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Panel Discussions - Monday, June 18, 2012

Citizenship in Africa: Preventing Conflict, Building Nations

On June 18, 2012, IPI hosted an event on “Citizenship in Africa: Preventing Conflict, Building Nations” which sought to examine the challenges citizenship-related discrimination pose to stability and sustainable peace in the region. The event was hosted in collaboration with the Open Society Foundations (OSF). Participants included officials from the United Nations Secretariat, permanent missions to the United Nations, as well as key contact organizations.

The meeting identified that citizenship discrimination as a trigger of conflicts has not been well investigated in the African context due to the bundling of citizenship issues with migration or refugee issues. However, a shared understanding is that problems of citizenship in Africa are multifaceted.

Firstly, most African nations do not have uniform criteria for determining citizenship, and this has fostered an exclusionary environment on the continent. Secondly, citizenship discussions in Africa are centered on ethnic affiliations and groupings, and this creates a scenario where certain groups of people are marginalized. Thirdly, in most African states, the question of citizenship is further linked to the concept of nationhood, and there is a manipulation of citizenship to foster non-inclusionary policies in the country. As a result, most people are excluded from the political discourse on the basis of their citizenship or absence thereof, which can trigger conflicts.

Specific case studies highlighted the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, where a firm delineation between indigenes and settlers has fostered a hostile political environment in the country. Ivorian law does not properly define the concept of citizenship in the country. As a solution, it was suggested that people who have resided in the country for a reasonable number of years should be regarded as citizens notwithstanding where they migrated from.

The concept of citizenship in the aftermath of the independence of South Sudan was also discussed. The participants considered that the war in Sudan was a quest for equal rights of citizenship. However, the Sudan/South Sudan demarcation has its own set of challenges in the context of citizenship. Some of the challenges identified include the recall of the Sudanese nationality from ethnic Southerners living in the North; the denial of nationality certificates to eligible South Sudanese; the lack of technical capacity by the directorates charged with citizenship issues in South Sudan; and the centralization of the identification process in South Sudan.

The roundtable participants agreed that in order to stem conflicts in Africa, there is an urgent need to address the root causes of discrimination on the basis of citizenship. Furthermore, there is a need for African nations to undertake reforms on constitutional issues so that citizenship laws could be more inclusive. The meeting also agreed that there are best practices to be adopted in citizenship issues in Africa. Birth registration and dual citizenship were mentioned as means to counter citizenship discrimination. Moreover, it was suggested that citizenship on a territorial basis should be tested as a panacea to citizenship struggles in Africa.

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