Naturalisation and other forms of acquisition as an adult

It is a key principle of international law that a person has the right to change his or her nationality. This means that it should be possible for someone to acquire citizenship as an adult, by the process known as naturalisation, based on long residence in a country and other conditions. The legal conditions and administrative procedures for naturalisation should not be so restrictive that acquisition is impossible in practice.

The laws of all African countries provide in principle for the acquisition of citizenship by naturalisation. In some countries an easier process, known as “registration”, “declaration”, or “option” is also available, for example, to those who are married to citizens. However, obtaining citizenship by naturalisation is in practice often extremely difficult and highly discretionary, or even subject to the personal control of the head of state.

While international law permits a state to require a person to renounce another nationality before naturalising, this requirement should not apply to persons who have no other nationality – that is, those who are stateless. Most African countries establish no procedures for naturalisation of stateless persons.