Africa’s Secessionism: A Breakdance of Aspiration, Grievance, Performance, and Disenchantment

Schomerus, Mareike; Englebert, Pierre; Vries, L. de


This chapter offers four interpretations of Africa’s secessionism: aspiration, grievance, performance, and disenchantment. Secessionism remains a fundamental theme of African politics, despite being largely removed from the realm of the thinkable. Yet, South Sudan’s independence against all odds shows that African secessionism is also contradictory. Its aspirational simplicity obscures a complex political phenomenon that often couples a territorial demand with invocations of the right to self-determination. Claims are based on grievances, marginalization, narratives, 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 Africans’ problems rather than one of its roots.