Turmoil in SADC
Lusaka – The threat of secession in Zambia’s Western Province has returned amid reports that a network of insurgents is recruiting ex-servicemen to help in their cause.
More than 600 former police officers, soldiers and government workers have reportedly been recruited for an unknown purpose by a group that wants Barotseland to secede from Zambia.
Western Province borders Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe and instability there could thus affect the entire region.
Taken in the context of instability in the DRC and threats by Renamo in Mozambique to spark hostilities once more in that country – and on the border with Zimbabwe – SADC leaders have their work cut out ensuring the region does not become a hotbed of ethnic strife.
President Michael Sata of Zambia has already warned that anyone seeking to undermine the constitution, which states that the country is a unitary state, will be dealt with accordingly as per the law.
The Barotse Liberation Army believes that successive governments have failed to honour the letter and spirit of the 1964 Barotseland Agreement that gives the local leadership of that area some degree of autonomy from Lusaka, albeit with financial support from the central government.
In all, they are believed to have recruited 628 people, among them 275 former service-members.
President Sata has reacted by ordering the deployment of military personnel to Lukulu District in Western
Defence and Internal Affairs ministers, Geoffrey Mwamba and Edgar Lungu, recently visited the area to ascertain the gravity of the matter and ensure all security measures were in place.
Mwamba said the people of Western Province, like all other Zambians, wanted to develop in peace and that the Barotse Liberation Army was in the minority in its demands for secession.
The two ministers talked privately to the traditional leader of Western Province’s, the Litunga of the Barotse Royal Establishment, but what came out of those discussions has remained shrouded in mystery.
The Barotse Agreement of 1964 gives the Litunga some rights over land affairs and administration of customary law in his area of jurisdiction.
Analysts say the renewed push for secession could be tied to the oil and gas potential experts believe is latent in Western Province.
The area borders Namibia’s Caprivi Region, which has in the past been a secessionist flashpoint though the authorities in Windhoek seem to have largely managed to keep matters under control.
The Caprivi Region also has oil and gas potential and secessionist talk is believed to be tied to control of these resources, as it usually is in countries that face such threats.
This has been the situation in eastern DRC where the M23 rebel group has wreaked havoc in a region known for its huge mineral wealth.
The resource control angle has also emerged in Mozambique where Afonso Dhlakama, the former rebel leader, has set up base in Gorongoza near Zimbabwe in an area rich in diamonds with a group of armed men.
Dhlakama says he wants reforms to Mozambique’s electoral processes and how resources are distributed in the country.
This past week, the Mozambique government failed to reach an agreement with the former rebels.
Renamo secretary-general, Manuel Bissopo, told reporters they had presented five concerns to authorities in Maputo: defence and security, elections, exclusion from the benefits of economic growth, removal of party dominance over the state, and access to the public administration.
“These points were presented to the government and we expect that, within seven days, as from today, they make their position clear in order to continue the process that has now begun,” said Bissopo.
The seven days end on December 9, 2012.
“The meeting was cordial although there was some emotion during the first phase when we talked about the composition of the security forces,” said Agriculture Minister, Jose Pacheco, who was leading the government delegation.
Pacheco said all decisions taken by the government must be in strict observance of the country’s constitution. He also dismissed Renamo’s claims that the government is violating the 1992 peace agreement because all matters contained in the Rome Accord were incorporated in the national constitution.
“If there are specific questions, they should be much more precise about them. So that the relevant authorities can, in the future, take decisions about the concrete matters that are of concern to Renamo,” Pacheco added,
He said Renamo should provide evidence that the ruling Frelimo had politicised state institutions and the bureaucratic infrastructure.
Further meetings are expected in coming weeks. However, Renamo wants the next engagement to be moved from Maputo.
“We would like know what Renamo specifically wants. They need to go from general declarations to concrete examples, and I insist that the meeting be held in Maputo.
“The city is the capital, and it is where the headquarters are located, not only of the government, and of the country’s parliament, but even of Renamo itself,” Pacheco responded.
Demobilised Renamo fighters have been undergoing training in a remote mountain camp since October and the party has threatened to boycott elections.
• Reporting by Jeff Kapembwa in Lusaka and Charles Mangwiro in Maputo