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Neither Arbitrary nor Artificial: Chiefs and the Making of the Namibia-Zambia Borderland

Wolfgang Zeller

Abstract


In the late 1990s a separatist movement emerged in Namibia’s northeastern Caprivi Region. In the aftermath of an armed uprising in 1999 speculation emerged regarding a possible link between the Caprivi secessionists and Lozi separatists across the border in Zambia’s Western Province. The Lozi heritage certainly has continuing relevance for Caprivi’s population. Through language, kinship relations and economic exchange it serves as an integrative factor of everyday life in the Namibia/Zambia borderland. But the Caprivi secessionists had no intentions of re-creating a united Lozi kingdom. The present-day positions of authority by the “traditional” leaders of the Fwe (the support base of the secessionists) and other groups in Caprivi were, in fact, created by the territorial separation and system of indirect rule imposed by the German colonial authorities. Thus, the colonial border served vested interests in Caprivi from the outset. Rather than reverting to an imagined pre-colonial past, the secessionists’ territorial claim emerged from a more recent legacy of pre-independence state formation: The apartheid regime’s attempt to create a Caprivi Bantustan. As in the case of the colonial boundary, this legacy caused new political realities and vested interests to emerge on the ground in Caprivi. Today, informal cross-border business ventures in the Namibia/Zambia borderland are flourishing. The border is once again at the center of vested interests of those who live in its proximity. To call this border “arbitrary” or “artificial” therefore ignores the fact that in nearly 12 decades it has very much become part of the socioeconomic and political landscape of Caprivi.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229

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