Post Colonial African States Are Artificial Creations

Post Colonial African States Are Artificial Creations

At What Extent Do You Agree To The Assertion That Post Colonial African States Are Artificial Creations?


Artificial states were constructed (in Friedrich Hayek’s sense of constructivism: according to more or less specific plans or rationalist schemes) in places where no similar state had ever existed and where the people had no common identity that would enable them to acquire a “national consciousness” and, hence, become a “new” nation. Artificial states are either established through violence or drawn up at conference tables and they unite diverse peoples of different cultural, linguistic, religious or ethnic backgrounds.

Indeed, Africa, with the possible exception of a handful of states (such as Egypt and Ethiopia) is composed predominantly of artificial states. The continent was, as David Lamb wrote, “Balkanized into colonies with artificial boundaries that ignored traditional ethnic groupings.” As a consequence, Africa’s state borders are, as Seton-Watson pointed out, “mere lines on the map, sometimes taking account of river valleys, sometimes not even that. They cut across regions which [form] natural units, and they [divide] peoples and language groups.” At the first Pan-African Conference in Accra in 1958, the African leaders explicitly stated: “Artificial barriers and frontiers drawn by imperialists to divide African peoples operate to the detriment of Africans and should therefore be abolished or adjusted; frontiers which cut across ethnic groups or divide peoples of the same stock are unnatural and are not conductive to peace or stability. Leaders of neighboring countries should cooperate toward a permanent solution of such problems.”

However, the assertion which states that African Post Colonial states are artificial creations are quite wild and I strongly believe on these assertions. Below are reasons and examples why I agree on such assertion.

Arbitrary Boarders: Certain borders have been established by the colonial masters in the past which have left Africans bunched into countries that do not represent their heritage. This contradiction still troubles Africans today.

For something to be artificial means it is not original. Therefore, I define artificial states as states in political boarders that do not coincide with a division of nationalities desired by the people.

How Did African Artificial States Emerged

In the 1870s European nations were bickering over themselves about the spoils of Africa. In order to prevent further conflict between them, they convened at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to lay down the rules on how they would partition up Africa between themselves.

Between 1870 and World War I alone, the European scramble for Africa resulted in the adding of around one-fifth of the land area of the globe to its overseas colonial possessions.

Colonial administrations started to take hold. In some areas, Europeans were encouraged to settle, thus creating dominant minority societies. France even planned to incorporate Algeria into the French State; such was the dominance and confidence of colonial rulers at the time. In other cases, the classic “divide and conquer” techniques had to be used to get local people to help administer colonial administrations. Some were only too willing to help for their own ends.

These prospective colonizers partitioned Africa into sphere of influence, protectorate, colonies and free trade areas. The African boarders were designed in European capitalist at a time when Europeans had barely settled in Africa with little knowledge of the geopolitical and ethnic compositions of the areas whose boarders they were designing.
However, these boundaries endured after African independence despite their arbitrariness. As a result of this, a significant fractions which goes around 40%-45% of the population belongs to the groups that have been partitioned by a national boarder.

Nigeria is perfect example of this what an artificial states means. Looking into what Ahmad Bello once said, he said that God did not create Nigeria, but the British did. In bringing together the people, the British were politically and economically pragmatic in the decisions and hence the decisions to merge the different groups were not necessarily based on considerations of cultural unity or political unity of the various entities before the coming of the British.

There are four ways in which those who drew borders created problems. First, they gave territories to one group, ignoring the fact that another group had already claimed the same land. Second, they drew boundary lines that split ethnic (or religious or linguistic) groups into different countries, frustrating the national ambitions of various groups and creating unrest in the countries formed. Third, they combined into a single country groups that wanted independence. Fourth, even if there were no major ethnic divisions in the new states, they were still a random collection of families, clans, and villages that would not have a strong collective national identity.


The results have sometimes been disastrous. Artificial borders increase the motivation to safeguard or advance nationalist agendas at the expense of economic and political development. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “A healthy nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man is unconscious of his health. But if you break a nations nationality it will think of nothing else but getting it set again.” When states represent people put together by outsiders, these peoples may find it more difficult cult to reach consensus on public goods delivery and the creation of institutions that facilitate economic development, compared to states that emerged in a homegrown way.2 Peoples may have weaker allegiance to various collective agendas in artificial states than in non-artificial ones.

Central African Republic (CAR): Looking at the central African Republic, one will see another perfect example of an artificial state. The CAR boundaries were the works of the hazardous exploitations, yet diplomatic agreements and the whims of colonial administrators. It was indeed a source of earnings for the French Colonial system through the export of gold, diamond, cotton, coffee and timber, moreover, CAR was left undeveloped by the colonialist.

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Cameroon was once a German colony and Nigeria had been ruled by the British Empire; in 1913, the two European powers had negotiated the border between these West African colonies. Cameroon argued that this agreement put the peninsula within their borders. Nigeria said the same. Cameroon’s yellowed maps were apparently more persuasive; it won the case.

ANGOLA: Consider Angola as an example of an artificial post colonial African state. In 1575, 100 Portuguese families and 400 Portuguese troops landed on the African continent’s southwestern coast at what is now the city of Luanda. They expanded from there, stopping only when they reached German, Belgian, or British claims. The Portuguese consolidated the vast, California-sized holdings into a single colony. The only thing that the people who lived there shared in common was that they answered to Portuguese masters, and in 1961 that they rebelled against that rule, which they threw off in 1975. They became the country of Angola, an essentially invented nation meant to represent disparate and ancient cultures as if they had simply materialized out of thin air that very moment. Today, as some Angolans are quick to point out, their country is composed of ten major ethnic groups, who do not necessarily have a history of or an interest in shared nationhood. This may help explain why there are two secessionist groups in Angola today.

Had pre-industrial-era Portuguese colonists not pressed so far up along Africa’s western coast so quickly, for example, then Africa’s seven million Kikongo-speakers might today have their own country. Instead, they are split among three different countries, including Angola, as minorities. The Bundudia Kongo separatist group, which operates across the region, wants to establish a country that would more closely resemble the old, pre-colonial Kongo Kingdom, and give the Kikongo-speakers a country.

Sub-Saharan Africa has been affected by large states and artificial borders perhaps more than any other part of the world. Indeed, while Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe both contain between 48 and 50 sovereign states each, Sub-Saharan Africa is around 2.4 times larger than Europe. Moreover, with 44% of borders drawn as straight lines, ‘Africa is the region most notorious for arbitrary borders’. Scholars have thus suggested that Africa’s poor economic development and numerous conflicts have been at least partially a result of its large states and artificial borders

SOMALI: Somali is another example of the topic on the hand. The Somali split between five different countries, that is to say that apart from Somalia itself, Somalis can be found in northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti and as a result of this, at least three wars since independence in the 1960s have been driven (partly at least) by the desire of Somalis in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya to become part of Somalia. The Somali national flag is a white five-pointed star set against a blue background; the five points of the star represent these five “estranged” Somali groups.

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The Malinke of West Africa are among the most partitioned people in Africa, split into six different countries – Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and The Gambia. Similarly, the Ndembu are split between Angola, Zaire, and Zambia; the Nukwe, between Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana, the Alur, between Uganda and DR Congo, and the Ibibio between Nigeria and Cameroon.

Besides the examples above, artificial borders were drawn during the colonial period and few borders changed after decolonization. Africa is the region most notorious for arbitrary borders. Historian Roel Van Der Veen (2004) points out that prior to the era of decolonization, states had to prove their control of a territory before being recognized by the international system. Virtually all new African states would have failed this test. With decolonization in Africa (and to some extent in other regions), the leading international powers changed this rule to recognize nations that existed principally on paper as the heir to a former colonial demarcation.

It is indeed very important not to forget that Artificial states are characterized by an absence of generous patriotic feelings and civil loyalty to the state – two elements which result from “national consciousness” and form the “civic glue” of a state. This makes these countries by definition politically unstable because they lack the basic foundations upon which “normal,” i.e. non-artificial, states are built.

Because borders can be changed, as Alesina and Spolaore (1997) emphasized, citizens can rearrange the borders of artificial states. Indeed this happens; just look at the breakdown of the Soviet Union. In fact it is quite possible that as time goes by many currently straight borders will become squiggly as they are rearranged. Relatively newly independent countries have had “less time” than countries which have been never colonized to carve their borders as a result of some sort of equilibrium of reáecting how different people want to organize themselves. With specific reference to Africa, Englebert, Trango and Carter (2002) document several instances of border instability in Africa due to the artificial original borders. Even amongst never colonized countries, tensions remain, think for instance of the Basque independents movement in Spain. We are not aware of other papers that have attempted to consider formally.


Despite the declaration at the first Pan-African Conference in Accra in 1958, where the African leaders explicitly stated that: “Artificial barriers and frontiers drawn by imperialists to divide African peoples operate to the detriment of Africans and should therefore be abolished or adjusted. The borders were never adjusted. As a sad result Africa has known neither peace nor stability in the past four decades as continent inhabited by people grouped together without any conception of allegiance to their common states.


  1. Nigerian Peoples And Culture, Second Edition, edited by A. D. Nzemeke & E. O. Erhabgbe. Department of History, University of Benin, Benin City Nigeria.
  2. Vanguard Newspaper Editorial, published on August 16, 2002 by 5:41 am with headline: Reclaiming Bakassi Peninsula.
  3. Acemoglu, Daron, Simon Johnson and James Robinson (2001), “The Colonial Origin of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.” American Economic Review. v91:5, p1369-401
  4. Ade, Adefuye (1985). “The Kakwa of Uganda and the Sudan: The Ethnic Factor in National and International Politics,” in A.I. Asiwaju (ed.), Partitioned Africans: Ethnic Relations across Africaís International Boundaries, 1884-1984, St. Martinís Press: New York, 1985.
  5. Alcala, Francisco and Antonio Ciccone (2004), “Trade and Productivity.” Quarterly Journal of Economics. v119:2, p613-46.

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