A week ago we posted an article about Amboseli National Park in Kenya. This park is on the border with Tanzania overlooking the famous and magnificent Mt Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest peak. It is a fact that when you are in Amboseli, you have a nice view of the mountain even though it is in Tanzania. Now, the article generated a lot of back and forth between our readers in Kenya and Tanzania, with most Tanzanians arguing that Kenya was trying to cash in on an attraction that is in Tanzania.
The only thing that separates these two countries is an arbitrary line that was demarcated by two foreign entities – Germany and Britain – in 1885 at the Berlin Conference. Prior to this, there was no border, there were just people living on their ancestral land without restriction to mobility.
To think that today, Africa has to struggle with borders just because some greedy people sat down and unilaterally decided to take a ruler and start partitioning land they had no legitimate claim over; feels surreal. If you visit the areas around the border from Mombasa, Tarangire, Tsavo, Himo, Arusha, the people still share a lot of common historical and cultural fabric.
So to find out that Tanzanians and Kenyans who are probably of Kamba, Taita, Maasai or Chaga origin resent each other’s claim to one of the world’s treasure is disheartening. These are the people who used to co-exist on the slopes Kilimanjaro, surviving on its benevolence.
The borders have created a lot of identity fissures across formerly united people. Yes Africa was never homogeneous but the borders were arbitrary with little consideration to the impact the separation had on once united people. Today you find the BaKalanga of Botswana and baKalanga of Zimbabwe. These are one people who now require a passport to visit their traditional shrine at Njelele.
On the border of Botswana and South Africa, you have Barolong now needing permission to visit each other. The Tsonga people of Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Manyika of Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the Tonga people of Zimbabwe and Zambia and so many people across Africa have been separated by these arbitrary borders.
The question is, does Africa need these borders today?