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Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 09:14 GMT

Is secession the answer to Africa's minority struggles?

Namibia is a democratic country and a fairly inclusive one (though not perfect like most countries). People with differences should resolve them through the democratic process when it exists.
John Mwangi, Kenyan, UK

The answer to this question is complex - but it definitely needs the help of western powers - they after all started it.
Morgan, USA

Background ¦ Your reaction

The Background:

More than a dozen people have died in secessionist fighting in Namibia. This outbreak of violence is the latest in a long list of claims by minority groups for self-determination and territorial integrity in Africa.

In Africa's largest country, Sudan, there have been decades of fighting as southerners struggle to separate from an administration dominated by those from the north.

In one of the continent's smallest countries, the Comoros islands, separatists on the island of Anjouan wish to break away from the perceived domination of the island of Grand Comore.

News and Information for Africa
Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia and the separation was initially acclaimed as a resounding success. Now the two countries are involved in a vicious and costly dispute over the exact position of the border between the two.

So is secession a realistic goal in Africa? Are secessionist movements justified in their struggles for self-determination? or is it a fight that can never be won?

Background ¦ Vote ¦ Your reaction ¦ Have your say

Your Reaction:

Minority struggles are everywhere. The problem is the interference of the west. It is always unwarranted interference. When it is Turkey, Kurds movement or when it is the UK, Irish movement, it is automatically labelled by the Americans and other Europeans as terrorism. But, when such "movement" is in Africa you rush to say it is a liberation movement. This is not a fair world.
Abiy Tefera, Ethiopia

The issue is more than voting yes or no. It has all to do with justice, equity and freedom. In the scramble for Africa, the western powers tore the continent apart and they still have a hand in its political administration through their colonial legacies. On Justice, for instance in Kenya at the time of independence, the British suppressed the voice of the Kenyan Somalis in 1962 by flagrantly refusing to honour the 1962 referendum results in which the people of the northern region of the Somali ethnic wanted to secede from Kenya.
Today, 35 years later, the Kenyan Somalis have little rights. From all fronts they are suppressed and besieged. This kind of situation certainly calls for some kind of resistance to oppression and after all if under the existing African Government minorities cannot get justice what will they be expected to do?. The issue should go beyond the question asked and should instead address whether the colonial powers are responsible for the misery and the mess that haunts Africa today and what part did the British play? Who supplies arms and who keeps African puppet?
Abdullahi Irshat Sheikh, Kenya

Secession is not the universal answer. However there are some African countries where secession may the solution.
Abdul Omar, USA

The problem in Africa is conflict between groups, which require power, not a problem of the poor. I agree that there is mismanagement and power abuse by the ruling parties, but the ethnic groups in which the leaders belong also share the hardship and the problem with the others, the minority.
The so-called minority leaders are also opportunity seekers, who would like to be a boss one way or the other. To me if the western countries do not give them coverage, the problem would have been minimum.
Tsegaye, Ethiopia

The answer to this question lies under the atrocities caused by the white man when he conquered and separated mother from her loved ones and on the other hand forced people from different races and cultures to be in one Nation. Some still think they can colonise Africa through the body of United Nations and other so called International Organisations. Africans must be able to determine their future and what is the best for Africa.
Abdulkadir Addow, USA

Perhaps Bill Clinton could help out here after he retires. It seems like a perfect solution for everybody.
Charles O'Connor, USA

My country was a former British protectorate. On July 1, 1960 (five days after our independence) the corrupt leaders of that time decided, without any democratic means (referendum or popular consultation) to unite the country with that former Italian colony of Somalia to form a nightmarish and bloody Republic of Somalia. One year later the vote on the constitution of the legal unification was rejected in Somaliland. Nine years later a dictator seized the power and destroyed Somaliland with the systematic blessing of OAU and Arab league. We fought him and liberated our land in 1991 and got rid of the rulers of the former Somalia Italiana.
So today we are asking the OAU, UN and EU to let us decide on our destiny and political future in a democratic way. But unfortunately the international community seems to be ignoring our democratic rights.
Hassan Houssein, Somaliland Republic

I don't think secession is the key to the many problems of Africa. As we approach the beginning of a new millennium, it is necessary for us as Africans to seek for ways by which we can resolve conflicts and differences peacefully. It is their differences that are meant to make us strong and united not divided. What use is a rainbow with only one colour? Many times we forget that divided we fall, and united we stand. In order to build a stronger continent, we need to remain and resolve the conflicts in our respective nations peacefully. The entire world (especially the west) knows the potential and powerful effect a strong continent like Africa can have, that's why they sometimes encourage secession. Unity is the key not secession.
Adetunmbi, USA

This question is indeed complex. South Africa with eleven official languages and many more tribal persuasions is a classic example. I believe that the South African motto of 'in Unity is Strength' is definitely the way to go. The EU is proof. For SA to give up its quest for a united tolerant society would have tragic results. Results that unfortunately are probably guaranteed looking at the rest of Africa. Until black people forget about their tribalism then we can forget about a prosperous Africa. It isn't going to happen. Welcome to the true African problem - not colonialism.
Alan, South Africa

Secession is definitely not the solution to the myriad of problems that beset Africa's minorities. But for as long as Africa's leaders continue with their deliberate policies of marginalisation and exclusion of minorities from governance in their own countries, so long will secession remain in the front burner of African politics.
Jimmy Imo, Nigeria

Taking the example cases of my country - Rwanda and its neighbours (Uganda, DRC and Burundi in particular) - where minorities of Nilotic origin (Tutsi and Nkole among others) are fighting to stay in power over the majorities of Bantu origins, in all these countries any secession would generate a very tense and unsafe borders. Unfortunately the International Community in general and the big western powers in particular seem to be not interested in helping solving these tense cases, so devastating from the human lives they claim on a hourly basis. On the other hand however, while discussing this point one should bear in mind the evident truth that by following the western democratic style (one man, one vote), these minorities are unlikely to have a chance to rule into their respective countries.
Wency Gatare, Rwanda

No! The answer to ethnic and political differences in Africa is not the creation of more states either through secession or some other constitutional manipulation. The scars of the slave trade, colonisation, neo-colonialism and external manipulation of the peoples of Africa are still too raw for more. What Africa needs is responsible, decentralised government. Those advocating secession and/or using secessionist methods to take power or settle so-called ethnic and cultural differences are self-seekers who have failed to see the suffering this continent has already gone through. Let Africa stand by the Charter of the Organisation of African Unity, respect colonial boundaries, and consolidate true democratic gains in order to ensure viable institutions. The current threats of secession and talk of same in some African countries has been exacerbated by the failure of current leadership to see beyond their personal interests. Veritable power-sharing, good governance and decentralisation would stem the tide of secession and give Africa peace.
Asonglefac Nkemleke, U.S.A.

Absolutely yes, because there is no point of being either a refugee or displaced in your own land and waiting for handouts from somewhere for your survival.
Iaku, Canada

I read in your intro that Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia. I don't think this is fair. For Eritrea gained its independence. As we cannot say Kenya seceded from Great Britain, then we should not apply the term and concept of secession when talking about Eritrea.
Yafet, England

Both minorities and majorities who are under the domination of others must be allowed to secede if they want so. But it is the nature of the oppressors not to allow their subjects to practice their democratic rights. At our heart, we know that we are denying our majority/minority victims in Ethiopia their God given rights. The reason is simple. It is a conflict of interest. If we allow them, we cannot squeeze their resources to develop our province. The outcome is clear too. They will get it by themselves one day by force which will lead to a devastating war. Isn't secession better than a devastating war?
Abraha Hagos, Tigray

To all Africans where ever you are learn how to love each other, God knows why he made us all different ethnic groups. Instead of everybody looking for their own tribe to be in control, we should start progressing as people. TO ALL AFRICANS LETS US CLEAN OUR TRIBALIST HEARTS.
Thierno Ndiaye, U.S.A

No. No. No. Further secession destabilises the region. Unity is the answer to all African problems. Stop importing in all those weapons that cost millions, when you could help improve your peoples' conditions. I think that Africans need to understand that war doesn't solve their problems. Their, so-called leaders need to get together and seriously discuss important issues. Improve education and health, not your military capabilities. Somalia once wanted to get all the weapons it could to protect its borders from its enemies, namely Ethiopia and Kenya. But now, look at what the weapons have done. Instead of protecting the Somali people, the weapons have killed millions of innocent lives.
Yusuf, Somalia (now residing in the U.S.

NO! The secession can't be the answer for Africa's problems. When I read the article about Namibia I could not believe that there are still people without common sense of seeing things! Namibia itself is a country with no more than 2 million people. The small tiny Caprivi may not have more than 0.5 million. How does this small country want to survive economically? This may be at least a joke and I don't believe that BBC and the Western countries are taking this as a serious issue! They know (BBC and Western countries) that Europe united and created a common market because of it is the best way to boost the economy. In the world of globalization is no room for secession.
Luis Mungamba, USA (Mozambique)

Definitely!!!! This talk about African unity really aggravates me. How can African unity exist when there is no unity within a single African country? If democracy ever is going to be a reality in Africa, then every single folk group needs to be recognised, implement self-determination, etc. Only then can an holistic approach to African unity be realistic.
Yafeet N, Oromiya

There are times when the only solution to peaceful co-existence is secession. In Cameroon the federal system of government overwhelmingly voted for in 1961by the population of then British mandatory territory of West Cameroon has been unilaterally uprooted by the majority French speaking Cameroon and a corrupt government with no sense of vision put in place. English speaking Cameroonians are treated like second class citizens in the union. All attempts at using democratic means to restore the federal system of government have been repressed. Would one be surprised if tomorrow this is another trouble spot in Africa?
Nuhngoh, Cameroon

To answer whether secession is the real solution to the ethnic problem in Africa or not, I think it is worthwhile to consider the following question. What are the causes for their arms struggle? Each one of us can give our own explanation, but I strongly believe that no one will put his life at stake without a real cause. Some are fighting those who are in power to preserve their culture, language or in general their identity. Others are fighting to stop the ethnic cleansing going in their group.
So just by citing as an example the cases in Europe or US, we can't reach a conclusion that unity is the solution for the problem. If your culture, language and other identity of yours are dying, then what would be your response?
Abebe Geleta, Germany

Africa's struggle ended during the colonial era. After independence Africa demolition started. We cannot rule ourselves. Everybody wants to be a leader. It is not right. It is all greed in Africa today that is causing all the troubles. Slavery was way gone before independence. It is not like the US when the blacks had to fight for equal rights. We already had equal rights after independence.
Joshua M Sulaiman, USA

Of course, YES! Why should they suffer in the hands of the so-called majority? I am sure that those who vote "NO" belong to the oppressor group in their respective countries. Don't the Kurds deserve freedom - for they are DENIED to use their language, have Kurdish names, and even denied the right to identify themselves as Kurds? Shouldn't the Oromo (in fact the majority) who are suffering under successive Abyssinian/Ethiopian (Amhara-Tigrayan) colonisers deserve the right to self determination and take their destiny into their hands? If secession can avoid bloodshed, and if the oppresses don't understand (or agree to) the principles of respecting the rights of others, why not go for secession at ANY COST!
Jiraataa Tolaa, Oromiya

Yes. Dividing already small countries may not be the quick solution, but for the long run it will help everybody to realise the real solution of living together in harmony and brotherhood. Good example is Somaliland in North Somalia which declared independence from civil war torn Somalia, but wants now to join back to the rest of the Somalia.
H. Ali, USA

It is a dilemma! On one hand one would want everyone to have the right to be in control of their destiny. But what use will any minor territory will have for its inhabitants if it is not connected to a large country populated by people from all walks of life and backgrounds. And what if that large country is not connected to the rest of the region where it is and then to the rest of the continent and afterwards to the rest of the world?
I would advocate regional federations within any African country, Somalia included, where the each African minority or majority, if they wish, could have their own autonomous region or federal state without prohibiting the rest of the nation's peoples from becoming part of the economic, social and political development of the region and the country. However, if the choice is the violent extermination of minorities, like what is happening to the Digil and Mirifle "Rahanwein" clans of Somalia, and the "total" quest for self determination of Somalia's Isaq clan members a formerly "hunted" down as if they were game, then I would vote for the minority's freedom to separate from the larger country.
The question will then be: who will guarantee the freedom of the minorities within the freed minorities?
Adan Ali Bulle, England (originally from Somalia)

Solve the problems in Africa? That's a joke, right? Africa has been, and always shall be the cesspool of our planet. Brutal governments, rampant overpopulation, diseases spreading out of control, and ignorance combine to ensure that the continent will never catch up with the rest of the world.
Dave, USA

Africans are divided into hundreds of tribes and each tribe is divided into thousands of clans the result of secessionism is one Continent and ONE THOUSAND AND ONE COUNTRIES.
Ali Mohamed Ali, Somalia

Secession is the answer, given Africans have proven so far that they are not capable of a meaningful democracy that protects minority rights. Self-determination of minority groups could also open the door to a meaningful African unity. That so far Africans were not able to achieve due to different opinion on how to deal with the colonial borders which are roots of all ethnic and minority problems.
Hassan Ali, Somalia

Secession is not and cannot be a solution to Africa's problem. What Africans need is Bread and Milk. "Tribalism and ethnicity ", unless being imposed by armed groups, have no place in the mind of common Africans who are thriving to survive. Respect of Humanity and the rule of law are solutions to Africa's' problems.
Girma, Ethiopia

What ever happened to African unity? Do we really think that making even smaller, weaker and more vulnerable economies is going to move us away from begging the West for everything!!! It is time to work together and stop being so greedy and arrogant...have we become just like the whites?
Siman Qaasim, USA

The answer for the question above is "NO", but if that what it takes to get Africa out of this mess, why not? Isn't that what self-determination is all about? Anyway, Why do Africans always blame the west? When are we going to stand up on our own feet and figure out what's good for ourselves? Although I read and agree with most of the comments posted on this site, I think what Africa needs is not just to talk the talk but commitments and determinations. If we generate, identify, and analyse options and challenge and test the basis of opinions through democratic system it eventually lead us to reach a consensus about the better decision, which makes sense and feel good.
Biniyam , USA

Well talk about minority what about the majority in Eastern Africa the Oromos!! Who are being tortured by Ethiopians, just because of their ethnic difference and their language!!
Andy, Canada

The issue of self determination for Africa's minorities should be approached with extreme caution. Not every peoples seeking an independent state necessarily has a just reason. I believe self determination and secession should only be considered when two ethnic groups or communities are so different linguistically, ethnically, traditionally etc that peaceful cohabitance is totally impossible. This is the case in the Cameroon, where the English speaking West Cameroonians have a plausible cause for independence.
Nji Mbandi, Cameroon

Secession may indeed not be the answer but the alternative which exists at the moment is also unacceptable. The straight lines that the Europeans forced upon Africa when they left have nothing to do with the cultures or the peoples of the continent. It has proven to be a slow and painful process for Africans to learn to live together but I believe that this is the only way forward for most nations rather than further dividing people into smaller and more aid-dependent nations. Notable exceptions to this would seem to be Sudan and the Congo which really are not countries but jigsaw puzzles left by the British and Belgians. Let the world focus more on making African countries more democratic and truly representative by offering practical support for these goals rather than continuing to sell arms and munitions to countries that cannot afford them either in monetary or humanitary terms.
Gerard Pauley, Australia

Secession: No. Genuine regional autonomy with fully de-centralised local government: Yes.
nicholas winer, Egypt

Secession is not the answer. Rather, all parties should agree on a form of devolution of powers so that the locals have a way of determining and creating solutions to their own local problems. Many African leaders have this misguided belief that they have solutions for the problems of each and every group in their countries. For those harping on how the African boundaries were created, I think we already know that the colonialists divided Africa unilaterally for their own good, so there is no point revisiting this excuse everyday Africans encounter such a problem as has happened in Namibia. Namibians should possibly re-visit their constitution just to make sure they did not leave anything out, especially the empowerment of the locals through representative local councils that are only answerable to the people that elected them. On the other hand, if this is an uprising of a clannish warlord, who knows what he will do once he comes to power.
Sang, Kenya

No, but the central governments have to be sure that all the regions are fairly handled. The same distribution of money and infrastructures must be guaranteed.
Ruzindana, Austria

I wholly support the aspirations of cultural and ethnic groups to have a country they can call their own. Modern Africa is an utterly artificial creation of the European Great Powers in the final decades of the 19th Century. The Caprivi Strip is a good example of this, born out of Anglo-German rivalry, not reflecting any reality on the ground. Much larger than Europe, Africa has fewer countries. Let all the synthetic colonialist countries of Africa be put into the melting pot and new smaller countries reflecting ethnic, historical and cultural realities be created!
Peter , UK

I do not believe that secession in Africa will accomplish anything at the moment. Certainly in a continent where there is already enough strife due to famine, civil war, and underdeveloped socio-economic institutions and infrastructure, the last thing that is needed is further fragmentation. What is needed is a strong leadership in African nations that is not weakened by corruption and a lack of democratic principles. This is only the start, but it is perhaps the most important thing in order to get Africa back on track. As long as individuals and groups are engaged in power struggles (indeed, some nations such as Angola, have never known peace since independence because of this) nothing will improve. Responsible leadership, which lays the foundations for a truly democratic process (which includes the equal treatment of and equal access to the political process for all peoples) is the most important step that needs to be taken at this moment in time.
Greg Weston, Canada

Secession for most African countries is largely pointless. The Caprivi Strip may be an exception because of the wealth of this region, but, generally, sub-Saharan countries struggle to form a government and support their people. Breaking away to create yet another tiny, impoverished and inexperienced country will not solve the problems these culturally-homogeneous people are having. Many African nations have trouble bringing their diverse cultures together under one government and frequently favour one group over another. These countries as well as the people that comprise them should try harder to overcome their differences and find a compromise. ... leaders and ruling parties rarely put forth the effort required to surmount the often years of disagreements and fighting. Historically, the rule of thumb is to the victor goes the spoils. End of story.
David MacClement, New Zealand (formally Ghana and Nigeria)

The answer is absolutely NO. What Africa needs is a more democratic (home grown democracy, not one imposed by the west), and tolerance. Respect all cultures, language, religion etc and live in harmony and peace. Life is too short to fight over ethnic issues. As an Ethiopian, I would love to live in peace and harmony with my neighbours Eritreans, Somalians, Kenyans, Sudanese, Djiboutians and all Africans at large. We are much stronger together. Let's not our corrupt leaders fill our spirit with hatred.
Yoseph A , Nazareth, Ethiopia

Background ¦ Vote ¦ Your reaction ¦ Have your say

Is secession the answer to Africa's minority struggles?:

Final Vote:


Yes: 63% No: 37%

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