African business, politics and lifestyle
Colonial borders. Does Africa have a choice?
The lines of Europe’s carve up of Africa were finally taking shape. On March 11, 1913, Britain and Germany agreed who got which bits of a swampy corner of the continent that few in either of the cold and distant countries had heard of.
Two states that did not exist at that time put the border agreement into effect again on Thursday with Nigeria formally handing over the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.
That followed a ruling by the World Court in 2002 for which both countries supplied copies of yellowing colonial-era documents to justify claims to territory that had brought them to the brink of war.
Neither might have had as much interest had it not been for the expectation that there is oil there, but it again highlighted Africa’s commitment to colonial borders drawn without consideration for those actually living there.
Many people in Bakassi have made clear they would rather be in Nigeria than Cameroon. There have been recent attacks by groups very similar to those waging a different struggle further west in the Nigeria delta.
Nigeria said that by following the ruling it was showing its respect for international law, a demonstration of the change in the country since the end of military rule. On the other side of the continent, an international pronouncement on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border remains disputed.
Fights over historic borders go far beyond Africa of course, as the recent bloodshed in the Caucasus has made only too clear.
Does Africa have any choice but to stick with its colonial borders? There are several hundred ethnic groups in Nigeria and Cameroon alone. Would questioning borders mean the collapse of much of the continent in bitter disputes over who got what? Would it ease the ethnic tensions that poison many countries?