensation and development paradigm shift?
Lest we forget, change has no ownership. It is a process of related and unrelated separates that either work in unison or conflicting, but in the long term lead to a process of socio-economic advancement that is equitable and inviolable. To believe that only the president is the agent of change, when one is a constituent part of that presidency, is a mockery of democratic governance and at worst an insult to the people one so claims to represent.
For me, it is time the citizens of my country and indeed the people of Western province (that are caught in the politicisation of the Barotse Question) challenged the voices of people who so represented them in the past as to what exactly they were doing when afforded the chance to socio-economically represent them in the governance of our country.
Thus, we should as a people start interrogating the legitimacy of criticisms of the people that represented us yesterday, represent us today, and will represent us tomorrow. That rural provinces that have their fair share of governance representation can today have the majority of their population living in abject poverty, inarguably evidences the ailing of our democratic and governance representation.
We should not indulge expressions and criticisms from political elites whose interests and our interests are worlds apart. Let them first acknowledge that today’s victims of the right to dissent are a product of the wrongs of yesterday, as what is obtaining today can not be divorced from elitist and narcissistic tendencies of governance representatives.
Eminent former leaders should not play to the obtaining political rhetoric of the “blame game”. I urge the people of my country wallowing in abject poverty, to realise that these people had the power to change their obtaining reality. To blame the current presidency does not serve to redress the situation.
If their interests and our interests were the same or near to being the same, and there were insurmountable constraints to their aspirations, then let them show evidence that they either attempted to change our circumstances or that they out rightly resigned their public representation portfolios.
Thus, I here again assert that the underlying causes of dissent on the Barotse Question should, in part, be conceived within the broader context of rural poverty in Zambia and democratic governance representation. A deliberate attempt to enhance dialogue on the Baroste Question should have been the precursor to our interrogating rural poverty and democratic governance representation. (That is, in addition to dialogue on how Zambia came to be).
In this regard, it is a misnomer for one to argue that political rallies which are inherently forums of populist expression are an exercise of one’s “democratic right to discuss and consult each other in a peaceful manner”. To which end, for General Malimba Masheke to argue that a rally at which lies are disseminated can be conceived as a means of exercising one’s “democratic right to discuss and consult each other in a peaceful manner”, is an epitome of sophism.
THE GENERAL AND CONCERNED PARTIES, SHOULD SURELY SHOW LEADERSHIP by advocating for broader consultative means of engaging the Barotse Question. In any case, contentions on the Barotse Question are not new, what is new is the issue’s infusion into political opportunism, arising from the fact that this year our country has general and parliamentary elections.
The government, in this regard is also found lamentably wanting. SOCIO-POLITICAL TENSIONS IN WESTERN ZAMBIA SHOULD HAVE BEEN PROVIDED A DEMOCRATIC SPACE IN WHICH THE GOVERNMENT ACTS AS THE FACILITATOR. The argument that the State of Zambia can only discuss with the Baroste Royal Establishment (BRE), though can be argued to be legally valid in the current context, is legitimately invalid. The legality of this argument is premised on the argument that the parties to the Barotse Agreement were “Kenneth David Kaunda Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia on behalf of on behalf of the government of Northern Rhodesia”, and “Sir Mwanawina Lewanika the Third, K.B.E., Litunga of Barotseland on behalf of himself, his heirs and successors, his Council and the chiefs and the people of Barotseland”.
We should always be mindful of the fact that legality (lawfulness) and legitimacy should be clearly distinguished and understood in a broader context. The individuals in Western province that so expressed their views that the Agreement has been abrogated have a legitimate claim to their actions, as the legal signatory to the Agreement was acting on their behalf. The Baroste Question should provide a framework where the Government of Zambia inviolably accepts that legitimacy does not deal with whether actions of its citizens are exercised according to the Law.
Legitimacy is a question of whether these acts meet with what is publicly perceived to be fundamental and acceptable. This includes issues of fair and equitable practices, and recognition of the right to dissent. The law can not be reduced to an opportunistic and convenient conduit of control and domination by Government. Thus, I have argued in my protestations of the manner in which the dissent on the Barotse Agreement was handled, that the dissenting views should have been conceived within a question of legitimacy and not the legalistic purview that is clearly evident in the Government’s position on the issue.
The Government of Zambia, having the fiscal means and logistics, should have provided devolved assemblies for the Litunga, his heirs and successors, his Council and the chiefs and the people of Barotseland to interrogate and discuss concerns on adherence to the Baroste Agreement. With such assemblies, being inclusive of all ethnic groups that historically constituted Barotseland. Dissenting organised groups, irrespective of whether they are registered entities within the Laws of Zambia, would then surely have found space in these assemblies to articulate their views to a wider discerning population that have interest in the historic and colonial nation-state of Barotseland, and its positioning in today’s State of Zambia.
In short the Government of Zambia did not necessarily have to talk to these groups, as the assemblies would have provided them the needed space. And, critical of all, the political opportunism currently manifest on the Barotse Question would not have had space to evolve to the present undesirable and unacceptable dimensions.
Since the Barotse Question is now being used as a tool for political opportunism and political competitive advantage, we are, if not redressed, losing an opportunity for a rethink of our democratic representativeness vis-à-vis national development.
I urge the Government of Zambia to recognise that even if legally the individuals incarcerated for asserting their right to dissent may have contrived in their actions, within the premise of the Barotse Question they do have a legitimate claim to dissent. And inarguably, the disjoint between rural poverty and governance representatives is inherent in their claims.
Conceived outside the rhetoric and satirical manoeuvres of political opportunists, I vehemently believe that they are victims of the failures of our past.
I urge, here, that they should be released unconditionally, and that Government then proceeds with facilitating devolved assemblies in which they can express their concerns through production of a blueprint for dialogue with Government on the Barotse Question.
FAILURE TO DO SO WILL ESCALATE THE INDULGENCE AND UNACCEPTABLE USE OF THE BAROTSE QUESTION AS A POLITICAL COMPETITIVE TOOL BY A PARODY OF A MYRIAD OF POLITICAL OPPORTUNISTS WHO HAVE THE LEAST INTEREST IN THE BAROTSE QUESTION, AND INDEED REDRESSING THE RURAL POVERTY AND GOVERNANCE REPRESENTATIVE DISCONNECT INHERENT IN OUR COUNTRY.
Lastly, being that, I am from academia in this country, my last concern on the Barotse Question is that we, in academia, in our country have been comatose, as we have been on a number of governance contentions in our country.
There is need for a broader national and academic discourse on the Barotse Question, and more so the duality of our governance (statutory vis-à-vis traditional). Surely, us academia we should strive to interrogate paradigms of integrating the dichotomy of our governance realities as a means of enhancing socio-economic development in Zambia. The social tensions in Western province are inarguably inherent in the dialectics of our duality of governance, and indeed our everyday competing realities of traditionalism and statutory governance and behaviours.
Continuance of the supremacy of statutory governance frameworks that do not integrate governance frameworks under which the majority of our people exist, merely breeds political and governance representative elitism. With such political and governance representative elitism simply serving to enhance master-servant/patron-client/subject-citizen paradigms of governance that rarely serves the interests of our people.
To which end, the Barotse Question, irrespective of how one conceives it, evidences that in Zambia the power to represent and to participate effectively is dichotomous. The dichotomy being mostly rural-urban, there should be neither space nor tolerance for political opportunism, and its associated foolery of popular aggrandisement.
In retrospect, although I find the legitimacy of criticism of some eminent persons in this country a travesty of reason, in it we should accept exists the beginning of the questioning of our governance representativeness.
I end, by quoting Stefan Lindemann who writes: “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”.
The question is, if our democratic and governance representativeness is so near even and thus allowing for greater spaces of influence in national development, why then is it that rural provinces like Western province are underdeveloped?