About ‘Imaginary Zambesia and imperial cartography’

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I am referring to the statements and other largely unsubstantiated claims contained in the weekly column, entitled ‘Mubita’s Anecdote’. The column is written by international relations expert Dr Charles Mubita. These statements and claims were published in New Era newspaper on Friday, March 4, 2016 under the title “Imaginary Zambesia and Imperial Cartography”.

In the column Dr Mubita targets two groups of Namibians. The first group consists of those Namibians whom he accuses of wanting to be “seen as sole authorities on the history of the Zambezi Region”, in general, and, in particular, where the original location of that territory or region was.

According to Dr Mubita, this group of Namibians “tends to reinforce the sentiments of those who want secession of the region”. I dare observe however in passing that his column, perhaps inadvertently, tends to do practically the same.

The second group comprises those whom Dr Mubita says testified during the recently concluded marathon Caprivi high treason trial (CHTT).

According to Dr Mubita, this group includes NamRights and other “concerned” Namibians, whom he says claim that the Zambezi Region (Caprivi Strip) “has never been part of Namibia, and that it has always been part of Zambesia, and therefore should be either returned to Zambesia, or left alone”.

Dr Mubita then rhetorically says he is amazed that the same people, who testified during the CHTT, “claim that ‘Caprivi’ is their preferred name”. Dr Mubita prefers the name Itenge.

Since NamRights has been mentioned, I, as its executive director, want to exercise my right of reply to most of Dr Mubita’s statements and or claims. Right in the beginning I concede that as a student of international relations, which includes political science and history, Dr Mubita has a fair idea about the history and/or origin of Zambesia. This much is clear from his column.

However, Dr Mubita’s column is generally rhetorical and contains whole paraphernalia of contradictions and misstatements, as well as non-statements of facts. In my reply I will try to rectify some of these things in the following terms:

Dr. Mubita shows very little cause, if any at all, to demonstrate and or refute my expert testimony during the CHTT that Caprivi Strip (or his preferred name of Itenge) was never part of the German Protectorate of South West Africa (GSWA) and, consequently, Namibia. Very little does Dr Mubita seem to know that the colonial boundaries of GSWA were established, declared and/or constituted on October 13, 1884 and ratified during the “Scramble for Africa” (i.e. Berlin Conference). That conference was also where the boundaries of colonial Africa as a whole were demarcated by European colonisers. Officially, this conference ran from mid-November 1884 to late-February 1885.

Therefore, and as matter of fact, the colonial boundaries of GSWA as declared on October 13, 1884 did not even go beyond what is known today as the Red Line, or alternatively the Police Zone. Hence, GSWA did not include Kaokoland, Amboland and Kavangoland, let alone Caprivi Strip, which was part of the British protectorates of Bechuanaland (established on March 31, 1885) and/or Barotseland (established on January 8, 1889). Little does Dr Mubita tend to know that Zambesia included the whole of Barotseland and the British crown colonies Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland – all declared in 1890. Kaokoland, Amboland (which some people called “Ovamboland”) and Kavangoland were never colonised by anyone.

So, if Germany is the predecessor state of Namibia (and I fully agree that this is indeed, so), then you can clearly understand my factual and legal statements that Caprivi Strip (or Itenge) has never been part of GSWA. Consequently, that territory known and described as Eastern Caprivi Zipfel was not and is not now part of Namibia. This is also why and how Namibia unlawfully annexed the Caprivi Strip only in July 1999 in terms of the Application of Laws to the Eastern Caprivi Zipfel Act 1999 (Act 10 of 1999).

Dr Mubita not surprisingly also shows very little – if any – understanding of the legal meaning and interpretation of the doctrine of uti possidetis juris (UPJ), to which the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) fully subscribes since 1964. In simple terms, this doctrine, which originated from Latin America, dictates that colonial boundaries will be kept and/or maintained and/or observed after the achievement of independence from colonialism.

The second misstatement and/or non-statement of facts is that, while Dr Mubita says that “only a portion of present day Zambezi Region” was part of Zambesia, he all of sudden appears to forget to pinpoint where the other portion(s) of Caprivi Strip or Itenge were located. Of course, those portions were located in the British Barotseland Protectorate, which has itself since 1890 been part of Zambesia entirely!

The third misstatement of facts by Dr Mubita is his claim that King Sebetwane (whom he spelt “Sibitwane”) was “one of the Lozi kings”. Sebetwane was not a Lozi, but rather a Sotho (or Makololo) king, who had conquered the Lozi kingdom between 1820 and 1840. After he had established his capital at Naliele in Barotseland, King Sebetwane moved southward to Linyanti in 1849-1850. This is where he met Scottish missionary-cum-explorer David Livingstone in 1851. Moreover, it is thanks to the ruthlessness of Sebetwane that the Damara people (as the Herero people were known then) fled the Lake Ngami area to present-day Namibia.

In yet another contradiction, Dr Mubita then drops a bombshell on the Namibian and Botswana governments. He says that when the two governments contested the Kasikili-Sedudu Island through the International Court of Justice (ICJ), “both governments were guilty of not citing the ancient cultural claims to the island, nor the preferences of its inhabitants and their traditional chiefs, nor even their own national interests, if they had any”. This is true. However, what Dr Mubita does not mention is the fact that the ICJ dismissed Namibia’s claim of title or sovereignty over Kasikili-Sedudu Island through prescription, acquiescence and recognition. This ICJ decision is at least partially based on the UPJ doctrine and on the fact that Germany, which is the predecessor state of Namibia, had no effective control and or authority and or sovereignty over that island.

Hence, if Germany had no sovereignty over Kasikili-Sedudu Island, which is an integral part of Caprivi Strip, you can ipso facto rest assured that Namibia had no – and/or still does not have – sovereignty over Caprivi Strip as a whole! Here, you can again see and understand the basis of my legal position that Caprivi Strip was not and is still not lawfully part of the national territory of Namibia!

Nonetheless, in the end I congratulate Dr Mubita for raising this very important issue about the original location and consequently the legal status of Itenge, which many lawyers and even certain judges fail to understand.
* Phil ya Nangoloh is a public international law expert, human rights practitioner and executive director of NamRights.

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