Zambesia, formerly known as Sebitwane country, Makololo country and Sekeletu country, was a nation that was established long before the British and the German protectorates were instituted in 1884 and 1885 respectively. However, after the colonial territories were divided and became independent states, the Zambesi peoples found themselves divided over a number of countries, and they are now fragmented, struggling to maintain their own culture. This has also led to its people being oppressed and being denied the opportunity to manage its own affairs including natural resources for the benefit of its people.
Zambesians today, identify themselves within Namibia as indigenous peoples of Caprivi, although the State just recognizes them as Namibians from the Zambezi region.
Over 98,000 people live in the Zambezi Region of Namibia, which is about four percent of Namibia's citizens. The population is mostly composed of subsistence farmers who make their living on the banks of the Zambezi, Kwando, Linyanti and Chobe Rivers. Kavango East, on the other hand, houses around 148.000 people.
It is a region with significant agricultural potential due to the abundance of rain.
Most of these communities still live in rural areas far away from the capital city of Windhoek. They face challenges such as poverty, inadequate water and sanitation provisions, under-nutrition and general under-development.
Lack of indigenous status
Namibia’s First Nations make up about 8% of the total population9 and reside in various regions throughout the country. While the Constitution of Namibia, in its Article 10.2, prohibits discrimination on the grounds of ethnic or tribal affiliation, it does not specifically recognize the rights of indigenous peoples or minorities, and there is no national legislation dealing directly with indigenous peoples.
Many communities have been dispossessed of their traditional lands and, therefore, can’t sustain their livelihood and ancestral way of life. There are, nevertheless, over 50 recognized Traditional Authorities, who are entrusted with the allocation of communal land and the formulation of the traditional group's customary laws. However, the competencies granted to them do not entail core competencies of the state, like tax collection or control over executive organs.
This lack of legal status leads to little to no political representation or protection, which generates serious challenges concerning the implementation and maintenance of economic, social and cultural rights. In this regard, Zambesians are significantly affected, suffering from issues such Isolation and discrimination, Business development, land disputes and environmental degradation, and lack of Freedom of speech and political participation.
Isolation and discrimination :
The Caprivi Strip remained a rural area and its inhabitants live very far from the power. There’s not even a single railway16 connecting its people to the capital city, which is the political and economic hub of the country. Caprivians try to survive by fishing, hunting and working the land, but the job creation is very weak and the public investments are scarce. Despite possessing a huge potential in the agricultural, tourism, transport and logistics sectors, the region is underdeveloped and poverty-stricken. According to the Poverty Mapping Report launched in 2015 by the National Planning Commission (NPC), the poorest regions in the country are the rural northern regions of Kavango, Oshikoto, Zambezi, Kunene and Ohangwena with more than one third of the population in these areas being poor. On the National level, the World Bank17 estimates that 390,000 Namibians live under the international poverty line of US$1.9/day and overall unemployment rate is at approximately 33.4 percent
Business development, land disputes and environmental degradation
In 2019, Namibia Oriental Tobacco CC, a locally registered society owned by a multinationalforeign company, was given approval to lease 10.000 hectares of land to set a tobacco plantation in Zambesia solely for export. The parcel is located outside Katima Mulilo, the capital of the Zambezi Region, and it is communal land within the jurisdiction of the Mafwe Traditional Authority. The project was strongly criticized22 and opposed on all public platforms. Local residents argue that the parcel should be used to grow food, since the region has suitable fertile soils and suffers from widespread poverty and hunger. The decision has also health, ecological and environmental repercussions, being biodiversity loss, soil erosion and water pollution the main concerns. Moreover, the plantation is in contravention with Article 17 and 18 of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC)23which Namibia acceded to in February 2006.
Freedom of speech and political participation
Namibia is a multiparty democracy although the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) has been in power since the country gained independence on 21 March 1990. Protections for political rights and civil liberties are generally robust, scoring 77 out of 100 in the Freedom House 2020 assessment. Also, the Republic of Namibia is Africa’s best ranked country in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index32. However, some minority groups such as the Zambesians find their freedoms disproportionately limited under national unity and security concerns. 31.Zambesians are forced to hold online clandestine gatherings, since they are not allowed to have meetings nor demonstrations to discuss political matters regarding self-determination. The Namibian Constitution33 guarantees all persons in Namibia 'freedom of speech and expression' and 'freedom to assemble peaceably and without arms'. However, Article 21.2 of the said Constitution also states that the fundamental freedoms can be subject to reasonable restrictions imposed in the name of national security, sovereignty, national integrity, public order, decency or morality. This is being used to limit Zambesians’ freedom of expression when it comes to share their political views with the public and express their desire to choosefreely their own political status. 32.On the 28th October 2019 the Zambezi Region police stopped a planned demonstration by members of the United Democratic Party (UDP)34, which advocates for the independence of the Caprivi Strip. The party was outlawed in 2006 as it was seen the political wing of the Caprivi Liberation Army. Regional police commissioner Karel Theron stated the following during a media briefing: ‘Zambezi region is a part of Namibia and there is nothing else to discuss. Therefore, we will not allow them to demonstrate today or tomorrow because there is no Caprivi strip, there's only Namibia’.
Similarly, on 8th July 2018 a public meeting organized by the Caprivi Concerned Group, another pro-independence movement, was disrupted by the police and six leaders were arrested35. They were detained at Liselo village, some 10 kilometers outside Katima Mulilo, after the police allegedly received information that a meeting was meant to discuss the secession of the Zambezi region from Namibia. The group appeared shortly after in court on charges of sedition and incitement to commit public violence36. Bail was denied to them although they were released four days after.
In December 2015, Namibia’s High Court delivered judgment on the so-called Caprivi Treason Trial and most of the initially accused were acquitted, after a decade behind bars. During the 2016 UPR, Austria asked Namibia to provide adequate compensation for the absolved, but the said recommendation was noted. In this regard, in May 2020, Richwell Kulisesa Mahupelo37, one of the many affected, lost a lawsuit in which he sued the government for N$15,3 million. Despite having spent 13 years in jail before being found not guilty, the Supreme Court dismissed his claim for constitutional damages.35.The trial is the longest and largest in the history of Namibia38 and dates back to 1999, when 132 men from the Caprivi Strip were arrested for the uprising led by the Caprivi Liberation Army. They were charged with high treason, sedition and murder, among other things. In 2013, forty-three (43) were discharged; in 2015 thirty-five were acquitted and thirty (30) convicted; and 24 died while in custody. The trial is not over yet, since there are still appeals to be examined.