Of “Doubtful Nationality”: Political Manipulation of Citizenship in the D. R. Congo

Published: 1/Oct/2007
Source: Citizenship Studies

By Stephen Jackson, Citizenship Studies, vol.11:5, 2007, pp.481-500


Politically fomented restrictions on citizenship eligibility are on the rise in Africa. This has proven particularly so in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, over more than 40 years since independence, the citizenship of the “Rwandophone” minority (peoples of Rwandan/Burundese heritage, including the much-discussed “Banyamulenge”), has been switched on and off as expediency dictated, a key element in the divide-and-rule strategies of political elites, and in the outbreak of two recent wars. Recognizing this, in 2004, the post-war Transition Government promulgated a new law on nationality. But it is far from clear that this will resolve the core problem. First, at the level of legal principle, this law does not seem likely to eliminate the many ambiguities concerning the national status of Rwandophones. Second, citizenship in the DRC has as much to do with the politics of implementing the law on the ground as with the law itself. Third, does the political relationship between the individual and the state really encompass everything that it means to be a full “citizen”? There are two important dimensions of full citizenship in Africa which continue to be denied to Rwandophones: local rights and obligations between the individual and customary authority, with implications for land allocation and other vital entitlements; and the ethically vital, lived sense of belonging and existential security for the individual within society as a whole. Without addressing these other dimensions, the question of Rwandophone citizenship remains open to further manipulation—an injustice and a potential cause for conflict to resume.

Link to Citizenship Studies website.

Themes: Discrimination, Ethnique/Raciale/Religieuse
Regions: République Démocratique du Congo
Year: 2007