Europe's arbitrary post-colonial borders left Africans bunched into countries that don't represent their heritage, a contradiction that still troubles them today.
South Sudanese officials look at the newly unveiled map of Sudan after separation. (Reuters)
When the nations of Nigeria and Cameroon went to settle a border dispute in 2002, in which both countries claimed an oil-rich peninsula about the size of El Paso, they didn't cite ancient cultural claims to the land, nor the preferences of its inhabitants, nor even their own national interests. Rather, in taking their case to the International Court of Justice, they cited a pile of century-old European paperwork.
Cameroon was once a German colony and Nigeria had been ruled by the British empire; in 1913, the two European powers had negotiated the border between these West African colonies. Cameroon argued that this agreement put the peninsula within their borders. Nigeria said the same. Cameroon's yellowed maps were apparently more persuasive; it won the case, and will officially absorb the Bekassi Peninsula into its borders next month.
The case, as Reuters once explained, "again highlighted Africa's commitment to colonial borders drawn without consideration for those actually living there." African borders, in this thinking, are whatever Europeans happened to have marked down during the 19th and 20th centuries, which is a surprising way to do things given how little these outsider-drawn borders have to do with actual Africans.
In much of the world, national borders have shifted over time to reflect ethnic, linguistic, and sometimes religious divisions. Spain's borders generally enclose the Spanish-speakers of Europe; Slovenia and Croatia roughly encompass ethnic Slovenes and Croats. Thailand is exactly what its name suggests. Africa is different, its nations largely defined not by its peoples heritage but by the follies of European colonialism. But as the continent becomes more democratic and Africans assert desires for national self-determination, the African insistance on maintaining colonial-era borders is facing more popular challenges, further exposing the contradiction engineered into African society half a century ago.
When European colonialism collapsed in the years after World War Two and Africans resumed control of their own continent, sub-Saharan leaders agreed to respect the colonial borders. Not because those borders made any sense -- they are widely considered the arbitrary creations of colonial happenstance and European agreements -- but because "new rulers in Africa made the decision to keep the borders drawn by former colonizers to avoid disruptive conflict amongst themselves," as a Harvard paper on these "artificial states" put it.
Conflict has decreased in Africa since the turbulent 1960s and '70s, and though the continent still has some deeply troubled hotspots, the broader trend in Africa is one of peace, democracy, and growth. The threats of destabilizing war, of coups and counter-coups, have eased since the first independent African leaders pledged to uphold European-drawn borders. But a contradiction remains in the African system: leaders are committed to maintaining consistent borders, and yet as those governments become more democratic, they have to confront the fact that popular will might conflict.
A Kenyan group called the Mombasa Republican Council is just the latest of Africa's now 20-plus separatist movements, according to the Guardian, which has charted them all in an interactive map. The Mombasa group wants the country's coastal region to secede, citing its distinct heritage due to centuries of trade across the Indian Ocean. It's unlikely to happen, but as the Guardian notes it's part of a trend of "encouraged" separatist movements as Africans seem to become more willing and interested in pursuing borders that more closely reflect the continent's diverse ethnic, religious, and linguistic lines.
Consider Angola. In 1575, 100 Portugese families and 400 Portugese troops landed on the African continent's southwestern coast at what is now the city of Luanda. They expanded from there, stopping only when they reached German, Belgian, or British claims. The Portugese consolidated the vast, California-sized holdings into a single colony. The only thing that the people who lived there shared in common was that they answered to Portugese masters, and in 1961 that they rebelled against that rule, which they threw off in 1975. They became the country of Angola, an essentially invented nation meant to represent disparate and ancient cultures as if they had simply materialized out of thin air that very moment. Today, as some Angolans are quick to point out, their country is composed of ten major ethnic groups, who do not necessarily have a history of or an interest in shared nationhood. This may help explain why there are two secessionist groups in Angola today.
Had pre-industrial-era Portugese colonists not pressed so far up along Africa's western coast so quickly, for example, then Africa's seven million Kikongo-speakers might today have their own country. Instead, they are split among three different countries, including Angola, as minorities. The Bundu dia Kongo separatist group, which operates across the region, wants to establish a country that would more closely resemble the old, pre-colonial Kongo Kingdom, and give the Kikongo-speakers a country.
There's no reason to think that Bundia dia Kongo or the Mombasa Republican Council have any chance at establishing sovereign states; their movements are too weak and the states they challenge are too strong. But, as the 2011 division of Sudan into two countries demonstrated, the world can sometimes find some flexibility in the unofficial rule about maintaining colonial African borders. Sudan was an extreme example, an infamously poorly demarcated state that encompassed some of the widest ethnic and religious gulfs in the world, but as G. Pascal Zachary wrote in TheAtlantic.com at the time, it provided an opportunity to question whether those arbitrary borders hold Africa back. After all, in countries such as Nigeria or the Democratic Republic of Congo, disparate cultural groups have tended to band together, competing with one another for finite power and resources, sometimes disastrously. With tribal identities strong and national identities weak (after all, the latter tends to be ancient and deeply rooted, the latter new and artificial), national cooperation can be tough.
Of course, the actual practice of secession and division would be difficult, if it's even functionally possible; Africa's ethnic groups are many, and they don't tend to fall along the cleanest possible lines. The debate over whether or not secession is good for Africa, as Zachary explained, is a complicated and sometimes contentious one. But the simple fact of this debate is a reminder of Africa's unique post-colonial borders, a devil's bargain sacrificing the democratic fundamental of national self-determination for the practical pursuits of peace and independence. And it's another indication of the many ways that colonialism's complicated legacy is still with us, still shaping today's world.
“I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests,” Browder writes.
The financier Bill Browder has emerged as an unlikely central player in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sergei Magnitsky, an attorney Browder hired to investigate official corruption, died in Russian custody in 2009. Congress subsequently imposed sanctions on the officials it held responsible for his death, passing the Magnitsky Act in 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government retaliated, among other ways, by suspending American adoptions of Russian children.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who secured a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, was engaged in a campaign for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, and raised the subject of adoptions in that meeting. That’s put the spotlight back on Browder’s long campaign for Kremlin accountability, and against corruption—a campaign whose success has irritated Putin and those around him.
For the past few decades, the unstoppable increase in college tuition has been a fact of life, like death and taxes. The sticker price of American college increased nearly 400 percent in the last 30 years, while median household income growth was relatively flat. Student debt soared to more than $1 trillion, the result of loans to cover the difference.
Several people—with varyingdegreesof expertisein higher-ed economics—have predicted that it’s all a bubble, destined to burst. Now after decades of expansion, just about every meaningful statistic—including the number of college students, the growth of tuition costs, and even the total number of colleges—is going down, or at least growing more slowly.
The vote he cast, more than the speech he gave, will help define his legacy.
The effort to repeal Barack Obama’s health-care bill is not over, and neither presumably is the public career of John McCain. But each crossed an important threshold yesterday, and Senator McCain gave us a clearer idea of who he is and what he stands for.
The repeal effort isn’t over, because debate and further voting is now underway to determine whether the bill will pass and, more basically, to define what it would actually do. McCain will have more votes to cast, on this measure and others, and it’s possible that in the end he will turn against this bill because of its provisions (whatever they turn out to be) or because of the rushed and secretive process that led to it. Just this afternoon, McCain voted No on a “straight repeal” bill that would eliminate Obamacare without any replacement.
The GOP’s options are dwindling after the failure of an amendment that would scrap Obamacare without replacing it. Party leaders are now looking for any plan that can pass.
Updated on July 26 at 4:35 p.m.
One by one, the Senate’s options for overhauling the nation’s health-care system are dwindling—but they still have a few left.
Republicans on Wednesday rejected a straight repeal of much of the Affordable Care Act, leaving them far short of a consensus one day into debate on health-care legislation passed by the House in May. The amendment was virtually identical to legislation Republicans passed on a party-line vote in 2015 and would have scrapped the law on a two-year delay. Then-President Barack Obama vetoed the measure. Conservatives led by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky have tried to revive the “clean repeal” option in recent days to break the impasse within the GOP, but moderates are—for now—objecting to proposals that only repeal but do not replace the current law. The vote was 55-45 against.
The Arizona Republican is betting his Senate seat on the political appeal of decency—but can that pay off in Trump’s America?
The constituents filing into the Mesa Convention Center one evening in mid-April for the Republican senator Jeff Flake’s town hall had a decidedly un-Republican look. Tattoos and political T-shirts abounded. Activists stood near the entrance distributing stickers, flyers, and other paraphernalia of the resistance and urging attendees to get loud. While chants of “No stupid wall!” and “Health care for all!” echoed through the auditorium, a young woman in a chicken costume wandered the perimeter, clucking and posing for selfies in an act of protest whose meaning remained mysterious to me even after I asked her about it (“Jeff Flake is George Dubya’s chicken,” she said).
Flake couldn’t see any of this from backstage, but he knew that a hostile crowd likely awaited him. The early months of the Trump presidency had inflamed the grassroots left, and Republican lawmakers across the country had lately found themselves standing awkwardly in rooms like this one while liberal voters berated them. Flake is up for reelection next year, and some of his campaign advisers—wanting to avoid the kind of contentious scene that might end up in an attack ad—had suggested that he skip public forums for a while, as many of his colleagues were doing. But he insisted on going ahead.
Exclusion leaves the military weaker and the country more divided.
President Donald Trump issued a ruling on Wednesday outlawing military service by people who do not conform to a binary gender system.
“Please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” he wrote in a string of tweets. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Trump previously promised to be an advocate for transgender people, writing during the campaign, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”
A federal judge affirmed a $1,000 fine for the leader of President Trump’s election-integrity panel, saying the Kansas secretary of state had undermined his credibility with misstatements.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach could use a little credibility at the moment. President Trump’s so-called election-integrity commission, of which he is the de facto chief, has come under suspicion for both its methods and its purpose. But citizens seeking assurance about Kobach’s motives won’t find that from the federal courts.
In a ruling yesterday, flagged by the indefatigable Rick Hasen, Judge Julie Robinson of the U.S. District Court of Kansas rejected Kobach’s request that she overturn a $1,000 fine levied on him by a U.S. magistrate judge. That wasn’t the most significant part of the ruling. Over 13 pages, Robinson carefully lays out ways in which Kobach appeared to be playing fast and loose with the facts in the lower court. And in affirming Magistrate Judge James O’Hara’s fine, she became the second federal judge to deem Kobach at the very least misleading in his court appearances:
Many point to unromantic 20-somethings and women’s entry into the workforce, but an overlooked factor is the trouble young men have in finding steady, well-paid jobs.
TOKYO—Japan’s population is shrinking. For the first time since the government started keeping track more than a century ago, there were fewer than 1 million births last year, as the country’s population fell by more than 300,000 people. The blame has long been put on Japan’s young people, who are accused of not having enough sex, and on women, who, the narrative goes, put their careers before thoughts of getting married and having a family.
But there’s another, simpler explanation for the country’s low birth rate, one that has implications for the U.S.: Japan’s birth rate may be falling because there are fewer good opportunities for young people, and especially men, in the country’s economy. In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they—and their potential partners—know they can’t afford to.
The Dunkirk director has been loudly dismissive of the company’s policy on theatrical releases—but he’s really just arguing for a different streaming model.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is not what you’d call a typical summer blockbuster in 2017. It’s a sober, intense World War II epic, starring a total unknown (Fionn Whitehead), with no potential as a franchise. It’s not a story of triumph, but rather an edgy chronicle of soldiers surviving by the skin of their teeth (it also features only British troops; at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation, America hadn’t even entered the war). In the current Hollywood landscape, which shunts such “prestige” pictures to the fall or winter to try and curry Oscar favor, Dunkirk’s July 21 release was extremely unusual, and itsbroad success (a $50 million opening weekend, well above tracking numbers) was a relative surprise.
An intense focus on mothers’ caregiving in the 20th century set the stage for a rare disorder.
Mothers have been the target of intense scrutiny and control throughout history. But during the 20th century this attention underwent a major shift. Motherhood was increasingly understood in medical, psychiatric, and psychoanalytic terms, particularly in Britain and the United States.
One of the most disturbing examples of this transition is the concept of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP). This is an extremely rare form of abuse in which a caregiver, usually a mother, fabricates illnesses for those in her care, often by inducing symptoms and interfering with test results. Now, MSbP’s classification as a psychiatric disorder is controversial. The Munchausen name has fallen out of favour, with many professionals preferring fabricated or induced illness (FII). I should say straight away that I’m not claiming that MSbP is not real, or even weighing into that debate. What I’m arguing instead is that the history of MSbP shows how hypervigilance about motherhood creates the conditions in which medical and psychiatric phenomena can take root.