Tuesday 11 May 2021

Caprivi Strip

I tell ya b'ys, cigars have a lot to answer for. In the 19thC a lot of patriarchal silverbacks got round tables in Europe and mapped out parts of the world where none of them had ever been; all quite certain that they were doing good for their country. British patriarchs additionally deluded themselves that they were also doing good for the people who finished on at least one side of any line they drew on the map. Anglophone writing of history asserts that their Belgian [Casement] and German counterparts were more inclined to other the natives if not actually deny their humanity. Whatever the motivations, it is undeniable that lines were drawn on maps which were largely terra incognita. There is no truth in the urban legend that the Verebinsky Bypass, a kink in the railway line between Petersburg and Moscow, represents the Ruler's finger protruding over the the edge of the rule.

A few days ago I was writing about the button [Heligoland] on Bismarck's trousers [Zanzibar] and hinted that the Caprivi Strip was part of the same negotiation. The cartoon [L] of Southern Africa may remind old-time Blobbers of a similar outlandish shape in South-Central Asia which I characterised as "the map of Afghanistan features a strange scut tail reaching East to fondle the backside of China". The resulting Wakhan Corridor is 300km long but only 15km wide in places. The Caprivi strip is bigger: 450km long and 30km wide. The narrow shaft of of the dick strip has those suspiciously ruler-straight lines which indicate that neither side has had boots on the ground or theodolites in their saddle-bags. Here be a bit more detail:

In 1890, when the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty was signed, the German political zeitgeist was shifting its focus from boots on the ground [and pickelhaube on the head] in Europe to a colonial empire across the sea, like the Brits had. "Face" and optics were at least as important as economics. In 1887, sod was turned for the Kiel Canal, a route that would connect Baltic and North Sea Germany avoiding the Skagerrak. The Kaiser opened the canal in June 1895. Water transport was definitely in the air when the diplomats were throwing shapes around the HZT table. The German delegation mused Wouldn't it be nice to have a direct connexion between our South-West Africa [NM now] and our East Africa [TZ] colonies?

The British side realised that this gave them an extra card to play and, after a lot of blather and bluster and show of reluctance, graciously pulled back the skirts of Botswana to allow German SW Africa to get a sniff of the mighty Zambesi river where it turned East at the border with Zambia. This gave the German Empire about 100km of prime river-front property in the middle of Africa. They were delighted to have put one over on the Brits. The Brits were beside themselves with glee because they knew the Zambesi fell off a cliff 40km downstream of the new German territory at the Victoria Falls. No amount of locks would get German steamers past that.

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