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Opinion - Abrogating the Anglo-Germany Treaty of 1 July 1890

2021-11-10  Prof Makala Lilemba

Opinion - Abrogating the Anglo-Germany Treaty of 1 July 1890
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The Botswana-Namibia Boundary Treaty was signed on 5 February 2018 in Windhoek by the two heads of state, Dr Hage Geingob and Lt. Dr Khama Ian Khama of the Republics of Namibia and Botswana respectively without consultations of traditional and political leaders in the Zambezi region

It is important to understand the circumstances surrounding the opposition to the treaty in terms of the historical and political backgrounds of the two countries. Bechuanaland Protectorate was established by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 31 March 1885, while the colonisation of German South West Africa by the German Empire began in 1884. Later on, the Union of South Africa assumed responsibility for the Administration of the Territory of South West Africa and Caprivi Zipfel under the Covenant of the League of Nations on 17 December 1920. Botswana achieved self-rule and independence on 30 September 1966 while Namibia became independent on 21 March 1990. The route to Botswana independence was smooth and peaceful while Namibia waged a war of liberation. Nine years after independence, Namibia witnessed secessionist attacks in an attempt to dismember the Zambezi region.


Berlin Conference of 1884 -1885

The region resorted under the Luyana Kingdom (Barotseland) until five years later when the Anglo-Germany Treaty commonly known as Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty was signed on 1 July 1890. The region was then renamed Caprivi after the German Chancellor Georg Leo Graf von Caprivi de Caprera de Montecuccoli. In creating the sphere of influence in the Caprivi Strip, it outraged geography and all common sense by carving out a territory in an arbitrary fashion in order to give his nation access to the Zambezi and a route half across Africa, without the knowledge and permission of the inhabitants. In the Anglo-Germany Treaty, Britain got Heligoland in the North Sea and the Zanzibar Islands while Germany settled for the Caprivi as a sphere of influence. 

The former Caprivi Strip ran from the Kavango River in the West, to the Mashi River, making a narrow corridor to the junction of Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. This strip of land as per treaty was 300 miles long and 20 miles in some places especially between Botswana and Angola. This arrangement and partition was outrageous as it meant to offer free access to the German colonizers of South West Africa at the expense of the local people


Aftermath of the first world war

The great powers deliberately failed to correct the errors of geography by cutting Caprivi off from the rest of South West Africa and offering the Mandate to Great Britain. The fact that Caprivi was taken by Britain from German on 14 September 1914 signaled the end of the Heligoland treaty of 1890. This treaty was not a colonial boundary demarcation, but only a sphere of influence which did not confer any territorial rights of any legal status upon any state. Despite this reluctance, there were ideas of incorporating Caprivi with Northern Rhodesia, because there is on record an eight-paged submission under the authorship of Venning, Assistant Magistrate, Sesheke, to that effect. The chief secretary, Northern Rhodesia, sent a copy of this document to the secretary for South West Africa under the cover of a letter of 8 July 1930 without any response from the latter.


Abrogation of Anglo-Germany Treaty

In signing the 2018 Botswana-Namibia Boundary Treaty, the two heads of state at the same time, abrogated the treaty. Article 16 of the Treaty reads as follows: “The Anglo-Germany treaty of 1 July 1890 between Great Britain and Germany respecting Zanzibar, Heligoland and respecting the sphere of influence of the two countries in Africa particularly Article III (2) of that Treaty and any other Article in so far as it is applicable to the delimitation and demarcation of the Boundary between the Contracting Parties are abrogated. The Anglo-Germany Treaty is no longer effective meaning the Region can resort to its pre-colonial state. 


OAU resolution

Despite the two countries acknowledging Resolution AHG/Res. 16(1) adopted by the 1st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity, held in Cairo, Egypt from 17 to 21 July 1964, on the principle of respect of borders existing at the time of accession to national independence, which principle was further affirmed by the International Court of Justice in the Kasikili/Sedudu Island, Botswana v Namibia Judgement Merits [1999] ICJ Reports at p.1045. The two heads of state went ahead to abrogate the Treaty of 1890. 


Precedence of abrogating colonial boundaries

If boundaries can simply be readjusted, then nothing can stop other countries from calling for their own boundaries alignment. In this case, the Lozis have a historical legitimate claim to the Zambezi region. This implies that other affected parts on the Africa continent may claim the realignment of their borders, which will ultimately create the chaotic pre-colonial situation in Africa.


Potential conflicts and skirmishes

These cases may lead to fully blown out conflicts and eventually spilling into civil wars and cross border conflicts. It is equally important to state here that the Botswana Defence Force has on a number of occasions shot and killed Namibians allegedly found poaching on the Botswana side of the border. It is not an understatement to state that the treaty was indeed abrogated in bad faith.

2021-11-10  Prof Makala Lilemba

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