“Freedom in Belonging is within reach in SADC” – the Southern African Nationality Network (SANN)

Published: 2/Sep/2019
Source: Southern African Nationality Network

By Liesl H.  Muller

Every year, on the margins of the SADC Heads of State meeting, the Southern African Nationality Network (SANN) hosts its annual get-together to discuss progress and problems in nationality rights in the region. More importantly, we meet local affected people and the NGOs and individuals who assist them and we provide them with support. This year we met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Together with our local partner, Dignity Kwanza, we brought stateless persons from Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam to tell us their stories and their needs. Local activists also joined us and shared the particular barriers they face when advocating for access to the right to a nationality.

SANN was launched in 2016 in response to the call of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) for statelessness to be eradicated and for civil society to support their work on nationality rights in Africa. A continent wide network was established, but soon regional networks were born and are now developing in Southern, West and East Africa. SANN has met consecutively for 4 years, in South Africa, the Kingdom of Eswathini, Botswana and Namibia, but we have only recently officially launched a website where one can find important information and links to the work that we do as well as our partners. You can now also follow us on Twitter at @NetworkSouthern. Our official hashtag is #FreedominBelonging, because we believe that belonging is key to development, peace and transitional justice in Africa.

Our long term partners, the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA), the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town joined us again and contributed to the discussions. SALC updated us on their recent litigation in Botswana which obtained a court order that a single father should be able to register the birth of his child despite the mother being absent. This important case highlights the problems which many single fathers face in the region when attempting to register their children and take up their parental rights and responsibilities. Not only does this discrimination affect the child negatively in terms of accessing their nationality, it also discourages paternal involvement and therefor family unity and stability. For more on gender discrimination in nationality laws, visit the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights and the thematic page on the citizenshiprightsafrica website. It is clear that the right to birth registration and a nationality have direct influence on other important rights and widely respected African values, such as dignity and family unity.

A newer addition to our tribe, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), attended our meeting and enriched our conversations by emphasising the fact that access to nationality (and the documents which prove it) is an integral part of transitional justice, and can, in fact be considered to be reparations for colonialism, Apartheid and other injustices in African countries. Often wars, arbitrary boundaries, forced displacement by colonial powers, rape and poverty as a result of oppression are the causes of lack of documents and citizenship. As part of the transitional justice framework in our countries, we must include effective and full access to the right to nationality in the place where communities and individuals actually live and belong. An academic attending added that colonial borders were created to prevent colonial powers from encroaching on each other’s borders, not to keep Africans from each other. This is surely food for thought. We can live together peacefully, with belonging, despite our inherited borders.

It was fitting that we had the meeting in Tanzania this year, with Dignity Kwanza, because the African Court issued a landmark ruling on nationality earlier this year, Anudo v The Republic of Tanzania, in which the applicant was represented by the lawyers of Dignity Kwanza (formerly Asylum Access Tanzania). Mr Anudo, had been living in no man’s land between Tanzania and Kenya for 5 years, after being expelled from Tanzania despite being a Tanzanian citizen. The court found that his citizenship was arbitrarily deprived, rendering him stateless; that he was arbitrarily expelled; and that the respondent state’s laws and practice violate international law requirements of due process. These findings are important as they speak to the important role that fair administrative practices and laws play in access to nationality in Africa. This case is also the first of its kind before the African Court.

Finally, we heard from the people affected themselves. A mother from Zanzibar shared with us how she was unable to register her baby’s birth because she is unmarried and the authorities won’t register a child born outside of wedlock. A young man told us about how he was born in and grew up in Zanzibar, but that many generations before him, his ancestors, the Makonde, lived in Mozambique. This meant that the colonial laws which gave his ancestors citizenship in Mozambique (Portuguese) differ from the laws of the previous British colony in which he and his forefathers have been living for several generations. As a result he was refused nationality documents in Zanzibar. His case illustrates how antique inherited colonial laws conflict with daily realities of Africans in the communities where they feel and deserve belonging. The fact of the matter is that stateless people in our communities belong in our communities and we need to give them the nationality which facilitates that belonging.

This led us into discussions on the Draft Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Specific Aspects of the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa. This unique treaty is the innovative genius of the African Union and the African people. It is designed for and by Africans. It recognises the particularly African nature of family relationships, respect for the wellbeing of the child and nomadic nature of migration to name a few. We called on all African individuals, NGOs and States to support this remarkable initiative.

To end off our fruitful meeting, we all signed pledges to mark the halfway mark in UNHCR #iBelongCampaign to End Statelessness by 2024. Each of us pledged to do one specific thing to end statelessness in SADC in the next 5 years. SANN will be submitting these pledges to the High Level Segment on Statelessness at the 70th Executive Committee of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva on 7 October 2019.

Please join us. Together we can make #FreedominBelonging happen in SADC.


Liesl H.  Muller
SANN Coordinator

Themes: Statelessness
Regions: Southern Africa
Year: 2019