The contemporary shadow of the Scramble for Africa

Published on, by Stelios Michalopoulos and Elias Papaioannou, March 1, 2017.

the Scramble for Africa has contributed to economic, social, and political underdevelopment by spurring ethnic-tainted civil conflict and discrimination and by shaping the ethnic composition, size, shape and landlocked status of the newly independent states. This column, taken from a recent VoxEU eBook, summarises the key findings of studies that use high-resolution geo-referenced data and econometric methods to estimate the long-lasting impact of the various aspects of the Scramble for Africa.

… While, upon African independence, policymakers, scholars, and development experts argued for the need to redraw borders, departing colonisers did not want to open this perceived ‘Pandora’s box’; and many of the leaders of African independence harboured a firm belief that nation-building policies, industrialisation, and a notion of Pan-Africanism would eventually attenuate ethnic differences and animosity … //

… At the time of the Scramble for Africa, Europeans had limited knowledge of the local political, economic and geographic conditions. Furthermore, they were in a rush to partition the continent, in order to finance industrialisation in Europe and the Americas. As such, they did not even wait for reports from the great explorers who were then mapping the continent.3 Whilst conspiracy theories abound, A. I. Asiwaju (1985) summarises the consensus view of the African historiography: “the study of European archives supports the accidental rather than a conspiratorial theory of the marking of African boundaries.”4 A key objective shared by the colonisers, with memories of the Napoleonic Wars fresh in their minds, was to prevent conflict amongst themselves over African territory. As British Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, famously put it:

“We have engaged in drawing lines upon maps where no white man’s feet have ever trod. We have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where the mountains and rivers and lakes were” … //

… Conclusion:

Research quantifying the impact of ethnic partitioning, state artificiality, and other features of the Scramble for Africa with formal econometric techniques and theory, is still in its infancy. The preliminary empirical findings of the economics literature bode well, however, with the case-studies and narratives of the African historiography highlighting the multi-faceted consequences of the Scramble for Africa. More research is needed to better understand how those colonial borders and colonial artefacts that survived decolonisation affect the present. And, since border artificiality and ethnic partitioning are not phenomena exclusive to the African continent, subsequent works could focus on other parts of the world, such as the Middle East.

(full long text with random excerpts, figures, references, end-notes).


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