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Africa experiencing most successful economic, political period since independence

By Neil Ford

May 06, 2014 - Africa is experiencing its most successful economic and political period since independence. The number of armed conflicts has fallen; greater stability has encouraged improved governance; and better levels of stability and governance have contributed to strong economic growth.

Yet recent events in South Sudan and Libya have raised the specter of more general territorial upheaval.

While there is as much variation between Africa's 55 states as between those of any other continent, security problems in one country can impact perceptions about the whole of Africa.

Any changes to the political map encourage countless other groups across the continent to fight or at least campaign for their cause.

Analysis continues below...

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This is of interest to the energy sector on two counts. Firstly, Africa is a substantial source of oil, gas and coal exports and has the potential to become even more important in all three cases. (See related map: Southern African coal export options).

Secondly, continental economic growth of 6% a year means much more significant energy consumption if this growth is sustained over the next few years.

Border stability

Despite the dozens of conflicts that have taken place in Africa since independence, the continent's international boundaries have changed remarkably little over that half century.

The cause of this imbalance between internal strife and external stability lies in the process of colonialism and decolonization.

Prior to the partition of Africa by the European colonial powers, the means of dividing political space in Africa varied from area to area and time to time. Linear boundaries, similar to those employed in Europe, existed in some areas but not in most.

Organized states sometimes did not border each other, but were separated by a sea of unruled territories and various decentralized polities. In other states, sovereignty was not defined by territory but by people, so the state extended as far as its inhabitants moved.

The European concept of linear boundaries was imposed upon these various systems, sometimes with regard to ethnic, cultural or economic links, but sometimes not.

The resulting partition of individual peoples is often criticized, but the concentration of a single people within a single nation state is a fairly recent ambition.

Europe only managed to roughly align its ethnic groups at the cost of two world wars and even now French and German speakers are spread over several countries and English speakers over several continents.

Religions normally have little to do with national borders, and ethnic groups are often spread over several states, some in a piecemeal fashion like the Uzbeks. In addition, the concept of the 'tribe' has now been largely discredited.

Ethnicity was far more fluid than many people realize and many Africans were born in one ethnic group but moved to join another.

In many cases, the European colonial powers failed to instil any great national cohesion over the territories they carved out.

Colonial occupation lasted just a few decades in some cases and some people lived long enough to experience pre-colonial society, colonialism and independence.

In other cases, even centuries of colonial rule had very little impact.

People lived in northern Mozambique as recently as the 1970s who had never heard of either Portugal or Mozambique, so remote was their area from the political center in Maputo.

Feature continues: The Uti Possidetis principle

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