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Continuing Tension in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip

Submitted by on April 23, 2012 – 12:37 am 5 Comments |  
Namibia is generally regarded as one of the most successful states of sub-Saharan Africa, with a stable, relatively democratic government, a high degree of press freedom, and a political-economic system that successfully translates wealth in natural resources (diamonds particularly) into broad-based gains in human wellbeing. Just this month, for example, Namibia announced that that it will be able to bring electricity to all rural schools in the country within five years, which would be a significant accomplishment in such a large, sparsely settled country.

Namibia, however, suffers from a major political dilemma in the Caprivi Strip, its long northeastern “panhandle,” a legacy of the European partitioning of Africa in the late 1800s. The people of the Strip are relatively isolated from the rest of country, and many have long held secessionist aspirations. A major push for independence was crushed in 1999, but fall-out from the event continues to generate tension. Trials of secession advocates continue, hundreds of suspects languish in prisons, and many Caprivian activists continue to advocate their cause from exile.

Such tensions intensified in mid April, as activists planned peaceful demonstrations, circulated petitions calling for the unconditional release of all political prisoners, and demanded a referendum on the political status of the Caprivi region. Such demands were rebuffed by the Namibian government, which refused permission for the planned demonstrations. Activists denounced the prohibition as unconstitutional, and vowed to continue the struggle through peaceful, legal means.

The upsurge in secessionist activities in the Caprivi Strip has been linked to recent events elsewhere in Africa, especially the proclamation of the new country of Azawad by the Tuareg movement of northern Mali. It has also been connected with the independence movement in Barotseland in neighboring Zambia, where “2,000 chiefs, indunas and headmen recently had a meeting where they demanded the secession from Zambia of the Western Province – formerly a British Protectorate.”

Meanwhile, villagers in the Caprivi Strip have been demanding help from the national government to protect their maize fields from rampaging elephants herds. According to a recent allAfrica article, neither the beating of massive drums nor the use of “chili bombs” have been sufficient to keep the elephants at bay. Locals are therefore asking for the instillation of electric fences to protect their crops and villages.


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  • Does holding onto the Caprivi Strip benefit Namibia in any way?  From what I understand, the colonists made it part of what was then South West Africa so it could have access to the Zambezi River, but I don’t see how that would produce many tangible benefits today.  Letting the secessionists have their way might be the best option.

    • Jay

      Look, I am Namibia….. whether or not it benefits Namibia is not the issue. Caprivi is a Namibian territory. We cant separate our country into pieces. The strip has always been part of Namibia. This is with the knowledge of the mastermind of the 1999 succession (Muyongo) who could not achieve his ambitions within SWAPO, the ruling party and consequently turned into rebellion….. How-come Muyongo was once SWAPO vice a member of parliament in Namibia if he is not a Namibian ?

  • Stephen Siseho

    Am a Namibian from Caprivi Region a proud Subia for that matter and we are not in support of seceding from Namibia.One of the 1963 OAU agreement was to respect colonial boundaries for the sake of peace.Just imagine what would happen if each and every tribe would ask to secede.Its easy to start a war but to end it is something else, ask the late Savimbi.

    • Many thanks for your comment. I agree that changing the boundaries of African states would create many problems, and I understand the common desire to maintain colonial boundaries. But from what I have read, not everyone in the Caprivi Strip agrees with you on this issue.