Wednesday, 7th June 2023

With Bridging African Boundaries, Professor Asiwaju deepens cross border studies, regional integration

By Bayo Ogunmupe
17 June 2022   |   2:38 am
This massive book interrogates the history of border-cum-boundary studies, regional integration and policy advocacy for the development of boundary communities.

This massive book interrogates the history of border-cum-boundary studies, regional integration and policy advocacy for the development of boundary communities.

Written by the renowned historian and borderland scholar, Professor Emeritus Anthony Asiwaju of the University of Lagos, the book looks at relationships between and within sovereign state territories and their territorial possessions.

The book, which has 43 chapters, 918 pages and 12 pages of index, is a study of relationships and the management of binaries of friendliness, peace, harmony, cooperation and development.

This study of borders is focused more specifically on the sub-category defining sovereign state territories and overlapping borderlands or cross-border areas and provides the sharpest cutting edge into a comparative and policy-sensitive academic field.

It is a merger of three signature publications, first, ‘Western Yorubaland Under European Rule, 1976’, the successive follow-up on ‘West African transformations 2001’ and ‘Boundaries and African Integration 2003’.

Published in 2021 by the Pan-African University Press, Austin, Texas, USA, it has had three parts: ‘Western Yoruba land under European rule 1889 to 1945’, ‘West African transformations’, and finally, ‘Boundaries and African Integration.

Let us start the review from the first of the three books combined as one. Western Yorubaland Under European Rule 1889-1945, first written in 1976, is Asiwaju’s comparative analysis of French and British colonialism, being his doctoral thesis at the University of Ibadan, which he successfully defended in June 1971. The thesis was published as a book by Longman in U.K, in its prestigious Ibadan History Series in 1976. It was later published in Europe in 1976 and in North America in 1977.

Western Yorubaland Under European Rule is the foundation of Asiwaju’s cross-border, regional integration in comparative history and policy advocacy studies.

It draws worldwide attention and impact as the first ever-historical assessment of the colonial systems of France and Britain, the two dominant European powers in Africa, as the core classical nation-states to emerge after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

The fame of ‘Western Yorubaland’ was only challenged decades later by William Miles’ award-winning, Hausaland Divided: Colonialism and Independence in Nigeria and Niger, 1994.

The 1976 book, which, “as a pioneer work, suffered the dearth of parallel works and severely limited the endeavor to generalise the findings and conclusion. Essentially a study of cross-border proximity in West Africa, in pioneering explorations of comparative history directly undertaken in the 1970s, with particular reference to the Western Yoruba case study, fulfilled the then prevailing orthodoxy for measuring originality in the aforementioned era of a data revolution that marked the dawn of modern African historical scholarship in the 1950s and its flowering in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The solution to the challenge of chronology is dealt with rather ingeniously. Since the base is one of a single African people, the Yoruba, in the same pre-colonial conditions, namely Western Yorubaland, united in its diversity by a commonly experienced severity of generalised insecurity of being sandwiched between warring powerful neighbours, especially, the ancient war-like Fon Kingdom of Dahomey to the west and the rival 19th-century the Egba-Yoruba State of Abeokuta to the east. It is, thus, possible to treat the politics of the area as a single historic unit.

The second book, West African Transformations, 2001, is the result of an expansion of the literature on the comparative history of African cross-border areas. It is a collection of essays (journal articles and chapters in specialised edited volumes).

Accomplished between 1970 and 1978, the articles are pooled together and published as a single volume in 2001, under the title: West African Transformations: The Comparative Impacts of French and British Colonialism. Prof. J. F. Ade Ajayi, the celebrated historian, contributes the foreword to the book.

He was Asiwaju’s lead mentor and the one who actually counseled him to choose the study of West Africa under colonial rule.

Two other historians, Prof Gabriel Olusanya, former Nigerian Ambassador to France and Prof Olatunji Oloruntimehin, “inestimable friend and colleague with whom I share specialisation in francophone African studies”, contributed to the book’s making.

With 16 items in five parts, book two enlarges the essay’s scope in the first. The first, a review article, presents a critique of the prevailing large-scale general works of comparisons, drawing data from published or secondary sources.

In part two of the second book, Colonial Method and African Responses, six studies are presented. Chapter Four: Control Through Coercion is focused on the West African experience of the French Indigenat regime with a penal code that institutionalised repression.

The third book is Boundaries and African Integration, 2003. This book begins with a definitive shift of focus in 1984. This shift is signposted after the publication of Partitioned Africans and Artificial Boundaries.

The book explicitly treats concerns for a sensitive issue as regional integration “peace, security and sustainable development in the continent.”

Like the second book, the third is a collection of essays hitherto published as articles in academic journals. It also includes chapters in symposia of specialised research interest, largely between 1984 and 2002 and arising from the new research orientation.

As hinted earlier, an important feature of the 18 chapters of this third book is that it parallels the period of the author’s involvement with problem-solving in boundary disputes involving Nigerian leaders from Ibrahim Babangida to Sani Abacha and President Olusegun Obasanjo.