Source: European University Institute
By Dianne Hubbard
Namibian citizenship only came into being when Namibia became an independent nation on 21 March 1990, after a decades-long liberation struggle. During Namibia’s colonial occupation, its inhabitants were identified against their will first as German nationals (from 1885), then as British (from 1918), and finally as South Africans (from 1949) –but they lacked the full rights of citizenship of any country during that period. Apartheid policies denied black Namibians of many of the fundamental rights of citizenship. Against this backdrop, the Namibian Constitution adopted at independence embodies an unusually detailed scheme for citizenship by birth, descent, marriage, registration and naturalisation which must be commended for being gender-neutral in every respect.Subsequent legislation has added provision for honorary citizenship and the special conferment of citizenship on the descendants of persons who fled Namibia during a period of colonial genocide in the early 1900s.
The post-independence period has been earmarked by a mixture of suspicion and compassion. The government tried to prohibit dual citizenship altogether until the High Court ruled that this restriction cannot constitutionally be applied to citizens by birth or descent. The courts also stepped in to prevent government from applying a restrictive definition of ordinary residence for purposes of deciding who is entitled to citizenship by birth in Namibia to non-Namibian parents. Concerns have been expressed about sham marriages for citizenship purposes, which the government is making various efforts to prevent, and the requisite residency periods for citizenship by both marriage and naturalisation were substantially lengthened by a constitutional amendment in 2010. As Namibia’s current President Hage Geingob stated when he chaired the Constitutional Committee that prepared the draft Constitution in 1989, “this country is so beautiful, everybody wants to stay here”.
At the same time as trying to make sure that the door into Namibian citizenship is not open too wide, the government has been generous and sympathetic in making proactive efforts to provide a path to citizenship for long-term Namibian residents who lack documentation, even when they are known to have countries of origin other than Namibia.
The next few years should see significant legislative changes to the rules on civil registration, marriage and immigration procedures that will support the existing citizenship regime by eliminating gaps and preventing abuses –but major changes to the underlying requirements for citizenship are not anticipated.