Africa’s curse of 1885

My posts are published now on Africa on the Blog.

On 7 January 2015, a post was published called ‘Africa: the curse of 1885‘. In it, I point out that the current borders within Africa were basically decided by European leaders at a conference in Berlin in 1885, 130 years ago. I call this the curse of 1885.

When African countries started to become independent around 1960, African leaders decided to stay with the colonial borders. This was also accepted by Europeans. In the post, I examine the various reasons why, from a European perspective, this was so. I identify three types of reasons:

– Geopolitical: staying with the status quo gave former colonial powers the best conditions for maintaining their spheres of influence and keeping countries as much as possible outside of the Communist sphere of influence.

– Cultural: there were mistaken beliefs that the African ‘tribes’ were primitive and might disappear, leading to nation states in a similar way to what has happened in Europe.

– Idealist: in progressive/socialist circles, borders were seen as less relevant anyway, because nationalism was seen as a bad thing and it was felt that the future workers paradise would be internationalist anyway. This disregards that protection of ethnic and cultural identity is a basic human need and right, not denied in many African countries.

For some countries, to overcome the curse, it will be necessary to challenge the existing borders. For other countries, it may be possible to work to a situation where there is greater recognition of individual languages and more respect for cultural differences. South Africa, with its 11 official languages, is a step in the right direction towards a situation where also in African countries, debates like the one about independence for Scotland from the UK becomes possible.

The post starts by showing the map below, by Swedish Artist Nikolaj Cyon. It shows what Africa might have looked like if colonization had never happened…