Africa needs a regional treaty to end civicide

Published: 19/Oct/2009
Source: African Arguments

By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

There are two ways to kill in human community: you can kill a human being or you can kill the citizen. The first is biological; the second is sociological but no less real. The former is called homicide; the latter is civicide. Both are wrong, unlawful, and criminal. In addition, civicide is an egregious act of abuse of power.

Most people are quite familiar with homicide, which can occur as either murder or manslaughter. Most have not heard of civicide, although they may recognize it when described. Civicide destroys the existence of a political community or accomplishes the same goal with respect to the existence of a person as a citizen. In other words, civicide changes the citizen into a stateless person. In one stroke, civicide reduces an individual to a non-person.

In her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt describes citizenship as “right to have rights…and a right to belong to some kind of organized community.” The United States Supreme Court considered in the case of Trop vs. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, at p.101, that civicide or the creation of statelessness is “a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development.”


Governments that feel able to deny or exclude their citizens from the civic space lose the right to exist or essentially assert that the citizens are irrelevant to their existence and legitimacy. Such regimes perfect the art of stealing elections. In the outpouring of indignation that greeted this latest installment of civicide in Africa, Nigerian citizens make it clear that any attempt to steal citizenship will be fought bitterly. That is as it should be. The point is that Africa cannot afford the cost of any such conflicts. A regional treaty on citizenship and stateless is the surest way to prevent this.

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Themes: Acquisition of nationality, African standards, Nationality and Elections, Statelessness
Regions: Pan Africa
Year: 2009