Are Africa’s borders sacred? Western Togoland crisis in Ghana

On September 25, 2020, gunmen raided police stations in Mepe and Aveyime, two little-known towns in the Volta region of Ghana. The gunmen allegedly belong to the Western Togoland Restoration Front.

It is one of two or more separatist groups campaigning for the creation of a new nation from the borders of the former Togoland Trust Territory under British rule, which has been part of Ghana since 1956.

The gunmen seized two police vehicles, injured a police officer on duty and fired several weapons. Before the situation could be brought under control, the attackers blocked major roads leading to and from the area. They hoisted their new ‘nation’ flags and demanded that Ghanaian security agencies ‘leave their territory’.

Ghanaian authorities managed to curb events, but the group reappeared four days later with an attack on a public bus station in Ho, where they set fire to two vehicles.

The emotional nature of these incidents, the history of the group and the consequences for one of Africa’s most stable countries raise questions about the threat to Ghana and the management of secessionist tendencies in Africa after independence.

Africa’s framework for managing such demands and demands for self – determination is anchored in the principles set out in Article 2 of Resolution 16 (1) of the Cairo Declaration of the Organization of African Unity of 1964. African states have undertaken to respecting borders that reach their national independence ‘, which means that all borders are inviolable. Since independence, it has been one of the few principles on which all African countries resolutely endorse.

African leaders have condemned all secession efforts since 1964, including in Biafra in Nigeria, Casamance in Senegal, Caprivi in ‚Äč‚ÄčAngola and Azawad in northern Mali. They rewrote their position on the matter in Article 4 (b) of the Constitution of the African Union (AU). The introduction of the AU’s border project also shows how seriously African leaders view the issue.

Africa’s difficult attitude towards secession has ensured that state borders remain roughly the same as at the end of colonial rule – except for Sudan and Ethiopia – despite the many challenges facing internal diversity management.

African leaders have condemned all secession efforts since 1964

Compared to other regions worldwide, Africa experienced the fewest attempts at secession. In some cases, cases have been settled by international arbitration. However, the most important assumption of Africa that ‘the borders of African states on the day of their independence constitute a tangible reality’ does not mean that not all territorial boundaries are clearly demarcated. It also reveals the fact that not all groups accepted the territories in which they found themselves during independence.

By adopting the principle of inviolability, African groups left no room for questioning colonial territorial allocations or correcting demarcation errors. As a result, secession aspirations and self-determination demands were suppressed before independence. It has also made it difficult for AU member states to agree on situations such as Western Sahara and Somaliland.

In the case of the British Togoland crisis in Ghana, the irredentist demands of Equal Ethnic Nationalists were the independence of the country. Although the United Nations General Assembly (UN) has approved the Gold Coast region, successive governments in Ghana have had to deal with different shades of the same crisis after independence.

The revival of the case in 2020, coupled with crises such as the Ambazonia conflict in Cameroon, shows that governments and the AU have not been able to solve the problem. They also show that secretory tendencies cannot be ignored unless they are properly addressed.

Compared to other regions worldwide, Africa experienced the fewest attempts at secession

However, the adoption of self-determination in 2011 in South Sudan indicates that there are established exceptions to the inviolability of colonial borders. At its 16th summit in 2011, the AU declared South Sudan an exception and did not question ‘the sacred principle of respect for borders inherited during the accession of African countries to independence’.

By accepting that there are exceptions, the AU must explain the requirements for such cases. It gives areas that are considering a peaceful breakaway a framework for engagement. In the absence of such guidance, secession in Africa has usually been militarized, with serious consequences for human safety.

Separatist demands indicate unequal relations between groups and the management of sessions is therefore a management issue. The rise of secessionist movements may indicate an underlying crisis of legitimacy associated with government deficits, unfair distribution of resources and unequal political representation of marginalized groups. Good government is the antidote, rather than the use of the military.

Successive governments in Ghana after independence faced different shades of the same crisis

Members of Ghana’s opposition emphasized the political undertones of secession before the December 2020 election. Ghana’s government has stated its intention to crush the separatist movement. This approach rarely works and offers only a temporary solution. Suppression can also lead to the crisis returning in a more sophisticated form.

The importance of border issues in Africa – which are mostly underlying secessionist calls – cannot be overemphasized. The AU border project did not receive enough attention during the institution’s ongoing reform process. This should be an important part of the reformed structures at the AU Commission.

Although the AU tends to view situations such as the Western Togoland conflict as a domestic issue, these crises threaten the stability of states and their neighbors. Regional bodies and the AU need to keep these issues on their radar, from an early warning perspective.

Andrews Atta-Asamoah, Head, African Peace and Security Management, ISS Addis Ababa

This article was first published in the ISS’s PSC report.

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