As Barotseland pushes for total independence from Zambia, it is clear that the road will not be smooth as it has been with many countries and as such, we will draw a few lessons from countries and movements in the region that went through freedom struggle.
In Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, the struggle took the path of armed struggle after peaceful means failed to yield positive results. The Zimbabwe bush war or second Chimurenga was fought from 4th July 1964 to 12th December 1979, a period of 15 years, five months, one week and one day. Before commencement of the armed struggle, a number of black Africans started to agitate for freedom, however, many whites and a sizable minority of black Rhodesians viewed their lifestyle as being under attack, which both considered safer and with a higher standard of living than many other African countries.
The same situation today applies to Barotseland were despite the general majority being aware of the situation and eager to break free of Zambian hegemony, a sizable Barotse minority who feel better placed in economic terms within Zambia see the push for freedom as a danger to their lifestyle and simply rubbish calls for freedom.
Two rival nationalist groups emerged in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) following a split in the former in August 1963 following disagreements over tactics as well as personality clashes. ZANU and its military wing ZANLA were initially headed by the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and later by Robert Mugabe. ZAPU on the other hand and its military wing, the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) were under the leadership of Joshua Nkhomo.
The Zimbabwe Bush war pitted three belligerents against one another, the Ian Smith government forces, ZAPU’S ZIPRA and ZANU’S ZANLA. The two nationalist movements fought separate wars against the Rhodesian forces but the two groups sometimes fought against each other as well.
The minority Rhodesian government held that the traditional chiefs were the legitimate voice of the black Shona and Ndebele population and not ZANU and ZAPU nationalists, who it regarded as dangerous and violent usurpers.
Following the birth of nationalist movements in Barotseland, the Zambian government has always felt that the traditional authority or the Barotse Royal Establishments (BRE) is the legitimate voice of the people of Barotseland and not the nationalist movements. The Zambians have however failed to listen to the people of Barotseland after they spoke through the Barotseland National Council (BNC), a body that includes all the traditional leaders of Barotseland.
Zimbabwe was however saved from possible confrontation among the nationalists, (like the case was in Angola after independence), when the British took control of the country from the Smith government for a year under which they organized elections which were won by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU. In the case of Mozambique, the local population became nationalistic and frustrated by the nations subservience to foreign rule.
Many acculturated indigenous Africans who were fully integrated into the Portuguese ruled social organisation of Mozambique, in particular those from urban centres, reacted to the independence claims with a mixture of discomfort and suspicion. The ruling Portuguese on the other hand responded with increased military presence and fast paced development projects which resulted in the construction of the Cabora bassa Dam for generation of Hydro power.
Among the freedom fighting movement which took to the battle field to achieve independence, FRELIMO, lost one of its top commanders, Filipe Samuel Magaia, who was shot dead by Lourenco Matola, a fellow guerrilla who was believed to have been employed by the Portuguese. Prior to the formation of the Soviet backed FRELIMO, the Soviets position regarding the nationalist movements in Mozambique was one of confusion. There were multiple independence movements in Mozambique and they (Soviet) had no sure knowledge that any would succeed.
As Barotseland pushes on the path to freedom, Zambia will deploy all manner of gymnastics to derail the process. They will bring in fast paced development projects, fake promises like the Mungu stadium, divide and rule tactics alongside intimidation and heavy deployment of military forces. On the part of Barotseland, collaborators will always be there like has been the case in every country that has ever fought for freedom but the key is for all movements and individual citizens to remain determined and focused.
Like Mandela, we may say, "There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere; What Barotseland is going through today, others went through it too."