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Struggles for Citizenship in Africa

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Sharath Srinivasan.

“Give us our identity cards and we hand over our Kalashnikovs”, said the leader of the rebel forces in Côte d’Ivoire. Those who have never been deprived of official papers may find it hard to imagine the powerlessness that results: powerlessness that can and does lead people to take up arms. Even in the poorest countries, a passport or identity card does not just provide the right to travel, but forms the basis of the right to almost everything else.

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 Côte 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.

Bronwen Manby’s important new book, Struggles for Citizenship in Africa (Zed Books), 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 talk is part of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights Events series.

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