TODAY, 3RD FEBRUARY 2015 witnesses the 110th anniversary of the birth of Mbikusita Lewanika, the Founding President General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress and King of Barotseland. And, by the way, he was an unsurpassed Barotse African traditional paddler, drummer and dancer, before kingship inhibited him.
MBIKUSITA LEWANIKA was a Prince, by occurrence of birth at Lealui, on 3 February 1905. He was enthroned as King of Barotseland at Lealui, according to centuries-old tradition at Lealui, on 15 December 1968. He had died at Lewanika General Hospital of Mongu-Lealui, on 7 February 1977. He was buried as per tradition for a Barotse King, on 11 February 1977. However, contrary to uninformed perceptions and popular presumption, the royalty factor in his life has been more often a spear thrusting into his flesh. His distinguishing life service factor is that he lived and worked with this spear eternally injuring his every service endeavour and constantly obstructing every step paving people’s way forward. His life was a stipple jump race over spikes of hindrances at every turn, rather than being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, as some imagine of Royalty. The events and circumstances of Mbikusita Lewanika’s royal birth and kingship is not of substantive concern. The unremarkable factor of being a prince or being enthroned and buried as a king is not a distinction. History records are full of unworthy princes and kings and full of worthy persons of regal associations.
THE LIFE SERVICE OF MBIKUISTA LEWANIKA IS OF NOTE, in the context that an earlier generation of Western educated African natives, born around the turn of the 20th century, founded African freedom movements, thus sowing the seeds of independence. They had intensive upbringing in, and life time unbroken linkages to, African traditional leadership, to whose values, culture and governance they were positively predisposed at pre-colonial formation level. They made effort to acquire and understand what they could from Western education, Christianity, modernisation and governance systems at conglomerate colony level. They embraced this duality comfortably, but with determination to retain and recover traditional Africa and its lost autonomy, while steadily mastering and taking charge of new skills, operations and institutions of European colonialism. They strived to reach a happy medium outcome combining the best of European modernity and even democracy, while preserving what is anchoring and pleasing from traditional Africa, where possible and positive. Members of this generation were pathfinders, long distance runners and cautious petitioners for African sovereignty. Of these, John Langalibelele Dube (11 February 1871 - 11 February 1946) of South Africa and the Zulu Kingdom and Dr. Joseph Kwame Kyeretwie Boakye Danquah (December 1895 – 4 February 1965) of the Gold Coast and the Ashate Kingdom, among others, correspond to Mbikusita Lewanika (3 February 1905 – 7 February 1977) of Northern Rhodesia and Barotseland, all of them deserve full and positive recognition as planter of Africa’s trees of independence.
MBIKUSITA LEWANIKA’s life start with the distinction of having overcome the perils of being tossed about as an infant and out growing mal-adjustment in early school years at Luatile School. Thereafter, it is distinguished further as he became a good academic performer at the Barotse National School and, through his own stubborn insistence, he managed to get a South African Lovedale College education. He followed this by taking an independent minded path leading to becoming Founder Secretary of the Livingstone African Welfare Association in 1929, at the age of 24.
In the 1930s, in his youth, he was a principal participant at the Kafue first attempt to found an African National Congress north of the Zambezi, served as Private Secretary of the King of Barotseland, wrote the first full length English language book by a native in his part of Africa and embarked on translation of the Bible into SiLozi and the classic Pilgrim’s Progress.
In the 1940’s, he refused to be destroyed or incapacitated by the astounding shock banishment from the summit of the capital of Barotseland on bogus and malevolent charges. He marshaled the strength of mind to move on to another world and different life at Nkana-Kitwe, which did not depend on royalty. From a prince, he became a proletariat, owning no functional means of production but selling his services to capitalist for wages. He labored, for twenty years, as Senior African Clerk, Senior Welfare Officer, Personnel and Public Relations officer for an Anglo-American Corporation copper mine. At the same time, he became a leader of his fellow African proletariats, and served in a voluntary capacity as Founder President of the Kitwe African Society, proposer of the formation of the Northern Rhodesia Federation of African Welfare Association, pioneer promoter of trade unionism and Founder President-General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress. Not only this, he also took wrote several other books and publishing newspaper and magazine articles, in Africa and overseas, in addition to man voluntary civic services for Africans, when there were few people available to do so.
In the 1950, in one of his many firsts, as President General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress, he met Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and consummated what has become the Indo-Zambia bilateral relationship at state and people levels. He initiate programmes for sending young future leaders for overseas higher education, at least three of who were to be in the first post colonial Cabinet of Ministers. He followed this by becoming the first and only African from Northern Rhodesia and Barotseland (and even Zambia since) to address a meeting attended by Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, at Westminster, in London – he spoke against the proposal to establish the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. He also corresponded with Kwame Nkrumah, in the run up to, and after his appointment as Prime Minister of the Gold Coast (Ghana) and met with leading African nationalist leaders in Kenya, including Mbiyu Koinange and Jomo Kenyatta, hence, pioneering cross border consultation and cooperation among leaders of the African freedom movement.
During the rest of the 1950’s he was Founder President of the Mines African Staff Association, a student at the University College of Wales at Swansea, a Member of Parliament of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and a facilitator for domestic and foreign higher education for hundred of Zambians and Barotse individuals, both men and women. In the 1960’s, he as a Parliamentary Secretary in Ministry of External Affair of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland; undertook a couple of years post retirement job in the personnel department of Wankie (Hwange) Collieries; and engaged in some Limulunga village and Wusakile Township retail trading business to finance his children’s education and make an independent living, in an unfriendly post-colonial environment. As if to complete the circle and bring closure to his life, three decades after expulsion from the capital of Barotseland, he has resurface and returned to be enthroned as King of Barotseland, in December 1968.
Despite all this, Mbikusita Lewanika is a victim of a cultivated campaign of history denial, which is motivated by three intentions. The first is the urge to justify the propaganda that architects and heroes of African independence are only those who inherited the button on the last stretch of the relay race to new African nation-statehood, who are actually harvesters and not planters of independence. The second is to avoid any challenge to the established denigrated portrayal and, sometimes, double standard condemnation, of the earlier generation of political leaders representing a different approach to independence and governance. The third is justify the decolonisation dispensation that retained both the colonial geographical and governance legacy, while effectively preventing the return power to the African governments and peoples from whom European colonialism took it. In effect, it obstructs minds and actions of Africans from reviewing and reconstituting the independence dispensation. This is unacceptable, because independence has failed to liberate Africa and Africans from vestiges of European colonialism and to set it unto the path of truly independent, effective sovereignty and human dignity. This lack of factual and well digested history hides and causes problems.
Distorting history poses problems for the present and is a fundamental stumbling block for Africa’s future. It erases and misrepresents contributions of those who planted African independence. It negates opportunities of establishing internal inclusiveness and consensus in the formation of the externally designed new African nation-states. It discourages consideration of optional paths towards overcoming impediments to political advancement, economic development and social liberation. Furthermore, it blind leaders and citizens from seeing whatever wisdom and positive guidance that may be in the legacies of the fore-runners of post-colonial leaders. In short, it creates and endorses an incorrect history that misinform and handicap people’s enlightened freedom for the self-determination and sovereignty that is the promise of independence.
In the case of Zambia, it is portrayed as if the freedom movement begins and ends during the last five years before Independence, under the sole leadership of UNIP and its office holders, which is a distortion of history. It like doctoring the Bible by rewriting the Exodus story, with all credit to Joshua and none to Moses! This topic is being raised now, in the light of unfolding anniversary cerebrations highlight and ignore selected parts of history with consistent partiality. The year 2017 marks the 40th Anniversary of the passing away of Mbikusita Lewanika. 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the demise of his father, King Lewanika the First of Barotseland. 2015 shall witness the 110th anniversary of his birth, while 2014 witnesses the 50th joint-anniversary of his labours’ fruits, which are Zambia’s Independence and the Barotseland Agreement 1964, which provided for Barotseland to be an integral part of Zambia after independence.
In reflecting upon these anniversaries, it is instructive that the subject personality is Mbikusita Lewanika is founding President General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress from 1948 to 1951. He reigned as the last son of King Lewanika the First to seat on the throne of Barotseland, from 1968 to 1977. His place in history has been denied and distorted, for personal, partisan and sectarian reasons. He has a record of outstanding broad, varied and pioneering public service, from 1929 to 1977. The history and essence of the establishment and independence of Zambia is incomplete, unbalanced and unintelligible, in fact unacceptable, without appreciation and taking positive account of the life service of maligned figures, such as Mbikusita Lewanika. This is part of Zambia’s undoing through personal, partisan and sectarian history denial and distortion. It may be too late to say it, now - BUT THE WRITING HAS BEEN IGNORED ON THE WALL FOR FIFTY YEARS!