Chroniclers were mid last year beginning to be alarmed at the number of border disputes that are coming up in Africa, the eastern part in particular, while most such issues had largely been forgotten since the mid 1960s where the few remaining border issues were being resolved.
Even at that time the now cancerous oil and gas syndrome was not far from the count, but it was a limited matter known to a few researchers, for instance the border dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon, or the reasons for break ups of federal or confederal systems like Senegambia and Guinea-Bissau Cape Verde. The more recent disputes are of a different character where nothing like settling relics of colonialism arises but state oil or gas hunting.
Crises relating to borders had a different expression from the mid 1960s, namely that of territorial cohesion, in East Africa essentially being the conflicts between Ethiopia and Somalia over the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, and briefly the 'shifta' movement in Kenya, affecting a large part of its eastern (called north eastern) province. Somalia was fighting to expand its territory to include all areas of ethnic Somali predominance on its borders, and ended up breaking up the country, on account of excessive emphasis on ethnicity.
The more successful demand was that of Eritrea, which fought a long war of independence from Ethiopia and won, in like manner as South Sudan became independent lately.
Certain border disputes of the later years, for instance in the late 1960s and even late 1970s tended to be politically inspired, that they were excuses to air a different sort of conflict, for different geopolitical reasons.
The Malawi-Tanzania border dispute was Cold War driven, where Life President the Ngwazi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda sought to please his South African backers and perhaps earn a bit of praise in London and Washington, the key allies of the white minority regimes in southern Africa.
That's why even now the territorial claim over Lake Nyasa is lopsided, that in the Tanzania border area of the lake, the whole of the lake belongs to Malawi; it doesn't apply to the side of the lake bordering Mozambique!
The other politically-inspired border dispute related to the Uganda-Tanzania border, where the key issue wasn't Cold War geopolitics but the breakdown of the military regime of Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, the last king of Scotland, etc.
He consequently needed to drum up a minimum of patriotic zeal in the ranks of the armed forces and some largesse to accompany it on the part of the military hierarchy, so to invade the land strip between Kagera river and the Uganda border enabled the lieutenants and upper ranks to cart off loads of sugar and sell in the lucrative Ugandan market ridden with shortages. What the 'field marshal' had billed for was Tanzania to use ordinary levels, complain at OAU and UN, etc.
That is why Tanzania earned a lot of derision from innumerable friends of Idi Amin for having invaded and toppled the military regime, conveniently skipping the fact that when a country starts a war with another it is not possible to take an insurance policy as to its reaction.
As there is no such an absurd military regime that needs a 'small war' on the border in order to calm dissensions within its ranks, current disputes relate to resource calculations, for instance possibilities of gas and oil finds in Lake Nyasa, and absurd claims that all of it (save the Mozambican border portion) belongs to Malawi. Still, with the sort of divisions that characterised these last years of the Malawi political system, it is not just the pursuit of oil and gas resources that is at issue, as it is a dead end, but some patriotism is needed....
What is however more problematic isn't the international politics of oil and gas discoveries and how they could foment border disputes all over the place, but their internal politics, and here, at two levels - first whether it is possible to avoid civil wars or 'resource curse' that is typical in African politics when oil is discovered, and to an extent diamonds or gold.
The parameter of possible political strife is tied to a different aspect of the same thing, that is, even if a country remained peaceful, whether any of these countries has the capacity to exploit those resources in a manner that propels national development. So far the preliminary impression that is virtually unavoidable is that both parameters are largely negative.
There is a new sense of irridentism that is arising from oil and gas discoveries, and at each instance some pretext will be found to deny common nationality with the rest of the country, that is, refuse to share resources in an equitable manner when the irridentist part of the country has the bulk of the new resources or significantly so.
If one thought that Zanzibar has at least a viable excuse for seeking to break the Union now that oil and gas findings are on their doorsteps, that is, disputing the Articles of Union, in coastal parts of Kenya a new party comes up saying its nationality is tied up with the old Sultanete of Zanzibar. The ten mile coastal strip was only added after independence, that is, illegally....
While at present both the secession bid for Zanzibar and the break away agenda for the Kenya coastal strip are dominated by wider national politics, chances of their taking an upper hand exist, if there is a breakdown in election politics for instance.
Zanzibar has a higher potential for breaking away especially if the ruling party fails to keep its cohesion in the face of electoral rivalry and the lack of a peacekeeper above contention, the way Mwalimu Nyerere intervened in 1995, both to ensure that renewal takes place at the top office, and cohesion is kept. The 1995 background served for 2005 polls, as the nomination top of the list had just bid for time to come back, while 2015 has a candidate and peacekeeper role gap.
Kenya has lately discovered substantial amounts of oil in far north Turkana region, where no thought of irridentism could possibly arise from largely nomadic cattle keepers, unlike if the same findings are confirmed at the coast, whose agenda has come out clearly.
Much the same thing can be noticed for Tanzania, where discoveries of gold and tanzanite far upcountry brought up localised problems for instance in the cattle rustling prone Tarime district, which has added the North Mara gold mine on its favorite hunting grounds, regularly invaded to take gold sand, etc. There is also sheer unaccountability as gold firms pay up to Tshs200 million to district councils, and no one shouts on how it is disbursed.
In that case East African oil and gas findings are posing problems for the cohesion of the nation-state because the resources are located in areas which would more or less easily claim psychological distance from the wider nation-state on account of the Zanzibar sultanete and the ten-mile coastal strip that was reintegrated with the hinterland at various periods. In Tanzania this ten mile coastal strip and their allies much father inland were the anchor of the Maji Maji war, and since then a breadth of their intellectuals see the state in a continuum of a Christian predominance, from colonialism to independence as based on precisely the same terms. It is an entity they have never closely identified with, a sort of externality.
It thus follows that oil and gas discoveries in East Africa are putting the developmental state in some testing time, first in relation to good governance, as piling up revenue cash in treasuries and expecting optimal development expenditure is faulty analysis.
Cash seepage will take place as usual, fueling the primitive accumulation of local middle classes battling not to depend on paltry salaries for the family welfare and subsequently upon retirement. But since much of this cash is being used to purchase land - when the transaction is individual and direct, not by allocation - it augments the circulation of credit.
Lately a continuation of that sense of specific provincial rights could be seen in the manner in which the Mtwara gas flare up started and spread like wildfire.
There has never been instances where government offices and symbols of the ruling party, including residential houses of key representatives, are torched, more or less as if the residents wished for a removal of government and formation of an own state.
While a ‘peace of the brave’ has been struck by the ever diplomatic and totally accommodating Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, danger lurks in the air, to believe that all is ended. And when new disputes arising from modeling a new constitution where all these appetites will have to be taken note of and appeased, more is due.