Citizenship and the logic of sovereignty in Djibouti

Published: 9/Aug/2011
Source: African Affairs

By Samson A. Bezabeh, African Affairs Vol. 110, No. 441, 2011, pp: 587-606

This article investigates the dynamics and politics of citizenship in Djibouti, where the issue of who qualifies as a citizen has long been controversial. While debates about citizenship and exclusion in Africa frequently centre on the legacies of colonialism and the incompleteness of the African state, this article attributes the problems of citizenship to the logic of sovereignty and the nature of the modern state. Drawing on archival and ethnographic research, the article shows how Djiboutian citizenship in both the colonial and post-colonial era can be seen as graduated, assigning some groups more rights and protection than others. For those near the bottom of this ladder, the rights of citizenship do not emanate solely from legal frameworks, but from incorporation into patron–client relationships. There is also a large population who are systematically denied citizenship, and who through various practices of exclusion are reduced to ‘bare life’ and statelessness. No official statistics exist to document their numbers, and the article draws on interviews to illustrate the problems faced by Djibouti’s stateless population.

Link to African Affairs website (full text available free):

Themes: Acquisition of nationality, Loss and Deprivation of Nationality
Regions: East Africa, Djibouti
Year: 2011