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Does Africa have 54, 55 countries… or more?

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

This is one of the angry questions. A simple number can indeed provoke intractable geopolitical debates. So how many countries does the African continent have? 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 that have proclaimed their independence, but whose independence is not recognized by the UN.

Moreover, there is an astonishing difference between the accounts of the United Nations and that of the African Union (AU). Within the African institution, there were indeed 54 member states before 2017. But it is because Morocco had not yet rejoined the AU. However, since January 30, 2017, the Cherifian kingdom has returned to the African Union, which today has… 55 members. Or one more than the UN.

Western Sahara: AU says yes, UN says no

It was in 1982 that the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) joined what was once the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the ancestor of the AU. It was this membership that caused Morocco's departure from the organization two years later. But if 70 countries - there are now 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 - League Arab, Arab Maghreb Union and Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

A debate that can also be found in football. If according to Wikipedia, the African Football Confederation (CAF) has 56 member countries, including 54 which would also be to FIFA, CAF says on its site that it brings together 54 member associations. The CAF interactive map moreover represents Western Sahara within Morocco. Last March, the sherifian kingdom pushed the CAF to modify its statutes to prevent a potential accession of countries not recognized by the United Nations, thus targeting the SADR. There is no more trace of Zanzibar from elsewhere than of the SADR. Zanzibar's membership was voted in 2017 and was supposed to make this territory the “55th CAF member”.

Somaliland, the country that does not exist

Another debating country: 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 northwest Somalia, this barely 176 square kilometer piece of land has everything that makes a state: rulers, a parliament, an army and even its own currency.

If it is considered a country which has no legal existence, Somaliland nevertheless maintains diplomatic or trade 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 asks for the right to exist and has even organized a constitutional referendum on independence. But the United Nations has remained deaf to the calls of the leaders of the territory and prefers to discuss with Somalia. Another Somali region declared autonomy - not independence - in 1998: Puntland.

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