Frontline: Ngoma, Namibia - A century on, a cartological freak rises in revolt

THE CAPRIVI Strip is one of those bits of the map that seem to be asking for trouble. A corridor of Namibian territory protruding more than 400km into Zambia, Botswana and Angola, this cartological freak was spawned in the 19th-century Scramble for Africa, when European colonial powers meeting in Berlin swapped vast territories as if they were football cards.

The Germans, with their colony of South West Africa (now Namibia) were desperate for access to the Zambezi river, which they believed would become the Rhine of Africa. The fact that the unnavigable Victoria Falls were downstream of their proposed access point did not deter them.

The British, on the other hand, wanted the Germans to drop their claim to sovereignty over the east African spice islands of Zanzibar, so London agreed to give the Kaiser a strip of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), plus the North Sea island of Heligoland.

Hopes for a great white empire along the Zambezi proved to be over-optimistic, however, and the people of the Caprivi were left more or less alone until the height of the Cold War.South Africa used the Caprivi for a string of forward bases for its war against Soviet-backed Angola, but Namibian independence in 1990, followed by the death of apartheid in 1994, brought peace to the area.

Until last week, when an obscure group of separatist guerrillas suddenly emerged from the bush and attacked the regional capital of Katima Mulilo, seizing the airstrip and radio station and fighting a pitched battle with Namibian forces. At least eight soldiers and police and five rebels died, plus an unknown number of civilians, and fighting continued for at least another day before the rebels fled back into the bush.

Once the firing ceased, police and soldiers began rounding up anybody suspected of sympathising with the rebels. More than 30 foreign aid workers, mostly British VSO volunteers and US Peace Corps workers, were evacuated before the borders were shut. Their embassies are debating whether they can return.

The group claiming responsibility for the attack is the Caprivian Liberation Army, a shadowy organisation led by the former opposition leader Mishake Muyongo, 59.

A deputy leader of the South West African People's Organisation (Swapo) during the struggle for freedom from South Africa, Muyongo was eventually expelled from theparty for advocating independence for the Caprivi peoples. He became leader of the South African-backed opposition party, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, after Swapo won the 1989 independence elections, but was sacked by his party last year.

Speaking from exile in Denmark, Muyongo told South African radio that the people of Caprivi were being denied their fair share of Namibia's resources. "We want to be Caprivians on our own. We don't want to be an appendix of Namibia. We have suffered a lot for the nine years of Namibia's independence," he said.

The first sign that Muyongo was building a private army came in August last year, when nearly 100 armed men fled into Botswana after their training camp was detected by the Namibian government. They were followed by Muyongo and the chief of his Mafwe tribe, and then by at least 2,000 Caprivian civilians.

No deaths were reported during the unrest, however, and many of the civilian refugees have been returning home under UN protection and with the promise of safe conduct by the government. Last Monday's attack seems to have caught the security forces completely by surprise.

There is speculation that activists loyal to Muyongo may have been aided by factions embroiled in the interlinked conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Angolan rebel group Unita is a prime suspect. An even more likely source of support for the Caprivian rebels is in Zambia, where tribes related to the Caprivians have historically sought autonomy for the upper Zambezi valley.

In the 19th century their kings concluded a sovereign treaty with the British empire and there was deep resentment when they had to accept Zambian sovereignty upon independence in the 1960s.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us