1. Partition, Secessionism and Irredentism

Most borders in Africa are an outcome of the continent’s colonial partition at the end of the nineteenth century and once more after the First World War. There have been a number of detailed studies of particular borders where researchers have sought to assess their importance for the lives of those concerned. Most of these studies have come to compatible conclusions, namely that regardless of their origins, boundaries have created vested interests and divergent social practices. The net result is that borders now matter a great deal – not least in the minds of those who live in proximity to them. Africa’s borders have been remarkably stable since independence, but the deduction that it was the Organization of African Unity’s commitment to the inviolability of inherited colonial boundaries that was decisive has never been convincing. In comparing experiences, ABORNE seeks to improve the understanding of the durability of many borders on the ground, but also the specific dynamics that have encouraged secessionist activity in some cases and nourished irredentist claims in others.

2. Migration and Refugees

Since colonial times, African border regions have been characterised by high levels of mobility, as a result of migrant labour systems, resettlement and flight from taxation and labour demands, and more recently as a result of substantial refugee flows. The Research Networking Programme is concerned not merely with comparing these human flows through border spaces, but also in assessing the extent to which borders are themselves shaped by mobility. The emergence of a discourse of indigeneity across a number of African countries has particular implications in border locations. The members of ABORNE are also interested in exploring the differences between types of mobility (e.g., floating populations as opposed to migration paths) and how these relate to forced migration. The most dramatic conflicts of recent times have all involved enormous human flows. The Rwandan genocide led to massive displacements into the Congo and Uganda; the Congolese crisis that ensued and the Liberian and Sudanese civil wars have led to the flight of millions of people into neighbouring states. All these examples of human flight have involved the use of borders as sanctuaries not only for victims but also perpetrators, thus underlining the complexity of insecurity often associated with border zones.

3. Borders and Violent Conflict

Contrary to popular perceptions, there are relatively few cases where borders themselves have been in contention in Africa. However, the Eritrean- Ethiopian war emerged out of a border dispute, while Nigeria and Cameroon came to the brink of war over Bakassi before deciding to invoke international arbitration. Border regions remain problematic because of the ways in which guerrilla movements often seek protection behind the screen of national sovereignty. In addition, guerrillas have been drawn to relatively unregulated spaces, especially where valuable resources (e.g., diamonds) can be mined and traded for weapons. The unsettled nature of many border zones has permitted a contagion effect, as conflicts spread from one border setting to the next. Less dramatic forms of conflict also often emerge out of everyday activities in borderlands like cattle rustling. The Research Networking Programme seeks to explore and explain the ways in which conflict is constitutive of power dynamics in border settings and why in some borderlands conflicts escalate, whereas others simmer at relatively low intensity over long periods of time.

4. Cross-Border Trade

In recent decades, there has been mounting evidence to suggest that border regions are not economically marginal, but are the sites of important commercial activity. The decline of the formal economy in the national capitals has only served to draw further attention to the apparent dynamism of the margins where populations have often grown faster than the national average. Members of the ABORNE Research Networking Programme are concerned with mapping trade, both legal and illicit, and with evaluating its developmental potential. At the present time, the regional integration agenda of bodies like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is prioritising infrastructural initiatives (e.g., roads, railways and bridges) that promise to create new hotbeds of trading activity. Researchers participating in the ESF Research Networking Programme are especially interested in the phenomenon of border boom towns that arise out of these interventions.

5. Borders and Resource Use

Some research points to the developmental impact of international borders. National policies are often influenced by concerns that roads and health facilities may be used by people from across the border, with the net result that border communities may be neglected. The way in which aid operates in practice often produces the least rational use of resources especially on a continent with a large number of micro-states. This is particularly problematic where cross-border networks serve as disease transmission routes, as has been argued for HIV/AIDS. The issue of cross-border resource use is of fundamental importance where watersheds have been used to define the borders themselves. Where borders meet on larger bodies of water, such as Lake Victoria or the Zambezi River, issues of equal access to fishing stocks are important concerns that are only now being taken up in a sustained way. In the context of climate change scenarios, there is a growing perception that securing joint access to resources is set to become one of the most important items on the political agenda. The ABORNE Research Networking Programme will assess the implications of borders for resource access as well as the long-term potential of current initiatives for ensuring shared use of pasturage and water.

6. Regimes of Border Regulation

Although many border regions have been characterised by a lack of state presence, the convergence of regional integration initiatives, the creation of transport corridors and new technologies of customs control is also leading to the re-insertion of the state into many border areas, but also of privatised forms of regulation: companies providing customs and security services as well as smuggling rings and vigilante groups are active competitors, but often also intimately entwined with state of officials in borderlands. The possibility that certain African borderlands will be subjected to much closer regulation than ever before is a real one. The ABORNE Research Networking Programme will be pooling diverse evidence and tracing the implications of these changes for state-society interactions in the longer term.