Submission to the AU Peace and Security Council on the right to a nationality in the context of the referendum in Southern Sudan
The year was 1923, and Sebi Rajab had worked for the King’s African Rifles—the British colonial army—since the end of the war. It wasn’t exactly what he had hoped to do with his life, but the British policy of forced conscription meant that people like Sebi had no choice.
‘Belonging’ is a pertinent trope in Africa and beyond. However, in many parts of Africa belonging is not only understood in national terms but also, and most importantly, as belonging to a place or a group; e.g. a village, a region, a clan or an ethnic group. In the context of democratisation processes, belonging gained salience in political discourse, and in many countries has been coupled with the notion of autochthony as a criterion for privileged access to natural and state resources (Bayart et al. 2001).
So far the debate has focused on citizenship as a status within the borders of certain nation states in Africa and the dire consequences of the inability to obtain such status. Yet, legal rights and identity documents that indicate citizenship is only one dimension of citizenship. If we would apply a gender lens to the debate around citizenship in Africa it exposes inequalities locked into the nature of citizenship (as status) that is linked to the inability to claim rights and participate as agents of citizenship.
The Harmonised Draft Constitution’s provisions on citizenship go a long way to resolving the problems of belonging to and identification with Kenya that pertain today. Through those provisions, Kenyans will finally propel themselves into the 21st century world—which is a world far beyond the limited conception of an ethnically and racially homogenous and patriarchal single-nation state. If it were to be on those provisions alone that the referendum’s outcome was to be determined, the Harmonised Draft Constitution would and should pass.
Sudanese cannot agree on their common identity, but up to now they have not disagreed on who counts as a Sudanese. The first disagreement may yet divide the country. But partition should not be a reason to tear up the precious and under-appreciated consensus on who is a member of the Sudanese community. Since the independence of the Republic of Sudan half a century ago, the identity of the Sudanese nation and state has never been clear. Independence meant different things to different people. Was it a prelude to union with Egypt? Was it a prelude to a federal system of government? Was it Sudan’s second independence–a resurrection of the 19th century Mahdist state? Was Sudan to be a secular modern state? These questions, unresolved at independence in 1956, were not resolved by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and remain unresolved today. Despite all the internal wars which the Sudanese people have fought in their search for a collective identity for their nation, and the fact that some ideologies have been inherently discriminatory, no political party has ever mobilized to try to exclude another group from being Sudanese altogether. Sudanese do not disagree on the fact that they are all Sudanese. […]
Recent research in Burundi on the repatriation of refugees has highlighted the strong link between land and citizenship. The research tracked the experience of refugees returning to southern Burundi and (re)claiming their citizenship. Most had been living in exile in Tanzania – some since the early 1990s, and others since 1972. Some were born in exile and had never been to Burundi before. Others left when they were children. But all of them had a strong notion that returning to Burundi signified an end to exile and an opportunity to finally become citizens of their homeland. And the measure of that renewed bond between citizen and state was their ability to recover land.
There are two ways to kill in human community: you can kill a human being or you can kill the citizen. The first is biological; the second is sociological but no less real. The former is called homicide; the latter is civicide. Both are wrong, unlawful, and criminal. In addition, civicide is an egregious act of abuse of power.
“Give us our identity cards and we hand over our Kalashnikovs”, said the leader of the rebel forces in Côte d’Ivoire. Those who have never been deprived of official papers may find it hard to imagine the powerlessness that results: powerlessness that can and does lead people to take up arms. Even in the poorest countries, a passport or identity card does not just provide the right to travel, but forms the basis of the right to almost everything else.
Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) says “[e]veryone has the right to a nationality” and that “[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”. Most articles of the UDHR are considered customary international human rights law. The right to citizenship/nationality is clearly stated. So why is there a global, and particularly African, problem with statelessness?