Is the Litunga King or Paramount Chief in Zambia? – A detailed exposition of facts and misconceptions

31 August 2019
Author  Sibeta Mundia, Barotseland Post
The Litunga of Barotseland - Click image to enlarge


In Barotseland, the Litunga is the owner of the land, water, forests and all animals, fish and birds. He is also the ruler and king over every inhabitant in the kingdom, regardless of their individual ethnicity, tribe, race or creed. His reign extends over whatever territory constitutes Barotseland. His position is very similar to that of the Queen in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland!

In Zambia, however, the Litunga’s position and authority are so unclear that many people don’t know what his official or legal designation is in the nation’s laws or in the nation’s official policy.

This article, therefore, explores at length the facts and misconceptions about this matter to help the reader appreciate why there is so much controversy relating to the Litungaship in Zambia.


The controversy on the Litungaship did not begin with independent Zambia. It started with the British South Africa Company (BSA Co.) shortly after 1900.

While the 1900 Lewanika Concessions recognized Lewanika as King of the Barotse country, considerable disagreements with the BSA Co. administrators arose shortly after. The company officials were not happy that the king still exercised much authority and influence outside the Reserved Area.

So, contrary to the terms of the 1900 Concessions, in November 1904, King Lewanika was persuaded to surrender powers of Civil and Criminal Jurisdiction over Africans in the area outside the Reserve - Bull, Mutumba Mainga (2014) "Reserved Area: Barotseland of the 1964 Agreement," Zambia Social Science Journal: Vol. 5: No. 1, Article 4.

To diminish his influence further, in 1907 Lewanika was ‘officially’ deprived of the title ‘King’ to be called merely a ‘Paramount Chief’.

The directive to withdraw the title of ‘King’ from Lewanika was sent to the District Commissioner, Mongu, on 3rd October 1907. The Secretary for Native Affairs wrote,

“His Honour the Administrator directs that Lewanika shall be officially designated as the ‘Paramount Chief of the Barotse Nation.’ The title of ‘King’ as applied to Lewanika and that of ‘Prince’ to Letia (Litia) are to be discontinued and discountenanced.” END.

The Company administration officials committed other acts aimed at keeping Lewanika’s authority and influence in the territory outside the Reserved Area to the minimum.

However, the special status of the Barotse Reserve under the 1900 Concessions was later safeguarded particularly by two specific clauses in the 1911 Order in Council which amalgamated 'Barotseland-Northwestern Rhodesia' and 'Northeastern Rhodesia' to form 'Northern Rhodesia'.

One clause provided for the non-alienation of land in Barotseland – land was to be used exclusively by Barotse people under their ruler.

The second clause confirmed the rights and obligations of the Litunga and the Barotse people under the Concessions/Treaties of 1900.

Much later, in 1953, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was imposed against the wishes of the majority of the African people especially in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

The Barotse, however, objected to joining the Federation but later agreed on the condition that:

(a) Rights under the Lewanika Concessions were preserved by an appropriate provision in the Federal Constitution.

(b) Barotseland should be styled or declared by Order in Council as the Barotseland Protectorate.

The British Government responded positively to their demands.

So, when Litunga Mwanawina III was in the United Kingdom in May 1953 for the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen made an Order-in-Council, the Northern Rhodesia (Barotseland) Order-in-Council 1953, providing that Barotseland be called the ‘Barotseland Protectorate’, while its Provincial Commissioner was given the new title of ‘Resident Commissioner.’

Consequently,  the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Constitution) Order in Council of 1st August 1953, Article 33(2) repeated the provisions concerning the non-alienability of land in Barotseland as was contained in both the 1911 and 1924 Orders in Council.

In 1961, the Northern Rhodesia British Government reaffirmed Britain’s previous commitments and proposed to entrench the Barotse special rights in Orders in Council, announcing further that the ruler of Barotseland would be officially called the LITUNGA - ‘Earth’, i.e. the owner of the land of the Barotseland Protectorate, in place of the BSA Co. imposed ‘Paramount Chief’ title.


In independent Zambia, the Litunga’s authority and title were clearly defined in the Barotseland Agreement 1964, which conjoined Barotseland to Zambia.

In the pre-independence treaty, Litunga is designated as the principal authority for the government and administration of Barotseland, with powers to make laws with respect to matters such as land, natural resources, taxation and social life, including the sale and consumption of beer, culture, etc.


Although the Litunga’s designation above is not explicitly enshrined in the constitution of Zambia, it is what has informed Zambia’s national policy since independence.

The Chiefs ACT, which forms part of the nation’s laws as amended in 1965, and 1995, currently regulates the recognition, appointment and functions of Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs, for the exclusion of former Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs from specified areas in the interests of public order, and for the appointment and functions of ‘Kapasus’, and for all matters incidental to or connected therewith.

Apparently, this ACT has not yet been discarded or amended, although recently, Lawrence Sichalwe, the Zambian minister in charge of chiefs and traditional affairs, reportedly hinted that the government may soon amend the Chiefs ACT to align it with the 2016 amended constitution.

However, in the current Act, unless the context otherwise requires interpretation, "Chief" means a person recognised under the Act as the holder of an office specified by or under section three; AND "Deputy Chief" means a person holding office under the Act as the deputy to a Chief; WHILE "kapasu" means a person holding or acting in the office of kapasu to a Chief or Deputy Chief.

Section three of the Chiefs ACT states;

"3. (1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the President may, by statutory order, recognise any person as being, within the area in Zambia specified in the order, the holder of-

(a) the office of Litunga of the Western Province or of any other chiefly office in the Western Province specified in the order;

(b) the office of Paramount Chief, Senior Chief, Chief or Sub-Chief." END.

As can be seen above, in part (a), the Litunga of the Western Province and those who hold chiefly office in Western province, are treated separately from those in other parts of Zambia in (b) listed as Paramount Chief, Senior Chief, Chief or Sub-chief.

Clearly, the Litunga is not identified as a paramount chief by this ACT, and the chiefs in the Western province are considered differently from their counterparts in the rest of Zambia listed under part (b) above.

This is because when Barotseland became part of  Zambia in 1964, it was to be governed by its own systems - which is actually very different from the rest of the country.

In 1969, however, Kenneth Kaunda tried to make the Litunga and chiefs in Barotseland the 'same' as chiefs elsewhere in Zambia by unilateral proclamation as he renamed the territory 'Western province'!

His 1969 rhetorical outbursts were similar to the 1907 BSA Co. outbursts which could not change the centuries-old structural make-up of Barotseland.

Notably, today's Western province is the exact territory that was defined as 'Barotseland protectorate' in the Northern Rhodesia (Barotseland) Order-in-Council 1953.

Kenneth Kaunda did not create this territory but merely renamed it ‘Western province’ in 1969 without consultation.

So, the Litunga is still ‘Earth’, i.e. the owner of the land of the Barotseland Protectorate, regardless of its name change to ‘Western province’ and various successive attempts to change the territory's political status. The overall government and national policy on its land have fundamentally remained the same as inherited at independence.

It would further appear that provisions concerning the non-alienability of land in Barotseland (Western province) as was contained in both the 1911 and 1924 Orders in Council, and maintained by the Northern Rhodesia (Barotseland) Order-in-Council 1953, are still valid and active national policy as inherited in 1964.

In 2018, the minister in charge of land administration in Zambia, Jean Kapata, shocked both parliament and the nation when she said that Zambia's recently proposed National Land Policy would ONLY apply to the other nine provinces and not Barotseland!

When asked by other parliamentarians why the proposed policy would not apply to the Western Province, she categorically stated that a different land administration governed the territory she insistently called ‘Barotseland’ on the floor of the august house!

Although the minister did not elaborate, it could only have been because of the long-standing policy of non-alienability of the land in Barotseland which stipulates that land there is to be exclusively used by the Barotse and that the central government can only use what is given to them by the LITUNGA - the sole custodian of all land in Barotseland, now nicknamed Western province.

All land in Western Province is reposed in the Litungaship the same way all land in the rest of Zambia is reposed in the Presidency!

So, the Litunga holds a designation or status different from all others in Zambia - a class of his own!

In Zambia today, he is simply the LITUNGA OF THE WESTERN PROVINCE!

Furthermore, while Paramount chiefs have jurisdiction over their specific ‘tribes’ or ‘communities’, the Litunga has jurisdiction over an entire territory with over thirty-five tribes or ethnic and linguistic communities in today’s Western province.

Mpezeni is the ruler of the Ngoni tribe, Chitimukulu of the Bemba, Gawa Undi of the Chewa and Mwata Kazembe of the Lunda. Their rulership is limited to their own tribes.

The Litunga, however, is the ruler over the whole Western province of Zambia. He rules over everyone in Western province or Barotseland, regardless of tribe, race or creed. This is the difference!

Part two of section three of the chiefs ACT on recognition of chiefs states the following, and note how the part is divided into (a) and (b);

(2) No person shall be recognised under this section as the holder of an office unless-

(a) the President is satisfied that such person is entitled to hold the office under African customary law; and

(b) in the case of a chiefly office in the Western Province, other than the office of Litunga, the person to whom recognition is accorded is recognised by the Litunga and traditional council to be a member of a ruling family in the Western Province.

So, chiefs or chiefly office holders in the Western province must be recognised by the Litunga before they can be recognized by the Zambian president!

Some politicians have sought to disrupt this order of governance in Barotseland by insisting that the Litunga be stripped of his powers as prescribed above.

Thus, in the 2016 amendment, there was an attempt to do so in part twelve of the constitution dealing with chieftaincy and house of chiefs.


“165. (1) The institution of chieftaincy and traditional institutions are guaranteed and shall exist in accordance with the culture, customs and traditions of the people to whom they apply.

(2) Parliament shall not enact legislation which -

(a) confers on a person or authority the right to recognise or withdraw the recognition of a chief, or

(b) derogates from the honour and dignity of the institution of chieftaincy.” END.

Some have suggested that clause (2) (a) above invalidates the Litunga’s powers over his chiefs in the Western province. However, it doesn’t quite do so because while it says that ‘Parliament shall not enact legislation which confers on a person or authority the right to recognise or withdraw the recognition of a chief in part (a), it does not explicitly state that the president’s role of recognizing chiefs or the Litunga’s current exclusive authority over Barotseland in that regard   has been invalidated or revoked going forward.

If it did, the question then would be who now is responsible for deciding which chief is put on the government payroll or is government now going to pay whoever appoints himself ‘chief’ without any laid down vetting criteria?

In fact, 165. (1) above may be interpreted as a perpetuation of culture, custom and tradition as it currently exists!

However, it must be stated that the confusion brought by this attempt to ‘fix’ the Litunga is highly unnecessary as it has given rise to many succession wrangles in many chiefdoms across the country, including Barotseland, where some communities are now appointing their own chiefs without due regard to longstanding ascension traditions.

It has disrupted the once peaceful and harmonious co-existence enjoyed by many communities!

The further attempt being made in the 2019 constitutional amendment bill to empower the Zambian president with unilateral powers to dismember or alter provinces, including Barotseland or western province, would equally be problematic because if its sinister intention is to obliterate Barotseland, the Litunga would be within his right to reject it!

In fact, the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) has already rejected this 2019 amendment bill precisely because of this particular article 149.

Should the Zambian government go on to pass this proposed article into law, they will have themselves to blame for whatever course the Litunga and Barotseland may thereafter decide to take!

We must further condemn the repeated use of constitutional amendments as a weapon of oppression and suppression.

Successive Zambian governments are notorious for using constitutional amendments to settle political scores, such as their obsession with obliterating Barotseland and diminishing the powers of the Litunga and their insatiable desire to bar their political competitors!


The Litunga, even in Zambia, has a separate classification from all others. Some may, for political expediency or out of spite or ignorance, call and treat him as a Paramount chief, but that doesn’t quite fit, because he is not actually classified as such in the Chiefs ACT which is still part of the Zambian laws.

Calling the Litunga ‘King’ may be uncomfortable to some people because kings are synonymous with monarchies and not republics such as Zambia.

However, that is also not quite correct because the Litunga is not King over Zambia. He is 'King' only over Barotseland or the Western Province – as some may choose to call his territorial domain.

His actual title is ‘His Royal Majesty’ (HRM) or ‘His Majesty’ (HM) the Litunga.

'His Royal Highness' (HRH) is not ideal as it is reserved for those holding chiefly titles, such as Paramount Chiefs, Senior Chiefs, Sub-chiefs, Princes and Princesses and not a reigning monarch like the Litunga.

Typically, Barotseland does not use the term ‘chief’ in its governance structures. Alternative terms of ‘Resident or Reigning Prince/Princess’, also known as 'Regal Prince/Princess', are used for those holding chiefly offices next to the Litunga. These Regal Princes/Princesses in Barotseland are actually the equivalent of Zambia’s ‘Paramount Chiefs’.

The terms ‘Senior Induna’ (equivalent to Zambia’s ‘Senior Chiefs’) or ‘Induna’ (equivalent to Zambia’s ‘Sub Chiefs’) would then apply to those holding offices under the Regal Prince/Princess and Senior Induna respectively.

Further, calling the King of Barotseland as the Litunga of the ‘Lozi’ people is not entirely correct because he is not just the Litunga of the 'Lozi' or the people alone!

He is the Litunga of the whole kingdom; land, water, animals and all the people, whether they are citizens, residents or visitors to his territorial domain - regardless of its name, and whether that kingdom has independent statehood or is simply a pariah state makes no difference.

The Litunga is also king over a Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, Subiya, Kwangwa, Nyengo, Luyana, Mbunda, Nkoya, etc or Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, etc. who are residents or citizens of Barotseland.

Since the word 'Litunga' translates ‘king’ in English, he is, therefore, king over his territory and people - call it by its nickname 'Western province', Barotseland, Bulozi, or whatever you may like - the facts remain unchanged!

However, whatever others call the Litunga or how they treat him is not as important as what the people of Barotseland call and how they treat him. In Barotseland, the Litunga is a king who must be venerated above any other leader in Zambia or anywhere else!

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