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Dr. David Livingstone saw the Zambezi River as "God's Highway" to the Seaa

by Ronald Lwamba
(Lusaka, Zambia)

Dr. David Livingstone saw the Zambezi River as “God’s Highway” to the sea but unfortunately God had other ideas. During his first journey down the Zambezi River, he came across the Falls and named them, Victoria Falls. After the falls he rejoined the river at Kariba Gorge but on his second journey, in 1860, he went down the valley itself with a fleet of canoes. There was so much hope placed on the Zambezi River to provide access to the sea that the German Chancellor Leo von Caprivi negotiated the acquisition of the Caprivi Strip (named after him) with the United Kingdom in exchange for Zanzibar and another island in the North Sea in order to give Germany access to the Zambezi River and a route to Africa’s east coast, where the German colony Tanganyika was situated. Later on Dr Livingstone took into account the Victoria Falls and Kariba gorge on the navigability of the Zambezi River and therefore suggested to have a port for steamers near the confluence of the Zambezi and Kafue Rivers. Unfortunately the whole grand scheme collapsed in ruin and recrimination when it was discovered that the Cahora Bassa gorge in Mozambique, which Livingstone had not inspected, made God’s Highway totally unnavigable. It is my hope that in future a canal with locks can be constructed to bypass the Cahora Bassa Dam to provide Zambia possibly with the participation of Botswana, Malawi and Zimbabwe access to the sea, whose economic impact can perhaps be comparable to the Panama Canal for the USA or the mighty Mississippi River.The question can be asked now, would Zambia have been better off having access to the sea rather than the gorges that impede navigability of the river had God been more magnanimous, some of which have been exploited for electricity? Although easy access to Zambia would have also resulted in increased slave trade during the slave trade era, I think Zambia would have been better off because it has other hydropower development options.

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