The globe, it turns out, is full of regions that have all the trappings of a real country – a fixed population, a government, a flag, and a currency. Some can even issue you a biometric passport. Yet for various reasons they are not yet allowed representatives in the United Nations, and are ignored on most world maps. Such is the case of Barotseland, an African kingdom with a population of 3.5 million that has mounted a case to leave Zambia, since 2011 - 2012.
Nick Middleton, a geographer at the University of Oxford, has now charted these hidden lands in his new book, An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist (Macmillan, 2015). In this book, Middleton takes us on a magical journey through 50 countries that, lacking diplomatic recognition or UN membership, inhabit a world of shifting borders, visionary leaders and forgotten peoples.
“Once I started looking into them, I was amazed by how many there are,” Nick told David Robson of the BBC last November. “I could have filled the book several times over.”
The problem, he says, is that we don’t have a watertight definition of what a country is. “Which as a geographer is kind of shocking,” he says. Some cite a treaty signed in 1933, during the International Conference of American States in Montevideo, Uruguay. The “Montevideo Convention” declares that to become a country, a region needs the following features: a defined territory, a permanent population, a government, and “the capacity to enter into relations with other states”.
Yet many countries that meet these criteria aren‘t members of the United Nations (commonly accepted as the final seal of a country’s statehood).
For his shortlist, however, Middleton focused on the countries that meet the Montevideo convention, with a fixed territory, population, and government, but which have no representation in the General Assembly; territories such as Taiwan, Tibet, Greenland, Northern Cyprus, Barotseland and forty five other countries across the continents of the world.
A COMPENDIUM OF FIFTY UNRECOGNIZED AND LARGELY UNNOTICED STATES
In his 2015 Macmillan published book, ‘An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist’, Nick Middleton takes us on a magical journey through countries that, lacking diplomatic recognition or UN membership, inhabit a world of shifting borders, visionary leaders and forgotten peoples.
Most of us think we know what a country is, but in truth the concept is notoriously slippery. From the Crimea to Tibet, and from Africa’s last colony to the republic in Europe that enjoyed just a solitary day of independence, the places in this book may lie on the margins of legitimacy, but can all be visited in the real world.
In this remarkable book, beautifully illustrated with fifty regional maps, each shadowy country is literally cut out of the page. Filled with stories, facts and figures, this unique atlas brings to life a parallel world of nations that, at least for now, exist only in the minds of the people who live there.
Here below is what Nick has written about Barotseland, among others, and as reported by both The Independent and BBC last November.
The extract should inspire the Barotse and their sympathizers, that the strides they have been making towards Barotseland self-determination are truly being noticed and recognized by scholars, decision & policy-makers and a broad range of audiences across the world.
BAROTSELAND: Long-standing monarchy seeking recognition as Africa's newest state
DECLARED: 8 September 2011; 27 March 2012
AREA: 126,386 km sq
LANGUAGE: Silozi, English, 37 other tribal languages
Barotseland is traditionally a mobile kingdom. Every year, as Zambezi River floodwaters seep slowly into their pastures, they up sticks and move to higher ground. This annual migration is celebrated in a ceremony known as Kuomboka, literally “to get out of the water”. When the Moon is full, the thundering of huge drums calls the royal paddlers to assemble from far and wide. Wearing bright red berets, and accompanied by jubilant singing, they propel the royal barges towards the wet-season capital. It is the signal for the king's subjects to load their possessions into dug-out canoes and join the flotilla, leaving their now waterlogged villages behind for another year.
This has been the way of things for as long as anyone can remember. The kingdom has a history stretching back five centuries, but during colonial times Barotseland was a British protectorate, a status allowing greater autonomy than the rest of the area with which it was governed. Northern Rhodesia had colonisation; Barotseland had colonisation lite. When independence loomed in the early 1960s, the king was persuaded to muck in with what would become the new country of Zambia, on condition that Barotseland maintained that element of self-rule. An agreement was signed allowing the monarchy to pass its own laws over many local matters, including hunting and bush fire control, internal taxation and the beer supply. The deal was called the Barotseland Agreement 1964. BA’64 for short.
Only BA’64 was never implemented. Successive Zambian governments made promises, then failed to honour the deal for the kingdom to enjoy autonomy, systematically ignoring and rebuffing all arguments to the contrary. By 2011, Barotseland's royal household had had enough. A deal is a deal only if honoured by both sides. They pulled out, promising a peaceful disengagement from Zambia, a move denounced in Zambia's capital, Lusaka, as tantamount to treason. – The forgoing is an extract from Nick Middleton’s book, which can be found on Amazon, Pan Macmillan and other stores in both Hard Copy and e-Book format, including Kindle.
ABOUT NICK MIDDLETON
Nick Middleton is a geographer, writer and presenter of television documentaries. He teaches at Oxford University, where he is a Fellow of St Anne's College. A Royal Geographical Society award-winning author, he works, teaches and communicates on a wide variety of geographical, travel and environmental issues for a broad range of audiences, from policy-makers to five year-old children. He is also the author of several travel books, including the stunning gift book An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist, and the bestseller Going to Extremes, which was part of a number of television series he wrote and presented for Channel 4 on extreme environments and the people who live in them.