Katima Mulilo is a town situated in the Caprivi strip and is the capital of the Zambezi Region, Namibia's far northeast extension into central Southern Africa.
It comprises two electoral constituencies, Katima Mulilo Rural and Katima Mulilo Urban. Katima Mulilo, which is sometimes shortened to just "Katima", had 28,362 inhabitants in 2010, It is located on the national road B8 on the banks of the Zambezi River in lush riverine vegetation with tropical birds and monkeys.
The town receives an annual average rainfall of 654 millimetres (25.7 in).
The name comes from the SiLozi for quench the fire, referring to nearby rapids in the Zambezi. From early days and before the advent of fire-lighting matches, there was river transport by barge propelled by paddlers along the Zambesi from Livingstone to Sesheke, on past the Ngonye Falls at Sioma, where an attempt was made in about 1905 to bypass the Falls with a canal;barges were unloaded and dragged by oxen round the Falls.
The route continued to Mongu, the administrative capital of Barotseland, and on Northwards to the settlement of Balovale now Zambesi in the North West of Zambia, at -13.550879, 23.115341.
When the barge reached Katima Mulilo, the fire was extinguished but embers kept, and the barge was unloaded and then dragged empty up the rapids, and re-loaded before continuing the journey - but not before the fire was re-lit.
The nearest Namibian town to Katima Mulilo is Rundu, about 500 km away. About 40 km east of Katima Mulilo lies the village of Bukalo, where the road to Ngoma branches off that joins Namibia to Botswana.
On 28 January 1935, the administrative centre of the Caprivi Strip was moved from Schuckmannsburg to Katima Mulilo. This date is assumed as the foundation date of Katima Mulilo.
The regional office, the only brick-and-mortar building at Katima Mulilo at this time when the area consisted exclusively of pristine forests, was built under a giant Baobab situated near today's SWAPO Party regional offices.
In present times the tree is known as the Toilet Tree because of a rest room carved into it.
Katima Mulilo was very sparsely populated at that time. It had a missionary school run by the Seventh-day Adventists, and the small settlements were connected only by sleigh tracks.
Without any roads nor other infrastructure it was difficult to administer the Caprivi Strip from here. The South African administration therefore decided to shift the regional office again, this time to Pretoria, in 1939.
Given its proximity to important transport routes, particularly the railway bridge at Victoria Falls, the location of Katima Mulilo became strategically important in the Second World War which broke out soon afterwards. All military supplies, people, and goods had to be flown in. The town's first car came in 1940 and belonged to the air strip operator.
In 1940, William "Bill" Finaughty established the first shop in the Caprivi Strip in Katima Mulilo; the settlement that surrounded the shop was subsequently named after him. In the 1950s transport on the Zambezi River was established and allowed connection to the train service at Livingstone.
The M'pacha Airfield, today Katima Mulilo Airport, was constructed in 1965 at a cost of 65 million Rand, an astronomical amount at that time when 2 Rand roughly equalled 1 Pound sterling. A police station was erected in 1961.
Katima Mulilo became a segregated town in 1965 when the erection of the Nghweeze township began. The South African administration was unhappy with the Mafulo informal settlement where members of the Caprivi African National Union (CANU) were staying and conducting political activism.
As a response to this development, Nghweeze derived from totela language:which literally means "stab me" township was established to enable some degree of control over Blacks by only allowing local workers and their families to take up residence.
At the same time the central parts of Katima Mulilo were declared the Katima Mulilo Proper residential area and restricted to Whites. Contract workers from the company Lewis Construction from Salisbury,today's Harare in South Rhodesia (today's Zimbabwe) that built Nghweeze camped in an area that for this heritage is named the Lewis informal settlement. The town had only 575 inhabitants at that time but grew to over 5,000 by 1978.
In 1971 the area around Katima Mulilo got involved in the South African Border War. As in World War II, it was a strategically important location, this time due to troop transports into and out of Zambia and Angola.
The settlement also was at the centre of the Caprivi conflict in the 1990s, an armed conflict between the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA), a rebel group working for the secession of the Caprivi Strip, and the Namibian government.
In the early hours of 2 August 1999, CLA launched an attack occupying the state-run radio station and attacking a police station, the Wanella border post, and an army base.
A state of emergency was declared in the province, and the government arrested alleged CLA supporters.
The oldest suburbs are Nghweeze, the former Blacks' township, and Katima Mulilo Proper, the area restricted to Whites during the apartheid era.
Butterfly, Cowboy, Chotto and Mahohoma are registered informal settlements of Katima, further parts of town are named Nambweza, Soweto (South–Western Townships, a reminiscence of the famous suburb of Johannesburg), New Look, Mabuluma, Lyambai, Bebi, Greenwell Matongo, Macaravan East and West, and NHE (from National Housing Enterprises, a governmental low-cost housing company that drew development here).
Katima Mulilo is inhabited by members of the Masubia and Mafwe tribes. The town's coat of arms, still very similar to that used by the Caprivi government, depicts these tribes as two elephants facing each other, symbolising unity and peaceful coexistence of the two tribal chiefs.
Katima Mulilo is the terminal town of the Trans–Caprivi Highway, and the highway together with its extension to Zambia is called the Trans-Caprivi Corridor. The Trans–Caprivi Highway was opened in 1999, and the bridge to Sesheke, and with it the entire Trans-Caprivi Corridor, in 2004.
Katima Mulilo is not yet connected to the Namibian railway network. In October 2007, a proposal was announced for a railway connection between Namibia and Zambia which would pass through the town.
The line would join Grootfontein to Katima Mulilo then 130 km to Mulobezi with an 80 km upgrade of the line to Livingstone.
The town is served by Katima Mulilo Airport, situated about 18 km to the southwest which is serviced by regular flights from the capital Windhoek.
Katima Mulilo is governed by a town council that currently has seven seats.
Before Katima Mulilo was officially founded missionaries already ran schools in the area. The Seventh–day Adventists operated one, as did the Capuchin Order.
Today there are a number of schools in Katima Mulilo such as Katima High School, Caprivi Secondary School, Kizito Secondary School, Ngweze Secondary School, Mavuluma Secondary School and many primary and junior secondary schools.
Katima Mulilo has two institutes of tertiary education, the Zambezi Vocational Center and a campus of the University of Namibia (UNAM) for teacher training, formerly the Caprivi College of Education (CCE).
At the time of the merger with UNAM, CCE had 400 enrolled students and 70 staff.
The town houses the community-based Caprivi Art Centre and holds an annual Caprivi Cultural Festival.