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Secessionism perseveres as a complex political phenomenon in Africa, yet often a more in-depth analysis is overshadowed by the aspirational simplicity of pursuing a new state. Using historical and contemporary approaches, this edited volume offers the most exhaustive collection of empirical studies of African secessionism to date. The respected expert contributors put salient and lesser known cases into comparative perspective, covering Biafra, Katanga, Eritrea and South Sudan alongside Barotseland, Cabinda, and the Comoros, among others. Suggesting that African secessionism can be understood through the categories of aspiration, grievance, performance, and disenchantment, the book's analytical framework promises to be a building block for future studies of the topic.



Chapter 1. Africa’s Secessionism: A Breakdance of Aspiration, Grievance, Performance, and Disenchantment

This chapter offers four interpretations of Africa’s secessionism: aspiration, grievance, performance, and disenchantment. Secessionism remains a fundamental theme of African politics, despite being largely removed from the realm of the thinkable. Yet, South Sudan’s independence against all odds shows that African secessionism is also contradictory. Its aspirational simplicity obscures a complex political phenomenon that often couples a territorial demand with invocations of the right to self-determination. Claims are based on grievances, marginalization, narratives, and economic interests. The consequences of such claims vary; the two cases of successful post-colonial secession highlight that secessionism does not guarantee improvements. And secessionist claims rarely challenge the notion that the sovereign territorial state is the answer to Africans’ problems rather than one of its roots.
Mareike Schomerus, Pierre Englebert, Lotje de Vries

Chapter 16. Shifting Grounds for African Secessionism?

While international law stands on the side of the territorial integrity of African states, maintaining their colonially inherited boundaries and entertaining the right of self-determination in contexts of decolonization only, we show in this conclusion that its implementation has been inconsistent, before being overturned with the independence of South Sudan. Yet, despite this reversal, relatively little has changed for African secessionists, largely because of the high humanitarian threshold South Sudan has set for recognition. We note, however, an increased legitimacy of secessionist discourse in the wake of South Sudan’s independence, reinforcing a trend begun after the Cold War. We also note a renewed emphasis on sub-national referenda. Finally, we identify an increased coincidence between secessionism and Islamism that challenges our understanding of the state in Africa.
Heather Byrne, Pierre Englebert

Aspiration: Dreams of Independence


Chapter 2. Tuareg Separatism in Mali and Niger

This chapter provides a contextualized overview of Tuareg separatism and the violence that has accompanied it in Mali. The chapter sketches key episodes and developments in the conflict between the Malian state and Tuareg separatist nationalists and outlines Tuareg political goals and internal dynamics. The chapter examines the impact on Tuareg separatism of the presence of international Jihadi-Salafist movements in the region and the resulting intrusion of the so-called War on Terror (Overseas Contingency Operations) during the past decade.
Baz Lecocq, Georg Klute

Chapter 3. Anglophone Secessionist Movements in Cameroon

The deep roots of current Anglophone secessionist claims can be found in what is called the “Anglophone problem.” Anglophone Cameroonians feel that reunification with Francophone Cameroon in 1961 has marginalized the Anglophone minority—endangering Anglophone cultural heritage and identity—in a post-colonial nation-state controlled by a Francophone political elite. Anglophone resistance has been a permanent feature of Cameroon’s post-colonial biography. Yet only in the early 1990s did Anglophone elites mobilize the regional population, claiming self-determination, autonomy, and later outright secession. The prospects for secession appear bleak, owing to heavy-handed state repression, internal divisions within the main secessionist organization, an international and regional political architecture with a default commitment to state sovereignty and territorial integrity, and diverging views among Anglophone Cameroonians on the appropriate way forward.
Piet Konings, Francis B. Nyamnjoh

Chapter 4. Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Ogaden: Still a Running Sore at the Heart of the Horn of Africa

This chapter explores the attempts of successive regimes, groups, and movements to reconfigure the toxic regional constellation of Ethio-Somali relations: it locates the intractable issue of the fate of the Ogaden as a long-standing source of poison at the geographical heart of the Horn of Africa. Seen from Ethiopia, the Ogaden has been a periphery: geographically, economically, socially, and politically; and Ethiopian counter-insurgency long attempted to detach its wider trade and cross-border Somali links by force. For Ogaadeen clan members and others across the globe, meanwhile, the Ogaden region was the natural heart of the Somali world, and its brutal impoverishment a source of deep grievance. The chapter considers the complex of contemporary strategies, narratives, and motives that continue to vitiate peace in historical perspective.
Sarah Vaughan

Grievance: Postcolonial Confusion


Chapter 5. Western Sahara and Morocco: Complexities of Resistance and Analysis

This chapter explores some challenges of analysis faced by scholars of the Western Sahara conflict. Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony that has been largely under Moroccan occupation since the conclusion of a 1975–1991 war between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front. Although the international legal consensus regards Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara as illegitimate and illegal, a UN mission to organize a referendum on independence has so far failed to carry out its purpose. While there are insights to be gained from studying the conflict through the lenses of decolonization, secessionism, and several other frameworks, none of these fully capture the unique history of Western Sahara. This chapter explores some of the challenges that contested history poses to both scholarly analysis and the ongoing political process.
Matthew Porges

Chapter 6. Secessionism in Anjouan, Comoros: Internal Dynamics, External Decisions

The Comoros, four islands in the Indian Ocean, were a French colony until 1975 when three of the islands gained independence as a joint republic. The fourth island, Mayotte, remained with France and was gradually transformed into a French overseas Département. This secession forms the background of a chaotic history of statehood in independent Comoros and secessionist movements on two of the republic’s islands—Anjouan and Mohéli. This chapter outlines the history of secessionist movements on Anjouan. It emphasizes the role of international actors in the success or failure of secessionist movements and asks why secession from a very weak central state seemed attractive, highlighting the role hopes for state rents and employment played for the secessionist movement.
Gregor Dobler

Chapter 7. Zanzibar in the Tanzania Union

The union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was between two previously existing sovereign states, which in 1964, immediately after the Zanzibar Revolution, adopted a (semi-)federal model of constitutional government. Since 1964, there has been a gradual resurgence of Zanzibari nationalism due to a myriad of factors including the failure to undertake reconciliation, a poor economic record during the single-party period, the regional marginalization of Pemba, the social effects of neo-liberal reforms, regime resistance to reforming the union, and flawed elections, including in 2015. While race, ethnicity, and religion would appear to drive secessionist politics on the islands, the reality is that after half a century, the union as a “lived experience” has not delivered a better life for the majority of Zanzibaris.
Greg Cameron

Chapter 8. The Front(s) for the Liberation of Cabinda in Angola: A Phantom Insurgency

This chapter looks at the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), one of Central Africa’s longest-running separatist insurgencies. It examines the FLEC’s evolution of the last four decades and seeks to shed light on the reasons for the movement’s splintering into numerous factions over the years. The chapter argues that in spite of the FLEC’s divisions along ethnic, religious, and linguistic lines that have characterized the movement over the years, the government’s strategy of co-optation and unwillingness to engage in meaningful peace talks—coupled with a lack of interest from the international community—are equally to blame for what has become one of Africa’s most intractable conflicts.
Joseph Figueira Martin

Chapter 9. Against the Grain: Somaliland’s Secession from Somalia

Secessionism is frequently understood through a cost-benefit analysis. The case of Somaliland, however, does not allow for such computations. Somaliland seceded from collapsing Somalia in 1991 without careful planning, disconnecting one of the most resource-scarce areas from an already poor country. No external backers supported this secessionist entity, except a few diaspora activists. Somaliland received some positive attention from the international community only 12 years later. This was partly withdrawn again after the establishment of a new Somali government in Mogadishu in 2012. The country continues to exist as a de facto state, functioning in all important ways like a state but lacking international recognition. This chapter analyzes which factors have led to this rare case of successful—if unrecognized—secession in Africa, against the grain.
Markus Virgil Hoehne

Performance: Secessionism as Politics by Other Means


Chapter 10. The Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance: The Illusion of Separatism in Senegal?

The duration and low intensity of the separatist conflict in Casamance, Senegal, find some explanation in the balance of forces and geopolitical context. Primarily, however, it can be explained through the ambivalent relationship between the most separatist part of Casamance, the one peopled by ethnic Diola, and the state. This is not a story of insurmountable distance but of a proximity forged in the 1950s through formal education, migration, and state employment. Both this connection and the state itself faced crisis in the 1970s. Members of Diola literati then reshaped an earlier elite regionalism with a mounting cultural pride to search for a state of their own. Still, the Senegalese state survived and revamped its relationship to the Diola, explaining the present lull in violence.
Vincent Foucher

Chapter 11. United in Separation? Lozi Secessionism in Zambia and Namibia

This chapter analyzes why secessionist movements on both sides of the Namibia-Zambia border have—despite shared roots—so far never joined forces in a united cause of pan-Lozi nationalism. We outline the historical processes through which the Lozi kingdom was partitioned and gradually transformed into Barotseland and the Caprivi Strip during the colonial period. We then examine how decolonization planted the seeds of Lozi separatism in Western Province and the secessionist movement in Caprivi, and how these evolved separately after Zambia’s and Namibia’s independence. The final section traces the initial thawing and renewed freezing of relations between successive central governments and separatists in the Zambian case, as well as the high treason trial that defined the aftermath of the Caprivi secession in Namibia.
Wolfgang Zeller, Henning Melber

Chapter 12. Biafra and Secessionism in Nigeria: An Instrument of Political Bargaining

The Biafran war—with its brutality and long-lasting effect on how humanitarian operations in a war setting are understood—is the most prominent secessionist war in the immediate postcolonial history. But the war, fought between 1967 and 1970 between the Biafran secessionists in Nigeria’s southeast and the governing elite in the north (with the shorthand often being that it was an Igbo vs. Fulani-Hausa war) is only the most obvious manifestation of a continuous political struggle over territorial, ethnic, religious, and resource hegemony. This chapter distinguishes between secessionisms: based on ethnic self-determination in the south and based on religious autonomy in the north, focusing on the Igbo experience and the continued political movement for an independent Biafra. While the wish for Biafra’s secession is real, the call for secession is, however, the strongest weapon used by the Igbo in pursuing better political representation and access to resource wealth.
Johannes Harnischfeger

Chapter 13. Katanga’s Secessionism in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Our reading of the Katangese secession highlights its internal political foundations and agency, challenging not only the almost exclusive scholarly attention to external determining factors but also a teleological vision of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as a unitary state. Reconstructed ethnic identification and historic legitimization crystallized around Katanga, an entity created by the colony, but proved to be resilient throughout Congolese postindependence history. Although postcolonial developments demonstrate that this resilience is linked to the central state’s poor governance record, the resurgence of relatively powerful regional autonomist tendencies during the DRC’s recent history, in and beyond Katanga, questions the legitimacy of the central state.
Miles Larmer, Erik Kennes

Disenchantment: The Aftermath of Success


Chapter 14. “We Didn’t Fight for This”: The Pitfalls of State- and Nation-Building in Eritrea

Eritrea’s historical and political trajectory is key to understanding the emergence of secessionist aspirations and its post-secession path, including relations between state and society. We first consider Eritrea’s claim for self-determination, international response toward it, and independence war. We then focus on the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front’s (EPLF) post-independence state- and nation-building project, which has militarized society as it has become more authoritarian. Regional and global tensions have further reinforced Eritrea’s isolation. Large numbers of youth have sought an “exit-option” as asylum-seekers, joining a multi-generational diaspora. Although Eritreans do not question the secessionist project, and their allegiance to Eritrean national identity does not seem to have waned, their decisions reflect a deep concern for the future of their nation, shaped as it is by the political legacy of the struggle.
Alexandra Dias, Sara Dorman

Chapter 15. A State of Contradiction: Sudan’s Unity Goes South

South Sudan’s secession was either an unavoidable outcome of a post-colonial betrayal of political promises or a surprising result of muddled and contradictory developments during which, at crucial points, dynamics nonetheless aligned. It was, this chapter argues, because of these contradictions that South Sudan came into being: from its colonial past through a series of rebellions with competing ambitions, via the contradictory 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (that supported both Sudan’s unity and southern autonomy), to the internationally-supported independence referendum. Lack of clarity about whether or not the leaders of South Sudan pursued secession ultimately made its achievement possible. The most tragic contradiction is that in the process of creating South Sudan, its leaders replicated the political marginalization from which their country had sought to escape.
Mareike Schomerus, Lotje de Vries


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