The coming of colonial rule to Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, which resulted in the partitioning of the Zambesi-Linyandi region, were interconnected episodes in the broader late 19th century European scramble for Africa.
On April 24, 1884 the Germans caught the British off guard by proclaiming a Protectorate over the Namib coast south of the Cape Colony’s enclave at Walvis Bay.
This proclamation was preceded by the negotiation in 1883-84 of a number of dubious concessions from minor coastal rulers by a merchant named Albert Luderitz, who used them as a basis for claiming the territory on behalf of his German Colonial Society, whose legal successor was the German Colonial Company of South West Africa or “DKG” (Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft fur Sudwestafrika ).
By the end of 1884, German protection of claims negotiated by Luderitz’s had been extended along Namibia’s northern coast from Walvis Bay to just north of Cape Frio (18 24’) and some 20 miles inland.
This area was the nucleus of German South West Africa, whose final boundaries were only established by the Luso-German agreement of December 30, 1886 and Anglo-German agreement of July 1, 1890.
The German move into Namibia was audacious given that between 1876 and 1878 a British Special Commissioner, William Palgrave, had signed treaties with a number of Namibian groups, including Maharero’s Ovaherero, Afrikaner’s Orlams, the Rehobathers and Bondelswarts Nama.
In the later year Palgrave’s efforts had been rewarded with the proclamation of a British protectorate over large area of central Namibia then labelled Damaraland, as well as the annexation to the Cape Colony of Walvis Bay.
To the east Batswana lands up to the Molopo River were also occupied, while moves were then under way to establish imperial authority over Botswana proper.
But, in 1880, a change of government in London accompanied by military reverses vis-a-vis the Transvaal Boers and Amazulu resulted temporary British pullback throughout the region.
While its protectorate over Damaraland lapsed, Namibia was still regarded by officials within Her Majesty’s Colonial Office and Cape Colony administration as lying within Britain’s natural sphere of influence.
Notwithstanding its past commitments, Britain communicated its acquiescence to the German Protectorate in southern Namibia in June 21, 1884. his followed communications between the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Granville, in which the former linked his government’s attitude towards the British occupation of Egypt with Britain’s stance toward Germany’s Namibian expansion.
In renouncing its Namibian claims the British government rejected calls by both the Cape Colony’s parliament and Ovaherero that the Namibian interior be placed under British rule.
A December 29, 1884 Ovaherero “Deed of Cession of Damaraland to the English Government” was turned down in a March 5, 1885 letter from
The arrival of a rival German imperial presence in mineral rich southern Africa encouraged Britain to return to an aggressive policy of regional expansion, whose immediate result was an Order-in-Council dated January 27, 1885 through which a British Protectorate was proclaimed over Botswana “south of the 22nd parallel of south latitude” thus blocking the Germans eastward expansion to the gold rich South African Republic or Transvaal.
Throughout 1885 German agents sought to expand their country’s jurisdiction into the Namibian interior.
By the end of the year a number of local rulers, including Maharero, had signed treaties accepting German protection, though others, such as the Nama leader Hendrick Witbooi, refused to recognise Berlin’s authority in any way.
With the Anglo-German boundary in the Kalahari still undefined north of the 22nd parallel of south latitude, one three man German scouting party toured parts of northern Botswana, reaching Shoshong via Ngamiland, but did not conclude any treaties.
German designs for Ngamiland were, nonetheless, reflected in a July 1886 map produced by their Colonial Office, which showed the area as a sphere of influence.
This map is also notable in underscoring the inferior nature of official German geographic knowledge of northern Botswana, especially the Okavango-Linyandi region, although the area had been frequently visited by Europeans, mostly Boers and British, over the previous four decades.
The earliest prominent German “explorers” in the area were A. Hammar and A. Schultz, who journeyed along the south bank of the in 1884.
Publication of the July 1886 map was followed by “Article One of the German Imperial Ordinance no. 26 dated the December 30,1886”, in which Germany claimed territory running to the Zambezi River. Said ordinance coincided with the Luso-German agreement of the same date, whose English text read:
“The boundary which separates the German from the Portuguese possessions in South West Africa follows the course of the Kunene River from the its mouth to those waterfalls which are formed to the south of Humbe where the Kunene breaks through the Serra Canna; thence it runs along the parallel till it reaches the Kubango; thence it follows the course of this river as far as the place Andara which is left in the sphere in which the exercise of influence is reserved for Germany; thence it runs in a straight line to the east till if reaches the cataracts of Catima on the Zambesi.”