Dr Ayittey has kindly responded to my rebuttal.
You can’t mix secession with decentralization of power; oranges and apples. Your statements that “Smaller states would be much better for Africa than the large ones in place” and “The more “Little Djiboutis” there are, the better” are ridiculous. At a time when small countries are coming together to form larger economic blocs – EU, AU, ASEAN, Mercosur, etc. – you recommend going in the other direction: The creation of more little states that are not economically viable. Would you recommend the break-up of the US into 50 little states? Check your own history.
The original US Constitution was inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy. Under that Constitution, the South elected to secede, which led to the Civil War (1861-1865). Why didn’t the US allow the South to secede? It would have led to GREATER decentralization of power.
Now, I want to let everybody know that this exchange is happening over Twitter, so be sure to take Dr. Ayittey’s response in stride and in context.
First up are his first and last statements:
You can’t mix secession with decentralization of power; oranges and apples […] Why didn’t the US allow the South to secede? It would have led to GREATER decentralization of power.
I’m setting aside his pertinent question for a little later on, but I do want to point this out: I can’t mix secession with decentralization of power because secession would lead to greater decentralization of power?
I think Ayittey’s larger point is that decentralization of power must happen within a state, whereas secession would result in one or more states. However, if State A gives way to States B and C, then there is a decentralization of power, is there not? Instead of one seat of power, you have two smaller seats of power.
I think his fear is largely in line with those of a great number of people: more states will equal more conflict:
Your statements that “Smaller states would be much better for Africa than the large ones in place” and “The more “Little Djiboutis” there are, the better” are ridiculous.
Ridiculous? How rude! Dr. Ayittey’s rudeness can be clarified, though, once we see that he fails to actually address my argument:
At a time when small countries are coming together to form larger economic [emphasis mine – bc] blocs – EU, AU, ASEAN, Mercosur, etc. – you recommend going in the other direction: The creation of more little states that are not economically viable. Would you recommend the break-up of the US into 50 little states? Check your own history.
Central to my argument for recognizing secessionist movements in the post-colonial world are the two pillars of broad international support and economic integration. Economic integration with neighbors and regional players is a good thing, but if some of them don’t want to play ball with the new kid on the bloc, then the West should step in and offer multilateral or unilateral trade deals with the new state (actually, the West should do this regardless of the new state’s status with its neighbors).
Repeat after me: political decentralization and economic integration is good; political centralization and economic isolation is bad. The “larger economic blocs” Dr. Ayittey is referring to are, of course, made up of smaller and more numerous political units. Instead of just a trading bloc within the state of France between its provinces, you have a trading bloc within most of Europe encompassing many of Europe’s states. Instead of one state trading with itself, you have twenty or thirty or fifty (as is the US case) states trading with each other. More politically fragmented but economically integrated states = more peace and prosperity. The fact that Czechoslovakia broke into two only helped the EU decentralize politically further, while economic integration remained intact. Imagine what would happen if France broke up into three or four separate states and they all remained within the EU.
Now, of course you have to have some political ties in order to integrate economically, but these ties should be of limited scope.
And the US is essentially 50 little states, the great leaps forward in centralized power over the past 100 years notwithstanding. If Washington gets much worse, I would take secession to be a viable option for reform, too. Heck, it’s a viable option today, though not a very lucrative one. The fact that it would not be lucrative for US states to leave the American federation does not weaken the argument for supporting secession in the post-colonial world. The American federation is very well run when compared to the basketcases in the post-colonial world. What sort of benefits can Bamako offer to Azawad besides the conscription of young men and guaranteed poverty?
As I have repeatedly stated, if the states of the post-colonial world want to federalize, great! They should. Such an option would be much preferable to secession, but if the factions in these states cannot come to an agreement about a federal system, as seems to be the case in a great many countries throughout the post-colonial world, then secession should be seen as a viable option for factions and regions that want to go another route.
The original US Constitution was inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy. Under that Constitution, the South elected to secede, which led to the Civil War (1861-1865). Why didn’t the US allow the South to secede?
The US Constitution was inspired by the German and Dutch republics, as well as the Swiss cantons. While I agree that the Iroquois confederacy played a role in the framing of the constitution, it was as an example of what not to do. Madison and others actually thought that the Iroquois had too much liberty (the savage variety, of course), and as such decided that a constitution modeled on the Iroquois confederacy would be a bad idea. This is not to discount the Iroquois model, though. I think that the US benefited from a great deal of diffusion that took place between the two cultures, and had a great impact on shaping and influencing what liberty meant (side note: here is a link to a fascinating article on Native American political systems in the Freeman).
As for the US Civil War, the South attacked the North, so it wasn’t as if the North had set out to conquer and impose its will on the South after secession. If the South hadn’t attacked the North, would there have been a conflict? What if the South had held off on attacking Fort Sumter and instead opted to secure recognition of sovereignty from European powers first?
I see Dr. Ayittey’s general point about the US Civil War, though: secession can lead to violence. However, the American case happened well over 100 years ago, and since that time we have a number of other, successful models of secession to look at and learn from.
The two key components to successful secession have been (everybody repeat with me now): international cooperation and free trade. The best form of government, as we have seen time and again, is one where political power is decentralized and economic integration is maximized. Without these in place, we get skewed (screwed?) societies.
Most of the post-colonial states of the world are skewed. They have been trying to hammer federal systems into place for half a century now, to no avail. Additionally, there have been numerous wars in the post-colonial world either aiming to establish control over the center or leaving the control of the center. The US Civil War is a good example of how not to handle secessionist movements. 600,000 people died. In Africa and Asia, the number is well over one million.
If we want to stop the bleeding in the post-colonial world, without firing any more shots into the region ourselves, it would be best to throw in the towel on the pseudo-states of Africa and Asia and recognize the independence of regions that want it. Independence would confer a prestige upon the new states; a prestige not granted to regions that can’t get international recognition. With prestige comes pride, and with pride, a new hope. With international recognition comes international cooperation, and with international cooperation comes international trade.
I don’t see how recognizing secessionist movements would be a bad thing for the post-colonial world. In fact, I think secession would be great for the post-colonial world. There would more states and more centers of governance, which would weaken power and enhance liberty. Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Austria, Ireland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states, and Denmark are all small in size. Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE are all small states. Singapore, South Korea, and Brunei are small states. They seem to have done quite well for themselves, and more than a few of them can trace their prosperity back to secessionist movements.