Africa is a continent replete with territorial disputes and this is a direct, longstanding legacy of colonialism. Some countries manage to resolve their border disputes, and for others, it will take an eternity. The intransigence of different countries to this matter worsens the situation, and it calls for deeper introspection on how we have managed to deal with autonomy since every country is formally independent of the former colonizers.
During pre-colonial times, Africa was comprised of various polities that were not subject to the European definition of boundaries. The wars of conquests among Africans themselves ensured that different ethnicities and tribes organized themselves in ways that would positively serve the specific kingdoms/chiefdoms. Precolonial Africa was not harmonious. Territorial control was the pinnacle of asserting a kingdom’s power over perceived subjects.
The cycle kept going on till there were fully established tribes and ethnicities who lived side by side and kept engaging in raids and wars. The advent of colonialism which flourished because of the vast prospect of resources to make finished products in Europe disturbed this setup and distorted everything. This resulted in haphazard borders being drawn as ‘spheres of influence’ were claimed for effective control.
The Berlin Conference, an atrocious act whose effects are palpable at this moment, was a period of madness by European colonizers as they personalized African land for their profits. Different ethnicities and tribes were bundled together to form single countries. This is echoed by the famous words of Lord Salisbury, British Prime Minister then, who said, “We have been engaged in drawing lines upon maps where no white man’s foot ever trod; we have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where the mountains and rivers were.”
These hastily drawn boundaries, without regard for the existing differences among the people of the continent, have metamorphosed into endless territorial disputes in Africa. But the most important thing to note is that border disputes are not new to Africa. They are on every continent. Europe almost obliterated itself because of such issues. People who do not like each other have always been forced to be in one country. This has led to civil wars, genocides, and other heinous atrocities against humanity. So, border disputes are not new to Africa.
What is noteworthy to point out is that while the issue of colonial borders has created crises such as the Biafra War, these are the borders that Africans have to deal with. This is the history that must be confronted to create new avenues for love among African peoples. The borders of Africa are indeed fictitious – that they are the work of Europeans and since no single African was consulted at the Berlin Conference, they are inherently not our borders. But to imagine a new reality where unity transcends these borders is the best option for the continent. There are over 100 active border disputes on the continent, and this is an attestation of the direct legacies of colonialism. But should people continue to cry over this or should work towards finding enduring solutions?
At the same time, it is preposterous to wish territorial problems away. Practical solutions must be found because the disputes are there. Indigenous leaders should be involved in the resolution of such disputes, as well as conducting further studies into the areas concerned to ascertain whether direct negotiations work or Africa Union’s intervention works. This is the contradiction of Africa – the fiction and reality of borders. And it cannot simply be wished away.