Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Sovereignty along a West African Frontier: The Creation of the Guinea-Senegal Border, 1850–1920
by Carpenter, Nathan Riley, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2012, 202; 3544705
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines pre-colonial and colonial political upheaval and transformation in a West African region that today extends across Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and Guinea. It demonstrates how a corridor of small, independent communities repeatedly resisted incursions by both pre-colonial and colonial states. By leveraging competing politics, existing trade-networks, and environmental location, these communities established their locale as a political frontier. In so doing, they defined the territorial limits of pre-colonial and colonial sovereignty and shaped what would become the border between Senegal, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau.

The dissertation offers a critique of the arbitrary thesis of African borders. Conventional wisdom suggests African borders are arbitrary divisions. Contemporary borders are certainly remnants of the nineteenth-century European scramble for Africa, and most were laid down by imperialists with little knowledge of, or interest in, the communities through which the lines ran. They were not, however, always arbitrary delineations. The latitudinal and longitudinal lines employed by European treaty makers were not groundless, but manifestations of a complex of forces—some European and some African. In the case of northern Guinea, southern Senegal, and northeastern Guinea Bissau, the border was delineated along an existing political frontier and drew on diplomatic treaties signed earlier in the century.

The study examines a corridor of independent and mostly decentralized communities located at the periphery of the nineteenth-century Fulbe state of Futa Jallon. In aggregate, these communities functioned as a pre-colonial frontier. Examining three of the societies within this corridor—Pachessi, Coniagui, and Sangalan—the dissertation shows how communities used their ecological, political, and commercial location to maintain political and cultural autonomy in the face of increasing pressures from larger neighboring states.

This case study has broad implications for the theoretical investigation of the formation and reproduction of political borders. It demonstrates how communities' experiences of political change were not simply responses to overwhelming expansionist powers. Rather, local communities actively shaped the limiting structures of both African and European political rule. By showing how rural communities effectively defined the territorial boundaries of pre-colonial and colonial states, this dissertation suggests that theories of sovereignty need also consider the ways in which the state itself can be structured from below.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lawrance, Benjamin N.
Commitee: Davis, Diana K., Miller, Susan G.
School: University of California, Davis
Department: History
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 74/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African history, International Relations, International law
Keywords: Alfa Yaya, Borders, Casamance, Coniagui, Futa Jallon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Senegal
Publication Number: 3544705
ISBN: 9781267758552
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