Secessionism perseveres as a complex political phenomenon in Africa, yet often a more in-depth analysis is overshadowed by the aspirational simplicity of pursuing a new state. South Sudan’s secession was either an unavoidable outcome of a post-colonial betrayal of political promises – or a surprising result of muddled and contradictory developments during which, at crucial points, dynamics nonetheless aligned.
It was, this book chapter argues, because of these contradictions that South Sudan came into being: from its colonial past through a series of rebellions with competing ambitions, via the contradictory 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (that supported both Sudan’s unity and southern autonomy), to the internationally supported independence referendum. Lack of clarity about whether or not the leaders of South Sudan pursued secession ultimately made its achievement possible. The most tragic contradiction is that in the process of creating South Sudan, its leaders replicated the political marginalisation from which their country had sought to escape.