by Aly Jonas

Does Africa have 54, 55 countries… or more?

L’Afrique compte-t-elle 54, 55 pays… ou plus ?

While the UN recognizes 54 states in Africa, other countries would like to be recognized by the United Nations General Assembly.

This is one of the annoying questions. A simple number can indeed provoke insoluble geopolitical debates. So, how many countries are there on the African continent? Officially, the answer is simple: the United Nations (UN) recognizes 54 African states. The latest is South Sudan, which joined the international organization on July 14, 2011. But the reality is more complex. Because on closer inspection, we find traces of several other states having proclaimed their independence, but whose independence is not recognized by the UN.

Moreover, there is a surprising difference between the accounting of the United Nations and that of the African Union (AU). Within the African institution, there were 54 member states before 2017. But this is because Morocco had not yet rejoined the AU. However, since January 30, 2017, the Shereef kingdom has returned to the African Union, which today has… 55 members. That's one more than the UN.

Western Sahara: the AU says yes, the UN says no

It was in 1982 that the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) joined what was formerly the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the ancestor of the AU. It was this membership that led to Morocco's departure from the organization two years later. But if 70 countries - today there are around fifty - have recognized at one time or another the independence of Western Sahara, the SADR has never managed to be recognized by the UN or by several other organizations - Ligue Arab Union, Arab Maghreb Union and Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

A debate that we also find in football. If according to Wikipedia, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has 56 member countries, including 54 which are also members of FIFA, the CAF claims on its site to bring together 54 member associations. There CAF interactive map also represents Western Sahara inside Morocco. Last March, the Cherifian kingdom pushed CAF to modify its statutes to prevent potential accession of countries not recognized by the United Nations, thus targeting the SADR. There is no more trace of Zanzibar than of the SADR. The membership of Zanzibar was voted in 2017 and was supposed to make this territory the “55th member of CAF”.

Somaliland, the country that does not exist

Another country that is the subject of debate: Somaliland, which has existed since May 18, 1991. Like Tibet, the Republic of Somaliland unilaterally declared its independence but the UN General Assembly has never accepted recognition of this territory as a state in its own right. Located in the northwest of Somalia, this piece of land of barely 176,000 square kilometers has everything that makes a state: leaders, a parliament, an army and even its own currency.

Although it is considered a country which has no legal existence, Somaliland nevertheless maintains diplomatic or commercial relations with several states: from Ethiopia to Djibouti, via Kenya and Uganda, countries which trade or discuss with the authorities of Somaliland, without however agreeing to recognize the territory as an autonomous state. Since the proclamation of its independence, the Republic has demanded the right to exist and has even organized a constitutional referendum on independence. But the United Nations has remained deaf to the appeals of the territory's leaders and prefers to discuss with Somalia. Another Somali region declared autonomy — not independence — in 1998: Puntland.