Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Struggles for Citizenship in Africa

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Struggles for Citizenship in Africa

Article excerpt

Struggles for Citizenship in Africa. By Bronwen Manby. London: Zed Books, 2009. Pp. ix, 198. $23.95 paper.

Politicians in Africa routinely manipulate laws concerning citizenship to gain and retain political power. This excellent book examines changes in citizenship laws in fourteen African countries, the political rationale behind them, and the increasingly dire consequences for individuals. The book is based on a legal and political audit by the Open Society Justice Initiative undertaken by Manby and her team. It discusses the evolution of citizenship laws from colonialism through independence in Africa in thematic chapters and the ongoing relevance of the distinction between "natives" and citizens originally invoked by Mahmood Mamdani. The author touches on mass denationalizations and expulsions such as those of the Banyarwanda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the Malinke in the Ivory Coast. She also highlights other important issues such as the denial of citizenship in federal states like Nigeria and Ethiopia, and the exclusion of presidential opponents, voters, and critics in Zambia, Ivory Coast, and Zimbabwe, to take just a few examples from this richly documented volume. With numerous detailed examples Manby demonstrates how the paper requirements for citizenship often hide a sea of discrimination leaving many Africans stateless: without rights to reside, work, and obtain travel from countries where they were born or have lived all their lives. The result is an ongoing tragedy amply documented and highlighted with poignant clarity using interviews from the victims of these policies combined with in-depth legal, historical, and political analysis.

Who is and who is not a citizen has been redefined by political leaders to reward supporters and ethnic groups, to say who can vote, stand for office, reside, work, and have equal protection under the law and who cannot. Often laws have been changed to sideline political opponents, enable ethnic exclusion, and foment violent conflict. …

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