The nature of the State
The "Scramble for
and is completed by the turn of the 20th century. In this brief period, Europeans partitioned
Africa into spheres of influence, protectorates, colonies, and free-trade-areas. The borders were
designed in European capitals at a time when
Europeans had barely settled in
had little knowledge of the geography and ethnic composition of the areas whose borders were
designing. Despite their arbitrariness these boundaries endured after African independence in
the 1960s. As a result in most African countries a significant fraction of the population is part
of ethnic groups that have been partitioned by the national border.1 A considerable body of
research in African history (e.g. Asiwaju (1985); Dowden (2008); Wesseling (1996)) argues that
the main impact of Europeans’ influence in
border design. Partitioning, the argument goes, has led to ethnic struggles, patronage politics,
and spurred civil conflict and underdevelopment. (Stelios Michalopoulos & Elias Papaioannou)
Western v African
densities, and the production of relatively small economic surpluses, hindered
the formation of states in many parts of pre-colonial
was particularly the case in central and southern regions of the continent. These stateless societies, however, did not lack political organisation. Westerners, steeped
as they are in state traditions, often regard the lack of state institutions as a sign of backwardness. This simply was not the case. The political systems that these stateless societies developed were well adapted to the environment they served. Considerable evidence of sophisticated forms of representation, justice and accountability among these communities has been unearthed. In many cases, confederations of villages provided security and a community for many thousands of Africans. Several of these larger stateless societies developed institutions and hierarchies that evolved, over time, into states
The stimulus for
state formation was often the production of an economic surplus. This wealth
enabled communities to sustain leadership groups, as well as administrative
structures to support these governors. The states of
delineated boundaries were rare. Power broadcast from the centre of a kingdom
would dissipate the further a village was from the capital, and would ebb and
flow according to the fortunes of the central administration. Indeed, there
could even be an overlapping of authority, with a community owing degrees of
allegiance to more than one political leader. This was very different from the
European states of the same time, where governments sought to be the sole
source of political authority within rigidly defined sovereign territories. Consequently,
European wars have largely been about securing or expanding borders. By
contrast, inter-community conflict in
absence of defined state borders, the free movement of people, and the fact
that pre-colonial African governments broadcast power only over a limited range has
led some scholars to label these states ‘non-hegemonic
Coastal traders from Europe/Portugal
at the 1884–85
Arbitrary states in
But: Several factors have been proposed to rationalize the arbitrary border design. First, at the
time Europeans had limited knowledge of local geographic conditions, as with the exception of
some coastal areas, the continent was largely unexplored. Second, Europeans were not drawing
borders of prospective states or -in many cases- even colonies. Third, there was a constant
imperialist back and forth with European powers swapping pieces of land with limited (at
best) idea of what they were worth of.
By the end of 1966, 40 countries had gained independence. While at the time, many proposed changing the colonial borders, African leaders and leaving Europeans did not touch this issue. The leaders of African independence believed that nation building would sideline ethnic divisions. Europeans’ main objective was to maintain their special rights and corporate deals with former colonies, and as such, they were reluctant to open the border issue...
External, rather than an internal, logic to the units chosen. Many boundaries are ruler-straight, following lines of longitude and latitude.
And in its
eccentricities, why was German South West
Many of these borders
do not make economic sense. As well as the initial disruption to lines of
communication and trade, colonial boundaries also created longer term problems
for African states. Decisions made in the capitals of
Why? What are the Problems?
and social problems. Colonial borders ran through existing political and social units,
resulting in many communities finding themselves split between different states.
Some pre-colonial political entities did survive. Rwanda, Burundi, Lesotho and
Swaziland have boundaries acknowledging pre-colonial realities, but such an
acknowledgement was rare. Imperial partition scattered the Somali people, for example,
among five sovereign states. The present-day borders of
there was the possibility of irredentism. Irredentism is the desire to unite under one flag a community that is currently divided.
The costs of Unity?
And probs of multi-ethnicity?
If as some marxists argue the colonisers largely exploited Africa then the implication is that this did not endorse state building but rather, continued the heritage of the non-hegemonic state - through sheer lack of incentives to invest in the new bounded states politically.
Weak states: The state, in this sense, never rested on a social contract between government and people. Indeed, colonial administrators
were not even accountable to the Africans they ruled. Instead,
they obeyed orders emanating from their superiors back in the capitals of
therefore about maintaining order, balancing budgets and overseeing the extraction of raw materials for export.
From: Artificial States article
Not only in Africa, but around the globe, including Iraq and the Middle East, failed states, conflict and economic misery are often very visible near borders left over by former colonizers, borders which bore little resemblance to the natural division of peoples.
There are four ways in which those who drew borders created problems. First, they gave territories to one group, ignoring the fact that another group had already claimed the same land. Second, they drew boundary lines that split ethnic (or religious or linguistic) groups into different countries, frustrating the national ambitions of various groups and creating unrest in the countries formed. Third, they combined into a single country groups that wanted independence. Fourth, even if there were no major ethnic divisions in the new states, they were still a random collection of families, clans, and villages that would not have a strong collective national identity.
Peoples may have weaker allegiance to various collective agendas in artificial states than in non-artificial ones. In every society there are social norms that sanctions those who do not contribute to the public groups, and these norms may be stronger in less fragmented societies where most people share common goals and culture. The crucial question is what is the relevant group? In a natural state, there is more likely to be a strong nationalist allegiance to that state, making the whole nation the group. In an artificial state, people are likely to have a smaller radius of group identification, such as the kin network or the local village or region
If a people
are 'naturally' migratory what sense can we make statehood and nation etc? One
might wonder where
Are not all borders squiggly in the end unless an island? (In fact, it is quite possible that, as time goes by, many currently straight borders will become squiggly as they are rearranged. Relatively newly independent countries have had "less time" than countries that were never colonized in which to re-carve their borders based on an equilibrium reflecting how different peoples want to organize themselves.)
Prior to the
era of de-colonization, states had to prove their control of a territory before
being recognized by the international system. Virtually all new African states
would have failed this test at the time of de-colonization. However, with de-colonization