Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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The common Criterion for Internal Border Demarcation in the Federated States

By Abdinur Abdirizak Sofe


The border is a legitimate partitioning line that separates political entities such as sovereign nations and federated states. The notion of its emergence is traced back to the beginning of nation states and nationalism in Westphalia Treaty in 16482. The features of the border used as a divisor factor (e.g. Seas, Mountains, or ethnic lines) and its functional role to play both have important consideration as they have an effect on the future political landscape of a given country. Borders are delineated between the sovereign nation’s frontiers and the federated states as well.  This discussion focuses on the case of internal borders, particularly, the federated states.

The issue of intra federal border demarcation is almost always contentious challenging task  as the internal boundaries have an impact on access to power, resources, centrifugal or centripetal forces, autonomy and other range of merits and demerits.

Border demarcation in federated states has a crucial role in the future prospect of the country. It is a quandary issue demanding firm and rigorous decisions. This is because it may put the country in a further political quagmire thereby can make the federal system a road with no exit, particularly, in the event that enough concern is not given to balance the national integration and the right of the regions to be autonomous.

Given the imperative thought of this matter, this article gives an outline of distinctive models taken after by diverse world federal nations and their possible negative and positive impacts.

Criterion for internal border demarcation

For the reason that, the local contexts of the countries differ their demarcation criteria also  varies. Currently about 25% of world countries practicing federalism few sates follow similar criteria in local boundaries. In spite of local features consideration, many of them also ethnic interest and political drives dominated in the first times thus deviated from their proper approach.

The following portion of the discussion centers on the most applied approaches, but however is not all inclusive to it rather is a simple review of the major criterion.

Ethnic based criteria

Ethnic delimitation is a kind of demarcation in which citizen’s ethnicity is used as an Apparatus to decide boundaries. In this approach, boundaries are delimitated in respect of the ethnic that inhabit or dominate the area. It is commonly practiced in multinational countries characterized in protracted racial division and mistrust. Furthermore, it is used for the attraction of other autonomous regions that has been out of the federal previously.

Though, the proponents of this approach, e.g. (McGarry 2005) argued it helps autonomy of sub nationalities and encourages shared governance, it is not generally recommended approach as it precipitates the people of specific countries to feel belongings to sub national state. In addition to that one major challenge of this criteria is the issue of local tyranny as the dominant ethnic group consider themselves the owners of mother state and treat minority groups like second class citizens, therefore it makes the country prone to ethnic based violence and ethnic division, the notion of tribalism and racism may become visible in the society and finally may cause the fragmentation of the country into many small independent nations. According to Selassie (2003) stated

“… The Ethno-national federalism is not only a threat to national unity, but its economic and political performance is marginal. Furthermore, selssaie argues that by deliberately and openly highlighting ethnic differences… such a system corrals citizens into ethnic enclaves, encourages aggressive ethnic identification and separatism, and exacerbates ethnic distrust and social discord”.

In the same way kymlicka (1998) and de silva(1989) strongly argued that ethnic based  federalism serves as a stepping stone to secede for the preferred ethnic groups those their aim is an independence. Brietzke too adds that ethnic delimitation perpetuates disintegration of ethnic groups themselves. The lessons learned from the former ethnic based federation of the SOVIET UNION which soon after divided into numerous independent countries is also an evident case revealing some of the adverse effects of this approach.

Language based criteria

In this form, language is used as a divisor factor to demarcate intra federal boundaries. It is mostly practiced in the federations where the inhabitants of the country are a multilingual  society, particularly; this method is helpful in the countries which the minorities perceive the domination of elite language to create common ownership. Among some world countries, India could be an example of this approach where 15 languages determine the borderlines between the states except Hindi which is the lingua franca in six states. Apart from India, Canada and Denmark are sometimes counted to the linguistic federalism. In fact, albeit, the demarcation of constituent borders through language bases may be panacea for the dominated groups, yet it may be a recipe for ethnic conflict. Rationally, this is because the linkage between the language and ethnic bonds are always analogous.

Religion based criteria

Like the other divisor factors, religion is determinant of borderlines in some countries where multi-faith societies coexist for instant in Switzerland the catholic canton of jura and protestant canton of Berne determine the borderlines of the federal states. Religion delimitation is among less practiced approaches. Supporters of this criterion argue that demarcating borders through religion bases is an effective device in stabilizing religion crisis thus facilitating coexistence of highly distinctive groups. Notwithstanding, the opponents of this notion attest that, as the religion, its self is natural divisor, the intended use of it as a delimitation criteria will add fuel to the previous difference.

Geographic based criteria

In this procedural of sitting internal borders the main focus is how regions are connected in  terms of physical geography like climate and environment topography. Geographic delimitation is mostly recommended when the entire nation landslide is diverse it also practiced when the most of the society is egalitarian. In some cases it may be compulsorily used where other alternative is minimal or when there is a main infrastructural barrier such as harsh deserts, non- navigable rivers or high mountains.

However this doesn’t mean that this approach is employed only in the federation which their interior boundaries are separated by land substantial hampers rather it means that this is general approach which can be engaged without having like this land attributes, in some countries the aim can be to protect a possible perceived threat to state nationhood for instantce Nepal In 2012, the constituted assembly of the country decided to drow the state border formation along the  lines of geography by refusing any ethnic priorities, this was to protect ethnic conflict in the country. The assembly restructured the former Hindu monarchy into 11 federal states through geographic consideration, meaning not just one ethnic bunch, would live in a single undivided state instead the geography will be an unequivocal measurement in the formation of the state borders.

The opponents of this approach argue the method overlooks Cultural differences in this manner values may lose and separation of kinships may too happen. Others propose that it is a good model as the approach does help protecting ethnic consciousness and Public accountability since the People protest based on perceived government’s bad performances but not because of ethnic demand and tribal drives.

Other uncommon criterion

In some countries when there is priority to protect the risk of disintegration, historical socio- economic connection of the regions and the financial affordability of the country are considered in drawing interior borders and the number of constituent states too, for instance South Africa in 1993 when it decided to set federal internal boundaries the historical economic linkage of the regions and budget consideration were among 10 options given to the 15 members commission those were entrusted in the task to implement the regional delimitation.

Like Geographic based approach, supporters of method assert that using this criteria is merely ignoring social contrasts; this probably leads to losing cultural values separating kinships. However, others contest that, it prevents the ethnic consciousness and preserve the feeling of being single nation sharing and affecting by similar problems, thereby it helps community to  seek their common interest rather than ethnic enthusiasm.


The lessons learned from world’s federalism history reveal that the criterion of border demarcation followed has played major role in the federalism implementation. It is worth noting, that many states failed to stand on their feet properly, e.g. Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and former Nigeria’s. This is conceivably because their model choice was not in line with their specific matter; others flourished as their approach made a difference to unravel the  pressing  problem  e.g. South  Africa,  Malaysia  and  latter Nigeria  federal. Noticeably,reflecting on the aforementioned federals, the failed once had commonalities in term of the criteria applied, for instance, they share ethnic approach, this may in some extent imply that ethnic delimitation should not be considered in first line options during the border demarcation when possible.

However, though, one option may be more advantageous than the other one, there is no single approach that best fits in every country’s circumstance, this means in any country the approach  of the demarcation ought to be based on its nationhood priorities. Therefore, one applied criteria should not be taken as universal remedy. In other words, as the primary objective of choosing federalism and designing intrastate borders is to fathom particular issue of a country the underlying condition of the preferred nation has to be taken into account, thus any initiative should not ignore the local context which enticed the demand earlier.

Abdinur Abdirisak  Sofe




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