In recent years, uprisings in restive parts of the globe have attracted the world’s attention due to long-simmering strains, angry threats from aggrieved politicians, deadly government crackdowns, heated altercations, street protests and the risk of endless bloodshed.
Kenya does not fall far from the above following the just ended electioneering period which has left the nation more divided than ever. During the same period, a secession petition supported by the opposition party (NASA) which feels the electoral process was not fairly conducted was drafted in a bid to separate the country into two.
It is important to first understand what forces drive popular movements for secession, and what the consequences of such attempts are. Examining the variation of these break-ups from a political and economic perspective presents a suitable means for analyzing the root causes and consequences of secessionism.
Surprisingly, some countries across the world have signed secessionist agreements in the past. In Nigeria for instance, a pursuit for independence from one part of the country gained momentum years after a civil war that left about a million people dead making it one of the region’s deadliest conflicts.
In Spain, it is reported that 90 percent of the Catalans voted back independence proclaiming Catalonia a republic. Catalonia accounts for 20 percent of Spain's entire GDP and a quarter of its exports making its secession attempt a major deal for Spain.
South Sudan is another example which gained independence after splitting from Sudan in 2011 following the outcome of a 2005 agreement that ended Africa's longest-running civil war. However, the independence did not bring an end to the conflict in South Sudan. Barely two years after independence the country found itself engulfed by civil war (2013-2015) leading to the displacement of about 2.2 million.
Back to Kenya, opposition leaders have taken up conversations about the possibility of creating a People’s Democratic Republic that would have 40 counties seceded from the country’s 47 counties. Following the Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) approval of the bill calling for the secession, both the Senate and National Assembly will have to deliberate on passing it. Accordingly, if either of the houses rejects the bill, a referendum would be called for people to vote on secession.
Separately, the country also witnessed the emergence of the Mombasa Revolutionary Council (MRC) group with intentions of separating Mombasa from Kenya. The movement was inspired by a widespread feeling of political and economic alienation of the region. The most notable response by the government was the use of repression towards the separatist group. Repression may have worked for the short term as intended; however, this approach seemingly does nothing to resolve the underlying issues that drive anti-state sentiment.
Key drivers of secessionism
Perceptions of injustice
Given the above examples, it is possible to measure what their experiences tell us about the causes and consequences of secessionist movements and what these developments mean for Kenya?
Separatist movements are often influenced by perceptions of historic or recent political injustice through political and economic marginalization. This is suggested in the nature of demands in all three cases which forms the justification for the quest for secession.
In Nigeria for example after the brutal civil war, the country was faced with a wave of protests to separate Biafran state which was frustrated by long-standing complaints about poverty, neglect and injustice. This relates to the situation in Kenya where perceived injustice and exclusion from power has triggered serious talks about the possibility of opposition areas breaking away from the pro-government areas.
South Sudan like many of its counterparts has manifested the failure of political competitors to manage unresolved issues. As a result, political competition hardly leads to institutional and policy compromise instead, it often results in instability
Nigeria experienced destabilizing ethnic and regional political competition since the colonial era, and the Biafran is one of the major insurgencies the country has faced.
Although the three nations mentioned above have radically different ideologies and tactics, one common ideology is the perception that their state is illegitimate because it fails to represent a certain community.
Secessionist movements hardly ever end well. They usually bring out the worst forms of violence, rarely get international backing and separatists are only occasionally united as most citizens prefer the security from a larger unit. The Kenyan opposition’s powerful criticism of the government has inspired others to speak out, building momentum that found its ultimate expression in a number of large rallies.
Should Kenyan opposition supporters maintain the separatist movement it is likely to face challenges similar to secession quests. The continued call for secession is likely to plunge Kenya into a deeper constitutional crisis and further inflame the political dissent. The ideal solution would be to call for and build more inclusive and representative political systems.