Many African country borders look like perfectly straight lines. This is also the case for the US. In the latter case, however, it's just an illusion, as the state borders contain multiple irregularities (see, for example, Colorado is a rectangle? Think again).

Are African country borders truly straight, or can we find similar irregularities? Of course, I'm asking only about the borders that look straight on the map, not the obviously non-straight ones, like between Morocco and Algeria.

  • Just to clarify, you're asking if there are survey errors in implementing African borders.
    – Joe C
    Mar 21, 2021 at 9:34
  • I'm asking about any irregularities, be it a survey error or a deliberate small deviation from a straight line.
    – Paula
    Mar 21, 2021 at 9:37
  • 4
    One look at Google Maps tells us that Africa does not actually have that many straight borders. Most of the borders which do go straight for hundreds of km are in the Sahara desert. Where very few people live, and those who do live there don't care much about borders. For those borders which are somehow but not exactly straight: I bet there are a lot of interesting stories to tell about them. But Africa is a huge continent. Which one do you want to hear specifically?
    – Philipp
    Mar 21, 2021 at 10:07
  • 7
    When you narrow it down to one country, then we might have an answerable question. Remember that Stack exchange isn't really a good way to ask "Tell me something interesting" questions. It's more suitable for specific questions about specific topics. Also, depending on when the border was drawn, history.stackexchange.com might be more qualified to answer.
    – Philipp
    Mar 21, 2021 at 10:28
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    As another note, not all borders are agreed by both countries. A famous example is the Halaib triangle dispute between Egypt and Sudan, where one party considers the border to be a "straight line" (i.e. a line of latitude) whereas the other uses a more nuanced definition en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halaib_Triangle
    – origimbo
    Mar 22, 2021 at 7:40

1 Answer 1


Borders are negotiated boundaries between states. They are generally defined in one of two ways:

  1. by geological features that limit the projection of power of the involved states, or...
  2. by treaty when such features do not exist but no state can establish dominance in a region.

The former generally follow the contours of the land: rivers, mountain ranges, forests, etc. They basically represent how far a power can 'reach' by establishing trade and military access routes. The latter are often pencilled in on maps during diplomatic meetings, and tend to be straight lines without much regard for landforms.

Northern Africa was home to a few ancient states that helped define the geography of that region. Sub-Saharan Africa was largely defined by colonization, which means its political units often centered on coastal plains or rivers that provided easy access to inner resources. The major colonial powers established their regions of control using these 'natural' extents and creating straight (diplomatic) borders for the remainder of the territory. In Sub-Saharan Africa many of these artificial borders were erased or redefined as different states emerged in the post-colonial era, but in northern Africa — particularly across the Saharan expanse — these straight diplomatic borders have been retained, because it's not land that anyone wants to expend resources squabbling over.

See African Historical Atlas for a development of African borders

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