Despite all that beauty and splendor, some Lozi loyalists have found a lot of details about this year’s Kuomboka unsettling. In fact, to them it will go as the most uncharacteristic ever due to disregard of many age-old royal and cultural norms surrounding the ceremony, and here below are the good, the bad and the ugly facts experienced at this year’s Kuomboka.
The organization and coordination was undoubtedly the best ever witnessed in recent times, if not throughout history, making the 2017 Kuomboka a truly international spectacle. The expanded royal Nalikwanda barge was simply marvelous. The lunar timing seemed perfect too as the day experienced rain. It should always rain to cool off the paddlers during the voyage but stop by the time the king arrives in Limulunga. This is normally achieved through perfect observance of the lunar calendar. The Lozi traditionally follow a thirteen month lunar calendar.
King Lubosi Imwiko II was not only truly majestic in his posture and demeanor, but also the Zambian government throughout the preparations and the ceremony itself accorded him the royal status befitting the Litunga of Barotseland. This should make every Barotse national very proud to see their monarch finally receive the ‘recognition’ that the Litunga has been denied ever since first Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, declared in his 1969 speech ‘I wish to inform the nation’ where he publicly announced that the Litunga, king of Barotseland, would be regarded as a mere ‘chief’ like the chiefs of Zambia. In this 2017 Kuomboka period, however, it was hilarious to see Zambia government officials and ruling party functionaries try to outdo themselves in addressing the Litunga by his rightful royal title, His Majesty King Lubosi Imwiko II, with some minister even ignorantly addressing him as His Majesty King Lubosi Lewanika, the name of the renowned 19th century legendary king of Barotseland who died in 1916. Maybe he thought the Lewanika name is hereditary.
The president of Zambia, on the other hand, should have been more adequately prepared in royal etiquette. It was quite unsettling to watch President Lungu talk and laugh rather too loudly with the king using too many hand gestures, a sign that he was perhaps unprepared in royal etiquette or even petrified by the Litunga’s demeanor. Litungas generally have an overwhelming presence and there is no getting used to their royal presence. Lubosi Imwiko II is no exception, and it actually showed in President Lungu’s steps that he had no preparation in taking that majestic walk the Lozi call kutamboka or how to talk and laugh majestically. His hand gestures were ‘all over’ as he tried to show that he was calm in the Litunga’s company, and sometimes he appeared to overdo it.
The Litunga, however, played excellent host as he tried to put his guest at ease. At one time His majesty even handed his guest some royal hand tissues, maybe just to let him know he could relax a little bit more.
Another positive was the role the Zambian national broadcaster, ZNBC, played by giving a live coverage of this year’s Kuomboka from 14:30 hrs to 18:30 hrs on the actual day of the ceremonial journey. The coverage enabled millions of Zambians to witness the splendor of Kuomboka. The Lozi are a very complex nation and very little has been done in the past to teach the rest of Zambia the intricate details about them, and this ceremony may have just helped to give a snip preview of what the nation of Barotseland is about. For instance, many Zambians are yet to learn that the Lozi are not a single tribe but a composite nation of over 38 tribal and linguistic groups. In fact, the understanding of that composition is paramount in demystifying innuendo about Barotseland.
What was sad, though, was the general ignorance about the Lozi kingdom and Kuomboka in particular exhibited by the ZNBC journalists assigned to cover the procession. They should have done extensive prior research as is required of their profession. Alternatively, ZNBC should have assigned journalists of Lozi descent to undertake the assignment. The Lozi analyst who acted as the resource person did not help much either, as he sounded largely clueless on many aspects, and shared a lot of inaccurate information due to apparent lack of preparation. He knew quite a lot generally, but seemed unprepared with facts, leading to misinformation and speculation in many instances.
The ceremony was denounced as a charade by some traditionalists who wondered why Lubosi Imwiko II would put up a Kuomboka (coming out of the water) when he had not personally lived in Lealui for over ten years. Kuomboka is a shift from Lealui palace to Limulunga palace when the former gets flooded. To these, this Kuomboka was nothing more than a show of Edgar Lungu and Lubosi Imwiko’s political egos. Mostly, these are the ones in courts of law pushing for Lubosi Imwiko’s abdication for flouting the Lozi culture among other things.
Barotseland independence activists on the other hand expressed indifference, as to them, a true Kuomboka will be that which will celebrate the coming out from Zambia to a truly self-governed Barotseland. They have bemoaned the celebration of Kuomboka while some of their leaders remain imprisoned by Edgar Lungu for non criminal political activities. Desire for self-determination is never a criminal offense in civilized nations, but Lungu’s Zambian government has made them criminals for asserting their right of self-determination of their own homeland, Barotseland.
It was also observed that the customary Black Elephant, which is Barotseland’s official emblem, was changed to gray/white scale. It may appear that the designers were looking for a more ‘realistic’ colour of the elephants they see today. However, this is where they may have gotten it badly wrong. There existed in Barotseland, and maybe not so much now, a rare breed of elephants that were black in colour. Barotseland is a strong elephant nation - not just any type, but the black elephant. The Lozi call themselves ‘bana ba poho yensu’ (Descendants of the Black Bull). This means the black elephant bull and not cattle bull. When the Tonga people call themselves Tonga bulls, ba cende, they imply cattle bulls, but the Lozi call themselves black bulls of Barotseland, implying the black elephant bulls. It is important to note that the males of both cattle and elephants are called bulls just like the females of both are called cows. Their offspring are equally called calves.
The white, gray and black breeds of elephants differ in characteristics and habitation. However, suffice to say that the Barotse nation is symbolized by the black male elephant. This symbolism on the Nalikwanda royal barge should not have been changed, as changing it implies a change in our national emblem and consequently the envisioned national character of Barotseland. Or maybe the BRE should clarify whether it mattered or not which breed of elephant the Barotse kingdom aspires to be.
The Mbolyanga, the royal barge of the Litunga’s official spouse that bears the Barotse crested crane was conspicuously missing, maybe to symbolize that Barotseland still has no Muoyo Imwambo after the demise of Her Royal Highness, the Imwambo of Barotseland in 2014. This has sparked debate whether or not it is in order to host a Kuomboka without the Imwambo.
However, this is not the first time a Litunga has gone for Kuomboka without the Imwambo. Therefore, the BRE needs to clarify so that the people can know whether or not Barotseland has an Imwambo to curtail any mischievous speculations of his royal family status.
The royal paddlers at this year’s Kuomboka appeared largely unskilled, as evidenced by the uncoordinated paddling movements. The skill of paddlers in the royal Nalikwanda is often judged by their ability to do so in unison. Their failure to do so seemed to validate accusations that paddlers were drawn from the ruling political party, PF, and Zambian security forces alien to the Lozi culture.
The politicizing and militarization of this year’s Kuomboka was the ugly side of the 2017 ceremony, which reportedly resulted in the sudden abrupt ending of the proceedings at the Namoo (public square) at Limulunga. His majesty seemed to have suddenly stood up from his royal seat, apparently unamused, to leave the arena, with his chief guest following, while all expected Edgar Lungu to address the gathering from the presidential dais especially set for him as guest of honour. Even the masters of ceremony did not seem to know what was actually happening as they appealed for general calm, while they waited for guidance on what would follow next on the program. But, before they could finish requesting for calm, suddenly the ZNBC TV cameras focused on His Majesty walking out of the Namoo followed by his distinguished guest; creating an anticlimax to a perfectly beautiful procession.
However, a political speech at this occasion would have been irregular as these are reserved for His Majesty’s luncheon held the day after the Kuomboka voyage, at which the king treats his guests to a sumptuous banquet.
Later reports emerged that Zambia’s main opposition party leader, Hakainde Hichilema, was unceremoniously hindered from entering the VVIP Limulunga arena by the Zambia police for allegedly arriving later than the Republican President Lungu after he (Hakainde) had come from attending the Lealui part of the ceremony, where he experienced similar police embarrassment for allegedly going with unusually large entourage of his party leadership, who also had every right to attend that part of the ceremony.
Consequently, Hakainde and his entourage were made to sit 500 metres away from the Litunga, instead of the VVIP area where they would be only 5 metres from the Litunga.
Hakainde’s team reportedly argued that the only reason they arrived a little later was because his motorcade had just given way to the presidential motorcade to bypass them en-route to Limulunga, which he had obliged to avoid unnecessary ugly incidence between Lungu’s entourage and his own. This incident is now officially being investigated by Zambian security forces to ascertain whether Hakainde’s motorcade deliberately obstructed the presidential motorcade.
This off the camera scuffle is reportedly what may have rattled many of Hakainde’s supporters who were seen leaving the arena to follow their party president as he eventually walked and drove away from the arena, leaving the Limulunga arena almost empty save for security personnel, BRE official organizers, international tourists and a few ruling party sympathizers.
Hakainde overwhelmingly beat Lungu in the 2016 Zambian presidential vote in the Barotse territory – meaning he is still more popular in the region than his counterpart - and many locals who formed part of the audience were likely supporters of his party.
Hakainde is currently seeking legal redress after his electoral petition over the disputed 2016 election of Edgar Lungu was not heard by the Constitutional Courts of Zambia on a technicality of time, prompting his party not to concede defeat or recognize Lungu as duly elected president until his electoral petition will be determined by the relevant courts.
The unnecessary deployment and presence of extra security forces in Barotseland was widely condemned by both Barotseland citizens and Zambian political and cultural commentators stating that the move gave the impression that Zambia was at war with the territory. However, the justification was to safeguard public safety of the Litunga, his distinguished guests and tourists.
The truth is that Barotseland is a political hotbed since its unilateral declaration of independence in 2012 after Zambia’s rejection of repeated appeals to honour a pre-independence 1964 treaty that had provided for the autonomy of the Barotse territory within the republic of Zambia, which the government had unilaterally and completely abrogated by 1969.
Zambia’s heavy-handed response to the demands of Barotseland self-determination has enforced indiscriminate mass arrests of all those perceived to be pushing this agenda with the imprisonment of the Barotseland independence leader, Afumba Mombotwa, and two other members of Barotseland’s August 2013 declared transitional civil government, who are currently serving ten (10) year prison sentences with hard labour in separate jails located in remote northern provinces of Zambia far from Barotseland.
Barotseland and Northern Rhodesia–come–Zambia were separate protectorates of Britain but proceeded to joint sovereignty under the terms of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 which was unilaterally abrogated by the government of Zambia using municipal legislation setting widespread discontent in the Barotse territory.
While the abrogation of the 1964 pre-independence agreement to the Zambian government seemed to mean that Barotseland no longer had to enjoy preferential autonomous status within the republic, to the Barotse, the abrogation meant the two no longer had to be bound together by the terms of the treaty no longer in force, hence their ongoing claim for separate sovereignty, an assertion more in conformity with international laws and conventions such as the Vienna convention law on treaties; articles 27, 60 and 70, which state that once the treaty, such as the Barotseland Agreement 1964, is unilaterally abrogated, it would support the innocent party from performing the obligations stated therein.
The magnificent Nalikwanda royal barge as it maneuvers to dock at Limulunga’s Nayumba harbor. Video courtesy of Miyo Mwata
Opposition UPND President Hakainde Hichilema and Republican president Edgar Chagwa Lungu square off on Mongu – Limulunga Road during the 2017 Kuomboka ceremony. Report by Prime TV