Africa’s tragic borders

‘African leaders are more passionate about colonial borders than the colonial masters were’

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African countries can loot across each other’s colonial borders, they can plunder wealth and lives across borders, but when it comes to proper official trade, they prefer the spoils of worthless wars. Zimbabwe and Uganda looted the DRC, and the African Union never protested, all in the name of the illusory ‘African brotherhood.’

Whenever I travel in Europe, the image of Africa in the European imagination does not seem to change. You can visit the same communities over and over again, talk to the ordinary people for years, and the images are still the same: corruption in the midst of abject poverty, disease, hunger, military coups, dictatorships of one type or another, unending civil wars and their consequent brutality, and of course, uncontrollable political and economic chaos. As if that was not enough, enter natural disasters to blemish the already sad saga of a continent many are giving up on.

But is the rest of the world wrong in the way they look at the African continent? Africa’s response has always been: we are misrepresented by western media outlets. Africans find it easier to blame the west for everything, from civil wars and corruption to drought and hunger.

The reality is that if African leaders refuse to be corrupted – there will be no corruption on the continent. If African business and political leaders stop thirsting for the trinkets of the west and become sober about their economic and social reality, maybe the continent can move forward.

But isn’t it time for Africans themselves to rethink certain issues? Take Africa’s perennial problem, border wars. The way African borders were determined at the Berlin conference was bizarre and baffling. In an attempt to bring some form of order to the Scramble For Africa, the colonial powers simply brought their own map of Africa to the conference and sliced up the continent.

As a result, African nationalities found themselves split among different colonial powers. The east of Zimbabwe, for example, comprises the Manyika people. Five million of them found themselves belonging to Portugal (Mozambique),about 1,5million ended up belonging to the British (Rhodesia).

The border itself has nothing to show that it is indeed a border. Just a few hills or trees or little streams. Some people have never been sure which country they belong to. Some villages are shared by both countries. Children go to the school nearest to their village, at the risk of having their relatives learning everything in Portuguese while they learn everything in English.

This pattern of borders is replicated over and over again in many parts of the continent. The border was between Ethiopia and Eritrea cost over 70 000 dead and thousands others displaced. And the tragedy is that it is not over yet. The two countries, poverty-stricken, do not hesitate to spend the little money they have on heavy military hardware.

Sudan is devastated by border wars that never seem to end. Senegal is fighting its silent border war in Cassamance, a war that never gets as much as a mention in the press. Zimbabwe almost went to war with Botswana over elephants that roam across the non-existent common border. Both countries claimed the elephants belonged to them.

Nigeria has an invisible border with its own Muslim north, which has introduced Sharia

law in defiance of the rest of the country. All these countries are border and civil wars waiting to happen. But why is it like that? Do Africans never seem to realise that they cannot continue to die in honour of borders imposed on them by their colonial masters?

This is where the tragedy is: African leaders themselves are more passionate about colonial borders than the colonial masters were.

Although the ordinary people don’t care a damn about those borders, the leaders are prepared to sacrifice the countries’ meagre financial resources and young lives, fighting for worthless borders. Armies are on full alert to guard borders which other continents are busy removing.

Talk of Africa as an economic bloc. That seems to be a far-fetched dream, if not a nightmare. Southern Africa has the Southern African Development Community with a secretariat and all, plus the pomp of an occasional leaders’ summit where the leaders meet for a few days to describe and display their latest acquisitions in eloquent English. People still need visas to visit their relatives across the little stream. South Africa has recently even imposed transit visas for Zimbabweans passing through the airports of that country. No substantial talk of reducing trade barriers has ever happened. As for any rumours of a common currency, forget. In the end, there is no Community to talk about.

Africa is the only continent where the leaders are still obsessed with the small sovereignty of their little corner of the continent. They are not about to sacrifice it for the continental good, or indeed, for the general good which would arise from a strong, united, principled and disciplined continent.

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