13 Pages

The Experience of Land-lockedness in Africa

In May 1993 Ethiopia became the fifteenth land-locked state in Africa when Eritrea achieved independence. That followed a thirty-year war of secession and a longer delayed self-determination referendum. A former Italian colony, Eritrea had been controversially incorporated into Ethiopia in 1961 largely because it blocked Ethiopian access to the sea. Ethiopia’s new status is due to the break up of an empire, a genesis shared with the land-locked states which emerged from colonial empires in Africa and, more recently, from the former empires of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Eritrea’s independence could also mark the break down of the political status quo which has prevailed since the end of European imperialism in Africa and more specifically since July 1964 when the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) agreed that member states should respect their colonial boundaries. Interpreting Eritrea’s independence as the break up of an existing state (Ethiopia) and as ending the long-standing inhibition on African boundary change, could support the thesis that Africa is about to embark on a period of new political instability. For the first time since the colonial partition would the territorial integrity of states, the basic structure of African political geography, be affected. The threatened disintegration of Liberia and Sierra Leone are in this respect also ominous, as are, in a different way, the rash of African boundary disputes now being referred for solution outside Africa. The multiplicity of land-locked states represents a fundamental flaw in the basic political geography of Africa which, similar to the flawed international boundaries, has a colonial cause and poses a threat to independent development.