From Unity to Union: The historical development of Africa’s regional security culture 



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Contradiction 1: Secession


Writing in the mid-1970s, Kamanu noted an ‘apparent contradiction between African support for self-determination under colonialism, and opposition to the application of the same principle in a post-colonial setting.’87 Of course, it is important to recall that in international law legitimate claims to self-determination do not necessarily justify secession.88 Rather, demands for self-determination can be accommodated within the existing state by developing decentralised governance structures and paying greater attention to minority and human rights of the group in question. Altering political borders is, as Arnold Hughes observed, ‘an extreme political option.’89 Nevertheless, it was somewhat contradictory for the OAU to declare secession ‘a matter within a member’s domestic jurisdiction which precludes external interference’ and at the same time pass ‘resolutions condemning secession.’90 Thus while the OAU supported liberation movements in Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique, for instance, it condemned similar struggles in Nigeria, southern Sudan, Chad, Eritrea, Somalia and the Comoros.
Proponents of rejecting secessionist claims often placed great emphasis on a “domino theory” or “floodgates” argument. Neither proposition, however, could marshal much empirical support. The secessionist movements in Katanga, Biafra and southern Sudan, for example, tended to assert the unique, extraordinary nature of their demands and did not trigger similar demands elsewhere. Indeed, as Figure 3 indicates, the number of secessionist movements in post-colonial Africa is remarkably small given the diversity of ethnic groups within the continent. More recently, Eritrea’s acceptance within international society – to date the only successful case of secession in Africa91 – did not lead to a sudden splintering of African states. Nor did international society’s recognition of new states outside the continent, including those in the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.92 Most recently of all, Timor Leste’s birth in 2002 does not appear to have generated any new secessionist movements in Africa.
Ultimately, at the heart of many secessionist problems lay not illusory domino effects but the unwillingness of many African governments to provide adequate safeguards for human and minority rights in their own states.93 In this sense, one way of overcoming the OAU’s first contradiction was to resolve its second contradiction, namely its stance on non-interference in the internal affairs of its member states.


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