Secession movements are a dime a dozen. A quick Google search for “current separatist movements” yields almost 900,000 results spanning the globe. These movements typically result from protracted socio-cultural or economic grievances: violence, discrimination and lack of representation in government among others. Truly viable secession movements are far less widespread, which is explained by the simple fact that secession is incredibly difficult to achieve. Realistically, for a separatist movement to be successful, either large-scale international support of the movement is needed, or the parent, or rump state would need to grant independence to its breakaway state.
While separatist movements are extremely unlikely to succeed, a handful of states were created via secession in the last decade, so the question becomes: do populations of newly minted states fare better after secession? When examining successful separatist movements of the past, the results are not so clear. Without seceding, breakaway states will certainly lack representation in international institutions, will not possess the legality to extract their natural resources and will have no capacity to broker treaties with other governments. Beyond these points, though, the situation is less clear. In South Sudan, pockets of violence persist across the country, hampering the ability of people in these regions to grow food, thereby putting food-insecure regions at greater risk of triggering a humanitarian crisis. Questions of governance remain, too: Eritrea has been under authoritarian rule since its independence from Ethiopia, resulting in widespread unrest – particularly among the country’s youth.
The situation after secession can vary widely from country-to-country, largely dependent on the situation prior to independence. Does the breakaway state have an established economy? Has it established functioning institutions? What is the relationship with the parent state? While secession can certainly help to improve the quality of life for the breakaway state’s population, it is clear it does represent a panacea for marginalized populations.