The Common Implications of Secession: Texas and Katanga as Case Studies

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Armstrong, Elizabeth

The Common Implications of Secession: Texas and Katanga as Case Studies

When governor Sam Houston refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy upon Texas secession, his argument captures the common perception of secession: “I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her”( The secession of a state or province from a country is rarely peaceful, and like Houston, many fear the implications of secession. Although the legitimacy for specific circumstances of secession is debatable, secession indisputably makes a strong statement about a nation’s stability. Also, reasons for various secessionist movements are often very similar. This paper argues that despite the differences in the development of the United States and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both the secession of Texas in 1861 and Katanga in 1960 have certain similarities that help draw conclusions about the nature of secession and its impact on political and economic development of both the seceded region and the country. Doing so can also help predict the likelihood of a possible modern day secession of Texas.

For purposes of this paper, development refers to the peace, political stability, and relative prosperity of citizens in a country over the last half century. From a developmental perspective, the United States and the DRC are nearly incomparable. While the United States remains one of the safest places to live, the DRC remains plagued by violence, rebel groups, and a seeming absence of rule of law. The Human Development Index also highlights this large discrepancy. For example, the United States and the DRC are on two extremes of the HDI, which takes into account the average life expectancy, literacy rate, and the standard of living in a country. The HDI ranks the DRC as the 186th country out of 187 countries in the low human development category, the lowest possible category. In stark contrast, the HDI ranks the United States as the third most developed country in the very high human development category, the highest possible category. The mean year of schooling in the DRC is 3.5 years whereas in the United States, it’s 13.5 years. The average life expectancy is 48.7 years in the DRC and 78.7 in the United States (IHDI 2013). There are a variety of factors that account for the developmental differences between the two countries. First, the territory that is present day United States was colonized by Europeans centuries before the DRC. Similarly, the United States earned its independence in 1776 and has since had many years to develop into the country that it now is. DRC only gained its independence in 1960. Although these statistics indicate the near antithetical nature of these two countries, these statistics are helpful in understanding that no matter the developmental status of a country, secession can have serious implications that any country will struggle to prepare for and to reconcile after.

With regard to the circumstances surrounding the secession of Texas in 1861 and Katanga in 1960, both regions possessed a distinct identity and relative autonomy within their respective countries, which helps explain common causes for secession. Because Texas was part of Mexico and then briefly an independent republic prior to joining the United States as the 28th state, it was well accustomed to self-government. Similarly, since early-colonialization of the DRC in the late nineteenth century, Belgians tended to favor and thereby develop regions that seemed more economically promising, Katanga being one of them. (Exenberger 2007). Consequently, in the years and even months leading up to the DRC’s independence, Katanga was accustomed to certain privileges and greater power than the other provinces, which would come into conflict with Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba’s plan to unify the provinces under a central government (Okumu 1963). Additionally, both Texas and Katanga seceded in large part for economic reasons. When it seemed that a larger and, in the eyes of many Texas secessionists, biased entity (the federal government) would decide whether to abolish slavery, many Texans thought that secession was the only way to secure its continued economic success given slavery was necessary for agricultural output, its main source of revenue (Sandbo 1914). Likewise, Katanga seceded partly because many in Katanga did not believe the rest of the Congo region was developed enough and did not want its revenues to fund public expenditures in other parts of the nation (Lemarchand 1962). Another interesting similarity between the two is that there was a large portion of the population in both Texas and Katanga that did not want to secede (Okumu 1963). In fact, evidence today shows that the voting for the popular referendum for secession of Texas during the Civil War was falsified and that many were coerced by secessionists to vote in favor of secession (Baum 1991). Similarly, in Katanga, those that openly opposed secession were often threatened.

The economic blows of Katanga’s secession to the DRC in the 1960s is analogous to the economic blow the United States would face is Texas seceded today. Like Texas, which is the second wealthiest state after California, Katanga was the second wealthiest province in the DRC during the 1960s. The success of the DRC economy relied heavily on the mineral reserves, industries, and extensive commerce in Katanga, just as the success of the United States’ economy relies heavily on the oil industry in Texas. To imagine the blow of Katanga’s secession to the DRC economy in the 1960s, one must imagine the unprecedented economic drawbacks of Texas secession; the United States would lose eight percent or $1.2 trillion of its GDP and two million barrels of oil a day (Riva 2012). In this comparison, however, it is important to note that the United States still has 49 other states, each contributing to the economy, unlike the DRC where there was a significantly disproportional distribution of wealth between the 11 provinces. In other words, Katanga was much wealthier and more central to the success of the DRC’s economy than most of the other provinces. While the economic role of Katanga and Texas in their respective countries may be similar, the secession of Katanga differs in sense that it occurred immediately after its independence, which is such a critical part in determining the future of its development.

Secession, as evinced by Katanga and Texas both in its modern secessionist movement and during the Civil War, undermines the country’s political model designed to insure stability, a key indicator of development. During both the independence of the United States and the DRC, the goal was to create a government that would unite all the different regions under one central authority while still allowing regions to maintain certain rights. To do so successfully required that all regions consented to submit some of their previously held rights to the central authority. Secession in both Katanga and Texas demonstrated a distrust in this sort of system and a bitter aversion to unity, causing serious political repercussions. In both Katanga and Texas, secession brought the entire political system into question and created a strong distrust in the central government. This, in turn, sparked a civil war in the United States and so much violence to break out in the DRC that UN peacekeepers had to intervene. Also, both Texas and Katanga set a precedent for secession in the countries, leading other provines of the DRC to secede along with Katanga and explaining why there are Texas secessionists who still think it is possible for Texas to secede.

The thought of Texas seceding today raises the question as to whether it could actually become a prosperous independent state. However, in the same way that Katanga was unsuccessful as an independent state, Texas would struggle as well. Although both Katanga and Texas, as aforementioned, have always had a distinct identity within their respective countries, both Katanga and Texas are developed in a way that forces them to rely on a larger entity. For Katanga, prior to its secession, its close economic ties to Belgium were necessary to secure its economic prosperity, and without the assistance of Belgian troops and support from international corporations with operations in the region, Katanga would not have functioned long as an independent state. For Texas, its experiment as an independent state prior to joining the United States proved highly unsuccessful. Moreover, secession would dramatically impact Texas as well given its economy does rely on interstate interactions and protection by the federal government. With this said, Texas, from an economic perspective, would be as it is more a center for international operations not a branch of international operations like Katanga was.

In examining the background behind the secession of Texas and Katanga as well as the political and economic implications, one can see the similarities in both despite the differences in the countries’ level of development and phases of the countries at which secession happened. With this said, it is important to note that despite the similarities, development can impact the rapidity with which a country recovers from the blows of secession. For the DRC, it still suffers the blows from its failed independence, which is in part attributed to the secession of Katanga. While Katanga’s secession is not wholly responsible for the issues the DRC has faced, it certainly was one of many factors that has contributed to the existing weak and fragmented nation that is the DRC. It is very unlikely Texas will secede because it has restored its close ties to the United States and does not have severe economic complaints, as it did during the Civil War, to prompt its secession. However, in the DRC, the fragmentation of the state makes secession still possible. This is partly due to the DRC’s lack development; the DRC did not have the means to properly recover from the blows of Katanga’s secession. Going forward, it will be interesting to evaluate the future of the DRC given that the fundamental issues that cause secession are still present. Additionally, the continued existence of secessionist movements in Texas does not seem promising as Texas moves farther away from the period at which it was an independent state.

Baum, Dale. "Pinpointing Apparent Fraud in the 1861 Texas Secession Referendum." The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 22, no. 2 (Autumn 1991): 201-21. Accessed September 19, 2013.

“Congo (Democratic Republic of The) Country Profile: Human Development Indicators.” Report. 2013. Accessed September 01, 2013.

Exenberger, Andreas, and Simon Hartmann. "The Dark Side of Globalization: The Vicious Cycle of Exploitation from World Market Integration: Lesson from the Congo." 2007. Accessed September 30, 2013.

Lemarchand, Rene. "The Limits of Self-Determination: The Case of Katanga Secession." The American Political Science Review 56, no. 2 (June 1962): 404-16. Accessed June 5, 2013.
Okumu, Washington, Lumumba’s Congo: Roots of Conflict. New York: Ivan Obolensky, INC, 1963.

Rival, Alberto. "What If Texas Really Were Its Own Country?" International Business Times. November 14, 2012. Accessed September 21, 2013.

"Sam Houston and Secession." Almost Chosen People. February 1, 2010. Accessed November 2, 2013.

Sandbo, Anna Irene. "Beginnings of the Secession Movement in Texas." The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 18, no. 1 (July 1914): 41-73. Accessed September 19, 2013.

“United States Country Profile: Human Development Indicators”” Report. 2013/. Accessed October 29, 2013.

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