Secession rather than Warfare as a Future for Africa

By Stuart Smith

Tilly goes into depth explaining how states can form through war and competition – a primarily exogenous reason for the creation of states. Although domestic institutions will ultimately decide how capable a state is to defend itself, the threat comes from outside the state’s institutions. But there are other, very different ways that states can come about. They can be revolutionised from the inside, or a previously whole state can become two. I believe the latter: division into smaller states, may offer a better explanation of how African states, without the threat of external violence, could experience major institutional evolution.

Shortly after South Sudan became an independent state, The Atlantic published an article noting that this could be a future for Africa: traditional borders but more division. Amazingly, the creation of South Sudan was decided through democracy and generally peaceful proceedings (although in 2013 yet another African civil war has broken out after the current president accused his deputy of plotting a coup d’état).

Most of the African states are huge, and on the whole are infamous for not well representing a significant minority within them. Is it any wonder that the 11th largest state in the world, a product of abuse and colonisalisation, is having problems when it was only created 60 years ago? Could (an ideally peaceful) independence campaign make development slightly more manageable? Some academics believe so. According to Ottaway, Herbst and Mills, division of large, weak states does offer a way out of institutional and economic stagnation.

Geographically it makes sense – even with Africa split up into double or even triple the number of states it does not come close to Europe. Compared to European countries this seems very feasible: the images below give a handy comparison: 

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    The Netherlands’ closest African country by area – Guinea Bissau.

The Netherlands’ closest African country by area – Guinea Bissau.

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    The Netherlands compared to South Africa (it even makes Lesotho look big!)

The Netherlands compared to South Africa (it even makes Lesotho look big!)