Troubled waters: whatever happened to caprivi? Mike Nyendwa, recently in Namibia and Caprivi, provides an indepth look at the difficulties that the Caprivi Strip poses to Namibia, Zambia and even the leaders of Caprivi itself.

Author:Nyendwa, Mike

Many readers of New African may have wondered what has become of the little-reported region of Caprivi in the far northeast of Namibia following the attack on government installations in the main town of Katima Mulilo by members of the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA) on 2 August 1999.

President Sam Nujoma's government accused Mishake Muyongo, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) of being behind the attack. The UDP was formed in 1985 as the result of a merger between the Caprivi African National Union (CANU), an organisation originally formed in 1964, and the Caprivi Alliance Parry.

Muyongo is also cousin to Chief Boniface Bebi Mamili of the Mafwe people whose home is Linyanti, the old Caprivi capital, which is also the tribal centre of the Mafwe people, and which the early European explorers referred to as Mamili's town or village.

Both were actively involved in the struggle for independence for Caprivi, whose people are largely Lozi and English-speaking, unlike most of the rest of Namibia, an indication of its different history.

Caprivi was named after Count Georg Leo von Caprivi who was the imperial chancellor of Germany from 1890 to 1894, and therefore, in this capacity, was responsible for the conclusion of the Helio-goland-Zanzibar Treaty, as a component of which Caprivi was carved out of Bechuanaland and handed to Germany as an appendage to South West Africa which became Namibia on independence in 1990.


The Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA), portrayed as the military wing of the UDP, is, according to Muyongo, anything but dead, despite the fact that over 130 of its members are languishing in jail at Grootfontein in Northern Namibia whilst an estimated 1,700 Caprivian refugees eke out an existence in a camp at Dukwe in Botswana.

Muyongo and Chief Mamili meanwhile live in exile as refugees in Denmark. They insist that Caprivi is entitled to its independence because history shows that it has never had anything to do with the rest of Namibia until Namibian independence in 1990. And also because Caprivi's political, economic and socio-cultural history has been that of the Lozi people of Barotseland, now part of Western Zambia, and not that of the Ovambo or other groups in Namibia today. Nevertheless, both point our that the independence struggle for Caprivi is not to become an appendage of Zambia or a greater Lozi kingdom as Caprivi once was.

They say successive colonial and post-colonial governments based in Windhoek and South Africa have neglected Caprivi in favour of other regions of Namibia, contributing to Caprivians having the lowest level of income per capita in the country.

On the question of viability, Muyongo and the Chief reckon that Caprivi can be self-sufficient in food and again produce surpluses to trade with other neighbouring regions as it did in pre-colonial times.

They also point to the hitherto untapped (except by Europeans) tourist potential and other resources in the territory.

The chequered history

The Caprivi Strip (or just Caprivi as many locals now know it), is an unusual sounding name for a piece of Africa, but then Caprivi's history is no run of the mill history either.

Sometimes described as the Panhandle of Namibia, Caprivi is a narrow corridor of land that extends from Longitude 21 degree east to the confluence of the Chobe (variously known as the Linyanti or Cuando) and Zambezi Rivers, a distance west to east of some 440km.

This corridor, no more than 45 km across in the west, opens our in East Caprivi to include the land enclosed by the fork of the Chobe (or Linyanti) and Zambezi Rivers with a maximum distance north to south of about 100km.

Caprivi is home to three major rivers, namely the Okavango, Chobe and Zambezi and much of the land is subject to periodical flooding although much less than in ancient times.

Initially demarcated in 1890 by the British to provide Germany with a link from its new colonial territory of South West Africa to the Zambezi, in the forlorn hope of creating a communications link to the Indian Ocean to link up with other German territories, Caprivi was left virtually unattended by the Germans up to 1908 and from then until their expulsion in 1914, by a couple of low-ranking officers from the Kolonial Korps.

This was partly due to the fact that Germany's hoped-for eastern access to the Indian Ocean was virtually impossible because of the existence of the Victoria Falls and other natural obstacles. It was also due to the belief that no exploitable and extractable natural resources existed.

The neglect of Caprivi was also because access to the territory was hampered by large expanses of semi-desert between Windhoek and the western extremity of...

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