The Case for Redrawing Africa’s Colonial Borders
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World Regional Geography, Section 107
April 22, 2011
By the mid 1800’s, after 400 years of contact, European powers had staked claims to virtually all parts of Africa. What had begun as exploration had now changed as representatives of European governments desired to expand their sphere of influence. The “scramble for Africa” as it became known was the result of European spheres of influence crowding each other, and competing intensely for territory. The borders of African nations today reflect the pathology born from disparate populations living within boundaries drawn by white colonists in the years between 1880 and 1900. Foreign ministers of fourteen European nations and the United States met at the Berlin residence of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck for the purpose of establishing ground rules for the future exploitation of Africa. Africans were not invited to the conference in Berlin or made privy to the decisions made there (Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts 304-305). The Berlin Conference laid the groundwork for the geo-political map of Africa that we see today, with the domains of the super powers superimposed on the continent. The map of Africa that was created is the direct result of insatiable demand for minerals, markets and greed. Africa’s problems have been further exacerbated by the influence of missionaries and corporate giants.
As Africa regained its independence in the 1950’s, the legacy of political, ethnic and religious fragmentation could not be eliminated. Today’s Africa must be looked at in light of its patterns of artificial states that were created as a result of the original Berlin conference, and subsequently upheld when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) convened in 1963. The OAU decided that sticking with inherited borders promoted “stability”. Artificial states are those in which the political borders do not coincide with a division of nationalities desired by the people on the ground (Artificial States 2). Agreements between former colonizers have resulted in the creation of monstrosities in which religious, ethnic, and linguistics were unified or separated with no concern for the particular interests of those groups. Eighty percent of today’s African borders follow longitudinal or latitudinal lines (Artificial States 2). It is the belief of many scholars that creating ethnically fractured countries, or separating same peoples into bordering countries through the use of artificial borders is at the root of Africa’s economic tragedy.
The damage done by the creation of artificial states by colonizers is not limited to the continent of Africa; examples are visible around the globe. The Middle East and Iraq are examples of failed states where conflict and economic misery abound in borders left over by former colonizers. These borders bear little resemblance to the natural division of the peoples in the area and maintaining these borders has been shown over time to perpetuate unrest and disharmony, resulting in civil and tribal war and genocide.
The drawing of artificial borders by colonizers caused these problems in four identifiable ways. Initially, they gave territories to one group, ignoring the fact that another group had already claimed that land. The borders that were created split groups of people, either ethnically, religiously or linguistically into different countries which resulted in unrest in the countries that were formed. In some instances, groups that wanted independence were combined to form one nation, and in instances where there were no major ethnic differences, the new nations were a group of tribes, families or villages that did not have a unified national identity. The result continues to destroy the inhabitants of these African nations. The ongoing crises in such states as Angola, the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia suggest that colonial...
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