African borders are foreign creations and do not conform to our realities

The sticking with colonial borders and the resultant feelings of discrimination and domination has caused many separatist movements and conflicts. [Courtesy]

While in South Africa recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta pointed out that foreigners created African borders as a basis of extraction and not our historical and cultural identities. He was pitching for more Afrocentric and intra-African trade and cooperation for development. African borders are products of colonialism and conquest by European powers.

In 1884, European powers met in Berlin to subdivide Africa into spheres of influence for their profit. They did not consider our human rights and dignity, diverse cultures, histories, religious beliefs, languages, ethnicities, or political organisation. It is noteworthy that other nations share these factors. For example, what makes a person French, Spanish, Thai, Japanese or Dutch?

After the end of the Second World war, the world witnessed the atrocities of racism, conquest and foreign domination. Global sentiment was that the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation constituted a violation of the right to self-determination, which espouses the legal right of people to freely determine their economic, political and social statuses without the interference of other people. This principle was written into the United Nations Charter.

However, it never defined who the 'people’ or the ‘self’ meant. When the new States were created during decolonisation, the old colonial borders were relied upon for the delimitation of territories. As a result, Africans found themselves in states that did not reflect their cultural or ethnic realities, unlike other parts of the world. Moreover, many would-be nations and peoples, including established Kingdoms, found themselves in states they did not choose. As a result, specific communities felt misplaced, dominated, discriminated against, and marginalised in their counties in a manner very similar to colonisation.

Perhaps, an inclusive process guided by certain laid down principles could have been employed to redraw the maps to ensure that the newly formed African nations reflected the 'people' to some extent. Still, the former colonial powers did not complain because the new nations were primarily reliant on them for trade and investment, spoke their languages and largely kept their political systems. It is thus not surprising that they maintained hegemony and control over their former colonial possessions. Their ability to manipulate these countries is called neocolonialism.

The sticking with colonial borders and the resultant feelings of discrimination and domination has caused many separatist movements and conflicts. They include the 1969 Biafra War in Nigeria, the Katanga movement in Congo, the Anglo and Franco conflict in Cameroon and the Shifta War (Gaf Daba) in Kenya, where ethnic Somalis sought to join Somalia. The creation of South Sudan in 2011 is one of the few cases of secession after decolonisation.

The challenge with Africa is that it has over 3,000 ethnic groups and 2100 languages, making it unfeasible to break up states further. However, two practical solutions have been proposed. The first entails internal self-determination where ‘peoples’ within a state govern themselves without outside interference. They oversee their resources within the larger country. In Kenya, this was enshrined by the 2010 Constitution via devolution. Countries that have ensured actual political representation, human rights protection, and economic fairness for all have been more successful in nation-building despite diverse religious, ethnic, and racial identities.

The second approach argues for changing laws and policies to remove trade barriers, tariffs, and visa requirements to boost trade and cooperation and make borders meaningless across Africa. However, despite the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement in 2018, foreign investment, movement and trade within Africa remains overly expensive and complicated.