Breaking Away: Secession vs Unity

Secession is the withdrawal or breaking away from a larger entity. Often, the larger entity is usually political. Other times, it could be an organization, military alliance or union. Regions in countries are seceding from larger countries, fueled by historical or recent injustices. A number of regions are also doing it for economic reasons. Every once in a while, threats of secession are used as a means to achieve one or two hidden goals.

The southern region of Sudan broke away after a protracted war. Austria seceded from Nazi Germany in 1945. Congo has had its issues with the province of Katanga in 1960. Cyprus in 1974 has a tussle with Turkey. East Timor vs Indonesia led to the eventual separation in 2002. Eritrea turned Ethiopia into a landlocked country after taking the entire Ethiopian coastline. Nigeria had Biafra trying to break away and quelled the movement using extreme methods. Bangladesh was born from Pakistan. The USSR has seen arguably the largest number of states seceding from a single parent state in recent history.

Growth of the Idea

What is driving the increased agitation for secession and separation across the world? Various grievances and ideologies are contributing. Political scientist Bridget L. Coggins argues that secessionist movements are due to ethno-national mobilization, Institutional empowerment, Increase in relative strengths and negotiated consent.

Ethno-national mobilization happens when ethnic minorities within a country decide to pursue their own independent nation. Institutional Empowerment leads to secession when federations and empires experienced reduced ability to maintain colonies or member states. An example of this is the break-up of the USSR.

Strong and powerful secessionist movements with adequate economic strength and force are likely to achieve independent statehood. Other nations achieve nationhood when their mother-states or home-states willingly agree to secessionist demands.

Achieving the Objective

Use of violent means is the least favorite and most unfriendly way to achieve secessionist objectives. Newly formed nations need goodwill, popularity and warm international relations to succeed in their infancy stages. South Sudan is a strong sample case. Warm relations should not only be with neighbor states and regional blocs, but also with mother-countries.



When a nation faces secessionist talk from within its people, it is best to allow discussion and negotiation. Quashing long-held urges of a collective people is not easy and when met with violence, it adds to the unity of the group that wants to secede. Spain in their handling of Catalonia serve as a sad example on why force must not be used when countering talk of secession.

Kenya has had different separate regions wanting to secede at different times in history. Its handling of each secessionist movement has always been either force, ignoring the movement or outright dismissal. Following the August 2017 elections, fresh eruptions of secessionist talk need to be monitored and evaluated carefully. Not all talk of secession is bad for the mother country or for the people who want to secede.


Discussion Point: In the greater plan of the European Union, is Brexit a secessionist movement?

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