Barotse Cultural Landscape nomination as a World Heritage Site by Zambian Gov. must be rejected at this time
Currently, Zambia is largely seen as Barotseland’s colonizer who cannot be trusted to make decisions of such magnitude as the proposed listing of the Barotse Cultural landscape as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO without thorough consultations with all stakeholders in Barotseland.
A one-time directive meeting with the Limulunga Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) and the about ten Zambian Members of Parliament (MPs) who hail from the Barotse region does not actually constitute a wide enough consultative process even by the UNESCO set standards.
Therefore, our candid advice is to wait until such a time that the people of Barotseland could not only be consulted but also educated on the implications of nominating their entire homeland as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO – bearing in mind that the Barotse plains and landscape are not only a home to thousands of Barotse but that the Barotse also depend on it entirely for a sustainable existence!
Further, the consultative process must be undertaken without the current associated political overtones. Therefore, the Zambian government must, as a matter of priority, firstly resolve the outstanding issues surrounding Barotseland’s political status within or outside the Sovereign Republic of Zambia.
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.