30 June 2010

Secession and the State in Africa

Over at Let a Thousand Nations Bloom, Patri Friedman [Milton’s grandson and Seasteader] and friends are holding their second-annual “secession week” in an attempt to re-brand the US independence as an act of secession.

Here is their pro-secessionist theory in a nutshell. More states gives people more choice – greater option for exit – and this greater competition leads to better government.

How does this apply to Africa? Claudia Williamson makes the case to “Let fake states fail: Anarchy as a viable solution to artificial states”. I’m not entirely convinced on Somalia being a great poster child for anarchy. But letting fake states fail?

Sorry Congo, I know it is your 50th birthday today, but I have to agree with Jeffrey Herbst.

The international community needs to recognize a simple, albeit brutal fact: The Democratic Republic of the Congo does not exist.

The UN seal of approval to statehood is so arbitrary! Would somebody please recognise Somaliland?! They have bi-o-met-ric pass-ports – and have just conducted what seems to be a reasonable election in which the opposition stand a chance of winning.

Gaddafi made some waves a few months ago by calling for Nigeria to be carved up. So are more states the answer? Loomnie was skeptical for Nigeria.

Paul Collier is skeptical more generally. In his Political Economy of Secession he takes a predictable “small romantic rebel groups are not so romantic” refrain.

There are of course problems with his statistical analysis (and some new more sophisticated GIS analysis is refuting his findings), but he is still essential reading.

if our analysis is broadly correct, secessionist movements should not  in general be  seen  as  cries  for  social justice. Those  few secessionist movements  that  are  able  to scale-up to being organizations with a serious political or military capability are likely to occur in rich regions and contain an  element of a ‘resource grab’. They may also reflect the  fantasies of  diasporas settled  in  rich  countries  and  a  poorly educated  population. Secessionist organizations are usually built on the foundations of romantic localism, and this will  continue  to shape  their  discourse. However,  such  localism is  found  almost everywhere.  That  viable  secessionist organizations  are  rare indicates  that  romantic localism,  and  its associated discourse of grievance,  is not by itself decisive. Romantic localism is not necessarily dishonest or irrelevant, but it offers a misleading explanation for  what makes a secessionist organization strong.

If  the  cocktail  of  natural  resource wealth, diasporas, and  illiteracy  succeeds  in dismembering large,  multi-cultural developing  and  transition  societies,  the  world  is unlikely to become a safer place. The secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia, heroic as  it was, has not resulted in peace. It transformed a civil war into an international war, with a huge escalation in human and economic costs. It also has created a nation of 50 million people without direct access to the sea. 

Nor  are  the  small  new  societies  that  are  created  by secession necessarily  internally cohesive.  In Eritrea,  the President  recently arrested around half of  the members of his cabinet. East Timor has sixteen different political parties, one for every 50,000 people. It would surely be disturbing if, at the same time as developed countries were integrating as never before, developing countries were disintegrating  into tiny but disputatious ethnic theme parks.

And as for Southern Sudan next January? Well firstly as Douglas Johnson said at the University of Juba last week, an independent Southern Sudan would not become a land-locked country, because that is what it always has been. 

Secondly, I’m with Salva Kiir. Let the people vote for what they want.


texasinafrica said...

I agree that people should be allowed the rights of self-determination on these matters. In the case of the DRC, however, that would almost certainly result in the maintenance of the Congolese state as-is. Nobody - even in the east, where government is ineffectual - wants to break up. There's a strong sense of national identity alongside all the frustration. I'm getting really tired of Herbst et al pushing this when it's clear that they aren't actually talking to the Congolese.

Lee said...

To be fair I've only been in Congo for about 5 minutes to watch gorillas, and don't recall speaking to anyone about their national identity.

But didn't Gallup speak to the Congolese and find that 60% wanted to permanently leave?!


Stephen Smith said...

I think that Somalia would be a lot more stable without all the foreign invasions (the US backing the TFG, the Ethiopians trying to overthrow the Islamists, the Islamists as a reaction to the invasions, whatever the Eritreans have been doing, etc.). Somalia's biggest problem with statelessness isn't the statelessness itself – as I understand it, areas that aren't war-torn are relatively prosperous – it's the war that statelessness invites from neighboring states. If countries in the region were to acknowledge Somalia's statelessness and vow not to meddle, then I think it would make anarchy look like a lot better governance type for Africa.

Lee said...

Isn't that wishful thinking? Won't a lack of government always invite violent opportunism?

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