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The Scramble For Chobe (II)

In our last instalment we noted that the Anglo-German colonial scramble for control of Ngamiland and the middle Zambezi intensified during the second half of 1886 with the publication of a German Imperial Ordinance affirming its formal claims to the region.

This instrument further coincided with an agreement over the boundary between then Portuguese Angola and German South West Africa, which recognised Germany’s claims to the territory that “runs in a straight line to the east till it reaches the cataracts of Catima [Katima Mulilo] on the Zambesi.”

Before 1890, however, Germany’s territorial claims into South West Africa and beyond were not matched by an effective administration on the ground. Initially, the imperial Government under the aging Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had expected the German Colonial Company of South West Africa or “DKG” (Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft) to take the lead in developing the area.

But, the undercapitalised DKG only initiated a few small scale projects, while for its part the imperial government limited its expenditure between 1885 and 1889 to the posting of a mere three officials, including the governor Hienrich Ernest Goering. Working out of a mission school’s classroom in the Ovaherero village of Otjimbingwe, Goering and his subordinates issued a total of six regulations in their first three years, none of which were enforced.

When, in late 1888, the Ovaherero ruler Maharero nullified his Protection Treaty ,the Otjimbingwe office was hastily evacuated.

The German officials then fled to British occupied Walvis Bay, advising other Europeans to do the same.

Faced with the options of either pulling out of South West Africa or deepening their commitment, the authorities in Berlin decided to establish a military presence.

On June 24, 1889, troops under the command of Captain Curt von Francois landed at Walvis Bay.

With the permanent departure of Goering in August 1890 Von Francois became the senior German official in the territory. But, German authority in the interior was for some time limited to the area around Windhoek, where Von Francois established his headquarters in October 1890.

At the time, Britain’s expansion into northern Botswana, as well as modern Zambia and Zimbabwe, was being driven by the ambitions of Cecil Rhodes. After obtaining under dubious circumstances a mineral concession from the Amandebele King Lobengula, Rhodes was able to attract capital and political backing for his proposed British South Africa Company (BSACo.).

In September 1889 said company was given a Royal Charter by the British government, which in essence authorised it to establish its political as well as economic authority over areas of Central Africa not under the jurisdiction of another European colonial authority.

Earlier the Administrator of Bechuanaland, Rhodes’ senior henchman Sir Sidney Shippard, aka “Morena Maaka”, had received a

January 8, 1889 letter from the missionary François Coillard expressing the Malozi [Barotse] Litunga or King Lewanika’s interest in having the protection of the English government in terms like those enjoyed by his ally, the Bangwato Kgosi Khama III.

In 1884, Lewanika had sought and received Khama’s help in enticing the Paris Evangelical Mission to extend its presence into Bulozi [Barotseland] from its then regional base in Lesotho.

The establishment of the said mission, whose first station was located at Leshoma, was facilitated by the residence in Bulozi of Khama’s personal envoy Makoatsa, who was proactive in ensuring the missionaries initial wellbeing.

In this respect, he had been instrumental in upholding their security during a period of unrest when Lewanika’s royal authority was internally challenged.

Soon after his restoration to power, Lewanika first raised the issue of seeking British protection. As reported by Coillard, his spokesperson the Ngambela Mwauluka informed a large meeting at the Litunga’s Kuta [Kgotla] that: “Barotsi, we are threatened with enemies from without and from within.

I have sought missionaries for you so that you should not fall behind others nations...the Chief Khama has missionaries, but he also has “masole” [i.e. Bechuanaland Border Police]. They go together, so if you like the missionaries ask Satory [Queen Victoria] to send us her soldiers.”

Coillard had further reported that the majority present were strongly opposed to the proposal, declaring:

“If you will have the masole let them come, but not while we are here. We serve you because you are King and Sovereign; but if you become motlanka, the subject of a master and foreigner that is a humiliation the Barotsi will never accept.”

Meanwhile, on April 7, 1889 the British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Loch telegraphed the Colonial Office that: “Rhodes informs me that his Board are urging that the Barotze Country and Consul Johnston’s concessions be included in the British sphere of influence.

I concur and urge that the continuous connection to Nyassa [Malawi] and Tanganyika be secured.”

For his part, Rhodes sent an agent named Frank Lochner to Lewanika to secure a concession for the B.S.A.Co., while also buying out and earlier mineral concession to a portion of Bulozi allegedly obtained by Harry Ware.

Lochner, who resigned his commission in the Bechuanaland Border Police to proceed on Rhodes mission, succeeded, with some misrepresentation, in getting Lewanika to sign an agreement on June 27, 1890, on the eve of a landmark Anglo-German agreement.

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