South Sudan marks today the second anniversary of its independence, which was achieved after a decades-long war that ultimately led to an interim autonomous status and a referendum on secession. The "yes" vote reached more than 99% of the ballots, casting no doubt over the preferences of South Sudanese for full independence.
Two years later, Africa's youngest republic is facing a number of challenges. Amnesty International reports shortcomings in the field of human rights. The newborn state has to deal with a high rate of illiteracy (it was estimated at 80% last year) and with a weak economy that is too much dependent on oil. Still, the existence of natural resources has prompted South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar to envisage that the country could emerge as an "African tiger".
Despite all problems that the newest states in Africa are facing -Eritrea is another good example-, a number of territories see how an independence movement has taken shape within their borders. Marginalization by the central government and a separate colonial history are usually the core arguments for those seeking secession, far more than ethnic or linguistic differences. A brief insight to eight of these, north to south (click on left map to enlarge):
This Amazigh-majority territory in the north of Algeria has been developing its own political movement during the last decades. The Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia (MAK) was established in 2001 and has since been calling for self-government within a democratic Algeria. Lack of progress in this field is pushing some among the Kabyle movement towards more pro-independence positions. MAK holds that Kabylia is discriminated against by the Algerian government, both in economic and linguistic terms.
The northern half of Mali declared independence in early 2012, geared by the Tuareg-majority, secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). Several Islamist groups expelled MNLA fighters from almost all Azawadian cities in mid 2012. Earlier this year, and after the intervention of the French army, the MNLA retook control over the northernmost province of Kidal. Since then, the guerrilla has accepted to downgrade its demands and is now asking for an autonomous Azawad within Mali.
The Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) started a campaign for the independence of Casamance from Senegal in 1982, arguing neglect and disregard by Dakar and historical and geographical differences. The Community of Sant'Egidio is currently mediating in order to achieve a peace deal between Senegal and on of the MFDC leaders, Salif Sadio. But the Movement is itself divided into several groups, each one having its own leader. Senegal continues to say it will never grant autonomy, let alone independence, to Casamance.
This former British colony is a full independent state since 1990, when it broke up from war-torn Somalia. The only thing that Somaliland lacks is recognition by other countries. The republic has strong links with regional power Ethiopia, keeps a functioning democratic system, enjoys political stability and is working to exploit its natural resources. Somaliland authorities are hopeful that, in the end, the international community will accept the country's independence as a fait accompli.
The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) argues that inland Kenyans have taken advantage of poverty among coastal Kenyans to buy properties there and make profit of natural resources. This, and a separate historical and linguistic background, have moved the MRC to launch a campaign for the independence of the coastal region of Kenya, or Pwani. Nairobi says instead that decentralization as foreseen in the 2010 Constitution should help in solving grievances.
Sporadic secession claims arise in Congo's southernmost province, Katanga, after the territory effectively declared independence in 1960 and was reintegrated into Congo three years after. In 2010, more than 20 people were arrested during a pro-independence march in Katanga's capital city Lubumbashi. This year, the militant group Kata Katanga is holding a violent campaign against the Congolese army in order to achieve independence for Katanga. Furthermore, devolution and federalism are a constant issue in the Katanguese political debate.
Several political movements insist that Barotseland joined Zambia in 1964 through a specific agreement that granted political autonomy to the territory. Pro-independence groups say Zambia has not honoured the deal and thus argue that Barotseland should be free to pursue its own way out. One of these groups, the Barotseland National Council, even declared last year that the country was starting a "peaceful disengagement" process from Zambia.
Not all movements towards decentralization or independence are conflictual, off course. One of the most interesting constitutional developments in Africa is currently taking place in Zimbabwe. The former British colony has prepared a new Constitution that should be implemented after July election. The Constitution will open the door to devolution of legislative and executive powers to provincial and metropolitan councils, in order to better accommodate regional, ethnic and linguistic differences in a country where relations between the Shona and the Ndebele have not always been easy.