Saturday, November 30, 2013

Separatism or Socialism

 When the colonial powers divided Africa among themselves they did so with scant regard for the variety of language, religion or ethnicity that already existed. When independence came to most African countries in the 1960s, the continent's new leaders agreed to stick to these borders. Maintaining the status quo would have been in their interest for many reasons but mostly because it provided a way to prevent potentially damaging conflicts from erupting among themselves.

Since then, Africa's borders have remained largely unchanged. Aside from Namibia and South Sudan, the only other country in Africa that has won legal autonomy since colonial independence is Eritrea, which after a long and bloody war seceded from Ethiopia in 1993. During the same period, in other parts of the world, many apparently immutable boundaries have been challenged and changed. Since 1990 especially, more than 30 new countries have been created around the world, as the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Balkan conflict led to the formation of new states that reflect ethnic, linguistic and nationalist divisions. Yet the map of Africa remains one drawn up by foreigners, ignorant of ethnic and religious realities. One example is Nigeria, a nation that is divided between religiously distinct Muslim and Christian populations along a clear north-south fault line.

The insistence on sticking to colonial borders is facing growing popular challenge. It is now argued that in  some of the countries, their current boundaries, just don't make sense and much of the dissatisfaction stems from lack of economic opportunity among populations seeking greater control over their natural resources. Across the continent, dozens of governments are struggling against rebel groups demanding either greater autonomy or full independence, movements, which span the continent from the Casamance region in southern Senegal to the Uamsho Islamists (the Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation) fighting for independence on the already semi-autonomous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. Somalia is now divided up among the autonomous regions of Puntland (which considers itself an autonomous state) and Somaliland (a self-declared but unrecognized sovereign state). In central Somalia, Galmudug is another regional entity that emerged.

Annette Weber, head of Middle East and Africa research at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs explains "What we have seen in Africa is a lot of centralised states where the leader is running the capital but not really reaching out to the periphery. The state is so distant that it doesn't feature in the life of those populations." These marginalised people, she explains, often feel that they would be better off with "one identity-based territory that binds them. Independence becomes a hope or an expectation for them."

The Mombasa Republican Council demands independence from Kenya. The Bakassi Movement for Self-Determination demands separation from Cameroon and re-unification with Nigeria. In Algeria Berber tribes in the northern region of Kabylie demand greater autonomy. In Zambia more than 70 separatists demanding independence for Barotseland state in the impoverished Western Province were recently arrested and are currently on trial for treason. The list of these conflicts goes on and on: from Sudan to Western Sahara, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Mali.

In discussing the newly independent nations Ms Weber explains "What is often overlooked is where these states come from. Where did South Sudan's new government learn the business of statehood? They learned it from Khartoum. And many systemic problems of neglect and exclusion that we see from the government of Khartoum are now replicated in South Sudan. Often separation results in a duplication of another failed elite..." Weber goes on to argue "I think there will be more separatist groups calling for separation because they believe it could solve their problem of neglect...”

Socialist Banner has often cautioned workers to be wary of simplistic nationalistic solutions when the only viable lasting option for peoples prosperity is world socialism.

Adapted from here 

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