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Citizenship Law in Africa: A Comparative Study (3rd edition)

Published Date: 25/01/2016

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Few African countries provide for an explicit right to a nationality. Laws and practices governing citizenship effectively leave hundreds of thousands of people in Africa without a country. These stateless Africans can neither vote nor stand for office; they cannot enrol their children in school, travel freely, or own property; they cannot work for the government; they are exposed to human rights abuses. Statelessness exacerbates and underlies tensions in many regions of the continent. Citizenship Law in Africa, a comparative study by two programs of the Open Society Foundations, describes the often arbitrary, discriminatory, and contradictory citizenship laws that exist from state to state and recommends ways that African countries can bring their citizenship laws in line with international rights norms. The report covers topics such as citizenship by descent, citizenship by naturalisation, gender discrimination in citizenship law, dual citizenship, and the right to identity documents and passports. It is essential reading for policymakers, attorneys, and activists.

This third edition is a comprehensive revision of the original text, which is also updated to reflect developments at national and continental levels. The original tables presenting comparative analysis of all the continent’s nationality laws have been improved, and new tables added on additional aspects of the law.  Since the second edition was published in 2010, South Sudan has become independent and adopted its own nationality law, while there have been revisions to the laws in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.  The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child have developed important new normative guidance.




Sources and acknowledgments v

Disclaimer vii

Abbreviations viii

Definitions ix


Summary 1

African citizenship law 2

Racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination 3

Gender discrimination 5

Naturalisation 5

Dual citizenship 7

Due process: Revocation of citizenship and expulsion of citizens 8

International norms 9

Recommendations 10

International norms on citizenship 18

The right to a nationality 18

State succession and citizenship 21

Discrimination and arbitrary deprivation of citizenship 23

Due process in relation to expulsion 25

The jurisprudence of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights 25

Citizenship under colonial rule 28

The basis of citizenship law today 32

Right to a nationality 34

Citizenship by descent 39

Racial and ethnic discrimination 42

Gender discrimination 45

Botswana: The Unity Dow Citizenship Case 48

Reforms in North Africa 50

Ethiopia: The constitution and law are gender neutral, but practice is not 53

Proof of nationality 55

Supreme Court rules on proof of nationality in DRC 56

Dual citizenship 58

A change of mind on dual citizenship in East Africa 60

Citizenship by naturalisation 64

Citizenship requirements for public office 73

Egypt: Dual citizenship and political rights 74

Rights for the African diaspora 76

Ethiopia 76

Ghana 77

Loss and deprivation of citizenship 78

Right to identity documents and passports 86

Egypt recognises the right of adherents of “non-recognised” religions to documentation 87

Citizenship as a “durable solution” for refugees 88


Appendix: Legal sources 96

Index 100


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