In our series of letters from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene argues that African identities remain in thrall to the continent's colonial past.

English-speaking Cameroon has been on my mind. Agitation for its secession has led me into paths I rarely stray into.

I am a great believer in African countries needing to get on with it and not blaming things on colonialism.

But I am now beginning to think that the way the countries of Africa came into being matters very much in how they cope in later life.

Europe's borders can hardly be said to have had a more benign beginning. Almost all European borders were born out of wars.

So why would their borders born out of wars be any more stable than ours - which were drawn on a big table in Berlin (over what I suspect would have been some decent claret)?

We in Africa did not draw the borders of our countries and those who drew the borders took no notice of the peoples, ethnic groups or languages that inhabited the lands and simply drew lines across arbitrarily.

There is no better example that I know than the border between Ghana and Togo, where there used to be homes with kitchens in one country and bedrooms in another.

I had a personal experience of a cocoa farm that my father owned along the border.

I remember that during harvest time, the decision on where to dry the cocoa beans depended on which of the two countries was offering the better purchasing price.


Elizabeth Ohene:

Image copyright Elizabeth Ohene

"It appears the short periods of colonisation are deemed to have made bigger impacts and define us as a people"


It is very rare that these colonial borders took much notice of the areas occupied by the various ethnic groups.

Thus we have the same people on both sides of the borders between Ghana and Ivory Coast, Ghana and Burkina Faso, and Ghana and Togo.

You would therefore find that members of the same ethnic group speak English on one side of the border and French on the other.

The same situation exists in many of the borders of all 54 countries on the continent.

Nobody is suggesting that we redraw these borders to make sure that ethnic groups are not separated in different countries.

It is a problem that could have been tackled at the time of independence, but the leaders at the time chose not to.

Nobody is suggesting now that people who speak the same language and are spread across three different countries should be brought together by creating new nations.

And by language here, I refer to their own indigenous languages and not those acquired by colonisation - English, French, Portuguese or Spanish.

But it appears the short periods of colonisation are deemed to have made bigger impacts and define us as a people.

'German orderliness in Ghana'

I was born in the Volta Region of Ghana. For a short period, that region, was, with present day Togo, the German colony of Togoland.

After the First World War, the area of Togoland was shared between the British and the French.

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