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Secession Drive in Zambia: A Glimpse Into the Future?

The leaders of the Lozi people, an ethnic group in western Zambia, are demanding independence, reports the BBC. Claiming that the central government is ignoring promises of autonomy dating back to the 1960s, the Lozi say they are beginning a process of “peaceful disengagement” from Zambia’s central government.  This may or may not stay peaceful; two people were shot last summer by police breaking up a meeting in favor of secession.

The Lozi people, whose traditional homeland is known as Barotseland, have a long tradition of autonomy; since Zambia became independent, many inhabitants of the region believe they have been neglected by the central government.

Via Meadia has no idea how things will go for the Lozi; while they are the largest group in Zambia’s Western Province, there are other groups in the province who don’t want to live under Lozi control and would likely prefer to remain part of Zambia.

But Lozi resistance to Zambia and the eruption of old grievances along ethnic lines in one of Africa’s more successful states (contrast Zambia with neighbors like Zimbabwe and Congo) serve as troubling reminders that the conventional view of Africa overlooks or deliberately understates the enormous potential of ethnic differences to blow up the fragile, often not very successful states that have attempted to govern the continent since the European colonial powers withdrew.

The development and democracy lobby, whose viewpoints mostly shape western press coverage of Africa, is morally certain that democratic governance will promote economic development across Africa, and that these two forces working together will stabilize and strengthen African states.

Perhaps, and Via Meadia would be very happy with this result. But European history points to something different. In Europe, the rise of democracy combined with economic development led to decades of violent national conflicts in the 19th and 20th centuries. Waves of warfare, ethnic cleansing and genocidal violence swept eastern and central Europe and much of the Middle East. Millions of people were killed and millions more uprooted from homes where their ancestors had lived, more or less peacefully, for hundreds of years.

Via Meadia does not know whether something similar will happen as Africa develops, but more than a few signs point in that direction. Fifty years after independence, ethnic conflicts are if anything playing a growing role in many parts of Africa. Advances in education and development often create deeper senses of loyalty and identification among people who belong to the same ethnic group. The advance of democratic politics often increases ethnic polarization as political affiliations are shaped by language and cultural ties.

Ask the Hapsburgs how this works out.

The mainstream press devotes a lot of ink to what it hopes and believes are the big stories in Africa today: the advance of democracy and development. Via Meadia is keeping a weather eye out for the possibility that history may have something nastier and more complicated in mind; in the past it so frequently has.

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  • Mrs. Davis

    Why should the Africans be saddled with borders drawn by Europeans? How they correct them is their business.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I don’t see bloodshed in quite the negative light that Via Meadia does. Cultures are highly resistant to change, and it often takes a war for cultures to evolve at all. While “Trial by Combat” is no longer recognized within a culture as a source of Justice, mankind as a whole still recognizes it as a legitimate source of Justice between Cultures. By this standard if the Lozi culture is superior they will be successful. I believe that Lozi culture is inferior, it is just resisting change, and they will lack the economic, military, and moral strength to be successful in a revolt.

  • Peter

    The problem, Mrs. Davis, is in your use of the phrase “the Africans.” There’s no such thing. True, some Africans don’t want to be saddled with borders drawn by Europeans. But those borders have been in place now for several generations, and many Africans have become invested in the status quo and won’t want to see it change. I agree that this is an issue for Africans to resolve among themselves, and I hope that it can be done peacefully. But, like Via Meadia, if history is any indication I’m skeptical that increased ethnic separatism will be a good development in Africa.

  • Kris

    JL@2: Our bare hands and superior culture will defeat your Chinese-supplied weaponry!

  • Mrs. Davis

    If there’s no such thing as Africans, who lives there?

    And if the disputes are resolved, it will be a good thing. If bloodshed is involved, it will be unfortunate. But we’ve been shedding some of our own blood lately and not for bad reasons. At least until recently.

  • Luke Lea

    Ask the Hapsburgs how this works out?

    Right. The last European example of a multi-cultural society. Unless you want to count Russia.

    Why do we suppose it will work out harmoniously in the United States today? Why import problems for future generations?

    Ethnic, cultural, and racial differences run deep — and represent a real challenge, even in a democratic polity as well-established as our own. Look at all the anti-white (European) bigotry being ginned up by elite journalists in the mainstream press (many of them Ashkenazi btw — let’s be honest here) over this Trayvon/Zimmerman case.

    What is the answer? The brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God in my opinion. Only if we reach deep down into our Judeo-Christian traditions will be find a way to surmount these divisions. We also need governing elites that reflect the full ethnic and geographical diversity of America. Affirmative action for all in the Ivies!

  • Luke Lea

    Does class trump race or race trump class? Is there a difference? I don’t know. But at this moment I think of William Butler Yeats:

    TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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