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Zambia: the riots in Barotseland

The events that took place in Western Province on 14 January strongly and correctly underpin that Zambia’s politics are tribalist – that tribalism in Zambia exists and is partly instigated by self-seeking politicians through inciting disgruntled ethnic groups in order to advance their political objectives.

What is called nationalism comes to emphasise political allegiance to the state. Political states in Africa were mapped out by European imperialist nations under the guise of economic interests and military influence. Thus African kingdoms and empires were brutally decimated and different ethnic groups were forcibly integrated into colonial states and protectorates.

British imperialism (colonialism) was politically, religiously and poetically lampooned as bringing civilisation. What is known today as Zambia consists of 72 ethnic groups and the Lunda-Luba speaking tribes comprise 90 percent of Zambia’s population. Politically and linguistically the Bemba remains one of the dominant tribes. The Lozi and Tonga remain linguistically and culturally differentiated from the Lunda-Luba complex tribe. It is undeniable that rigid ethnic and tribal patterns exist in Zambia today as a major factor determining the strength of political parties.

The Barotseland Agreement was enacted on 7 May 1974 in London between the then Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia Kenneth Kaunda, the Litunga of Barotseland and the British colonial government. The document in itself signified the end of British protectorate of Barotseland and entailed the incorporation of Barotseland (Lozi) into a self-governing independent state of Zambia under the leadership of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. There is nothing sinister about the Barotseland Agreement that needs to be revised today as a way of protecting and safeguarding the political and economic aspirations of the Lozi-speaking peoples of Western Province,. Thus recent calls for political and ethnic separation of the Lozi-speaking people from Zambia is mainly propagated by a bunch of political hooligans without any viable backing from the political fraternity.

It may be juxtaposed that calls for revising the Barotseland Agreement and the consequent bouts of mob violence that took place in Western Province in January were partly the outcome of economic backwardness that still prevails in Western Province. The mob went berserk, stoning vehicles and damaging public property. The police replied with live ammunition and two lives were lost.

What we are now saying is that economic underdevelopment that prevails in Western Province was the main motivating factor behind the violence that took place otherwise than political dissatisfaction with the Barotseland Agreement as such.

Political rebels within the ruling MMD have blamed President Rupiah Banda for having seemingly deviated from the political legacy of the late Levy Mwanawasa – economic development through tackling corruption and money laundering. Banda by himself does not command any ethnic group nor parliamentary constituency. He was only hand-picked from UNIP political retirement by Mwanawasa to the position of vice-President in 2007.

Favoured by political fortune Banda automatically became acting President when Mwanawasa died in 2008. In the presidential elections held in 2008, Banda managed to win with a mere majority of 350,000 votes against Patriotic Front president Michael Sata and became the fourth president of the republic of Zambia.

Apart from the Bemba, the Lozi and Tonga have played a prominent rôle in Zambia’s domestic politics such that any beleaguered political pronouncements on events taking place in Western Province tends to elicit feelings of Lozi tribal parochialism against the ruling MMD. Because the violent mobs in Western Province were attacking non-Lozi we may infer that there is any ethnic rebellion there.

It is sad to note, come 2011 general elections, the majority of workers and students in urban areas of Lusaka and the Copperbelt will massively vote for Michael Sata of the PF, whereas the peasants in rural village communities will vote for the MMD. The people who live in towns believe that PF leader Sata will achieve economic miracles in the belief working conditions in Chinese-owned mines will improve and new jobs will be created. Those who live in rural village communities are content with fertiliser subsidies, new schools and paved roads and will vote for the MMD.

But wealth and power under capitalism can only be realised through legalised exploitation of some people by others. This is a complete contradiction of socialism that envisages a future society in which economic and political privileges will not exist because goods will be produced for consumption and not or sale – while racial and ethnic taboos will not prevail because there wouldn’t be political leaders nor class interests to defend.

KEPHAS MULENGA