Acquisition of nationality

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to a nationality”. In order for individuals to enjoy that right, however, national laws, regulations and procedures must conform with certain basic standards set out in African and international law.

Few African countries provide for an explicit right to a nationality in their laws. Even where the right to a nationality is provided in the constitution, the nationality law and state procedures may not respect that right in practice.

The most important steps to protect the right to a nationality include ending discrimination in acquisition of nationality by a child, especially based on the sex of the parent or birth in or out of wedlock; ensuring that children of unknown parents or adopted children can acquire nationality; and enabling a child to acquire the nationality of the state where he or she is born if the child cannot acquire the nationality of his or her parents. National laws and procedures should also ensure the possibility for adults to apply for nationality based on long residence in the country, including for refugees or stateless persons. Decisions relating to acquisition and loss of nationality should respect due process and be subject to appeal to the courts.

In some cases, nationality is granted by law, but the necessary documents to assert this right — most commonly a birth certificate and a national identity card — are not accessible, causing serious problems in obtaining recognition of nationality in practice.

This website uses the words “citizenship” and “nationality” as synonyms for the legal status recognised by states that gives an individual certain rights in that state not granted to non-nationals. While “citizenship” is more commonly used for this status in common law countries; (the translation of) “nationality” is more often used in those with a civil law tradition.