What is the political geography of Africa?
Africa’s political geography is the result of a complex history of tribal affiliations, city-state polities, European colonialism, nationalist revolutions, and the restatement of Western imperialism under the guise of international law. As African nations work toward viable solutions to economic woes, health problems, and political conflict, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), The World Bank Group, and other international bodies will continue to have extraordinary influence over the geo-politics of the region.
The Organization of African Unity (OAU) intergovernmental organization established in 1963 aims to safeguard the independent interests of African states while encouraging economic development and working toward settlement of disputes among member states. Although democracy and dictatorship now rest side by side, the OAU’s membership reflects a dynamic and ever-changing landscape as the continent’s geo-political transformation unfolds. The OAU Commission of Mediation, Conciliation, and Arbitration has a mixed record in settling conflicts and disputes between member states.
The Human Rights Regime
The presence of dictatorship in many African nations has translated into an abysmal record of human rights abuses. Paramilitary recruitment or state enlistment of minor children under the age of fifteen years into national armed forces is not uncommon in Africa. The OAU’s African Court on Human and Peoples’ rights, established as protocol to the Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1998, came into force in 2004 and has uneven impact due to limitations of jurisdiction exclusively to member states. The African National Congress (ANC), the Republic of South Africa's elected party represented by Nelson Mandela since 1994, has been pronounced in its efforts to bring human rights abuses to justice. South Africa’s Truth Commission, responsible for investigation of state-sponsored abuses commissioned during the country’s apartheid regime, has been instrumental in the reform of international human rights policy as law.
Oil, Guns, and Money
Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member countries of North Africa and the Sub-Saharan region of the continent, such as Algeria, Angola, Gabon, Libya, and Nigeria, continue to derive at least some benefit from the exportation of oil resources despite tensions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and fluctuating demand for those products abroad. The same is true for Egypt and the Maghrebi countries of Morocco and Tunisia—all denouncing insurgent Islamist terrorist groups entering from the Middle East and Nigeria. At present, regional conflicts are further complicated by rebel groups and former military conscripts of neighboring countries who serve as “guns for hire.” Corruption remains a pervasive problem in most African countries, affecting the economic development and geo-political stability of the region as a whole.
The recent emigration of African refugees deported from Europe, Israel, and the United States will have important economic and political impact across the continent, as not all migrants are allowed to return to their nation-state of origin. Eritrean refugees unable to return home are finding new settlement in Kenya and other East African nations. This is further complicated by the establishment of foreign military bases in Eritrea by the United Arab Emirates. With the mentioned countries now poised to go to war with Sudan and Ethiopia over a geo-political disagreement concerning Sudan’s sovereign decision to allow Turkey’s restoration of the ancient Ottoman port at Suakin in the Red Sea in a deal worth $650 million, the future of the Horn of Africa remains uncertain.
Africa’s political geography in the present is affected strongly by the history of the continent. Specifically, it is very much affected by the fact that almost all of the continent was colonized, much of it until the second half of the 20th century. Africa’s countries are mostly rather young and many of them are not made up of peoples who are “naturally” compatible with one another. These factors, and other factors related to colonialism have made African politics very unstable and problematic.
The European countries that colonized Africa did not generally intend to let go of their colonies. Therefore, they did not allow the natives to do much in the way of self-government and they did not train many Africans to function as leaders at the higher levels of government. When decolonization was forced on the Europeans after WWII, they left countries that were not really ready to be independent in the modern world. They left countries whose people were uneducated and who had never participated in democracy. Because of this, many African countries fell into a pattern of being ruled by military dictators who would rule for life or until being displaced in coups.
In short, Africa’s political geography is not well-developed. There are few truly open democracies. Many countries’ politics are based on ethnic rivalries. Many government officials are more concerned with lining their pockets and those of their supporters than with helping their countries. Africa, generally speaking, is still at a point where its governments need to be reformed.