The Caprivi Strip, also known simply as Caprivi, is a geographic salient protruding from the north-eastern corner of Namibia. It is surrounded by Botswana to the south and Angola and Zambia to the north. Namibia, Botswana and Zambia meet at a single point at the eastern tip of the Strip, which also comes within 100 m of Zimbabwe. The territory was acquired by the then German South West Africa in order to provide access to the Zambezi River and consequently a route to the east coast of the continent and German East Africa. The route was later found not to be navigable.
Within Namibia, the Strip is divided administratively between Kavango East and Zambezi regions. It is crossed by the Okavango. The Cuando River forms part of its border with Botswana, and the Zambezi River forms a part of its border with Zambia. The width of the strip varies from about 32 km (20 mi) to 105 km (65 mi). Its largest settlement is Katima Mulilo, located at the point where the Zambezi River reaches the Strip.
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When Namibia was a German colony, the Caprivi Strip was known in German as Caprivizipfel. Before colonization, it was known as Lyiyeyi or Diyeyi. During a short-lived secession attempt around the year 2000, it was given the name Itenge. It is also sometimes called the Okavango Strip or Zambezi.
Inhabitants of the Caprivi Strip speak a number of African languages, mostly members of the Bantu language family, with speakers of Hukwe, a San language, in the northwest of the strip (on the border with Angola. The Bantu languages include Yeyi (or 'Yei' or 'Yeeyi'), Mbukushu, Gciriku (or 'Dciriku'), Fwe, Totela, and Subiya. Perhaps a majority in the Caprivi Strip, especially in Katima Mulilo, speaks Lozi as a lingua franca. Many also speak English and some Afrikaans.
The area is rich in natural wildlife and has mineral resources. Of particular interest to the government of Namibia is that it gives access to the Zambezi River and is thereby a potential trading route to Africa's East Coast. However, the vagaries of the river level, various rapids, the presence of the Victoria Falls downstream and continued political uncertainty in the region make this use of the Caprivi Strip unlikely, although it may be used for ecotourism in the future.
Within Namibia the Caprivi Strip provides significant habitat for the critically endangered African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). It is a corridor for African elephant moving from Botswana and Namibia into Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. National parks found in the Caprivi Strip are Bwabwata National Park, Mudumu National Park and Nkasa Rupara National Park. Local communities have organised themselves into communal area conservancies and community forests. People work closely with the Namibian Government to jointly manage natural resources through several programmes set up between the Namibian Government and various donor parties.
Caprivi was named after German Chancellor Leo von Caprivi (in office 1890–1894), who negotiated the acquisition of the land in an 1890 exchange with the United Kingdom. Caprivi arranged for the Caprivi strip to be annexed to German South West Africa in order to give Germany access to the Zambezi River and a route to Africa's east coast, where the colony of German East Africa (now part of Tanzania) was situated. The transfer of territory was a part of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty of 1890, in which Germany gave up its interest in Zanzibar in return for the Caprivi Strip and the island of Heligoland in the North Sea. The river later proved unnavigable and inaccessible to the Indian Ocean due to the Victoria Falls, a fact that was possibly known to the British side already during the negotiations. Remote and inaccessible during the rainy season, the Germans did not find use for Caprivi. After a mineral expedition in 1909 proved unsuccessful, Germany contemplated exchanging the strip for some other British territory, such as Walvis Bay. When that territory was transferred to Cape Colony by the British in 1910, Germany was stuck with Caprivi for the rest of its colonial history.
In 1976, the South African administration established the pseudo-independent Eastern Caprivi homeland with its own flag, national anthem, and coat of arms. It remained under direct de facto control of the South African government in Pretoria until 1980, when its administration was transferred to South Africa's administration in Windhoek.
In the late 20th century, the Caprivi Strip attracted attention when Namibia and Botswana took a long-standing dispute over its southern boundary to the International Court of Justice. The core of the territorial dispute concerned which channel of the Chobe River was the thalweg, the bona fide international boundary. This was important, as, depending on the decision, a large island (known as Kasikili or Seddudu, by Namibia and Botswana respectively) would fall into one or the other's national territory. The Botswana government considered the island as an integral part of the Chobe National Park, whereas the Namibian government, and many inhabitants of the eastern Caprivi Strip, held that not only was the island part of the original German–British agreement, but generations of inhabitants had used it for seasonal grazing, for reed-gathering, and as a burial site. In December 1999, the International Court of Justice ruled that the main channel, and hence the international boundary, lay to the north of the island, thus making the island part of Botswana.
The Caprivi Strip is of politico-strategic military importance. During the Rhodesian Bush War (1964–1979), South West African People Organization's and Caprivi African National Union (CANU) liberation war against the South African occupation (1965–1994) and the Angolan Civil War (1975–2002), the Strip saw continual military action and multiple incursions by various armed forces using the Strip as a corridor to access other territories.
The Caprivi conflict involved an armed conflict in Namibia between the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA), a rebel group aiming for the secession of the Caprivi Strip led by Mishake Muyongo, and the Namibian government. Its main eruption occurred on 2 August 1999 when the CLA launched an attack in Katima Mulilo, occupying the state-run radio station and attacking a police station, the Wenela border post, and an army base. Namibian armed forces quashed the attempt at secession within a few days.
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