What can we in Africa learn from Scotland’s referendum?

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A week ago today, the people of Scotland had an opportunity to become independent of the United Kingdom in a referendum. According to news reports the to journey to Scotland’s referendum was a passionate one and threatened to tear families apart. As we know now, the NO camp won and needless to say  they were several disappointed people as well as tears.

As far as I can work out, the worst thing that happened on the day, was pushing and shoving amongst the losers and winners and as well as the resignation of Alex Salmond the leader of the YES campaign. On the Sunday following Scotland’s referendum there was a Church service aimed at healing the rift amongst the people of Scotland.

That was as exciting as it got.

I have been reflecting on events in Scotland this past week and wondered what if any lessons African countries can take away from Scotland’s referendum. In particular I reflected on the situation in Southern Sudan. The people of South Sudan fought hard for their independence.  But it would appear to me, they then turned on one another causing great suffering for the man on the street?

I looked back on the 2007-08 elections in Kenya  that led to current President of Kenya Uhuru and his Deputy being hauled in front of the International Criminal Court. I compared the South Sudan and Kenyan situations to  the recently concluded elections in Malawi. Imperfect of course. But as an outsider looking in, I was impressed by the fact that, in the end the losing party respected the outcome and nearly four months on  the country has not been torn apart by a civil war and as far as I know the new President has not thrown his opponent in jail. It occurred to me that I could possibly be comparing apples and pears so I put a question out to my fellow bloggers; What lessons if any can African countries take away from Scotland’s referendum? Below are some of the answers that came back


I don’t know if there are any lessons for Africa in the Scotland secession vote per se when we look at how Africa was formed. Our borders were drawn on a map in Belgium so they were never organic or natural. People were forced to be together so when we see Eritrea and South Sudan forming, it’s an attempt to reverse a historical wrong. Nationalism was necessary at some point in order to get rid of a common enemy – – imperialism. So once that was achieved, people had to deal with other internal dynamics. So whilst we have seen secession voting in Scotland and Canada and can draw some comparisons, we need to also consider the historical roots of country formation, colonial state administration, and how the states are run today.  On the other hand though, people wanting to split need to consider the ramifications – can the area that’s wants to secede survive as an independent country? Rather than secede, are there alternatives such us the federated system to allow for some type of sovereignty for areas. I think part of the reason that places want to secede typically involves places where there is uneven and unequal distribution of resources or systematic targeting of people in one section of a county. For the most part if people from South Sudan as an example were not targets of state killing and shared in the nations wealth, their would be little reason to secede. Citizenship rights need to be realized otherwise their is no incentive to remain a citizen. In Scotland’s case, overall, people felt like they belonged which was reflected in their votes. In some African nations not all people are treated like they are a part if the nation which leads to these separatist movements. 

Sitinga raises some interesting points that lead us to yet another pertinent question. Assuming that we are unlikely to change  the geographical boundaries as set out by the imperialists, have we got what it takes to make the best of bad situation? If we look at how Malawi came out of its recent elections, the quick answer is yes.

What therefore is the missing ingredient?


The problem of Africa has long ceased to be about political boundaries. Yes, the artificial borders may be said to be the root but mostly the case. local politicians are doing more of the divide and rule thing than the colonial masters. They divide people based on religion, ethnicity and region. when you commit fraud, embezzle public money or other crimes, all you have to do to free yourself is to play the ethnic or religious card.

The lesson from the Scottish referendum is that you can have an open debate about secession and have a peaceful vote. Bitterness is human nature when people lose.  Scottish independence wasn’t going to change much.  Another independent EU country is a myth. Most policies are coordinated in Brussels. I see this as a good phenomenon.

In Africa though, independence can make a big difference especially where there is animosity. Individual governments can do a lot to change their economies and social policies and fight corruption, impunity, human rights violations, neglect, indifference, religious fanaticism, superstition, inferiority complex, …

Christopher has hit the nail on the head to the extent that, some of those leaders are quick to condemn neo-colonialism but they use it when it serves them. They could easily do away with systems left behind by colonialists and establish more equitable ones. But most haven’t and are not willing to.

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