26 February 2008

Africa: Kosovo Revives Hopes for Secession

The recognition of Kosovo by some of the West’s major powers is boosting the hopes of secessionist movements across Africa, judging by their websites.

Apart from Senegal, which has announced it will recognize Kosovo’s declaration of independence, African governments are still weighing up their options.

“The world is about to witness… another political and diplomatic revolution which may give birth to some new nations," reads an opinion piece published on Somalilandnet.com, a website that caters to the autonomous region of the same name that seeks to secede from Somalia.

“It’s imperative,” the entry says, “that our Somaliland government does the right diplomatic move not to miss this rare opportunity.”

“Kidal will follow the example of Kosovo to become independent,” reads a forum entry on Kidal.info, a website named after a city in the northeastern part of Mali that is home to a Touareg rebellion that has clashed sporadically with governmental forces.

“This hard-won freedom by Kosovar citizens will serve as an example for the future autonomy of Kabylia,” wrote Stéphane Merabet Arrami, a contributor to Kabyle.com, a website committed to the affirmation of Algeria’s Kabyle Berbers, who resent the arabization of the country at the expense of the Amazigh culture.

And an entry on the website of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), a group based in the Netherlands, suggests that, “For regions in similar conditions, Kosovo’s independence represents new hope for the future of their own potential statehood.”

In Africa, UNPO members range from active breakaway factions such as the FLEC/FAC movements of the oil-rich Cabinda enclave in Angola, to less well-known groups such as Southern Cameroon’s National Council or the Rehoboth Basters of Namibia.

Kosovo’s independence declaration poses a quandary for Africa’s foreign policymakers.

“African countries, beginning with those that are currently members of the UN Security Council, are in standby mode and refuse categorically to take a stand,” noted a columnist in Fraternité Matin, Côte d’Ivoire’s governmental daily.

Article 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights affirms "the unquestionable and inalienable right to self-determination," but this has to be balanced against the inviolability of territorial boundaries that resulted from colonization (the so-called uti possidetis principle under Article 4 of the African Union’s Constitutive Act).

The buzz about Kosovo has spread even to countries where secessionist movements have quieted down.

In an article titled “Kosovo—the precedent that will enflame Africa,” a columnist for the Ivoirian newspaper Notre Voie predicts a revival of secessionist groups across the continent and doubts that the international community will be able to resolve the resulting crises.

At Rewmi.com, one of Senegal’s major news sites, one commentator wonders if the government’s recognition of Kosovo will not reignite the separatist tendencies of MFDC, a rebel group that wants independence for the southern Casamance region.

But Africa’s strongest case will likely come from Western Sahara, which has been recognized as an independent country by the African Union but whose sovereignty is not effective because of Morocco’s insistence that it is a province of its kingdom. Its diaspora maintains a fairly vigorous presence on the web.

Hach Ahmed, a Saharawi blogger at Saharaopinions.blogspot.com, noted what he regards as the inconsistency of Western powers: “In Kosovo they imposed an independence that was not based on international legality, but in Western Sahara they’re opposed to self-determination that has been recommended multiple times by that same legality.”

“Kosovo is an example of how we can effectively make our case,” wrote Salek. M. A. Said on the same blog, urging members of the diaspora to lobby the government of Spain, a former colonial power that has been involved in the standoff with Morocco.

To which an anonymous commenter added, “As a Saharawi song has it, if someone bites you and you don’t bite back, they think you don’t have teeth. We too can bite, if only we want it.”


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