Lines On A Map

The map of Africa is almost complete. On March 11, 1913, Britain and Germany signed a treaty that determined who got what in the region divided by the Akwayafe River. On August 21, 2008, two states that did not exist at that time put the border agreement into effect once again, with Nigeria formally handing over the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.

The two countries, driven to the brink of war by the possibility that oil was to be found in the region, had supplied yellowing documents from the colonial era to justify their claims before the World Court in 2002. This agreement supposedly ends that dispute.

What’s of interest is that the lines drawn by Nigeria and Cameroon bear no more relation to the wishes of the people who live in the region than did the squiggles placed on the map by the Europeans 95 years earlier. What do national borders mean, anyway? Does it matter who drew them?

The question isn’t really whether Africa should observe colonial borders, it’s whether a choice exists to do otherwise. After all, what option exists? Even if by some miracle the lines on the map could be re-drawn, would we have each tribe be the master of its own country? Each and every linguistic group? Each and every religious sect? The mind boggles at the prospect.

All national borders–-as well as all states, provinces, parishes, canons, counties, cities, towns, and hamlets–-are arbitrarily imposed by some group on another. With luck, they serve to unite disparate residents into a common cause that promotes and protects the greater good. What matters isn’t the borders or who drew them; it’s what good will lies in the hearts of the people within.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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