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.
William D. Stanley
El Salvador experienced five decades of direct military rule from 1931 through 1982, followed by a semi-authoritarian phase from 1982 to 1992 during which elected civilians ostensibly governed while the military retained veto power and impunity. Twelve years of civil war produced significant political change, and a 1992 peace settlement finally brought constitutional and institutional reforms that curbed the military’s political power. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the armed forces had a somewhat informal structure, and while coups d’état occurred periodically, the military was more the tool of powerful individuals than the source of their power. An uncompetitive electoral system in the early 20th century broke down in 1931 after a combination of political reforms and financial crisis undermined civilian authority, and a coup enabled the minister of defense to seize power. Shortly thereafter, the fledgling military government suppressed a peasant uprising with extreme violence, thereby consolidating its own position and discouraging challenges from oligarchic elites. Initially military rule was personalistic, with power vested in General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, but in the 1940s this transitioned to a more institutional system in which the officer corps collectively shaped the broad outlines of how the country would be governed and prevented any one leader from dominating. For over 30 years the institutional military government sought to achieve a degree of legitimacy through controlled elections, repressed opposition when it grew too strong, promoted economic growth, and implemented mild social reforms that always stopped short of challenging oligarchic interests. The military’s strategy failed to resolve severe social and political tensions that arose from the country’s highly unequal distribution of land and income. The military faced popular demands for access to land and adequate wages, while the agrarian elite resisted any reform. Factional strife broke out regularly within the military over whether to rely mainly on repression to contain social and political demands, or to break with the oligarchy and deliver deeper reforms. The result was an inconsistent policy that occasionally created political space for opposition and then violently closed it. By the late 1970s there were massive protests and the beginnings of armed insurgency. Outright civil war began in 1980, and the country began a partial transition to civilian rule in 1982. Despite ample help from the United States, the military failed to defeat the insurgents. In 1990, the conservative elected civilian government began negotiating with the insurgents, leading to accords that definitively excluded the military from political power. After 1992 the country struggled with a sluggish economy and pervasive crime, and questions remained about past human rights crimes. The political system was genuinely democratic, featuring unrestricted debate and a wide range of political ideologies. The military remained largely subordinate to civil authority under governments of both the right and the left. Yet legacies of authoritarianism persisted, and in 2020 a populist elected civilian president called on the military for political support and used it to detain people unlawfully during the COVID-19 pandemic.