From Nativity to Nationality: Understanding and Responding to Africa’s Citizenship Crises


French Abstract (Résumé)
De ‘‘l’autochtonie’’ à la nationalité: comprendre la crise de citoyenneté en

Afrique et y répondre

Cet article propose un cadre d’analyse de la crise de citoyenneté en Afrique et des solutions adaptées qui pourraient lui être trouvées. L’argument défendu est que bien que la citoyenneté soit en elle-même un droit et une condition d’effectivité des autres droits, la combinaison de certains facteurs culturels, politiques et sociaux limite sa réalisation. S’intéresser à la question de la citoyenneté requiert une approche multidisciplinaire et l’implication d’une pluralité d’acteurs comme les universitaires, la société civile, les communautés locales et l’État.


The paper undertakes a contextualised framing of Africa’s citizenship crises and the appropriate response that may be developed to deal with it. It argues that although citizenship by itself is a human right and a condition for the realisation and protection of other rights, however, a combination of cultural, political and social factors inhibits its realisation. Tackling the citizenship question would require a multi-actor and multi-disciplinary research, information, advocacy, and enforcement interventions that will involve the academy, civil society, local communities, and the state.


Citizenship is the most under-discussed and misunderstood subject in contemporary human rights discourse and advocacy. Arguments framed in citizenship terms are often mistaken as exclusionary. In chronological terms, citizenship emerged even later than human rights in the verbiage of popular struggles in Africa. Until independence in the second half of the 20th century, the continent’s only citizens were ironically the colonialists. And because human rights is perceived as a more inclusive expression, it is preferred in usage to citizenship.

In reality, human rights advocacy in developing contexts, such as in Africa, is all about the construction of civic citizenship and the institutions for its protection. For citizenship is both a human right and a condition for the effective protection of all rights. Contestations around citizenship suffer from the neo-Hegelian framing of the subject as in a strictly civic

context involving the definition and regulation of the relationship between the human person and territorialised political community. In reality citizenship is easily a much more complex concept.

Three different strands of it can be distinguished. There is civic citizenship, which defines the optimal relationship between a person and their territorialised political community. Citizenship in this sense is most easily understood in international law and relations as being equal to nationality. Cultural citizenship on the other is more closely associated identity although the two are not necessarily the same thing. The main difference between civic and cultural citizenship is that the former is territorialised while the latter is historicised.


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