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The African Union, Responsible Sovereignty and Contested States

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Post-colonial Africa has experienced relatively few contested states, defined as entities whose purported statehood is widely challenged by existing states. During the 1960s and 1970s the self-proclaimed states of Katanga, Biafra and Rhodesia encountered serious deficits in international recognition. The same fate befell the independent Bantustans created by South Africa. Today only the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Somaliland fall in this category. The pair’s remarkable longevity shows that they cannot be wished away. Nor can Africa ignore the conflict potential attached to the very existence of the two disputed states. The African Union’s endorsement of the notion of sovereignty as responsibility provides moral obligations, pragmatic incentives and R2P-associated tools for dealing with the challenges posed by current and future contested states. The African Union could, however, consider two adaptations to R2P procedures. The first is the designation of established contested states as ‘territories of concern’ to highlight the necessity of collective R2P-type initiatives to resolve these situations. The second calls for the introduction of a ‘secessionism alert’ as part of the au’s early-warning system to try to prevent violent secession and the likely birth of contested states.

Affiliations: 1: University of Johannesburg,


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