The international press is unanimous this week that the Republic of Namibia’s decision to rename the Caprivi Strip “the Zambezi Region” is a triumph of indigenous culture over colonialism. A European name is erased from the map and replaced with the quintessentially African name Zambezi, for the noted river. But the political subtext here is more complex, and it involves interethnic troubles in the strife-torn Caprivi region and in Namibia at large.
First, some history.
|Count Leo von Caprivi|
|When the Kaiser lost the Great War, he lost Namibia too.|
In any case, after the defeated empires of the Central Powers were hacked back by the League of Nations at the close of the First World War, the emasculated German Reich was stripped of its overseas colonies. The newly independent Union of South Africa, then still a dominion of the British Crown, was put in charge of South-West Africa, including Caprivi. By the 1970s, South Africa, still stewing under apartheid after nearly the whole rest of the continent had been liberated, was again using the Caprivi Strip as a supply route—this time to run guns to white Rhodesian militants in what is now Zimbabwe. Some Caprivi natives also helped UNITA, the Angolan army backed by South Africa. (The underground African National Congress also smuggled arms to leftist militias backed by Cuba in Angola’s civil war during the same period.)
|Namibia’s homelands during the apartheid era|
|The most excellent flag of the Caprivi separatists|
|Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls, just east of Caprivi|
|Some nationalists’ vision of a “Greater Barotseland.”|
No wonder Namibia is nervous.
|The flag of the Barotse monarchy in Zambia|
|The Namibian flag flies over Swapokmund,|
the colonial-German resort town where the remake of The Prisoner was filmed.
[You can read more about Caprivi/Itenge, Barotseland, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar. The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]