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The Politics of Territorial Claims: A Geospatial Approach Applied to Africa

  • Hein E. Goemans and Kenneth A. Schultz


Why do states make claims to some border areas and not others? We articulate three models of territorial claims and test them using a novel geospatial data set that precisely maps disputed and undisputed border segments in post-independence Africa. The geospatial approach helps eliminate problems of aggregation by permitting an analysis of variation both within and between dyadic borders. We find that ethnic political considerations are the most important driver of territorial claims in Africa, while institutional features of the border play a secondary role. Border segments that partition ethnic groups are at greatest risk of being challenged when the partitioned groups are politically powerful in ethnically homogeneous societies. Border segments that follow well-established and clear focal principles such as rivers and watersheds are significantly less likely to be disputed, while changes to the border in the colonial period created opportunities for later disputes to arise. Power considerations or resources play only a minor role in explaining the location of territorial claims.



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