In many parts of Africa, the right to belong in the area where you live can be as important as national citizenship for the daily rights of citizens. These issues also impact directly on statelessness and respect for the right to a nationality. In some countries, a person’s identity must be confirmed by a local authority as part of the process of obtaining recognition of citizenship.
A number of states in Africa have attempted to grapple with the problem of ethnic and religious diversity by adopting federal structures. These arrangements have sometimes created new groups of “included” and “excluded” persons at the level of these federal units. Amongst the most important rights depending on local level membership is the right to cultivate land.
In Nigeria, for example, the constitutional provisions establishing the “federal character” of the state has created a system in which many rights depend on certification as an “indigene” of a particular state and local government area. A “certificate of indigeneity” is one of the foundational documents to obtain a passport. In Ethiopia, a federal structure has empowered some groups, and created the right to create new government units by referendum for any “nation, nationality or people”. But the system has also created problems for those who are in the minority in their state of residence. Similar problems exist in the decentralised structures of many other states without an explicitly federal system.