For the most part the territorial boundaries of African countries were demarcated, somewhat arbitrarily, by the colonial powers of the days. Moreover, these artificial boundaries were upheld by the ruling elites who have been usurping power since then. The desperate attempt to force cohesion, without acknowledging the underlying substantive contents of empowerment (political, economic, cultural, religious, etc) is now threatening to undo Africa’s current political geography, in spite of the continuous call for unity by states and their power holders!
To be sure, the sentiment to go it alone is mostly, but not exclusively, inspired by the availability of resources as well as the geo-strategic position of a would be secessionist. Even in the beginning (after colonialism) Africans had to contend with attempted secessions in Katanga (1960, DRC) and Biafra (1967, Nigeria.) The end of the cold war (demise of the USSR) facilitated the genuine disintegration of Somalia. There are evidences on the ground to suggest a number of African states will probably fail (See our editorial on ‘failed states’) completely or end up as protectorates, especially those with coveted resources.
In its brief history, independent Africa has managed to carve out two recognized independent states via secession, Eritrea and South Sudan. Most likely, they won’t be the last! The Saharawi Arab Republic has not been recognized worldwide, (the African Union has recognized it but not the UN) as its objective has so far failed to convince empire. In the scheme of geopolitical economy, the natural tendency of empire is to make mince meat out of states that try to vigorously renegotiate their assigned position in the world system. Yesterday it was South East Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, etc) and the Balkans (Kosovo, etc), today it is Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and tomorrow it might well be Syria, Iran, etc.
Interestingly there are countries within the strong hold of empire itself that are entertaining the secessionist project earnestly. The case of Quebec (Canada) is still lingering at the background. A leading party in Scotland is now trying to revive the age old ambition of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. Closer to home, MRC (Mombasa Republican Council) has been expressing its desire to go it alone, claiming the arrangement concluded between Kenyatta and the United Kingdom, (in regards to the coast province) at the time of independence (1962) has now expired! See the article next column.
On the other hand and only last week the three nations, South Sudan Ethiopia and Kenya announced an ambitious and forward looking collaborative project in Mokowe, Kenya. The project is to see the construction of a major port in Lamu (in the Coast Province and only a stone throw away from Somalia) with 32 berths, mostly to serve as an outlet for oil from South Sudan and potentially nearby areas. There is also a rail way line planned to move goods in and out of South Sudan via Ethiopia. The whole project is given the green light by the international community and will be closely monitored by AFRICOM (The Africa Command of the US Military) probably from Djibouti (closer to the proposed port) and Arba Minch (closer to the proposed pipeline).
Kenya’s Coast Province, which the MRC plans to ‘liberate’, is mostly populated by people of Arab and African descends, like the ‘Swahilis.’ The Swahilis along with the others are part of the larger Muslim population (predominantly) that inhabit the segment of the African coast that extends from southern Somalia all the way to Mozambique. Their language is ‘Kiswahili’ and is the lingua franca of the wider East Africa. Kenyan independence didn’t bring much of an empowerment to these people. In fact they were effectively marginalized by the power holders of the hinterland. Land grabbing in the coast province has always been a very pronounced phenomenon, long before it became common currency in the political economy of ‘Scramble for Africa Round II’ (J. Nyerere).
The reign of the oligarchs in the Republic of Kenya is confronting its greatest challenge since independence. Secessionist movement in the Coast Province, war with Somali warlords/Islamists up north and internal economic/social polarization that keeps fuelling inequality/resentment that adamantly tries to find resolution within the logic of identity politics, (ethnicity, religion, etc) will pose major hurdles in the days to come!
In light of diminishing expectations on all fronts, (due to suffocating/disempowering oligarchial rule, like corruption, etc) it is centrifugal forces based on identity politics that are now stirring societies/communities on the African ground, (Cote d’ Ivoire, Libya, Darfur, Nigeria, etc) contrary to the states’ wish for an African Union. The old cliché still holds: “Africa’s resources are its unmitigated curse.” Good Day!