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Bronwen Manby 2009. Struggles for Citizenship in Africa.

Bronwen Manby 2009. Struggles for Citizenship in Africa. Zed Books, London and New York. ISBN 978-1-84813-352-5, 198 pp.


We needed a war because we needed our identity cards. Without an identity card you are nothing in this country"--It is with this telling quote from a Cote-Ivorian soldier during the country's devastating civil war (2002-2004) that Bronwen Manby opens Struggles for Citizenship in Africa, her first monograph. While Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that "[e]veryone has the right to a nationality" and "[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality", Manby's book vividly demonstrates how--and with what consequences--such rights are frequently ignored and abused in a wide range of post-colonial African contexts. An as of yet under researched phenomenon, her book thus provides a new dimension to the academic scholarship on social rights and democratization in Africa.

The wealth of evidence comprised in Struggles for Citizenship in Africa is based on Manby's work for the African Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP), which aims to elicit democratization processes on the continent. For said purpose, South-African Manby conducted continent-wide, face-to-face 'Africa citizenship audits' which revealed the uncanny scope of citizenship discrimination and its outcomes on peace and stability on the continent. Presenting some 30 of the most egregious cases, Struggles for Citizenship in Africa illustrates that manipulation of citizenship rights are not insular cases, but can rather be considered a political trend among unstable and not fully democratic African states.

Ever since independence, governments and bureaucrats have made extensive use of citizenship manipulations to not only marginalize individuals, but also to expel and silence whole population groups deemed dangerous to the nation-state. In the multi-ethnic situation of most African nations this takes on an especially poignant character, as the issue of blood descent and ethnicity become a highly politicized and potentially explosive category--often determining whether a person may belong to a political entity or not.

Not only do those deprived of citizenship lose their right to vote, to travel, and to access any services provided by the state-a situation which Manby describes as 'Kafka-esque legal limbo'--but Struggles for Citizenship in Africa also shows how such citizenship manipulation "has been at the heart of many of the conflicts of post-colonial Africa" (2009, p.1), having been the direct trigger great instability and conflicts.

The book is divided into an introduction, seven chapters outlining different forms of citizenship abuse both historically and contemporary, and a final conclusion, proceeding from a historical account of the evolution of citizenship law in Africa to the vivid description of some of the most egregious, current cases of citizenship discrimination on the continent. The book ends on a very cautionary note against a focus on ethnicity and blood descent in citizenship matters, also highly relevant outside the African context too.


In her introductory remarks, Manby stresses both the virulent scope of citizenship abuse in post-colonial Africa--according to her data, the number of affected individuals is in the tens of millions-and the relatively little attention it has received within international academia thus far. She further emphasizes the underlying factors of citizenship discrimination, which seem to be sadly universal across many contexts: competition for power in the context of weak democratic structures combined with the easily exploitable notion of belonging in multi-ethnic societies.

In explaining the emergence of citizenship discrimination on the continent, Manby clearly emphasizes the link between contemporary citizenship issues and the continent's colonial heritage. Chapter 2, 'Empire to Independence: The Evolution of Citizenship Law in Africa', provides a very concise account of the evolution of citizenship regimes in colonial to post-colonial Africa. Firstly, colonial powers generally establish a repressive, multi-tiered system of citizenship which differed between European 'citizens' and indigenous 'subjects'. In a second instance, many colonial governments enforced great migration movements in order to satisfy labour needs. Manby deems the scope and intensity of these migration movements to be decisive factors in African present-day citizenship politics, as "countries where citizenship has been most contentious are often the countries that saw the greatest colonial-era migration" (2009, p. 3).

More than often, post-colonial African countries have tried to entangle the subsequent, complexified population structure by adopting stringent, Western-inspired jus sanguini rules for membership after independence- only applying to those who can claim an 'ancestral' link to the country's territory. Manby explains that a similar distrust was applied to those potential citizens of the new states who might have a claim on another passport, and dual citizenship is only allowed in roughly half of all African states.

As such, Manby maintains that most instances of citizenship abuse aim at the "exclusion of descendents of recent immigration populations whose ancestral origins lie outside the present border of the state concerned" (2009, p. 38). She vividly describes the potentially disastrous outcomes of such exclusive citizenship policies in Chapter 3, 'Natives and Settlers'. It presents six in depth country case studies; describing historical and contemporary cases of citizenship discrimination directed against perceived 'migrant' populations in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Sierra Leone, DRC and Cote d'Ivoire: In Zimbabwe, Uganda and Sierra Leone, citizenship discrimination has played out in regard to the white, Asian and Lebanese population respectively, clearly motivated by resentment of the colonial past.

In Uganda under Idi Amin, this was taken to extremes with the mass expulsion and denationalization of all Asian Ugandans in 1972, which were collectively accused of 'sabotaging Uganda's economy'. In a less publicized move, and as a reaction to the perceived Lebanese economic domination, Sierra Leone has restricted its rights to citizenship by birth to those 'whose father or grandfathers are/were of negroes of African origin' (2009, p.59) in 1962--thus not only discriminating on grounds of race but also of gender. In the DRC, arguably a country worst affected by citizenship manipulations, the question of who belongs to Congo and when they first arrived has been central, with different laws setting the date of origin at 1885, 1908, 1950 and 1960. At the heart of the conflict rests the citizenship status of the rwando-phone population, called Banyarwanda, arriving in several waves from the early 18th to the late 19th century and again in 1994. The two greatly destructive Congo wars, from 1996-97, and from 1998-2003 are said to stem directly from citizenship disputes and have seen the involvement of Rwanda, Uganda and Angola--thus often dubbed the 'African World War'.

The book vividly shows that some of the gravest instances of citizenship discrimination do not aim at the exclusion of recent immigrants, but of those who have long been regarded as lawful citizens. In Chapter 4, 'Mass Denationalisation and Expulsion', Manby draws explicit attention to the situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea after the overthrow of the Ethopian Derg government in 1991. Eritrea, then a province federated to Ethiopia, was granted independence after a referendum in 1993; yet the subsequent succession of Eritrea ultimately triggered a full-blown war in 1998. All Ethiopians of Eritrean origin were subsequently stripped of their citizenship rights and 75,0000 of them forcefully deported to Eritrea--many of these expellees still live in UNHCR administered camps without identity papers, while those remaining in Ethiopia were effectively rendered stateless.

Manby also addresses ways in which African nations have deliberately attempted to address multi-ethnicity (Chapter 5, 'Internal citizenship in a federal state'). Drawing on the example of Nigeria and Ethiopia, both de facto ethnic-based federal states "with borders aimed at uniting the most homogenous population achievable within each area" (2009, p. 109), she outlines how such governing structures have led to a population of millions which is not regarded as holding full citizenship rights within the area they have lived in all their life--without ever having crossed international borders: Nigeria has now been divided into 36 states, yet if a person is not labeled an 'indigene' in her/his state or has migrated from elsewhere, government services are virtually impossible to access. In Ethiopia, the ERPDF-led government divided the country into 9 states on basis of ethnicity and language in 1991, leading to massive population displacements of whole villages to their newly 'designated' areas.

Chapter 6 further describes how citizenship discrimination also takes place to silence individuals deemed troublesome by the political elite "effectively taking the individual in question outside the realm of legal rights" (2009, p. 16). An outstanding example is the case of Alassane Ouattara, presidential hopeful in Cote d'Ivoire after the death of first president Houphoeut-Boigny in 1993. The other candidate hoping for public office, the 'Southern' Bedie, exploited increasing resentment against immigrants for his political goals by convincing the cabinet to introduce the concept of 'Ivoirite'. Said concept limited Ivorian citizenship to those whose parents were both of one of the autochthonous ethnic groups of Cote d'Ivoire. Seeing that Outtara's father originally hailed from Burkina Faso, his nationality certificate was annulled in 2002 which forced him to apply for asylum in the United States and fuelled what was to become a civil war back home.

Overall, the evidence gathered in Struggles for Citizenship in Africa thus starkly illustrates the great danger of drawing an exclusive line from ethnicity to national citizenship, which has proven to be a great source of instability and political manipulation. Yet, Manby also acknowledges that half of all African countries now allow dual citizenship, also due to massive lobbying efforts by diasporas. She ends her book on a plea for more inclusive conceptions of citizenship suited to the reality of a mobile world, arguing that: "A citizenship law that founds itself on a concept of ethnic or racial purity, or an essential link to the land, is not adapted to the reality of historical and contemporary migration" (2009, p. 161).

Critique and Discussion

Struggles for Citizenship in Africa is impressive in its scope and lives off its astoundingly rich empirical data. Manby does an excellent job in mapping the problem of citizenship (ab)use in post-colonial Africa and unveiling the truly devastating human consequences of citizenship discrimination across the continent. The evidence presented in her book aptly illustrates the many problems associated with basing citizen rights on the discriminatory and unrealistic principle of 'I was here first', which must necessarily be of great concern to migration studies.

Yet, the book clearly is much more a work of advocacy and aimed at a wide readership, evident by the complete lack of academic references and links to relevant analytical frameworks. While the material presented in the book is of great depth and detail, Manby does not engage in a substantive analysis of the data provided: comparisons across contexts in both in space and time as well as references to wider academic debates are noticeably absent from her book. For example, the very concept of citizenship is not interrogated--something rather regrettable because the citizenship has become a highly contentious and researched issue worldwide. Further, crucial questions such as how one can conceptualize the striking mobilizing capacity of citizenship issues in postcolonial Africa at specific points in time are not addressed in any real depth. Here again, the book would have greatly profited from the wealth of academic research with occupies itself exactly with this question, especially focusing on the relationship between globalization processes and a strengthening of localized 'politics of belonging' (e.g. Snyder 2000, Geschiere 2009).

In the context of the more predatory of African regimes in particular, it would have also been very illuminating to interrogate the actual relevance of legal citizenship status in the first place. This is especially interesting in the light of recent migration research on "embodied" and "multi-layered" concepts of citizenship (e.g. Yuval Davis 1999) which de-homogenizes the exclusive link between the nation state and the individual. Instead it is emphasized that "citizenship rights ... are generally claimed in a myriad of ways--whether informal realization locally or by demands to international entities when states are unresponsive" (Gaventa and Mayo 2010, p. 248).

To illuminate citizenship negotiations above and beyond the nation-state level, the book could have greatly benefitted from biographical narratives in order to illustrate more detailed how exactly struggles for citizenship play out on the ground. Accounts of the lived experience of statelessness--always intertwined with issues such as gender, age and social status--could have contributed to a deeper understanding of specific implications for different actors as well as resistance strategies employed. Interestingly the latter is not mentioned in Manby's book at all, although the title 'Struggle for Citizenship in Africa' suggests a multi-facetted picture. Yet, it is important to depict those rendered 'stateless' not only as victims but agents in their own right. In this context, a focus on political strategies employed by those deprived of legal citizenship rights could have greatly enhanced a more nuanced understanding of the power negotiations at stake.

Yet, such criticism shall not distract from the fact that Struggle for Citizenship in Africa is both a very professionally researched as well as highly relevant work which directly relates to many concepts currently discussed in migration studies. As already noted, migration researchers have long been occupied with the issue of citizenship. While the citizenship debate in migration studies has long focused on citizenship as a determinant of migration integration in receiving countries (Baubock 2006), a clear shift has been occurring since the

1990s. Now a great amount of research is concerned with the manifold dimensions of citizenship in different, multi-scalar contexts (e.g. 'multi-layered' and 'embodied' citizenship) and in particular, the overall question as to how notions of citizenship transform and gain new meaning through processes of globalisation.

Common to both strands of research is the increasing awareness that globalization has not rendered nation states and nationality any less important. In fact, many migration researchers have in the past decade noted the increasing virulence of a 'politics of belonging' (Geschiere 2009) exemplified so vividly in Struggles for Citizenship in Africa. In the African context, scholars have argue that a link can be drawn from exclusionary state policies based on notions of autochthony and belonging, and the new global circuits of power that have opened up in the past decades. It is thus maintained that "even the harshest forms of a 'politics of belonging' often turn out to express struggles to gain or retain access to the global" (Geschiere 2009, p. 1). In this regard, Manby offers a wealth of greatly enriching case studies which can be analyzed under such frameworks, but she doesn't engage in any substantial analysis herself.

Outside the African context, it is also very interesting to compare the accounts of citizenship discrimination presented by Manby with the exclusionary "conjecture of belonging' (Li 2000) apparent in contemporary European integration debates. With rising migration, European countries increasingly define their nations in ethno-national terms, and "citizenship as strongly coupled to national culture, and to 'norms and values' deemed essential to the nation' (Schinkel and Van Houdt, 2010, p. 696). In this context is often argued that in Western Europe in particular, citizenship is now seen as a key policy tool to address issues of social cohesion stemming from immigration (e.g. Hurenkamp et al. 2011). In Great Britain, for example, immigration control under the Labour regime of Gordon Brown saw the attempted introduction of the concept of 'Earned citizenship' in 2008--arguably "designed to fail specific groups and populations' (Taylor 2010, p. 65). In his official speech announcing the concept, Brown (2008) stated:

"In this vision of British citizenship for the 21st century, newcomers will pass through three stages:

on entry, as temporary residents; then, if they wish to stay, in a new category of probationary citizens; and finally as full British citizens or--for those who can't or don't want to become citizens but who meet the test--permanent residents.

In the future the aspiring citizen should know and subscribe to a clear statement of British values, proceeding toward a citizenship explicitly founded not just on what they receive from our society but what they owe to it" (Brown 2008, p. 164).

In a similar vein, French president Nicolas Sarkozy's tried to create a Ministry for Immigration and National Identity in 2007, even though he ultimately failed. Taken with the now wide-spread use of "citizenship tests' where migrants need to prove their knowledge of national culture and customs, these examples are indicative of a wider strategy of 'cultural integration' which is holding sway of European governments--if not the 'developed' world at large. While in no way to comparable to the actual citizenship crimes outlined in Struggles for Citizenship in Africa, these examples nevertheless show the increasingly politicized and exclusionist character of citizenship policies in a more global perspective--and the restrictive conception as who might become a citizen.

As already touched upon, the renewed interest in the concept of citizenship among migration researchers has also led to a proliferation of theoretical debates surrounding the very concept of citizenship from 'embodied', to 'multi-layered', to 'biopolitical' (Rygiel 2010). In focusing on how citizenship policies control and fashion populations, academic interest has recently been especially strong in the biopolitical aspects of contemporary citizenship policies (Ong and Collier 2008, Taylor 2010). Inspired by Foucauldian theory, these researchers focus on citizenship as a 'control tool' to manage and control populations, strategically used to single and cast out "sundry 'Others' deemed unworthy of civil rights granted by the nation state'. Thereby constructing a strong demarcation between 'the deserving' and the 'undeserving', the human body itself becomes the underbelly of citizenship politics.

Conceptualized as such, the life of those people whose citizenship is removed corresponds neatly with Agamben's onto-political category of bare life (Calarco and DeCaroli 2007). As argued elsewhere, "civicide reduces an individual to a non-person" (Odinkalu 2009) as s/he is effectively taken out of the legal realm and subjected to arbitrary rule. An Agambenian conceptualisation allows viewing citizenship discrimination as an expression of distinctions between forms of life which criss-cross the terrain of sovereign power--thus constituting a specific kind of border politics (Vaughan-Williams, 2009). However, one should not forget that the drawing of such border lines demarcating the inside and the outside is in constant flux, suggestive of the flexibility of the concept of citizenship. Indeed, as Manby herself argues, "citizenship is a dynamic process, the notion of who belongs surprisingly flexible over time" (2009 p. 23).


To conclude, the greatest contribution of Struggles for Citizenship in Africa lies in its impressive wealth of empirical evidence and the much-needed attention it draws to the issue of citizenship ab(use) on the African continent. As such, it greatly adds to current debates of democratization and human rights in postcolonial Africa.

Further, Struggles for Citizenship provides highly illuminating evidence to further concepts of citizenship which currently occupy centre stage in migration studies. These include discussions on the multi-faceted dimensions of the very concept of citizenship, and its wider transformations in our globalised world order--seemingly marked by a return to local notions of belonging. However, none of these exciting research avenues are exploited by Manby herself, which is regrettable.

What yet emerges powerfully is the strong insight that a conception of citizenship as based on blood descent and ethno-nationalistic ideals causes utmost damage both on national and individual level and is utterly unsuited to a world shaped by migration. Such insights shall also be of concern to European migration debates, where the cultural is increasingly invoked as a control tool in granting or denying migrants full citizenship rights.


Baubock, R., 2006. Migration and citizenship. Legal status, rights and Political Participation. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Brown, G., 2008. Speech on managed migration and earned citizenship. Delivered at the Camden Centre, London, 20/02/2008. Available online speech.pdf. Accessed on 29/01/2012

Calarco, M., and S., DeCaroli. 2007. Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gaventa, J., and Mayo, M., 2010. Globalizing citizens: New dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, London: Zed Books.

Geschiere, P., 2009. The perils of belonging: Autochthony, citizenship, and exclusion in Africa and Europe. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Hurenkamp, M., Tonkens, E., and & Duyvendak, W., 2009. Citizenship in the Netherlands: Locally produced, nationally contested, Citizenship Studies, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 205-225.

Ondinkalu, J., 2009. 'Africa needs a Regional Treaty to end Civicide'. Available online at Accessed on 12/01/2012.

Ong, A., and Collier. S., 2008. Global assemblages: Technology, politics, and ethics as anthropological problems. London: Blackwell.

Rygiel. K., 2010. Globalizing citizenship. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press

Schinkel, W., and Van Houdt. F., 2010. The double helix of cultural assimilationism and neo-liberalism: citizenship in contemporary governmentality. The British Journal of Sociology, vol. 61, no. 4, pp. 696-715.

Snyder, J., 2000. From voting to violence: democratization and nationalist conflict. New York: Norton Books.

Taylor, I., 2010. Designed to fail: A biopolitics of British citizenship, Citizenship Studies, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 61-74.

Vaughan-Williams, N., 2009. Border politics: The limits of sovereign power. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Yuval-Davis, N., 1999. The multi-layered citizen: Citizenship at the age of "glocalization.", International Feminist Journal of Politics, vol. 1, no.1, pp. 119-136.

Reviewed by

Ina Rehema Jahn, a Master degree candidate in Migration and Intercultural Relations, Carl Von Ossietzky Universitat, Oldenburg, Germany.
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Author:Jahn, Ina Rehema
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Date:Dec 1, 2012
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