Struggles for Citizenship in Africa

About the Author

Bronwen Manby works with the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP), an initiative of the Open Society Institute network’s four African foundations established to monitor and strengthen compliance with the African Union’s commitments on good governance and human rights. She was previously the deputy director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, and has also worked for human rights organizations in South Africa. She has written on a wide range of human rights issues in Africa, especially focusing on South Africa and Nigeria, and on continental legal developments.

Struggles for Citizenship in Africa

Hundreds of thousands of people living in Africa find themselves non-persons in the only state they have ever known. Because they are not recognised as citizens, they cannot get their children registered at birth or entered in school or university; they cannot access state health services; they cannot obtain travel documents, or employment without a work permit; and if they leave the country they may not be able to return. Most of all, they cannot vote, stand for office, or work for state institutions.

Ultimately such policies can lead to economic and political disaster, or even war. The conflicts in both Cí´te d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo have had at their hearts the very right of one part of the national population to share with others on equal terms the rights and duties of citizenship.

This book brings together new material from across Africa of the most egregious examples of citizenship discrimination, and makes the case for urgent reform of the law.


‘This is a sharp, concise and convincing analysis of the ruthless manipulation of the idea of citizenship by Africa’s rulers. Manby brilliantly exposes the large scale legalised discrimination and disenfranchisement which underlie many of today’s political conflicts in Africa. A must read for policymakers and any serious student of African politics.’ – Tom Porteous, author of ‘Britain in Africa’

‘Ever more people in Africa are excluded from citizenship through a complex intertwinement of colonial categorizations and post-colonial political tricks, coupled with mounting xenophobia. There are many reasons why a person can be re-classified as a stranger, but loss of statehood always has dire consequences. Bronwen Manby and her team offer a deeper understanding of the complex backgrounds and striking variations involved, vividly evoking the plights of millions who have to do without any state protection. A most convincing testimony to the urgency of this issue.’ – Peter Geschiere, author of ‘ Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship and Exclusion in Africa and Europe’

‘Bronwen Manby has done a tremendous service by writing the most comprehensive survey of citizenship in Africa. Based, in part, on a large survey of laws and practices sponsored by the Open Society Institute, Struggles for Citizenship in Africa is a comprehensive review of citizenship from constitutional law to court cases to the everyday problems that Africans without the right papers face. Its focus on the conflicts, often spilling into violence, caused by citizenship disputes is particularly welcome. This book will be a critical resource to understanding future African debates around who belongs to the polity.’ – Jeffrey Herbst, author of ‘States and Power in Africa’

‘This book is meticulous in factual documentation, rigorous in analysis, consistent in intellectual honesty, and optimistic in its vision — public scholarship at its best. Only such combination of sober reflection and optimistic vision can lay the solid foundation for the sustainable realization of social justice and human dignity in Africa.’ – Dr. Abdullahi A. An-Na`im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, Emory University, Atlanta, USA

‘This is a shocking compelling book, detailing in very specific and concrete cases how the power to define who is a citizen shapes the politics of inclusion and exclusion, solidarity and conflict on the African continent. Tracing the roots of the issue to Africa’s colonial past, the book shows how the laws and concepts born from that history continue to shape the possibilities of achieving basic rights to recognition for large numbers of African people, even today. This is a “˜must read’ for those who seek to understand the contemporary challenges of building stability and democracy on the Continent, as well as for those who want to learn lessons for building inclusive citizenship in other parts of the world.’ – John Gaventa, Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability, Institute of Development Studies