African borders, which mostly follow the contours of the former colonies, are widely regarded as artificial and yet have enjoyed remarkable longevity. On the one hand, there have been relatively few serious secessionist and/or irredentist bids. On the other hand, a limited number of border disputes have been settled and mostly without recourse to conflict. This is often attributed to the willingness of states to accept the principle of the intangibility of borders inherited from colonialism and the associated legal principle of uti possidetis. Most claims to secession are based on a preexisting sense of territoriality, whereas there are relatively few that are premised on the rights of peoples to self-determination. It has been pointed out that claims to secession are often tabled as a bargaining position rather than as a nonnegotiable demand. However, the secession of South Sudan has created a genuine precedent, and there has been an upsurge of secessionist movements that reflects this reality. In addition, there has been a proliferation of fresh border disputes, which reflects the increased competition for valuable resources such as oil. This would suggest that some of the landscape of border politics is undergoing a shift.
However, a number of factors continue to work in favor of the reproduction of existing borders. Paradoxically, the fact that guerrilla insurgencies tend to breed in borderlands, from where movements either aspire to take over the existing state or seek to carve out zones of de facto control, means that the borders themselves are not challenged. War economies depend on transboundary flows in which local populations themselves are deeply invested. Moreover, the flight of displaced populations and refugees toward borders may create greater insecurity at the margins but also tends to reinforce borders in both a legal and a practical sense. Finally, the struggle to determine the basis on which trade and transport is managed involves associational actors operating at the national level. Equally, fishermen, herders, farmers, and other local actors frequently invoke national affiliations to justify their own right to exploit resources within border zones. At the border itself, one observes a convergence of international, national, and local political scales in a particularly striking manner.
The variety in climate, vegetation, and population density in Central Africa is enormous, but some of the main features of policymaking and informal rules of politics—at first sight at least—appear quite similar between N’Djaména and Kinshasa, between Libreville and Bangui, in a vast territory bigger than the European Union: clientelism, personalization of power, politicized ethnicity, the impact of external intervention, and a legacy of repeated political violence establish some constant features. On the other hand, the variable size of countries (from island states in the Gulf of Guinea to large territorial states) has also come with various challenges. Also, Central Africa features land-locked countries such as Chad and Central African Republic, which negatively impacts economic development, in contrast to countries located at the Gulf of Guinea with an easy access to maritime trade routes. At closer inspection all of the eight countries have a specific history, but this overview article rather stresses the commonalities. Featuring in this contribution are the countries of Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial-Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe. The limited achievements of pro-democracy movements in Central Africa in the 1990s have enduring consequences on politics in Africa. Authoritarian regimes have consolidated their grip on power after surviving severe crises in most Central African states. Big man politics continue to prevail, only few opposition parties have upheld their initial strength and lack internal democracy. Enduring violent conflicts in DRC and CAR (and arguably to a somewhat lesser extent in Chad), have undermined conviviality between groups and state capacities in providing public goods with dramatic consequences on effectiveness and legitimacy of the state and its representatives. Prospects for a future allowing for more participation, truly competitive elections, and a peaceful change of government are therefore also grim. However, both violent and peaceful forms of contestation since about 2015 are also signs of renewed mobilization of citizens for political causes across Central Africa. New topics, including consumer defense and ecological issues, plus now-ubiquitous social media, may all be drivers for a new episode of engagement after two decades of frustration. The limited achievements of regional integration and the lack of dynamism of subregional organizations means that Central Africa is still a much less consolidated subregion compared to, for example, West Africa.
The question of membership and belonging is widely recognized to have been at the root of many political crises in Africa since independence. The legal frameworks for citizenship were largely inherited from the colonial powers and still show strong affinities across colonial legal traditions. However, most African states have enacted significant amendments to citizenship laws since independence, as they have grappled with issues of membership, aiming to include or exclude certain groups. Substantive provisions have diverged significantly in several countries from the original template. African states have shared global trends toward gender equality and acceptance of dual citizenship. In relation to acquisition of citizenship based on birth in the territory (jus soli) or based on descent (jus sanguinis), there has been less convergence. In all countries, naturalization is inaccessible to all but a few. Manipulation of citizenship law for political purposes has been common, as political opponents have at times been accused of being non-citizens as a way of excluding them from office, or groups of people have been denied recognition of citizenship as a means of disenfranchisement. Moreover, even in states where a substantial proportion of residents lack identity documents, it seems that the rules on citizenship established by law have themselves had an impact on political developments.
The citizenship status of many thousands of people living in different countries across Africa remains unclear, in a context where many citizens and non-citizens lack any identity documentation that records their citizenship. The content of the law is arguably therefore less influential than in some other regions. A rapid development in identification systems and the increasing requirement to show identity documents to access services, however, is likely to increase the importance of citizenship law.
In response to these challenges, the African continental institutions have developed, through standard setting and in decisions on individual cases, a continental normative framework that both borrows from and leads international law in the same field.
Liberation movements in Africa are nationalist movements that have resorted to armed struggle to overthrow colonialism, white minority rule, or oppressive postcolonial governments. Claiming to represent the national will, some are intolerant of opposition, others dubious of the legitimacy of multiparty democracy: this difference is a reflection of whether the military wing of the liberation movement dominates the political movement or whether the reverse situation applies. In the post–Cold War era, liberation movements espouse notions of the “developmental state,” continuing to ascribe the state a primary role in economic development event though they may simultaneously embrace the market. The extent to which they subordinate political considerations and freedoms to the pursuit of economic growth dictates whether they pursue paths of authoritarian development or developmental stagnation
The understanding of the differences in what a state and nonstate actors are and do in the Global South is augmented if we historicize these categories. In particular, the category of the nonstate actor is best understood when contextualized in the project of the state in which such actors operate. Building on established critical approaches, it is necessary to interrogate the a priori assumption that distinctions that frame as exclusively distinct categories of state and nonstate actors hold blanket validity for understanding politics in the Global South.
A meaningful understanding of how an actor’s influence—regardless of category—is enhanced when placed in a context, and where analysis addresses strategies and actions and their effects. To this end, an actor is defined as an entity with two characteristics: it is able to develop preferences and goals, and it is able to mobilize individuals and material resources in their pursuit. Presenting the benefits of contextual analysis shows how a focus on actors’ “sovereign potentialities” (i.e., attributes such as control over territory, service provision, generation of markers of identity, and the international recognition that an actor has and through which it can impose change on its context and environment) allows for a clearer understanding of what constrains or enables actors qua actors.
One way to explain the analytical purchase of this argument is via a novel reading of Hezbollah and of Lebanon’s politics, which is the party’s anchoring context. This makes it possible to analyze the profound effects of Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon and regionally through its alliance with Syria (and Iran), its appeal to a wider Arab audience, and its confrontation with Israel. Special attention is given to Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon, its involvement in the 2012–2013 Qusayr battle in support of the Syrian government, and its decision-making during the 2006 Israel War. This discussion will highlight Hezbollah’s state-like and non-state-like sovereign potentialities, and the factors that limit or enable its strategies in different contexts.