The territorial politics literature tends to place disproportionate emphasis on the experience of the Western world. An unintended consequence of comparing liberal democracies with one another is the relegation of the shared scope conditions to the background – particularly the high levels of political, economic, technological development and state capacity. Furthermore, due to informational asymmetry, when included countries from the developing world are often reduced to a few institutional variables and national averages which conceal substantial within-case variation. Add to this the methodological preference for short-termism and an underappreciation of historical variation. However, an overview of territorial politics in Africa exposes how uncodified and extra-institutional structural factors often influence the workings of federalism and decentralisation instead, and how the continent’s past still conditions the present. The analytical shortcomings of the territorial politics literature risk becoming moral ones when the partial diagnoses disproportionately based on the West are repacked as policy prescriptions for the rest.