How States Acquire Sovereignty

There are at least four possible ways by which an entity can acquire its sovereignty. These are through formal granting of independence by a colonial power, through a successful revolution or liberation war, through a successful war of secession and when a territory which has not been claimed or colonized by any other state, succeeds in getting other countries in the international system to formally or informally recognize its independence.

Formal granting of independence by colonial powers:

This mode of acquiring sovereignty was the most popular after the end of the Second World War. Most colonial territories in Africa attained their political independence in the early 1960 and became sovereign states.

In most cases, formal independence was preceded by internal self government and constitutional conference that set out the modalities as well as the date for the formal transfer of power from colonial elites to indigenous power holders.

Independence through a revolution or liberation war:

Some colonial people did embark upon revolutionary or liberation war as a means of acquiring sovereignty when it became obvious that the colonial authorities were not ready to grant them independence through peaceful means.

In most of these territories, force was resorted to only as a last option, and after all other peaceful means had been exhausted. In Africa, Algeria fought a war of independence against France for several years before they gained their freedom in 1962.

States that attain independence through revolutionary wars do not always get recognition from all members of the international community immediately. This sometimes prevents them from enjoying all the trapping of independent statehood in the international system.

Through a successful war of secession:

When a territory which was once part of an independent state decided to separate itself from such a state and succeed in doing so, after sometime, its sovereign status would be acknowledged by majority of the nation-state in the international community.

For example, in 1971 East Pakistan broke away from the rest of Pakistan and called itself the Republic of Bangladesh. After a brief war of secession and with the aid of Indian troops, the secessionists were able to defeat the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan.

With the defeat of mainland Pakistan, the international community recognized the new state off Bangladesh. Also, Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1991 after a prolonged Civil War.

Sovereignty through Recognition of Independent Status:

The final mode of acquiring sovereignty that is now obsolete is when a territory, which is not claimed by any independent state or country is able to hold on to its independence until other sovereign states recognizes it as such.

Example was Ethiopia, which held on to its territory throughout the scramble for and partition of Africa by European power in the 19th century. By the time of the Italian invasion and occupation of Abyssinia now Ethiopia in 1935, its independence had already been recognized by the entire international community.

This was evident in it full membership of the League of Nations to which Italy also belonged at the time. Though, not all entities that purport to be sovereign are so recognized in the international community. In 1965 Ian Smith declared Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe an Independent state, only one state recognized it as such, it was denied membership of not only UN and the OAU but all other international organizations at the time.

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