Sunday, 10 March 2013

German's 'forgot' Victoria Falls

When Leo von Caprivi negotiated the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty with Britain, swapping the vibrant trading islands of Zanzibar for a narrow strip of swampland connecting German East Africa (modern day Namibia) to the Zambezi River, he apparently forogt one of the world's greatest natural wonders, the Victoria Falls.
Von Caprivi succeeded Otto von Bismarck as the German Chancellor in 1890. His administration warmed toward Great Britain, and a few months later he signed an agreement trading the islands of Zanzibar to the British in exchange for Heligoland, an island group in the North Sea. Bundled in the deal to Germany negotiated a bonus, a little strip of northern Bechuanaland, no wider than 20 miles across in some places, specifically aimed to give access to the Zambezi River. This, the Germans thought, would give them a navigable route to the Indian Ocean and Germany’s East African territories (modern-day Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi).
Like Livingstone's dream to open up the heart of Africa to Christianity and commerce from the Indian Ocean, their ambitions were dashed by the nature of the Zambezi River. Rapids and swamps above the Victoria Falls make the river difficult enough for navigation, but the Falls themseves, followed by the twisting Batoka Gorge, not to mention Kariba Gorge and Cahora Bassa, put pay to any such ambitions. Even today, with Kariba and Cahora Bassa Gorges drowned beneath mand-made lakes, the river remains stubbornly impassable to navigation. Even the planned Batoka and Devil's Gorge dams will leave one unsurmountable obstacle - the Victoria Falls.
Von Caprivi's political rival Bismarck huffed that the Heligoland trade had been a bust, and that Germany had traded away its "trousers for a button." Count von Caprivi died in 1899, but the problems caused by his accidental strip live on.

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