By Tesfu Telahoun Abebe
I ended the first part by citing three marginally successful cases of regional autonomy and secession. Namely, these were Quebec in Canada, Spain's Catalunya and Belgium which seceded from the Netherlands in the mid-1800s.
To continue, let me emphasize this last point a bit further. For all its present day prosperity and stability, Belgium is in the process of a slow motion, sometimes even barely perceptible fragmentation along a longstanding linguistic fault line.
Quebec and Catalunya, while still component parts of Canada and of Belgium respectively, remain so thanks only to a couple or so more percentage points won by unionists over secessionists in repeated referenda.
These very slim margins could evaporate after any future plebiscite. Even as I am composing this piece, Spain is palpably tense as trials for charges of treasonous sedition against key figures of Catalonian secession play out in the courts.
These three historic examples of somewhat benevolent autonomy and secession are few and far between compared to the plethora of states and territories which have experienced chaos, calamity and total collapse after attempting and/or achieving wide ranging autonomy and/or secession.
At best some of these countries and territories (marked with an *) manage to plod along under authoritarian regimes. Their economies are anemic and beset by endemic corruption and high crime rates. Organized criminals, kleptocrats and mercenaries among state security branches engage in human and drug trafficking, smuggling, financial crimes, computer fraud and other activities with virtually absolute impunity.
The following is a selection of just 20 from among the over 100 available examples. Do note that some entities have had little to no official recognition other than that of 'sponsor' states such as the Russian Federation (Trans-Dnieper, Ossetia, Dombas) and Turkey (Republic of North Cyprus).
1. DR Congo. 11. N. Cyprus
2. Somaliland*. 12. Biafra
3. Pakistan. 13. Croatia*
4. Bangladesh 14. S. Yemen
5. Timor-Leste 15. Kosovo
6. Sri Lanka* 16. Iraqi Kurds
7. Bosnia. 17. Former CIS
8. Eritrea. 18. Mali
9. Moldova. 19. Burma
10. South Sudan 20. Turkey*
Here are two items randomly selected from the list. Each case is individually unique yet yet entirely typical of most states and territories which attempted or went through periods of dysfunctional autonomy and secession. Appropriately, Africa's East and West corners are represented.
In 1967, just a handful of years after Nigeria's independence from the United Kingdom, one Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwude, a ranking officer in the Nigerian Army, declared the 'independence' of the 'Republic of Biafra'.
This ushered in what would become Nigeria's darkest hour, a horrible war which wiped out up to 3 million lives within a relatively brief period.
The secessionist movement was mainly spearheaded by and for the Igbo but also included other communities from the greater Niger Delta region.
With its capital at Enugu city, the presumptive republic was to be made up of the states of Enugu, Abia, Ebony, Imo and Anambra.
The renegade colonel led a secessionist rebellion which drew fuel from the resentment felt by southeastern Nigerians that the central government was disenfranchising them.
The oil rich southeast also observed or perceived that proceeds from the wealth sourced from their lands was diverted elsewhere even as they wallowed in abject poverty.
The Biafra war occurred at a very inopportune time in the history of a young nation-state. The newly independent Nigeria should have been focusing on national consolidation, the establishment of institutions and desperately needed economic development.
Instead, it had to sacrifice millions of incalculably valuable lives, deplete what little the state coffers held and most regrettably, enabled the military to stay in power for the next four decades in coup after coup.
Only in the last decade or so has Nigeria been turning the corner-indeed many optimists say it already has. Multi-party politics and genuine democracy have taken root. And though much more needs to be done, the security situation as it relates to the Boko Haram insurgency seems to be contained.
Once given the unflattering distinction of being the 'Sick Giant of Africa', Nigeria's economy is booming as are arts and culture.
However, the root causes of the Biafra war still remain today. These are skewed allocations of national resources, an ever expanding and undereducated youthful population frustrated with the lack of opportunities and the very real misfortune of a dimmer future.
Following an almost 30 year civil war and the disintegration of Ethiopia's military government in 1991, Eritrean rebels declared independence two years later.
Now a sovereign state, Eritrea was warmly welcomed by the international community which admired the tenacity of Eritreans against a 'domineering' and even 'colonialist' Ethiopia.
All predictions were for successful statehood and economic prosperity-in fact the Eritreans themselves boasted of soon becoming a the 'Singapore' of Africa-and it was hard to scoff at such ambition. After all, this small territory had defeated the mighty Ethiopia. A savvy population, prime geo-political location and an admiring world was an excellent starting point.
It was not to be.
The reason being that the notion of independence from Ethiopia was based on false claims of colonization of Eritrea by Ethiopia as well as by the perversely conducted 'referendum' of 1993.
The 1993 referendum was nothing less than rubbing salt into an undeservedly wounded Ethiopia. It was also an insult to the people of Eritrea.The 'options' were:
So it was poetic justice that a quarter of a century later Eritreans have actually become enslaved by their so called liberator and pay with their lives as they seek sanctuary in Ethiopia.
Far from slavery, Eritreans had enjoyed the highest standard of living from among other Ethiopians. It is fair to state that Eritreans were infinitely better off as part of Ethiopia than as a sovereign state.
The only justification (that I can find) for the bogus 30 year 'war of liberation' could only be the impulsiveness with which the imperial and military regimes responded to first the issue of federation and then autonomy. Otherwise, just like the TPLF's distortion of Ethiopian reality, the EPLF's attempt to rewrite history had been an utter and unmitigated failure.
To summarize, it is the absence of democracy, intolerance and inequitable allocation of national resources which create the conditions which raise demands for autonomy and secession.
South Sudan and Eritrea would today still remain as constituent components of Sudan and Ethiopia respectively if the latter two had been democratic nation-states.
As long as autocracy remains Africa's default mode, secession and total fragmentation will be the dark shadow of doom hanging over our continent.