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What in the World?

Posted on 4/4/2017 12:32:00 PM in Travel Trivia

While it’s not exactly angular, this aerial view shows the quadripoint where four southern Africa countries might meet.

Question: What is (and isn't) the world's only international quadripoint?

Answer: The Zambezi River at the end of the Caprivi Strip in Africa.

In the shifting waters where the Chobe River flows into the Zambezi River, four African nations come together. Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are just a skiff ride away from each other at a point dead smack in the middle of Southern Africa. Their intersection forms the rarest of global boundaries: a quadripoint, where the borders of four nations touch. Unless, of course, they don’t.

It was commonly accepted that this was a quadripoint by Africans for many years, and the locals even called it the Four Corners of Africa. But changing currents have moved the water line enough times that the distinction gets fuzzy. At the moment, the accepted wisdom is that there is a 150-foot stretch in which Botswana may come between Zambia and Zimbabwe (though only underwater). As a result, the official ruling for legal purposes is that this is the meeting place of two tripoints (Botswana/Zambia/Namibia and Botswana/Zimbabwe/Namibia). However, since it’s the only place on earth where that is true, it’s still a record-holder.

5 More Facts about the Zambezi Quadripoint

  • When Zambia and Botswana established ferry surface across the water in the 1970’s, Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) and South Africa (which controlled Namibia) both protested, saying that—on the premise that this was a quadripoint—two countries couldn’t have their own border crossings without the permission of the other two. The Rhodesian military went so far as to actually the sink the ferry once.
  • For eight months, another African locale held the distinction: From October 1960 to June 1961, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, and Northern Cameroon shared borders, until the latter country was absorbed by Nigeria.
  • It was the U.S. Department of State that originated the term “quadripoint.” They coined it to describe the “four corners,” where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. The Oxford English dictionary still refuses to include the word, but quadripoint has grown in acceptance elsewhere, and, in online use, almost always refers readers to the Zambezi confluence.
  • Because of the vast area involved in countries, no international quintipoints have ever been claimed. But if you scale down to smaller units, a number do emerge: Florida boasts a quintipoint of counties in the middle of a lake, and ten Italian towns meet on Mt. Etna. (Interestingly, their meeting is not called a decapoint, as the term was already applied to a Braille reading system).
  • The Zambia-Botswana ferry at Kazungula is still the only way to cross the border between those two countries, and the only way to cross from Zimbabwe into Namibia. It is no longer contested or controversial, but it is a dreaded by truck drivers: for large vehicles wanting to ferry across, the traffic jam is literally miles long on busy days.

Visit three countries that form (or don’t form) the quadripoint on our Ultimate Africa: Botswana, Zambia & Zimbabwe adventure.

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