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The Politics of Boundaries in North and West Africa

  • I. William Zartman


Problems created by boundaries are among the more frequent causes of war, and North and West Africa has some of the strangest boundary problems in the world.1 Unlike many of the world's borders, the boundaries here are not the walls and moats of history, natural defence lines whose traces mark the military conflicts and diplomatic compromises of the nation's past. The only exceptions are one-sided and even ironic: the treaty of Lalla Maghnia of 18 March 1845 defined 100 miles of the Algero-Moroccan border after the Moroccan defeat by France at Isly, and the line dividing Algeria from Mali and Niger was the result of an agreement in 1905 separating French military explorers in North Africa from rival French military explorers in West Africa. There is therefore none of the legitimacy of national history associated with the boundary lines. This has its advantages and disadvantages: the might of conquest and the right of diplomacy have not sanctified the borders, but the Schleswigs and the Alsace-Lorraines are not present either.



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Page 155 note 1 There are a number of good works on African boundaries, although many are outmoded by post-colonial developments. See Whittlesley, Derwent, ‘Reshaping the Map of Africa’, in Colby, Charles (ed.), Geographic Aspects of International Relations (Chicago, 1938), pp. 127–60; Boggs, S. Whittemore, International Boundaries (New York, 1940), especially pp. 154–75; Church, R. J. Harrison, Modern Colonization (London, 1954), and ‘African Boundaries’, in Gordon East and Arthur E. F. Moodie (eds.), The Changing World (London, 1956), pp. 740–56; Barbour, Nevill (ed.), A Survey of North West Africa (London, 1959); Barbour, K. M., ‘A Geographical Analysis of Boundaries in Inter-Tropical Africa’, in Barbour, Nevill and Prothero, R. M. (eds.), Essays on African Population (New York, 1962), pp. 303–23; Church, Harrison, West Africa (London, 4th edn. 1963), and Environment and Politics in West Africa (New York, 1963); Hodgson, Robert D. and Stoneman, Elvyn A., The Changing Map of Africa (New York, 1963); and Reyner, Anthony S., Current Boundary Problems in Africa (Pittsburgh, 1964). The International Boundary Studies issued by the Geographer of the U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., are excellent and I am grateful to their source for making them available; in Western Africa, they cover the Algeria-Libya boundary (no. 1), the Niger-Libya boundary (no. 2), the Morocco-Spanish boundary (no. 9), and the Mali-Mauritanian boundary (no. 23).

Page 156 note 1 Besides the Senegal, the only river planned for joint exploitation is the Mono, between Togo and Dahomey, under an agreement signed in March 1964. The Niamey Convention, negotiated in October 1963 between the riverine states of the Niger to replace the Berlin Agreement of 1885 and the Statute of St-Germain-en-Laye of 1919 has led to little co-operation as yet, and has nothing to do with boundaries.

Page 157 note 1 Distances have been measured by means of an instrument designed to follow irregular lines; the scale of the largest and smallest maps used for this purpose is given. Measurements will err by under-estimation; breakdowns for geometric, river, and other components are minimum figures.

Page 157 note 2 Boundary estimated along a straight line that follows the escarpment south of the Dra, leaving the confins in Morocco and Tindouf in Algeria. No line has been suggested for putting Tindouf in Morocco.

Page 157 note 3 Senegal figures exclude Gambian boundary.

Page 157 note 4 Totals do not add up because shared boundaries are not counted twice.

Page 158 note 1 ‘Le moi prend conscience de lui-même au contact du non-moi’ Vidal de la Blanche, quoted in Ancel, Jaques, Géographie des frontières (The Hague, 1936), 55, I, p. 209. See also Emerson, Rupert, From Empire to Nation (Cambridge, Mass., 1960), p. 329; and Boulding, Kenneth, ‘National Images and International Systems’, in Rosenau, James (ed.), International Politics and Foreign Policy (New York, 1961), pp. 393–4.

Page 158 note 2 As in parts of the Tunisia-Algeria, Nigeria-Dahomey, Togo-Ghana, and Mali-Mauritanian borders. The best source, unfortunately incomplete, for such information is the series of Cartes ethno-démographiques de l'Afrique occidentale (Dakar, I.F.A.N., 1952, 1954, 1960), Feuilles I, 2, and see also Maroc: carte des tribus (Rabat, I.G.N., 1958).

Page 158 note 3 See Bohannan, Paul, Africa and Africans (New York, 1964), pp. 19, 124–5; Burke, Fred G., Africa's Quest for Order (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1964), p. 28; and K. M. Barbour, op. cit. pp. 314–15. The weakness of maps such as the I.G.N. map of Morocco (above), and the chart appended to Murdock, G. P., Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History (New York, 1959), is their misleading use of linear boundaries between tribes. This is avoided in the I.F.A.N. maps of West Africa (above).

Page 158 note 4 See, for example, Ivory Coast policy as explained by Zolberg, Aristide, One-Party Government in the Ivory Coast (Princeton, 1964), pp. 47–8, 143, 203–5, and 319.

Page 159 note 1 See, for example, Moroccan policy as explained in Zartman, I. William, Problems of New Power (New York, 1964), pp. 208–17.

Page 159 note 2 Mali, however, claimed that the Tuareg were incited by French mercenaries; Le Monde (Paris), 15 09 1964; L'Essor (Bamako), 11 05 and 28 09 1964. There has been no serious study on the tribal factor in North or West African politics, a challenging if difficult subject. Tribal data are provided in Coleman, James S. and Rosberg, Carl G. (eds.), Political Parties and National Integration in Tropical Africa (Berkeley, 1964), although conclusions remain to be drawn and verified.

Page 161 note 1 See Zartman, , Destiny of a Dynasty (Columbia, 1964), pp. 27 and 78–9.

Page 161 note 2 In Mali, for example, in May 1963, this traveller passed customs in Bamako, both coming from the Ivory Coast and going to Senegal. Usually in West Africa, customs posts are located in major towns near the border, leaving a ‘no-customs-land’ frontier zone around each country.

Page 162 note 1 About 400 kms. or more of western African boundaries are defined by roads and tracks.

Page 162 note 2 This brief treatment will not duplicate the more technical study of Reyner, Anthony S., ‘Morocco's International Boundaries’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge), I, 3, 09 1963, pp. 313–26. See also Maghreb (Paris), I, 2, 0304 1964, pp. 34–8; and Le Monde, 17 and 30 October 1963. For more details on the problem of Moroccoirredenta, see Asbford, Douglas E., ‘The Irredentist Appeal in Morocco and Mauritania’, in Western Political Quarterly (Salt Lake City), xv, 4, 12 1962, pp. 641–51; and Zartman, , The Sahara–Bridge or Barrier? (New York, 1963; International Conciliation, no. 541), pp. 42–50. See, from the Moroccan side, al-Fassi, Allal, Livre rouge et documentaires (Tangier, n.d.); ben Mah, Yahjeb Fall, Mauritanie (n.p., 1962); Ministry of Information, La Libération de la province mauritanienne et l'opinion internationale (Rabat, n.d. [1961 ?]); Foreign Ministry, Maroc documents (Rabat, 1959), and Livre blanc sur la Mauritanie (Rabat, 1960); and Sa'd, Jamal, The Problem of Mauritania (New York, Arab Information Center, 1960). See also, from the Mauritanian side, La République islamique de Mauritanie et le royaume du Maroc (Nouakchott, n.d. [1961 ?]).

Page 163 note 1 Treaty of Lalla Maghnia, 18 March 1845, article 6. Cf also article 4; Livre blanc, op. cit. pp. 55.

Page 164 note 1 See Zartman, Problems of New Power, pp. 82–3, and Ashford, , Political Change in Morocco (Princeton, 1961), pp. 203–6.

Page 164 note 2 On Operation Swab and its role in the border problem, see Garnier, Christine, Désert fertile. Un Nouvel Etat: la Mauritanie (Paris, Hachette, 1960), pp. 191203; and Mousset, Paul, Ce Sahara qui voil le jour (Paris, Cité, 1959), pp. 199207.

Page 164 note 3 See Mauritanie nouvelle (Nouakchott), 28 08 1963.

Page 165 note 1 Coleman's, J. S. study, Togoland (New York, 1956; International Conciliation, no. 509) is still the basic work on the Ewe problem. See also Cornevin, Robert, Histoire du Toga (Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1962), and the I.F.A.N. map (above), Feuille 5.

Page 167 note 1 Zolberg, op. cit. p. 67, and passim. Zolberg gives an excellent treatment of the social, economic, and political basis ofthe Sanwi movement, instead of treating it merely as a Ghanaian plot. For an historical background, see d'Aby, F. J. Amon, La Côte d'Ivoire dans la cité africaine (Paris, Larose, 1951), pp. 169–72; and Henri, Monezy, Assinie et le royaume de Kringobo (Paris, Larose, 1954).

Page 167 note 2 Much of this information comes from interviews with the Ivory Coast Ambassador to Accra, Koreki Mian; note also his press conference on the Dahomey radio, 30 August 1961.

Page 167 note 3 The Ivory Coast sent a parliamentary delegation to Algiers to warn them, ‘hands off’. For the Sanwi programme, see Mouvement de Libération du Sanwi: statuts et programme (10 05 1958, Kringobo, Ivory Coast, reissued 5 06 1962, Winneba, Ghana). On 17 September 1962, however, the Ghanaian Ambassador to Abidjan denied the existence of a Sanwi movement in Ghana!

Page 168 note 1 See Bourguiba's radio talk of 5 February 1959, and his speeches to the National Assembly of 7 May and 17 July 1961. See also U.S. Department of State Boundary Study, no. I (above), for a map and details on the Franco-Turkish (Tuniso-Libyan) Treaty of 19 May 1910, and the Franco-Libyan Agreement of 26 December 1955 and subsequent 1956 Treaty.

Page 168 note 2 Principal notes to France were dated 24 January 1959 and 6 July 1961.

Page 168 note 3 Speech of 5 February 02 1959, quoted in Le Sahara (Tunis, Documentation Tunisienne, series a, no. 1), p.62.

Page 169 note 1 Le Monde, 3 November 1964, campaign speech by Sadok Moqaddem.

Page 169 note 2 It is alleged that French control over Niger ammunition stocks was the element that prevented the outbreak of hostilities. There seems to be no detailed documentation on the Lete problem. Reportedly, Maga's supporters among the Baribas wanted to be part of Niger in order to avoid domination by the south Dahomey Fons; Thompson, Virginia, ‘Dahomey’, in Carter, Gwendolen (ed.), Five African States (Ithaca, 1963), p. 248. Troubles in 1963 apparently began in Niamey on 20 November with riots between Dahomeyans and Nigerois set off by a Dahomeyan who killed his Nigeroise wife and himself.

Page 170 note 1 The agreement is summarised in Africa Report (Washington), IX, 5, 05 1964, pp. 1415.

Page 170 note 2 Demarcation was undertaken between 1960 and 1962, for the first time. See ‘Nigeria's International Boundaries’, in West Africa (London), 18 06 1960; also Thompson, op. cit. pp. 252–3 and 256.

Page 171 note 1 Fears of Algerian claims have appeared on occasion in Le Monde, but further evidence from this area of rare news is slim. Suggestions that Niger might claim parts of Algeria, on the other hand, were denied by President Hamani Diori, in a Niamey broadcast, 2 August 1962.

Page 171 note 2 For more details see Zartman, , ‘A Disputed Frontier Settled’, in Africa Report, VIII, 8, 08 1963, pp. 1314, and correction, ibid. IX, 3, March 1964, p. 31; also U.S. Department of State Boundary Study, no. 23 (above).

Page 172 note 1 Agence France-Presse: Guinée (Conakry), 22 11 and 9 12 1958; reaffirmed during Tubman's visit to Conakry, , Agence France-Presse: Côte d'Ivoire (Abidjan), 31 05 1960.

Page 172 note 2 The agreement is found in Fralernité (Abidjan), 1 12 1961.

Page 172 note 3 See Africa Report, IX, 8, 08 1964, p. 20, for details of the agreement.

Page 173 note 1 For amplification of these suggestions, see Boggs, op. cit. pp. 201–2, and ‘The Peaceful Solution of Boundary Problems’, in H. W. Weigart and Vilhjalmus Stefansson (eds.), Compass of the World (New York, 1944), pp. 6173; also Hodgeson and Stoneman, op. cit. pp. 64–6.

Page 173 note 2 Minor problems between Senegal and Mauritania, on the other hand, have been handled by a permanent commission. Here, as between Liberia and the Ivory Coast, the boundary is on the right bank of the river. There is also a permanent commision to deal with border problems between Senegal and Guinea.

* Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Institute of International Studies, University of South Carolina, Columbia, U.S.A. This article is based on material gathered in Africa on a research grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of South Carolina.

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