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Please do not bother to border us!!!

By Kole Omotoso
22 December 2019   |   3:45 am
A group of Europeans sat around a table with an inaccurate map of Africa and began to share out the pieces of the map.

A group of Europeans sat around a table with an inaccurate map of Africa and began to share out the pieces of the map. No Africans were invited since those who served tea didn’t count. Those who washed up afterwards didn’t count either.

The North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt already had their places on the map. And they had been answered for. Like Spain had taken the western extremities. The central part had been stolen by France while Great Britain had grabbed Egypt and some incredibly large chunk simply called Bilad as-Sudan translated as Sudan.

In the south another nebulous chunk was called South Africa where the Zulus have been fighting the British and the Boers have been allying with the Barolong to drive the Matabele up to the north to go and create Zimbabwe where Mugabe will one day Mzilikazi!

What was really left was not much, just the hefty chunk in the middle to fit in Congo Big and Congo Small (until we can think what to call them. Could be Zaire and it could be DRC. All that could wait. There was the whole of West Africa to fix and name.

Before you could say jack Robertson the places had names, had limits called borders, ours and theirs. Evocative names like Ghana and boring ones like Ivory Coast. Who ever thought of naming a country Ivory Coast of all places? Never mind. Their totem would be, of course, the “enefant”, as Ben’s people would say, instead of “elephant”! So, seriously, people composed anthems and fought to protect what some whiteys carved out of a crude map of Africa. These borders were soon to be sacred. They were to be protected by human blood. Patriotism and a flag to die for.

These arbitrary places began to have National this and national that. There was a National Language as well as other languages. There was a National culture and before long these national things became items that men fought over.

Like play like play Nigerian army felt insulted by the behaviour of the Nigerian politician, and so killed some of them and took over governance of the country. Being soldiers they needed to fight a war. So they had two sides. At some point a third side emerged to take over the power of one to defeat the other. It didn’t work. They ended the war as draw 0 – 0. All the same they continued to misrule the country.

International financial houses advised them and they took the advice and things went from bad to worse. After so many military years, the soldiers took off their uniform and misrule the country wearing agbada. Twenty years of agbada thing no better for okra soup. Those international financial organisations which advised their fathers came back to advise them anew. There was no change. Nothing worked. Rather than getting better things got worse. No roads. No electricity. No governance. The wretched vehicles went on the no roads to get to the towns that had no light.

Then one day it was announced the borders of the country had been closed. The reason was that there was too much smuggling of food items across the border. This affected the price that farmers in Nigeria sold their farm products. That’s from that side. From this side petroleum products were smuggled to the surrounding so-called French-speaking countries of Benin Republique, Togo, Niger and Cameroon.

The afternoon that the border closure was announced I counted 76 Okada motorcycles carrying two bags of rice each across the border through the forest. That was simply through one outlet-inlet alone. That was simply in the panic response of the closure. Once people settled down to understand the nature of the closure – its politics, its federal character and other dimensions – they will structure a proper attack to deal with it.

There is nothing new in all this border closure. Long ago, Nigeria was the greatest consumer of French champagne. When Christmas was approaching, the border will be closed and the season of smuggling will open. Thousands and thousands of bottles of French champagne and wines would flood the Nigerian market from West, north and east as well as from the Atlantic Ocean.

From our side going out unto the French countries, petroleum products would flood out of the country. Within the country, there would be scarcity of petroleum products. There would be three-day queues for petrol. Those planning to spend the festive season with their Folks in the village would end up spending much of the time searching for petrol. Petrol tanker after petrol tanker would make multiple journeys to those countries around Nigeria. And as the calendar ends December and January begins it’s long journey, petrol returns to Nigeria and the borders are open again.

Nowadays, with some 60 or so Shoprite outlets in Nigeria as against 600 outlets in South African, Nigeria consumes more South African champagne than South Africans. Population apart, since we do not know the population of Nigeria, it would seem that Nigerians must drink a case per person to achieve the feat of outdrinking South Africans! Besides champagne, Nigerians drink beer to excess. You go to a bar and a group of young men order six big bottles of cold beer with a pot of goat head pepper soup.

Was it a good thing or a bad thing that there were no Africans at the partition of Africa? Would the Egyptians or Ethiopians or even the Boers have asked for more land?

The white fellows were quite convinced that there was not much of Africa left to share out. More than half of the continent was already answered for at this time. The rest was the remaining Sahara south of the Sudan and South-West of Mauritania. East Africa was answered for by Zanzibar and the Swahili coast. Southern Africa was almost settled what with the English and Boers having taken the huge piece of South Africa. We need to reload at the 1884/85 so-called Berlin Conference to partition Africa. Much of Africa was already partitioned. Less than half was left to carve up.

The trouble is that African historians have never taken a post-colonial look at the Berlin Conference. Maybe it is time that they do.