There are different types of monarchies around the world today that range from totalitarian or absolute monarchies to ‘lite’ or limited – also known as constitutional monarchies. The categorization of these monarchies is usually based on their conduct, the power they wield and how they exercise that power.
The Barotse monarch, the Litunga, is ‘guardian’, ‘keeper’ and ‘custodian’ of land, territory and the entire nation of Barotseland. He has, over the years, transitioned from ‘totalitarianism’ to a somewhat ‘limited’ type of monarchy somewhere around the advent of the missionaries at the close of the 19th century. This transition coincided with the dispensation of ‘law’ and the abolishing of slavery in Barotseland. Coincidentally, it is very similar to the British monarchy in many ways apart from the fact that the order of succession in Barotseland does not automatically go to the son or daughter because, although also hereditary, in the Barotse case even brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins, grandfathers and sons can equally qualify at any given time. There is no ‘heir apparent’; however, a ‘suitability’ criterion exists to select the successor. Presently, only males can be Litunga, even when the founding monarchs of the kingdom were female.
Briefly stated, the Litunga of Barotseland is not a 'supreme' ruler because, although immensely powerful, he must share power with his people and can be admonished, corrected, overruled and even dethroned through special norms and institutions. There are specific institutions and personages in Barotse governance that can censure the Litunga, depending on the circumstances, such as: the Litunga in council, the Natamoyo (minister of mercy and justice), the people’s pizo (Barotse National Council) and the Ngambela (prime minister), among others. These institutions, known as Liñomboti, are the custodians of the Litungaship. However, even an individual could overrule the Litunga in regards to ancestral family land or property. For example, if the Litunga wishes to use one’s family land, one is at liberty to decline without dire consequences, but then one is also bound by national duty and tradition never to commercialize ancestral family land, but willfully avail it for national development if so required!
If the Litunga were supreme, all the above impositions would not be tolerated as then the Litunga would be law by himself. In fact, the Litunga of Barotseland can be so ‘vulnerable’ that he is also referred to as ‘Ka-ongolo ka Nyambe’, an innocent creature or tiny insect of God, or ‘Namani’, a harmless calf. Both these terms imply the Litunga’s vulnerability. The Litunga is not even permitted by culture and tradition to speak in his own defense. This is why litigation against the person of the Litunga is neither feasible nor just. If he is erring, he must be dealt with through the in-built customary censuring processes. All petitions and litigations should, therefore, be targeted at his Kuta through the Ngambela who is his direct spokesperson and right-hand man. The Litunga is apolitical and above politics.
HOW DOES THE LITUNGA ASCEND THE THRONE
The Litunga is never born a Litunga, as the Litungaship is not necessarily passed down from father to son, although there have been times in history when this has happened; for instance when Mbuyu wa Mwambwa, the last female Litunga gave up the throne to her son Mboo and more recently in 1916 when Lubosi Lewanika I was succeeded by his first son Litia. In recent history and normal circumstances, however, the Litunga is ‘elected’ by the people from among eligible candidates through relevant Barotse institutions that form part of the Electoral College. Members of this Electoral College (drawn from across the breadth and length of the nation) are the real kingmakers who decide who becomes king. The heir is then handed over to the Coronation (enthronement) committee of Indunas who carry out and oversee the succession rituals. These Indunas are often confused to be the kingmakers, but in reality they are not. They merely function like the ‘Electoral Commission’ of sort, with one assuming the role of ‘Chief Justice’ to preside over and perform the investiture rituals of the Litunga. The rituals comprise deeds of special significance to the Barotse monarchy and nation considered too sacred to be outlined here.
On completion of the ‘coronation’ rituals, the king is presented to the people as regularly and routinely enthroned. It should be emphasized here that the Litunga is presented to this coronation/enthronement committee for investiture purposes only, and that this coronation team of Indunas does not have the power to ‘decide’ who becomes king because that is the job of the Electoral College (Kingmakers). They have no vetting powers contrary to the determination of the Electoral College. In fact, strictly speaking, they are not even part of the Electoral College. It is this confusion in the process that the Zambian government has reportedly often exploited, raising accusations of manipulation and exerting of undue political and state influence to produce a ‘Zambian user friendly’ King not regularly elected or agreed upon by the Electoral College (Kingmakers), but directly colluding with the coronation team, or some of its members, to enthrone a Litunga with questionable legitimacy right from the start!
Therefore, calling this group of Indunas ‘Kingmakers’ is perpetuating an error of enormous proportions which is partly responsible for the ‘quagmire’ Barotseland is facing today in which some ‘self-imposed’ Kingmaker is accused to have colluded with ‘aliens’ to enthrone a Litunga irregularly.
VACANCY ON THE THRONE
For the next Litunga to be enthroned, the throne has to be vacant, and vacancy could occur through natural means such as death and illness. Vacancy could also occur voluntarily when the reigning monarch abdicates, or involuntarily via coup d’état’ which could be violent and bloody, or through a non-violent coup in which the reigning monarch is compelled to abdicate the throne through peaceful persuasion, or by invocation of the traditional processes.
COUP D’ÉTAT’ IN BAROTSELAND
Coup d’état’ in Barotseland has been a familiar method of creating vacancy at the Litungaship level throughout the history of Barotseland, and these coups usually resulted in the death of the reigning Litunga or his ‘flight’ into exile. They also usually resulted into civil wars or the dividing of the Lozi Kingdom. However, a failed coup attempt is normally considered high treason resulting in capital punishment or execution of the perpetrators.
ABDICATION IN BAROTSELAND
Voluntary abdications have also occurred in history, the notable ones being that of Mbuyu wa Mwambwa who abdicated to her son Mboo, thereby setting a culture of ‘male’ Litungaship. The more recent abdication happened in 1945 when ailing King Litia Yeta III, CBE (1916 - 1945) voluntarily abdicated the throne to his brother King Mwanañono Imwiko I (1945 - 1948) on account of ill health.
DETHRONEMENT IN BAROTSELAND
A Litunga who grossly misconducts himself or irreparably violates the norms and culture of the Barotse could, in theory, be compelled to abdicate or be dethroned through traditional means. To understand this traditional process of dethronement, one must firstly understand the process of enthronement above. Like already stated, the Litunga of Barotseland is not above the national and customary law, although he enjoys immense protection and immunity. To the Barotse, the Litunga is the most revered being on earth, and yet paradoxically one of the most vulnerable. He needs his people. He cannot be without his people! His people must protect him from ridicule and impending danger at all times and as much as possible. However, he is not law unto himself and can, therefore, be censured, disciplined and even dethroned.
It would, therefore, follow that the dethronement of an erring Litunga must be initiated by the people through the Electoral College, and the Coronation Indunas would then be called upon to ‘undo’ or ‘disrobe’ the Litunga, known in Lozi as Kutulula or Kutubula respectively, remembering that the process must be initiated by the people through the kingmakers, in this case the electoral college. They ‘make’ the king and must ‘unmake’ the king. Understandably, a reigning Litunga may not be willing to be dethroned, and it is at this point that the Electoral College, with the support of the nation, must go ahead and elect another more suitable Litunga for the Kingdom, essentially isolating and dethroning the erring one. It is a delicate and complicated process that must be courageously undertaken, which is why customs must be strictly and meticulously followed and respected at all times in Barotse governance processes to avoid future complications and for posterity’s sake!
CORONATION INDUNAS - NOW WRONGLY ASSUMED TO BE KINGMAKERS
This group of Indunas comprises men of high repute, chosen from some ‘sanctified’ families tasked with the responsibility of carrying out the immense national duty of 'enthroning' the Litunga. These Indunas should not and must not be entangled in partisan politics for them to carry out their tasks without fear, bias or reproach. They are, however, not above the Litunga, neither are they the senior most Indunas, but merely carryout a distinct national duty with some level of autonomy.
Ideally, this is a four-member committee comprising Induna Soondo of Mbanikelako, Induna Akashambatwa of Imwambo, Induna Kaanda of Makono and Induna Imbwae of Ikatulamwa who is also an Induna for Silalo sa ñunyama. Although the committee is headed by Imbwae, they each must perform their different functions in the process of enthronement for it to be ratified. Disagreement among them could invalidate the processes they seek to undertake. They enjoy immense traditional and cultural protection from abuse by the Litunga or any other institution, but are also not above the customary law. They can be dismissed or disciplined through some processes for gross misconduct and other prescribed disqualification criteria. Upon death or meticulous disciplinary action, a successor must be provided from the same family they were first chosen.
Their actions should never be born out of spite or personal frivolities but must always be on assignment from the people through the Electoral College (Kingmakers) who are the true owners of the Litungaship which they must always revere and protect from ridicule and danger. The Litunga is the nation and the nation is the people.
All these processes outlined above must be strictly and exclusively performed in accordance with Barotse governance systems as any other way would be considered alien and irregular. Therefore, a Litunga who has not been subjected to all the meticulous Lozi cultural processes is going to be embattled from day one of his reign, and may be exposed to all forms of abuse or he might be abusive to his people himself. This is usually the case when one takes the Litungaship through a coup d’état’ or by subversion and interference from outside forces such as the undue influence the Zambian government has been accused of exerting on the Kingdom of Barotseland lately.
CUSTOMS AND CULTURE (MIKWA NI SIZO)
Barotseland’s customs and culture are not written precepts but have been passed down from generation to generation through the family and society. Nevertheless, in new Barotseland it is expected that these may see documentation for clarity and easy follow up. They are not static, but are bound to change with time and society. However, they seldom do!
In fact up until now, Barotseland has had no written constitution or penal code. However, with declaration and full attainment of independence and restoration of sovereignty, Barotseland will be a fully institutionalized democratic constitutional monarchy, with a written constitution and penal code to regulate and enforce conduct; whether civil, criminal, private, public or institutional.
LITUNGA AND POLITICS
While Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president made the Litunga a political office and a member of the ruling party’s Central Committee, the Barotse showed great indignation to have reduced their king to a mere partisan political functionary. The Litunga is above politics (apolitical) in order to protect the institution and his person from being the source of divided political and national opinion. The Litungaship is the embodiment of the nation in its diversity. He must always and only endorse what the nation decides.
If the Litunga becomes 'political' in a plural democratic society, it must then follow that he will inevitably have political 'opposition' and 'opponents'.
Suffice to say that the Litunga of Barotseland is not a political figure head, nevertheless a constitutional head of state as Ngocana Molyetu (King and head of State).