Secessionism remains a fundamental theme in African politics. Its aspirational simplicity obscures a complex political phenomenon that, for some, represents the ultimate rupture from colonial boundaries towards genuine expression of the principle of self-determination.
Secessionism remains a fundamental theme in African politics, despite being largely removed from the realm of the thinkable. Yet, South Sudan's independence shows that African secessionism is contradictory. Its aspirational simplicity obscures a complex political phenomenon that often couples a territorial demand with invocations of the right to self-determination. Current and past secessionist claims are based on grievances, marginalization, narratives (including those of a brighter future), and economic interests. The consequences of such claims vary; the two cases of successful post-colonial secession highlight that secessionism does not guarantee improvements. And secessionist claims rarely challenge the notion that the sovereign territorial state is the answer to Africa's problems, rather than one of its roots. Secessionism—and with that the redrawing of borders—is reviled by some as an attempt to balkanize the continent. For others, seceding and departing from colonial boundaries is the ultimate rupture, liberation and the only genuine expression of the principle of self-determination, encompassing an energetic, future-oriented possibility for Africa. Despite its importance to the continent's politics and the drawing of its borders—often explicitly voiced, more often even the subtext of many policies—African secessionism remains an understudied and misunderstood topic. This roundtable will use the publication of an edited volume that offers a comparative treatment of African secessionism to address individual secessionist trends within a broader analytical framework. Proposed speakers: Lotje de Vries, Alexandra Dias, Sara Dorman, Pierre Englebert, Vincent Foucher, Georg Klute, MIles Larmer, Matthew Porges, Sarah Vaughan, Wolfgang Zeller