news analysis advocacy
AfricaFocus Bookshop
New Gift CDs
China & Africa
tips on searching
   the web  



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!         Read more on |Africa Politics & Human Rights|
URL for this file:

Format for print or mobile

Africa: Citizenship Rights

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 31, 2007 (070331)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"On March 6, 1957, the independence of Ghana promised for all Africans and our communities a new era of citizenship in full dignity and equality with the rest of humanity. 50 years later, ... this promise remains unfulfilled. African governments remain unable or unwilling to fully assure, respect and guarantee effective citizenship in our continent." - Tajudeen Abdulraheem, Dismas Nkunda, & Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains statements and an article from the website of a new initiative to address the problem of denial of citizenship rights in African countries. The Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative is a joint project of the Global Pan African Movement, the International Refugee Rights Initiative, and the Open Society Justice Initiative. For more information, including the article by Abdulrahemm, Nkunda, and Odinkalu, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

African governments must guarantee effective citizenship and stop foreignizing Africans

Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative (CRAI)


On 6 March 1957, the independence of Ghana promised for all Africans and our communities a new era of citizenship in full dignity and equality with the rest of humanity. 50 years later, in launching the Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative (CRAI), we testify that this promise remains to be fulfilled and call on African governments as a matter of urgency to fully assure, respect and guarantee a right to effective citizenship in our continent. Africa's peoples did not fight for independence to be reduced to non-persons or second class citizens by our own governments. Today, we say: our governments must stop foreignizing our people.

This initiative is a necessary response to perhaps the biggest challenge facing Africa today - the challenge of guaranteeing the right to citizenship and enabling Africans within our continent to co-exist, pursue livelihoods, move freely, and participate in the government of our countries without arbitrary interference. For the average African, irrespective of country, these basic elements of effective citizenship do not exist today.

Thousands of Africans daily join the millions of victims of statelessness and arbitrary denial of citizenship in our continent. Although each case of statelessness or denial of citizenship produces unique experiences of victimization, common patterns are clear. These include the stripping of citizenship status and rights resulting in statelessness; forced expulsion or forced population transfers; elimination of minority groups through mass de-nationalization, followed - in many cases - by targeted killings of members of the affected groups; persecution of vocal opponents or critics of incumbent regimes; and refusal to recognize or accord the rights of particular (groups of) citizens in the absence of documentary proof. In several cases, governments make such proof extremely difficult or even impossible to obtain. For example, Kenyan Somalis and Nubians in Kenya are required, in order to prove their citizenship, to produce birth certificates of their grandparents, nearly all of whom were born when there were no birth records.

International law prohibits statelessness. The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights similarly prohibits arbitrary and discriminatory interference with citizenship. The pattern is clear. Many governments across the continent daily strip certain people - usually political opponents, members of minority communities, or vocal critics - of their citizenship. For millions of our people, citizenship is no longer a right; it is now a privilege enjoyed at the pleasure of government of the day. In 1995, Zambia's founding President Kenneth Kaunda was stripped of his citizenship by his successor. In the same year, Cote d'Ivoire's former Prime Minister, Alassane Ouattara, was similarly stripped of his Ivoirien citizenship. At this event today, we have two recent victims of this violation: Tanzania's leading journalist and media proprietor, Jenerali Ulimwengu; and the publisher of the only existing independent newspaper in Zimbabwe, Trevor Ncube.

In many countries in Africa, there are millions more who are too poor to challenge this violation or too unknown to register in the frightening statistics of the stateless. Affected populations include: a majority of the continent's estimated migrant and pastoralist population of 17.3 million persons representing the biggest population of persons at risk of statelessness in the world; an estimated 30% of C“te d'Ivoire's 17.5 million people de-nationalized by the Ivoirit‚-inspired amendments to C“te d'Ivoire's citizenship laws between 1995-2000; more than 1.5 million Banyamulenge of Eastern Congo, whose citizenship in the DRC remains disputed even today; another 1.5 million Zimbabwean mine and commercial farm workers born of parents descended from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia whose nationality was arbitrarily cancelled by the government of Zimbabwe in 2001; and hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians of Eritrean-descent who had their Ethiopian nationality cancelled and nationality documents destroyed before their forced expulsion to Eritrea in 1998-1999 and hundreds of thousands of black Mauritanians expelled to Senegal in the 1990s. The list is endless.

Statelessness and mass denial of citizenship pose a clear and present danger to regional peace and security in Africa. Indeed many of Africa's current wars, including those in C“te d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Darfur region of Sudan, are linked directly to citizenship-related persecution and exclusion. The war between Eritrea and Ethiopia involved cancellation of nationality and tit-for-tat forced population transfers. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide is the logical extreme in Africa's recent history of what happens when governments choose to arbitrarily put their own people beyond reach of citizenship.

Pastoralist and border populations around our continent, such as the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania, the Somalis of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, have been rendered stateless because they straddle the borders of multiple African countries but are unable effectively to claim the nationality of any country.

These examples easily demonstrate that statelessness and citizenship are together the most serious human security and human rights problems in Africa today. Statelessness and the arbitrary denial of citizenship violate human dignity, undermine the integrity of government and its institutions, dislocate families, destroy the livelihoods of those affected, render the victims open to further abuses of their rights and lead to war. That millions of Africans have to build their families and contribute to their communities in such conditions of unlawful persecution and uncertainty prevents free and productive economic development, making nonsense of public commitments to fighting poverty by Africa's leaders.

The Way Forward

The causes and consequences of statelessness and mass denial of citizenship in Africa clearly transcend national borders. One country cannot, without reference to another unilaterally determine that a person hitherto known to be its national belongs to the second country. The history and shared experiences of African countries make a compelling and urgent case for a regional response to statelessness and citizenship.

To achieve this, CRAI will advocate for a regional treaty at the level of the African Union to guarantee the right to citizenship and prohibit statelessness in Africa. Such a treaty will establish principles and rules to eliminate arbitrariness and discrimination in access to as well as proof, acquisition, enjoyment, and loss of citizenship rights on our continent. Such legal instrument should ideally be adopted as a Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. It would at the minimum:

(a) Guarantee a legally enforceable right to citizenship for persons or members of all races and ethnic groups found in Africa;

(b) Prohibit statelessness and measures that lead to statelessness;

(c) Propose concrete measures for resolving disputes relating to loss and acquisition of citizenship;

(d) Place the burden of proof on the state in situations of disputed citizenship and establish the standard of proof; and

(e) Provide for interim remedies pending resolution of citizenship disputes.

CRAI offers to work with the African Union in ensuring the preparation, adoption, and entry into force of this treaty at the earliest possible date.

To end the pandemic of statelessness and denial of citizenship in Africa, a regional treaty is necessary but more needs to be done. Therefore, CRAI will use all lawful means to advocate against all forms of statelessness and the causes of statelessness in Africa.

This initiative requires the partnership and support of African communities, citizen groups and the Diaspora, women's groups, media, academia and researchers, activists, Parliaments, diplomats, governments, regional institutions, as well as international partners outside the continent. Complementary efforts addressing non-legal aspects of statelessness and citizenship, including Xenophobia, will receive due attention. We promise to vigorously monitor, investigate, highlight and denounce the numerous cases in different parts of the continent, which make the adoption of such a regional treaty both necessary and urgent.

About the Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative (CRAI)

CRAI is a campaign dedicated to ending statelessness and the arbitrary denial of citizenship in Africa.

CRAI responds to the challenge of guaranteeing for Africans the right to co-exist in community, pursue livelihoods and participate in the government of their countries without arbitrary interference with their right to belong.

CRAI works to end the continuing impoverishment of the peoples of the African continent through citizenship-inspired conflict, insecurity and exclusion or citizenship-related persecution on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, color, sex, political opinion, or status.

CRAI monitors, investigates, documents, denounces and where necessary litigates, cases of statelessness and denial of citizenship rights in Africa.

CRAI advocates for African governments to adopt a treaty to establish principles and rules to eliminate arbitrariness and discrimination in the proof, acquisition, enjoyment, and loss of citizenship in Africa.

CRAI is a joint project of the Global Pan African Movement, the International Refugee Rights Initiative and the Open Society Initiative.


Global Pan African Movement
Plot 88B, Kiira Road
Kampala, UGANDA
Phone: +256 41 530 525

The Global Pan African Movement: Under the banner of "One Africa, One Citizenship", the Pan African Movement is dedicated to mobilizing, organizing and conscientizing Africans both in Africa and the Diaspora towards the establishment of an African economic community which guarantees freedom of movement from Cape Town to Cairo. The Pan African Movement Secretariat was established in Kampala, Uganda in April 1994 by the participants at the 7th Pan African Congress.

International Refugee Rights Initiative
Plot 18A Kyadondo Rd.
Kampala, UGANDA
Phone: +256 78 231 0404

The International Refugee Rights Initiative: The International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) is dedicated to working to enhance the protection of the rights of the displaced worldwide. IRRI grounds its work on the causes of, and solutions to, forced displacement in the rights accorded in international human rights instruments to those who are forced to flee and strives to make these guarantees effective in the communities where the displaced and their hosts live. IRRI currently prioritizes work in Africa and is based in New York and Kampala.

Open Society Justice Initiative
Plot 1266/No. 11 Amazon St.,
Maitama, Abuja
Phone: +234 9 413 3771

Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open Society Institute (OSI) pursues law reform activities grounded in the protection of human rights, and contributes to the development of legal capacity for open societies worldwide. The Justice Initiative combines litigation, legal advocacy, technical assistance, and the dissemination of knowledge to secure advances in the following priority areas: national criminal justice, international justice, freedom of information and expression, and equality and citizenship. Its offices are in Abuja, Budapest, New York and Washington D.C.

The political outcasts of Africa

by L. Muthoni Wanyeki

February 26, 2007

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is a political scientist based in Nairobi, Kenya

What does it mean to be a citizen in Africa?

Consider the case of Trevor Ncube, chief executive of the Mail and Guardian in South Africa and one of the last independent publishers still operating in Zimbabwe. A product, as he puts it, of the federation of the former Nyasaland and Rhodesia, he was born and brought up in Zimbabwe. He has suffered the ignominy of having his passport detained. A court ruling got it back. Then, when he needed his passport renewed, he was informed his citizenship had lapsed as he had not renounced his Zambian citizenship. His protestations to the effect that he had never been a Zambian citizen were to no avail.

He was forced to formally renounce a citizenship he had never had at the Zambian High Commission in Zimbabwe and endure another court battle to obtain a judgement to the effect that he was, indeed, a Zimbabwean, that the government had to issue him a passport and refrain from interfering with his citizenship and his freedom of movement ever again.

Closer to home, consider too the case of Jenerali Ulimwengu, CEO of Habari Media in Tanzania. His father, born in German East Africa, had a long history in the political movements that brought about Tanzanian independence. He himself, born in Tanganyika, was an active Chama cha Mapinduzi member for almost all his working life - working for the government of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and campaigning for the first two presidents who succeeded Tanzanian's founding president. He too was declared stateless, purportedly on the grounds of his Rwandan ancestry, even though, like Ncube, he had never been a Rwandan citizen.

He was eventually allowed to remain in Tanzania as an 'investor' until, eventually, he was forced to 'naturalise' himself as a Tanzanian. This process took over five years, during which he had to travel, when necessary, on a document he likens to a 'medical certificate.'

Both Ncube and Ulimwengu say their cases were cruelly elaborate, dehumanising and yet petty attempts to silence political dissent. That they were not routine attempts to regularise citizenship matters is attested to by the facts that none of their siblings - who had the same citizenship status as they did - were affected.

But, as Maria Nassali, formerly of Uganda's Kituo cha Katiba, points out, "African women do not even need to antagonise state power to be denationalised." Many African states, ours included, still deny women the right to full citizenship. Obtaining citizenship only through our fathers and husbands, many African women still do not, by law, have the right to pass on our citizenship to our spouses or to our children.

And then there are all of those Africans whose families and communities found themselves, at the stroke of a pen in Berlin, on different sides of the new borders. (Which is what, for example, has allowed for the recent disgrace of having Kenyans of Somali descent illegally detained and deported to Mogadishu for questioning over the Islamic Courts Union issue.) Or the Africans who are products of mixed marriages - not just between Africans and non-Africans but also between Africans of different African states.

There is something deeply painful about being assumed not to belong. Or being forced to make choices about one's identity to belong. Or to have one's belonging snatched away. Lacking citizenship (itself a human-rights violation) renders one vulnerable to more human-rights violations. We need to settle the question of who is an African by tossing out limiting notions of our states and ending the priority given to descent over naturalisation.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see