SELF-DETERMINATION: The case of Barotseland!

04 August 2020
Author  Sibeta Mundia, Barotseland Post


Self-determination is the process by which a group of people, usually possessing a certain degree of national consciousness, form their state and choose their own government. Self-determination is not a crime under international laws and politics. It is a right - an inalienable human right under the United Nations Charter! 


As a political principle, the idea of self-determination evolved at first as a by-product of the doctrine of nationalism, to which early expression was given by the French and American revolutions.

During World War I, the Allies accepted self-determination as a peace aim.

For example, in his 'Fourteen Points - the essential terms for peace' delivered to Congress on January 8, 1918, US President Woodrow Wilson listed self-determination as an important objective for the postwar world, the result of which was the fragmentation of the old Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires and Russia’s former Baltic territories into several new states.


After World War II, the promotion of self-determination among subject peoples became one of the chief goals of the United Nations (UN). The UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations had also recognized the principle, but it was in the UN that the idea received its clearest statement and affirmation.


The UN Charter clarifies two meanings of the term self-determination.

First, a state is said to have the right of self-determination in the sense of having the right to choose freely its political, economic, social, and cultural systems.

Second, the right to self-determination is defined as the right of a people to constitute itself in a state or otherwise freely determine the form of its association with an existing state.

Both meanings have their basis in the charter (Article 1, paragraph 2; and Article 55, paragraph 1).

Concerning dependent territories, the charter asserts that administering authorities should undertake to ensure political advancement and the development of Self-government (Article 73, paragraphs a and b; and Article 76, paragraph b).


A dependent territory or 'Dependency' in international relations is a weak state dominated by or under the jurisdiction of a more powerful state but not formally annexed by it. Protectorates, fall under this relationship.


Protectorate, in international relations, is the relationship between two states one of which exercises some decisive control over the other. The degree of control may vary, however, the protecting state guarantees and protects the safety of the other.

Barotseland, for example, was a protectorate of Britain throughout its relationship with the British Empire. Explicitly, however, Barotseland officially became a British Protectorate within Northern Rhodesia through 'The Northern Rhodesia (Barotseland) Order in Council 1953' which declared Barotseland a 'protectorate within a protectorate' in writing. Consequently, Barotseland's British Provincial Commissioner’s status was officially upgraded to that of 'Resident Commissioner' in line with all British Protectorates elsewhere!

So, Barotseland was explicitly declared a British Protectorate in May 1953, although its relationship with Britain was always that of a protectorate from the late 1800s.


Barotseland exists today! If not, where did it go to? It could not have simply vanished!

At its independence in 1964, Northern Rhodesia inherited all rights and obligations that Britain had on Barotseland.

This means that the newly-independent state of Zambia, as Northern Rhodesia became known after independence, became Barotseland's quasi-protector legally.

The relationship between Barotseland and independent Zambia was spelt out in the pre-independence international treaty known as 'The Barotseland Agreement 1964', which some ignorant Zambians allege did not constitute a treaty merely because the term 'agreement' was used for its name rather than the word treaty!

However, that assertion is baseless because the word ‘agreement’ is interchangeable with the word treaty in this case. Britain used it in many similar cases such as in 'The Malaysia Agreement 1963' signed between the British government, Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak on one hand and Singapore on the other, less than a year before signing the Barotseland Agreement 1964 which Britain entered with Northern Rhodesia and Barotseland.

In essence, Barotseland became Zambia's protectorate at the latter's independence in 1964.

When The Malaysia Agreement 1963 could no longer be amenable, the parties, in 1965, reverted to their original separate existence as independent states today called Malaysia and Singapore.

Unlike Malaysia which gave independence to Singapore, the Zambian state, however, opted for the gradual annexation of Barotseland in the period 1965 to 1969. They purportedly used several ‘legal’ changes to their national constitution to completely take over the sovereignty of Barotseland protectorate and went on to administrate Barotseland as a mere province, Western Province, with no special political status from the rest of Zambia.

Zambia’s action against Barotseland’s sovereignty was outright annexation because Barotseland never consented to these constitutional changes which the state undertook unilaterally using the arrogance of numbers in the Zambian parliament or presidential decrees in some cases.


Annexation is a formal act whereby a state proclaims its sovereignty over territory hitherto outside its domain.

Unlike cession, whereby territory is given or sold willingly through treaty, annexation is a unilateral act made effective by actual possession and legitimized by general recognition.

Annexation is frequently preceded by conquest and military occupation of the conquered territory. However, it could also be accomplished, as in the case of Barotseland, by the mere threat of military/police force without active military hostilities.

The subsequent recognition of annexation by other states may be explicit or implied. Therefore, whether the other states of the world recognizes Zambia’s annexation of Barotseland or not, it is still annexation nonetheless!

The United Nations usually recognizes Annexation only if it is based on the illegal use of military force, and so because Zambia did not use visible military force to be condemned under the UN charters, it does not negate the fact that annexation did occur.

The formalities of annexation are not defined by international law; whether it is done by one authority or another within the state is a matter of constitutional law.

The other term for annexation is colonization or illegal occupation! Therefore, Barotseland today is a colony of Zambia, one African state colonizing another African state!

Consequently, the Zambian state must be roundly condemned by the rest of the world for colonizing or illegally occupying Barotseland without any treaty, having unilaterally abrogated The Barotseland Agreement 1964!

However, since 2011-2012, The Kingdom of Barotseland has been taking peaceful steps for the restoration of its sovereignty that began with the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) which the Zambian state has not challenged in any reputable impartial international court of arbitration!

This peaceful initiative by Barotseland must be supported by all peace-loving states of the world!

SOURCES: Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., United Nations (UN).

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The Barotseland Post, also known as The Barotsepost, is an online media platform, for now, that is dedicated to reporting stories and news around Barotseland and beyond, giving exclusive coverage and access to the people and the nation of Barotseland to fully express themselves in their aspirations for self- determination.