Academic journal article Refuge

Forced Displacement and the Crisis of Citizenship in Africa's Great Lakes Region: Rethinking Refugee Protection and Durable Solutions

Academic journal article Refuge

Forced Displacement and the Crisis of Citizenship in Africa's Great Lakes Region: Rethinking Refugee Protection and Durable Solutions

Article excerpt


This article explores the intersection between citizenship and belonging and displacement and refugees in Africa's Great Lakes region. Africa's Great Lakes region, (1) which witnessed genocide, displacement, and the massive production of refugees at the turn of the century leaves many questions unanswered. (2) Why did the region implode? Why have thousands in the region remained refugees for over four decades with no solution in sight? And why have thousands more found a formal end to displacement only to be re-displaced? Without claiming to offer answers, this article seeks to widen debate (3) by analyzing forced displacement and the search for durable solutions to the plight of refugees through the lens of citizenship. While not denying the role played by other factors, the article's central thesis is that the continued plight of many refugees in the region without durable solutions results, at least in part, from an endemic and systemic inability of many people in the region to realize citizenship in a meaningful way. This inability, the article contends, is a significant contributor to the continued forced displacement of millions of people. Furthermore, just as the failure by many to realize the benefits of citizenship is one major cause of displacement, ensuring parity in the enjoyment of its benefits is also one means to resolve it.

Theory and Method

We do not situate our analyses in any particular theoretical approach to citizenship. (4) We theorize citizenship as a status, legal or otherwise, that designates full membership in a state or community with concomitant rights or entitlements and duties, including the right and duty to challenge inequality in that state or community. This provides the starting point for our analysis. Citizenship differs from nationality. Nationality is a status acquired by birth in a given country. A person is a national of a given country by birth, while a person is a citizen of a given country either by birth or registration or naturalization. Nationality as used in international law is concerned with the "belonging of a person to a state," (5) or the legal bond between an individual and a sovereign state, which entitles that state to espouse claims on behalf of that national under international law. (6) People may have multiple citizenships, although at international law a particular state's responsibilities or rights may take precedence in a particular encounter. The citizens of a given state may consist of a multiplicity of identities and nationalities that share a sense of belonging and common values and convictions associated with that state. Having full membership in a state or community brings with it benefits and costs, rights, and responsibilities.

However, while nationality is often the gateway to citizenship and therefore an important first step to ensure the legitimacy to belong, we argue that inclusion within a community or society needs to be about far more: inclusion has to take account of local and regional factors, in particular the arbitrariness and fluidity of colonial borders, increasing forced displacement, migration and mobility, and the ability of citizens to exercise citizenship rights and duties beyond the state of origin. Therefore, citizenship is also seen as a broader concept capable of absorbing new members beyond the nationality status of belonging to a group having the same culture, traditions, and history. While possessing citizenship as a legal status conferred by national citizenship law plays a crucial part, it does not automatically ensure access to and exercising rights as a citizen. Exclusionary tendencies continue to resist and deny membership to those considered "alien" or "foreign" to the locality defined by a particular nationality or ethnicity.

The research demonstrated how some groups and individuals negotiated their interests within the rigidly defined frameworks of belonging--as national citizens, ethnicities, or refugees--and found acceptance. …

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