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Current geographical configuration comes from European standpoint

By Macharia Munene | August 29th 2021

Macharia Munene. [File, Standard]

In a world of changing geopolitical thoughts, there is a move to redefine existing definitions of geographical zones that defy common sense. This redefinition starts with a people in particular places recasting their concept of the global centre.

Imperialist success comes when the conquered accept the conqueror’s language, definitions, and histories. They, therefore, become willing participants in their own subjugation, ‘happily’, to the master, until they learn to question the definitions and language of the conquerors.

The questioning of the conqueror’s definition was clear in a Nairobi conference on Africa and the ‘Middle East’ where the term Middle-East became questionable.

The term makes sense from the vantage point of England, and Europe, to mean the lands and peoples between Europeans in the West, Asians in the East, and slightly north of Africa. The Africa in mind was the one south of Sahara since the Africa around the Mediterranean was conceptually lumped together with the lands north of the Red Sea.

It conjures up Halford Mackinder’s geopolitical theory about control of the ‘heartland’ in Eastern Europe being synonymous with the control of the world. This probably made sense before the natural resources in the zone turned the region into the real ‘heartland’, Eastern Europe became peripheral. There then developed three perspectives on what the zone was conceptually not; it was not Europe, it was not Asia, and finally it was not Africa.  

In times of crises and confronting mainly European common challenges, the divide gap tends to close. In the last five years, for instance, Morocco intensified its identification with the rest of Africa symbolically by re-joining the African Union to give it leverage in projecting its regional interests in Africa. Morocco, one of the aspiring regional powers, competes with Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to focus on Africa. Whereas the challenge to Morocco and Egypt is to claim and assert their African identity, the challenge to Saudi Arabia and Turkey is to make their geopolitical wishes play into Africa without losing leverage in Europe or the neighbours.

In response to the increasing activity visibility of aspiring powers, Africans question their own relations with others. Should this start by questioning definitions and the language of relationship? The term Middle East, for instance, makes sense only in the context of the Europeans in their relations to such Asian countries as India, China, or Japan. It does not make sense in the African context, given that the region is neither in the east nor in the west of Africa.

It, therefore is, from the African vantage point, Middle North rather than Middle East. The point of discussion would then shift from Euro-mind frames to African mind frames. It makes Africa the starting, rather than the ending, point in any geopolitical configuration.

This would help shift discussions from what others are doing to Africa to what Africans may be doing to others and to themselves. The emphasis on redefining concepts and terms of international dealings is therefore part of the struggle that Africans engage in efforts to assert their global presence positively. 

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