A Brief History of the Zambezi Region

When you think of Namibia, the typical images that the name conjures up are those of vast open spaces and desert environs, but I have said it numerous times before and I will continue to do so; the word that I think best suits Namibia is ‘diversity’.

If you look at a Namibian map, and start from the south-west; you have the oldest desert in the world, with some of the highest sand dunes on earth; moving across to the north-east; less than 1,000 miles (1,500kms) away, you have the start of the Okavango Delta and the lush, green riverine paradise that is associated with the largest inland delta in the World. Namibia is comprised of ALL this!

Before Covid (BC) it was estimated that only about 16% of the visitors to Namibia travelled to the Zambezi region, which was officially renamed from ‘Caprivi Strip’ in 2013.

The Zambezi region, when compared with the rest of Namibia, is still largely unexplored and unknown, but this Namibian panhandle should most certainly not be over-looked!

The Zambezi region stetches more than 200 miles (350 kms) east, towards Zambia and Zimbabwe, and creates the only international quadripoint in the World when the borders of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet in the Chobe. It boasts an impressive FOUR National Parks, 4 of the Big Five and 430 species of bird and sits in the heart of the Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Park, which covers an area larger than Germany and Austria combined. And it is THIS stretch of land, with its unusual history that holds a special fascination for me.

Until the end of the 19th century, this region was known as Itenga and was under the control of the Lozi Kings, from Barotseland, which makes up part of modern day Western Zambia but it later formed part of the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, today known as Botswana.

In 1890 the Germans laid claim to Zanzibar, which was under British administration, the Brits objected, and the matter was finally settled at the Berlin conference when Queen Victoria acquired Zanzibar and Germany acquired the Caprivi strip. This strip of land was named after the German Chancellor, General Count George Leo von Caprivi di Caparadi Montecuccoli.

The Germans wanted to create a corridor, on the Zambezi River, from what was then known as South West Africa to the then German colony of Tanzania (German East Africa)

Problem with this idea was that the Zambezi River is difficult to navigate because of the many rapids and it goes from bad to worse when you come to the one of the largest waterfall’s in the World, the Victoria Falls. This plan was dead in the water from the outset/

After the First World War Germany lost control of its colonies and the then South West Africa fell under South African military rule.

Until the 1960’s the Caprivi was considered ‘useless’, remote, mineral-poor and of no benefit. Because of this neglect and oppression a form of nationalism, in the form of the Caprivi African National Union rose up and in 1972 the Eastern section of the Caprivi was given a pseudo-independence with limited legislative powers. It even had its own flag and national anthem

It was only in 1980 that control of the province was handed over to the South African administrators in Windhoek, and this administration remained in place till Namibian independence in 1990.

After a two year ‘transitional period’ Caprivi became one of the 13 political regions of Namibia in 1992.

As if this was not enough to keep your head spinning, the Caprivi Strip also played a very strategic geo-political role in a number of wars and skirmishes in the 1970’s until the Angolan civil war ended.

Thankfully, much has changed in the Caprivi and it has settled down to a stable democracy, as part of Namibia.

Over the last decade there has been a massive push with infrastructure development and investment in new lodges and tourism products, including our properties; Divava Okavango Resort and Spa, Ndhovu Safari Lodge, Nkasa Lupala Tented Camp, Jackalberry Tented Camp and Serondela Lodge.

The Zambezi region, whilst often seen as a second-time visitor’s destination, offers the visitor a very different visage to the rest of Namibia; with its lush green reed beds, flood plains and permanent waterways. This magical corridor creeps deep in your heart and makes you yearn for a Zambezi sunset!

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