Colonised Africa Map

Legacy of Lines on a Map

In Robert Kaplan’s recent book Revenge of Geography,  Kaplan argues that geography, particularly land masses and oceans, have played a distinct role in determining the geopolitical fault lines of the world both in the past, present and he predicts into the future. Although this idea isn’t particularly new, Kaplan argues that it is one that has largely been forgotten and has resulted in the development of many of the geopolitical trends that we see today. Although Kaplan spends most of the book looking at six distinct areas: Europe, Russia, China, India, the Middle East and finally North America and how geography has shaped the ebb and flow of power within and between each region. A more interesting analysis is how these rules of geography can be applied to the periphery of the world system.

When looking at many of the protracted conflicts from recent history and today there is a common thread that seems to tie them together. That common thread is geography. What I mean by geography is that I am not speaking specifically about rivers, plains and mountains although they do play a role; I am more speaking about the lines that we find on a map. So many of the protracted conflicts that are festering around the world have to do with where arbitrarily lines have been drawn on a map.

Look at Afghanistan, the ongoing insurgency is largely based in Pashtun region that straddles Afghan/Pakistan border which prevents proper counter-insurgency operations from being carried out. Had the British drawn the borders a little different, it would have dramatically altered the battle against Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Even before the US invasion, northern portions of the country where Tajik, Uzbek and Turkman population are centred, battled as members of the Northern Alliance against the governing Taliban.

The same can be argued for Africa, the divorce between North and South Sudan illustrates the same issues as do the ongoing conflicts in the Congo, Mali and the East African horn. Lines drawn on a map with no acknowledgement of geography are often plagued with instability due to the fact that geography often dictates the cultural and ethnic distinction of the peoples within a region. So when geography was ignored in the past, it has resulted in instability in the present and future.

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Photo Credit:  Eric Fischer

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