Symposium sponsored by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco

  • Terrorism as a contested term without a universally accepted definition –cite its definition by the UN, AU and its contradistinction to the enjoyment of universally acceptable norms of human rights.
  • The definition of separatism and irredentism and the probable similarities and dissimilarities including areas of probable convergence.
  • The various theoretical underpinnings to the description of the two terms including the paradigmatic framing as to who is a terrorist, a separatist and a freedom fighter.
  • Survey of notable terrorist groupings over the recent past (suggest circa First World War to date) with focus to those that had irredentist/separatist inclinations and examine their raison d’etre, as opposed to those that remained true to their declared nationalist ideals. Were there any inclinations to separatism on the part of the later groups?
  • Recall the phrase –one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter – ascribed to Che Guevara- the famed Bolivian revolutionary to underscore the varied definition. Additionally, the case of the Africa National Congress (ANC) that was considered a terrorist entity by the apartheid South African government but was embraced as the representative of South Africans fighting to end the apartheid system by the OAU, now AU as well as later UN (despite lots of contestation by some Western powers).  
  • That same applies to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) with respect to Israel and its allies on the one hand and Palestinians and their supporters on the other hand as well, and other similar entities elsewhere. Was ANC and PLO terrorist entities or freedom fighters? How about the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as they related to the United Kingdom and Ireland? Were they terrorists, separatists and how does one delineate the line between the two?
  • What have been the position(s) of neighboring countries and the regional economic/political blocks? Support? Offer comfort/operational zones? And why? What would be the reaction of the “offending side(s)”, and those that consider themselves the ‘offended’ side(s)? This could be exemplified by the kind of debates and the issues on this matter the Africa Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) has had to deal with POLISARIO which Morocco and her allies consider a terrorist organization, while Algeria and the majority of AU member states consider a liberation movement. This state of affairs made Morocco to leave the then OAU in 1984, before rejoining in 2016 having established its economic power as a major source of FDI in many west and central African countries.   Similarly, same issues occur at similar levels with respect to Kosovo that has declared its independence from Serbia.
  • The case of Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that waged long battles to secede from Ethiopia and Sudan respectively were first regarded by the said authorities as terrorist organizations before evolving into separatist entities and gaining legitimacy amongst the people it fought for, as well as later the neighboring countries.
  • How does one typify and classify them?  What framing modes do we apply to classify them as terrorists with irredentist inclinations or out rightly separatist groups? Whose terrorist and whose freedom fighter for independent, separate states as Eritrea and South Sudan came be?



  • In view of the foregoing, one could then argue that terrorism and separatism are in, and of themselves contested terms and one’s consideration of the two terms be contingent on the theoretical and paradigmatic framing as well as the practical understanding based on empirical evidence.
  • Nationalist groups that aim at liberating colonized populations often indeed employ terrorism as a tool to achieve their aims, but they need not always evolve into separatist groups, though some have separatism as the ultimate objective.
  • Cases in point: the ANC in South Africa and the SPLM in The Sudan that were considered terrorist organizations by the erstwhile authorities in Pretoria and Khartoum respectively, but ended up later forming legitimate governments in Pretoria in the case of South Africa as a unitary state, and in Juba, the capital of a new separate state hived off from the Sudan called the Republic of South Sudan.
  • Consequently, terrorism, contested in its definition as it might be, need not always in our view, evolve or feed into separatism.