The secession of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011, after a protracted and seemingly intractable conflict which started in 1955 on the eve of the county’s independence from colonial rule; presents a pertinent question on whether secession should be considered as a viable and sustainable strategy for resolving conflicts with ethnic and religious dimensions.
This comes against a background of several secessionists movements in Africa, as in Algeria (State of Kabyle), Angola (Republic of Cabinda), Cameroon (Democratic Republic of Bakassi), Comoros (Anjouan), Ethiopia (State of Oromia and Ogaden), Mali (Azawad), Nigeria (State of Biafra), Senegal (Casamance Republic), Somalia (Republic of Somalia-Somaliland), Tanzania (Zanzibar), and Zambia (Barotseland), among others. These are by grievances such as marginalization, discrimination, oppression and different forms of injustices. Five years after secession, the conflicts in South Sudan and Sudan are still raging on and even intensifying, despite commendable regional and international mediation efforts through the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU).
Using the 2011 secession of South Sudan as case study, this study sought to examine the extent to which secession can be considered as a strategy to sustainably resolve intra-ethnic and religious conflicts in post-colonial African states. Methodologically, the study adopted a mixed methods research design which combines both qualitative and quantitative research methods, relying on interviews with experts, academics and researchers based in Zimbabwe as well as questionnaires administered to officials working in peacebuilding, humanitarian, media and development agencies in South Sudan. It used the Protracted Social Conflict Theory, Realist Conflict Theory and Conflict Transformation Theory as theoretical framework of analysis.
The findings of the study revealed that whilst South Sudanese secession was a legal success as evidenced by the legitimate recognition and acceptance of the state as a member of the AU and the UN, there was no evidence of success of secession in South Sudan in as far as the securing of lasting peace and stability is concerned as there is continued inter-communal violence, inter-ethnic fights, unresolved border demarcation issues with the Republic of Sudan, and border disputes in Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in post-secession South Sudan. The study concludes that secession cannot be regarded as a sustainable and viable strategy to resolve intra-state ethnic and religious conflicts as it usually over-simplify a conflict along ethnic, religious and regional identity lines thereby failing to address the underlying substantive causes of secessionist conflicts. The study further argues that at regional and continental level, the secession of states may threaten African unity and integration. However, in extreme cases where secession maybe unavoidable due to self-determination pressures, the study suggests that secession should be supported by effective transitional mechanisms accompanied by conflict transformation interventions aimed at transforming the power structures, institutions, systems, triggers of violence, attitudes of conflict actors, and transforming mindset of the elite/leadership so as to secure sustainable peace and stability. In order to sustainably resolve seemingly intractable protracted intra-state ethnic and religious conflicts in post-colonial African states, the study highly recommends that multi-ethnic and …