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ZAMBIA IS A ‘UNITARY’ STATE - Does this mean it is one ‘INDIVISIBLE’ country?

26 July 2018
Author  Sibeta Mundia, Barotseland Post

It is not uncommon to hear many Zambians claim that Zambia is a unitary state, therefore, aspirations for Barotseland are doomed when, in fact, very few understand what a unitary state really is.

The ‘unitary state’ clause was only inserted in the Zambian constitution in 1996 after the FTJ Chiluba administration was confronted with the Barotseland question! They then schemed to stop the Barotse people from pursuing the Barotseland Agreement of 1964, which the previous government had unilaterally abrogated in 1969 because it granted the Barotse region a unique self-governing status within the republic.

Therefore, instead of adopting recommendations by the Mvunga Constitution Review Commissions of 1991 or the 1995 Mwanakatwe Commission to implement the 1964 agreement, the government opted to amend the constitution, adding ‘unitary’ and ‘indivisible’ state clauses which they thought would end any further claims by the people of Barotseland.

The successive Mung’omba Constitution Review Commission, however, agreed with the Barotse people and amplified their claims by advising the government that the unitary nature of the Zambian State was actually derived from the fact that the two constituent territories of the Protectorate of Barotseland and the Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia signed a treaty to become one independent Sovereign Republic as reflected in the 1964 Barotseland Agreement.

In fact, the Mung’omba commission stated that both the Northern Rhodesia Independence Order 1964 which promulgated the independence constitution and the Zambia Independence Act of 1964 arose as a direct consequence of the 1964 agreement, thereby, concluding that Barotseland was a part of Zambia and remains so only as a consequence of the Barotseland Agreement 1964.

The commission further warned that failure to implement the 1964 agreement amounted to frustrating the treaty which would continue to give rise to questions about the legitimacy of the Zambian Government authority over Barotseland and jeopardizing the continued existence of the unitary state.

The persistent refusal by successive Zambian governments to heed this sound legal advice by eminent Zambian legal minds has, however, made the people of Barotseland go further to actually demand independence from Zambia, rather than a mere implementation of the defunct 1964 agreement!


No! A unitary state does not mean one indivisible country, as in a monolithic sense!

In reality, a unitary system of government, or a unitary state, is simply a sovereign state which is governed as a single entity where the central government is supreme, and any administrative divisions within it will exercise only powers which the central government has delegated to them. Sub-divisional units could be created and abolished, and their powers may be broadened and narrowed by the central government.

The United Kingdom, for example, is also a unitary state, simply because its constituent countries of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have no power to challenge the constitutionality of ACTS of Parliament. It does not, however, mean that the United Kingdom is indivisible as a country.

Other examples of unitary states with two or more constituting countries are China (Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan), Tanzania (Tanganyika, Zanzibar) and Zambia (Barotseland, Northern Rhodesia) which among many, are here cited to illustrate the fact that ‘unitary’ does not mean ‘monolithic’.

Unitary states merely contrast with ‘federal’ states, such as the United States of America, in which power is shared between the federal government and the now over fifty unitary states. Zambia was originally established on this model in which power and sovereignty would be shared with Barotseland, had the Zambian government honored the pre-independence Barotseland treaty!

Had the agreement been fully implemented, Zambia would have been governed as a federation, with Barotseland having its own laws, parliament, courts and treasury, among other things, while the Litunga, King of Barotseland, would be the principal authority in the kingdom, sharing power with his own people.

Therefore, ‘unitary’ in governance simply means administered from the center, and a state is called unitary, whether it is a product of one or more countries, as long as it is administered by one powerful central government!


Certainly not! Zambia is not one indivisible country by virtue of its unitary’ status!

Ironically, even the ‘One Zambia One Nation’ slogan is in itself an admission that Zambia is not one nation! It is actually a product of the formerly separate protectorates of Barotseland and Northern Rhodesia, which signed a treaty to become one independent sovereign Republic as reflected in both the 1964 Barotseland Agreement and the two legal provisions of the Northern Rhodesia Independence Order 1964 and the Zambia Independence Act of 1964.

A unitary state, especially one which is a product of two or more separate countries which amalgamated by treaties, covenants or agreements cannot claim to be ‘indivisible’. In fact, any such amalgamated states like federations, unions, confederated or united states and kingdoms, cannot be ‘indivisible’ as their individual constituting countries do inherently have the right to aspire to exercise greater self-determination outside their respective mother states if they so wished!

Like in civil unions of matrimony, the same treaties and covenants which bound them together inherently provide the basis for their separation, especially when abrogated!

It is important to note that ‘united’ countries may also aspire to remain ‘indivisible’ by actually devising laws to make separation ‘impossible’ or use policy slogans to inculcate a culture of unity. Policies such as the ‘One China Policy’, ‘One Zambia One Nation’ or its latest regional counterpart of ‘One Namibia One Nation’ or the USA’s ‘One Nation under God’ are all examples of such machinations designed to encourage continued unity.

However, when insistence on such policy slogans become the daily norm, or when laws are tightened to protect the unitary or the federal state, it is usually a sign that such a state has become so irrelevant that its people have to be brainwashed or forced to keep the union!

So, any country which was formed on the lines of a union, federation or amalgamation of two or more constituent countries, such as Zambia, China, United Kingdom, Tanzania, Namibia, Nigeria, USA and many others, cannot really be ‘indivisible’ because their constituting countries do have an inherent legitimate human right to claim self-determination outside the mother state.

Even a civil court will terminate a matrimonial union through a divorce, although the couple may have vowed to live together till death, as it cannot compel estranged spouses to live together amidst irreconcilable differences. The two might kill each other and others close to them!

Civil separation, therefore, may actually be much more desirable than civil war!

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