Caprivi in Namibia
The pan-handle shaped Caprivi Region is a land of fertile, flat flood plains surrounded by perennial rivers, a far cry from the arid lands of the Kalahari or the Namib-Naukluft. The area is crossed by three major rivers; the Zambezi, the Kavango and the Kwando/Linyati/Chobe (names confusingly change depending on what country you're in), which form the boundaries between Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Angola and Zimbabwe. The regional centre is Katima Mulilo, a busy commercial town on the banks of the Zambezi. Don't dwell in town: the attractions of the region are the tranquil lodges, plentiful game and bird life and beautiful river scenery, centred in the rarely visited game parks. All four parks - Mahango, Mudumu, Mamili and the new Bwabwata - offer a similar experience, with few tourist facilities, made up for by pristine woodland and riverine flood plain with abundant local and migrant wildlife. The lodges in this region make the most of their riverside settings and are well worth settling in for a for days to enjoy the scenery and the activities. These include sunset river cruises on pontoons, canoeing, watersports, fishing, off-road driving and game viewing, before continuing into Botswana to visit the magnificent Chobe Game Park and Zimbabwe or Zambia for the famous Victoria Falls. It is only a two-hour drive from Katima to Livingstone in Zambia and a three-hour drive from Katima to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. At the extreme eastern end of the strip and usually accessed from Botswana, are the isolated lodges surrounded by rippling beds of water lilies and tall baobabs on Impalila Island where the Zambezi and Chobe rivers converge. In the Zambezi at the eastern end of the island is the exact point where Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe all meet.
Ins and outs
Ins and outs
The eastern part of the region is verdant and lush, with very little development, and it is blessed with some fabulous forests and rivers and a wide variety of wildlife. Visits to any of the game parks will always be remembered for their remote beauty, great variety of flora and range (if not profusion) of game. The regional capital, Katima Mulilo, is well served by banks and shops and has a good range of accommodation. Elsewhere, basic homesteads are dotted infrequently along the roadsides and the parks have few or no tourist facilities whatsoever. Regular rainfall and floods support a riverine and
ecosystem, sometimes as much as 80% underwater, with plentiful game and bird life but accessible only by boat and 4WD for much of the year. All the attractions in the region are on or off the B8 but beware when driving off the main tarred road: sand, mud or water can slow progress and fray nerves.
The Caprivi Strip is a classic example of how the former colonial powers shaped the boundaries of modern Africa . The strip is 500 km long, at its narrowest only 32 km wide, while at the eastern end it bulges to almost 100 km wide before narrowing to a point at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers where the boundaries of Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana convene.
During the struggle for independence, the Caprivi Region was home to the South African Army and police and, as a consequence, no one really knows what went on up here. There were secret army camps, the airfield at Mpacha (now Katima Mulilo) was used for air strikes into Angola and Zambia, and the region was closed to anyone who didn't live here or have a legitimate reason for visiting. From the early 1960s until 1990 the region was in a constant state of war. There was a brief resurgence of 'trouble' in late 1999 following a discovery by the Namibian government who claimed to have unearthed a plot, led by former DTA opposition leader Mishake Muyongo and others, to launch an armed rebellion aiming to secede the Caprivi Region from the rest of Namibia.
Also during this period, in a series of separate incidents, tourists were regularly being mugged while driving along the Kongola to Divundu Strip, and an increasing number of cars were flagged down by people posing as military before having their contents liberated. This came to a peak in December 1999 with a tragic incident in which three French tourists were not just robbed but brutally murdered. No one claimed responsibility and no one was caught and brought to trial. The government's claim that it was the work of UNITA rebels from Angola (however, this is unlikely given the proximity to Namibia's main military base on the strip, Omega III) underlined the sense of lawlessness in the area and caused all western governments to declare it a no-go zone. Virtually overnight, the number of tourists visiting the area fell to zero. Added to this, West Caprivians, in particular, had to live for 27 years with the Angolan war on their border, until the April 2002 ceasefire.
The region has been without incident for a number of years now and peace has been restored in Angola, flights and road travel are operational again and the extreme north of the country is safe and rewarding to visit, although the local communities remain poorly off, economically, as a result of the last few years of conflict.