THE Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, and Zambia are the three countries with the most neighbours in Africa.
DRC leads the pack with nine neighbours. It is the second largest country in Africa, and is landlocked on all sides except for the 40 kilometre coastline shared with the Atlantic Ocean. To the north of the country lies the Central African Republic (CAR), Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.
To the east, DRC is bounded by Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. Zambia lies to the southeast of the country and Angola to the south-west.
Next are Tanzania and Zambia, both with eight neighbours. Tanzania is bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Mozambique to the south, Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC to the west. To the southwest, it is bordered by Malawi and Zambia.
Zambia, small and land-locked, also has eight neighbours. These are DRC, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.
WHAT GOOD IS IT?
Question then is, what commonalties do these countries that have many neighbours have, and what good is it to them?
DRC, Tanzania, and Zambia are neighbours to each other. Zambia is landlocked, but DRC and Tanzania have coastal lines.
Usually, if a country is surrounded by many neighbours one would expect it to be subject to or have to respond to many more cultural and economic influences, and therefore be socially very dynamic and rich from trade.
While DRC for decades had the most dynamic musical scene in Africa, it has been beset by cruel and corrupt rulers, and remains poor and bedeviled by conflict albeit being one of the most mineral-rich nations on earth.
Until Edgar Lungu became president of Zambia two years, and started charting an authoritarian course, the country had been one of the more democratic ones in Africa. It was one of the countries on the continent where the opposition was more likely to win an election.
But it is not even the richest in southern Africa, and most definitely doesn’t have the continent’s most lively cultural scene.
RISING AUTOCRATS LUNGU AND MAGUFULI
Tanzania has been one of Africa’s most stable nations, albeit a “one-party democracy”, which has only been ruled by one party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (Revolutionary Party) in its modern incarnation, since independence.
It’s one of the fastest-growing African economies, but like Lungu in Zambia, since John Magufuli won elections two years ago, though avowedly committed to fighting corruption, he has also tilted in an autocratic direction, moving away from the delicate stick-and-carrot approach most of his predecessors chose.
Of these three countries, only Tanzania and Zambia have attempted a major joint economic project, the now nearly-moribund Chinese ambitious Tanzania Zambia Railway (TAZARA). Operated jointly by the two countries, the TAZARA line is 1,860 km in length, of which 975 km is in Tanzania and 885 km in Zambia.
Of the three countries, Tanzania seems to be the one most shaped by having so many neighbours. In the years of its founding father, the charismatic Julius Nyerere, it became the capital of African liberation movements.
It was also a focal point of north-south cooperation, and an important pan-Africanism staging point.
Today, though, all of them are bettered by countries like Rwanda, Mauritius and Ghana, in having more open borders and not requiring visas for other Africans, with DRC being the most parochial of the lot.