Paper short abstract:
The colonial national boundaries in Africa created states of various sizes, encompassing peoples who had little experience of shared governance. Sadly, the preservation of the inherited boundaries has led to persistent instability and conflict, as is illustrated by the case study presented here.
Paper long abstract:
Many critics complain that the current boundaries of African states make little sense; that most of them are arbitrary and sometimes ambiguous since they were based on dubious treaties with local chiefs or on bilateral agreements between European powers that had limited knowledge of the historical antecedents and human geography of the regions partitioned. The European-designed boundaries created several artificial state of various sizes and shapes - some too small, others too large or landlocked, and in the process split over 200 culture areas, and lumped together peoples of diverse cultures who had little or no pre-colonial experience of shared governance. Ironically, the Organization of African Unity (now African Union) and the foreign and domestic policies of most African countries have since independence tended to defend these boundaries, ostensibly to maintain stability and to respect "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each state". The political leaders of these states appear more anxious to preserve their position and influence, while the smaller states fear that to question the colonial boundaries could lead to a new form of imperialism and re-colonization. Sadly however, the preservation of the inherited boundaries has led to persistent instability and violent conflicts within and between African states. Enormous resources have been expended on armament for 'internal security'; millions of lives have been lost and widespread humanitarian emergencies have been caused by civil and genocidal wars to suppress secessionist struggles or to contain movements for ethnic self-determination.
Proposals abound on how modern Africa should respond to the dilemmas of colonial borders, and turn them from rigid barriers between countries to flexible frontiers of mutual contact and cooperation. While some still urge African leaders to repudiate or otherwise renegotiate the boundaries, others advocate minor administrative adjustments that do not necessarily involve change of sovereignty. On the other hand some recommend the urgent review of the non-African concept of citizenship embodied in the Constitutions of many African countries, while yet others propose the establishment of continental, regional and local mechanisms to promote trans-border cooperation, and ensure that 'the partitioned Africans' of the marginalized border areas receive better attention. There is, of course, the expectation that the growing tempo of regionalism, continental integration and of globalization in general will progressively make the borders less constrictive and contentious, and thus reduce the potential for conflict. Unfortunately, the on-going border dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula, and the large number of similar conflicts elsewhere in the continent suggest that some of these hopes and expectations may be too optimistic because the inherited borders appear to be acquiring increased prominence and rigidity in the light of new strategic and economic considerations such as the prospects of mineral discovery. The paper examines critically the evolution of the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon in the light of the conflicting arguments and the recent ruling of the International Court of Justice that the disputed Bakassi Peninsula belongs to Cameroon, and not to Nigeria.
Strategic uses of colonial legacies in postcolonial encounters