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 Barotse at face value, the actual devil may be in the details because the proposal is being forcefully intensified by the Zambian State which continues to refuse to dialogue over the equally important political status of Barotseland within Zambia.
It is not a secret that in 2012, the Kingdom of 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, its 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 from 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. Key independence leaders, Afumba Mombotwa, Inambao Kalima and Likando Pelekelo are still serving 15 years prison sentences, with hard labour, over trumped-up treason felony charges for their respective roles in implementing the unanimous 2012 BNC resolutions.
Amid all this unresolved and ongoing controversy on the political status of the Kingdom of Barotseland within the Republic, the Zambian government through its agency, National Heritage and Conservation Commission (NHCC), has intensified its campaign to have the entire Barotse cultural landscape nominated as a World Heritage Site, reportedly for the benefit of the Republic and, by extension, the local people of Barotseland through the anticipated tourism spinoff.
What many people may not know is that the Barotse landscape 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! 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 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 on the political sovereignty of Barotseland today?
The people of Barotseland, especially the BRE, should read between the lines and employ the age-old wisdom of King Lewanika and reject this application - at least for now.
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 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 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.
If and when Barotseland proceeds to independence, the Royal Barotseland Government (RBG) will legitimately engage objective consultants to advise both the Barotse Government and Barotse 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.