Territorial disputes: Africa (Part 1) [Post 136]

Africa presents several TERRITORIAL DISPUTES. The usual current causes have to do with natural resources and bordering minorities. This and the following posts will introduce the general background behind TERRITORIAL DISPUTES. That is because they all share a common origin: European colonialism. It will be only after introducing the real reasons behind these differences that the posts will center the attention on individual TERRITORIAL DISPUTES in Africa and their particularities in each case.

For a complete and updated detail of TERRITORIAL DISPUTES in Africa see CIA’s Factbook (country by country)


Territorial dispute encompasses “boundary dispute” and “border dispute”. In other words, “territorial dispute” is a more generic expression than the others and therefore ought to be preferred. A boundary is an imaginary line delimiting the territorial jurisdiction of one state from that of another. A border or frontier on the other hand is the area or region or zone having both length and breadth indicating, without necessarily fixing, the exact limits where one state starts and another ends. There appears to be no fundamental difference between a boundary and a border or frontier save for the fact that whereas a boundary as a line has no breadth, a border as an area, region or zone does. The terms must however not be used interchangeably. Breadth or no breadth, the cardinal function of a boundary or border is to separate one territory from another. Therefore, any dispute concerning the appropriateness or otherwise of a boundary or border is necessarily territorial.

Territorial dispute in Africa is a product of imperialism and colonialism. It is the result of the arbitrary fixing of African boundaries by the Europeans both within and outside of the Berlin Conference of 1885. Several accounts show that the Berlin Conference opened in November 1884 and lasted till February 1885. Thus, some writers chose to refer to the period as 1885 or even 1884-1885. Territories were constructed based on European political considerations, and usually without regard to tribal and ethnological factors.


Africa. Pre-colonial Africa adopted age-old systems of using border marches as buffer between kingdoms. Such zones were of varying width fell into three distinct categories during the 19th century.

The first of these can be described as a frontier of contact and existed in situations where distinct cultural and political lived and operated side by side.

Frontier of separation is the second type of traditional frontier existing in Africa during the pre-colonial era. The areas were separated by a buffer zone over which neither side claimed or exercised any authority. Unhealthy forests and deserts usually provided such frontiers and states of Central Sudan including Bornu, Maradi, Air and the Fulani Empire had such frontiers.

The third type of traditional frontier existed in regions of considerable over- lapping of diverse groups where it was easy to talk more intelligibly in terms of enclaves rather than of frontiers.


The boundaries of modern Africa were the creation of European diplomats partitioned Africa among themselves with little regard for, or knowledge socio-cultural characteristics of the continent. As a result of the capriciousness the European partition, a typical African boundary may group together ethnic groups in one state, it may cut across many ethnic or national of the past, or it may create a state whose physical characteristics hinder social, or economic stability. Since the colonial boundaries were used, with exceptions, as the basis for the devolution of sovereignty in Africa, the leaders of the continent have had to deal with the effects of this boundary situation.


Uncovering the Bond between Colonialism and Conflict


The Nature of African Boundaries


African Boundary Conflict: An Empirical Study


Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @London1701

01st October 2018

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