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Monday, 31 July, 2000, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
What or who determines your nationality?

The issue of your nationality and whether you can stand for the presidency of your country has raised its problematic head in Africa once again.

News and Information for Africa
Over the weekend Ivorians voted on a new constitution which stipulates that to stand for president, both your parents have to be Ivorians, even though a third of residents are non-nationals. It could cause problems for potential candidate Alassane Ouattara. He says that both his parents are nationals but others dispute this.

In Zambia the vice-president may not be able to contend for the top job after allegations that he is in fact a Malawian, because he hasn't lived in the country long enough. Is it right that you must be a third generation Zambian to stand?

What dictates your nationality: your place of birth; your parents' place of birth or simply where you choose to live?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


Let the people decide who becomes their leader. Isn't that what democracy is all about?

Austin, Kenya
I believe that one's country of birth is also his country of citizenship - to me it is as simple as that. African power-hungry politicians would like to use any possible excuse to eliminate the competition. Let the people decide who becomes their leader. Isn't that what democracy is all about?
Austin, Kenya

I still remember the words of Jamaican reggae star Peter Tosh; "nothink where you come from, as long as you are a blackman you are an African". By this he meant all blacks wherever they are, are Africans. The political argument over nationality is another way to illustrate the short-sightedness of those who call themselves our leaders.
Bi Assumpta Niba, Cameroon

The country called Cote d'Ivoire today is not even 50 years old, constitutionally speaking. It is made up of peoples and tribes who had belonged to many prior kingdoms and empires in pre-colonial Western Africa. The Voltaic and Malian peoples, who make up a sizable portion of the Ivorian population, have also enormously contributed to the leadership and economic prosperity of Cote d'Ivoire. Why then exclude Alassane Ouatara in this shameless way? Wake up, Africa!
Mbock Bogmis, USA

It is wrong in a pluralistic society like Africa to trace a nationality of presidential candidates because a quarter of the Africa population is stateless due to partition of the continent during the Berlin Colonial Conference of 1884. For instance, we have Somalians in Kenya and Somaliland, Acholi in Sudan and Uganda, Kakua in Zaire, Uganda, and Sudan, and the mixture of tribes in the Great Lakes region of Africa to mention but a few. These tribes are not recognised as legal citizens in their respective countries. All this causes the civil wars and conflicts throughout the continent. Therefore, nationality should not be a requirement for presidency, but human rights, merit, and a belief in democracy.
David W, Sudan


The issue of nationality becomes a very sensitive one when it comes to presidential candidates

Dereje, Ethiopia
The issue of nationality becomes a very sensitive one when it comes to presidential candidates. Ill-intentioned individuals may come to power in a country to serve the interests of another one. The only sad thing in this debate is that the Ivorian constitution is being rewritten to promote political needs.
Dereje, Ethiopia

Where in the developed world would you see a dual citizen become president? I don't foresee a half Italian/ British person becoming the PM of Britian.
Tony, UK

I am quite happy that these rules have been submitted to the people who are sovereign and determine the rules to run the country. The rules have been voted by Ivorians to govern Côte d'Ivoire and only Côte d'Ivoire. These rules must then be applied. As a conclusion one must acknowledge that despite all the political tensions at the moment, everyone is doing his business regardless of his nationality. So I don't really think the issue of presidential elections is sufficient for Ivorian people to be treated as xenophobic.
Gilbert Kouakou, Côte d'Ivoire

We are witnessing a very foolish referendum in Ivory Coast. They are once again proving how Africans are so backward and behind the times. What a very, very foolish article in their Constitution.
Yonas M, Germany

The people should freely determine what constitution they want. If they prefer that their President's parents must both be nationals then that must be respected. However, the problem comes when some dictator mischievously inserts such a clause in the constitution in order to prevent a particular rival from contesting elections. This is what should be condemned.
Cleto Chiketsani, Zimbabwe


The Ivorian people have the right to say who should be president

T. Togba, USA
The Ivorian people have the right to say who should be president. If they voted yes, both of your parents should be nationals, then the people have spoken. That is what democracy is all about and we Africans should respect the democratic process.
T. Togba, USA

Our identity is our identity - it is something that follows us forever. However, it should not undermine our unity and our progress as a whole. Our parents' identity should not be the only qualification to be a leader in one country as long as the children are born and identify themselves as citizens of that particular country. Besides that, what makes the person a citizen of that country is the love and the sacrifices that he or she wants to render to the birth country rather than to their parents' country.
Eyob Tadesse, Ethiopian in USA

The USA today is a world power because of the quality of its immigrants from different parts of the world. Africans are still fairly young and should learn from this example - open your borders! You need more qualified and well-trained people to run the countries not the mediocrities we've seen the last forty years in independent Africa.
Nyonga Fofang, USA

In the light of all this, does anyone think a union of African states is still a feasible idea?
Henry Erhiaganoma, UK

Africans seem to think it is alright to discriminate against non-Africans. However, when the tables are turned - they are the first to scream "racists" and "racial discrimination". Next time everyone will just reply: "serves them right".
PS, Nigerian in USA

It's sad to see that this issue of nationality has not only been limited to the presidential candidate but also to foreign nationals residing in the country who are now victims of prejudice from even their very own neighbours.
Johnetta, Liberia

The issue is not one of a foreigner or immigrant rising to become president. No country, it seems, tolerates that - developed or developing. It is the extent to which greedy African leaders trivialize the issue to gain advantage that is worrisome. It shows that when it comes to misrule, the real problem facing Africa is its undemocratic leaders twisting credible as well as incredible situations for personal gain.
S.S. Adzei, Ghana


It seems to me that a person's nationality should be judged on where he/she opts to live

Gastone Rusiha, Rwanda
The Berlin Conference which partitioned Africa two centuries ago is the source of all these problems. It seems to me that a person's nationality should be judged on where he/she opts to live. When Keneth Kaunda fought for the independence of Zambia, nobody ever thought that he will one day be accused of being Malawian.
It is the greed of politicians who want to capitalise on the issue to further their own interests. When Yoweri Museveni was accused of being of Rwandan origin, no one ever thought that the two countries would fight each other in Kisangani.
At least his opponents were proven wrong because he could not dare to command an army against his purported country of origin. Let us forget this rubbish and concentrate on Moamar Gaddafi's idea of United States of Africa where an African leader can be chosen from any state just the way Clinton from Arkansas leads America.
Gastone Rusiha, Rwanda

This is a legal issue falling under the jurisdiction of Private International Law. Very briefly, every country should legislate a law concerning nationality.
The first theory is that nationality can be determined through descendency from a national of a particular country; otherwise known as 'Lex Sangui' ( the Latin term) determined through blood line of the person.
The second theory is 'Lex Loci'. That is a man acquires nationality by the mere fact he is born in that particular land. It is up to the legislature of the country in question to adopt one of the two principles. I might add through a democratic mechanism and not through iron fist of a dictator.
Girma W. Asfaw, Norway

The current nationality issue in Cote d'Ivoire is another example of Africa's, especially Black Africa, political immaturity. Instead of rewriting the Constitution, a common practice witnessed time and again in Black African nations in transition, it probably would have been simpler and less acrimonious had the original Constitution been amended and "grand fathered" so only future presidential candidates would be affected by the new parentage requirement.
Tom Dokiazet, USA


We are what we choose to be regardless of which border lines cross our homesteads

Wangeci Gatei, Kenya
The current nationalities have been a phenomenon of less than 200 years and no wonder they only bring confusion sometimes war among brothers.
What about the cross border tribes like the Maasai and Somali groups in Kenya? They have been there longer than the borders and manipulating constitutions to fit incubents desires is wrong. We are what we choose to be regardless of which border lines cross our homesteads.
Wangeci Gatei, Kenya

That is nonsense. Let the people of Ivory Coast choose their president. What Robert Guei is doing is a nonsense. It is a nonsense that all the efforts and the energy of the Ivory Coast be put to stop Ouatta to achieve the presidency. Wasn't he a prime minister for the same country? Let then the people decide who will govern.
Banana-Republica, Togo


We should discourage it to prevent other ill-intentioned opportunistic individuals from doing the same in another poor African country

Dwight, US
The situation in the Ivory Coast is of concern here because it describes the case of a nomadic individual, who finally finds himself in that country these last few years and suddenly wants to become the President of that country, after proudly living all his life as a national of another country.
We should not be proud of such behaviour and we should discourage it to prevent other ill-intentioned opportunistic individuals from doing the same in another poor African country. We should therefore support and encourage the people of the Ivory Coast for taking steps to prevent it from happening to them.
Dwight, US

I think in order for you to became a president of a country you should be born in that country, because where you were born and raised will forever be in your heart, even if you lived in another country longer.
DaPrince, Canadian, born in Somalia

The issue of nationality should be determined by the law taking into consideration the tradition of the society. The problem in Africa is, every law is crafted to benefit the political elite and to eliminate their opponent from politics.
Zurba Morkama, USA


As former Prime Minister Dr. Ouattara has proven himself as much an Ivorian as any other candidate running for office

Rudy, USA
It is very sad to see how rules can be manipulated to satisfy one's own aim for ultimate power and control. Dr. Ouattara should be a candidate for the presidency. Two corrupt rulers have tried to undermine his position to run for the Presidency because they are not capable of winning under free and fair elections.
As former Prime Minister Dr. Ouattara has proven himself as much an Ivorian as any other candidate running for office. General Guei is a dictator and has hurt the country by enforcing a clause that will further hurt the Ivory Coast in future elections. A large percentage of the people are from outside of the Ivory Coast and having one parent Ivorian is good enough for the election but having also proven one's self in past political positions makes the argument even stronger.
Rudy, USA

The issue of nationality in Africa is a complex one. On the face of it, it seems that barring a first generation citizen from holding high office is unfair. But those who think it is, should think of the black Americans in the US or the Aborigines in America and Australia. They may not be directly barred from running for the office of the President or Prime Minister of their respective countries, but they are barred by other non-constitutional means.
The American "tribalism" which prevents a black man from being a president is the same thing as what is happening in Zambia, Ivory Coast and other places, People should get used to it.
Okurut, Canada

I think it is very disappointing that the press gave this nationality issue any importance. It is obvious that Ouattara's proven qualities as a leader terrifies his opponents. Is it a crime to have lived outside one's country of origin? I was born in Nigeria and have lived outside Nigeria for some years now and nothing, absolutely nothing and nobody can tell me tomorrow that because I lived for 30 years outside the country I cannot contest for the presidency!!!
That's why we are still behind the entire world wasting our resources and energy on tweaking the constitution to eliminate people we feel that we cannot defeat easily in a free and fair election. Shame on those who cannot analyse this as a simple "political strategy" aimed at wanting to get elected without serious competition.
Henrietta, USA (Nigerian)


Unless a country is in shortage of people with longer roots, recent immigrants may not be appropriate for the highest position in the land

Tesfaye, Ethiopia/USA
As a Christian I can not love any sort of discrimination. However unless a country is in shortage of people with longer roots, recent immigrants may not be appropriate for the highest position in the land. I think recent immigrants should not be disappointed if they are told 'they have no Sufficient Credit' to enable them run a country. Almost all African leaders are not known for doing good to prosper their countries. A person with insufficient root will find himself in trouble when trying to lead.
Tesfaye, Ethiopia/USA

Black African is one category of human race. Then your country, ethnic group, clan, family, self. All ego. I met an old English lady who put my feet down. The world belongs to all of us. Why strife will rule forever is because of the silly affiliations. And we are talking of a United States (countries) of Africa! Sheer nonsense and myopic. We were not ripe for independence. We got more patriotic foreigners than 'natural-borns'.
Getheyo Chege, Kenya


It seems that Ivorians, in general, would much rather have a rogue and a thief as a president as long as he is an Ivorian

Mojisola Terry, Sierra Leone
I lived in Cote D'Ivoire for 9 years and it is really sad to say that one of the most developed countries in West Africa is still so backward. I shouldn't expect anything more. It seems that Ivorians, in general, would much rather have a rogue and a thief as a president as long as he is an Ivorian instead of a worldly, educated and experienced man such as Alasssane Quattara. That is why we will never move forward.
Mojisola Terry, Sierra Leone

It is important for nations to recognise the immigrant population. However, when it comes to the issue of the presidency, I think Africa is still in its infancy when it comes to being ruled by someone born elsewhere. It all boils down to trust verses wealth embezzlement. An immigrant has his roots elsewhere. It is the fear that should that country's interest conflict with the interest of the immigrant's country of origin, there is no doubt in my mind that that president will have second thoughts.
Joseph Dumba, USA

The Ivory Coast political situation is a good example of how politicians are just willing to do anything possible to stay in power and dismiss the will of the people. What's happening in the Ivory Coast draws the autopsy of democracy in most of Africans countries.
Bamba, USA

I am not an Ivorian so it is not my business. We must respect the decision of the Ivorian people on the matter.
Zogbon, Liberia

The feasibility of nationality by ethnic lineage is questionable in Africa. The multitude of tribes in a country, on the one hand and others which are divided into different nations, makes it difficult to base nationality on ethnic lineage anymore. I think ideological belonging and economic benefits, are the two emerging solid reasons for nationality.
I. M. Hassen, Ethiopia/Belgium

Africans have been faced with ethnic and traditional chaos since the invasion of the colonialists. Dual nationality should not be an issue, your place of birth and your ethnic background identifies your nationality according to most African traditional beliefs and practices.
Ikwang Lako, Sudan


Historically, Africans have never known what it means to be a nation-state

Abdulai A. Bah, Missouri, USA
I think the issue of nationality in Africa can be used to sum up the continent's woes as it enters the new millennium. Historically, Africans have never known what it means to be a nation-state, and the issues of loyalty to country, flag, and national identity don't seem to gain popular acclaim to a point where it matters. I am sure the Western world will begin to see why it is that democracy has a hard time planting any firm roots in the continent. The issue of citizenship is truly a hard concept to comprehend for both the educated and the illiterate.
Abdulai A. Bah, Missouri, USA

What a surprise to note that an African leader has sought a solution to a problem by resorting to such a petty tribal criterion! The next step is to exploit that as a reason for yet another civil war in a country that was, until recently, a ray of hope for us.
Ubong Effeh, UK (Nigerian)

Parents determine one's nationality, and if they happen to be of different nationalities (for any number of reasons) then it should be the father's nationality that the children take on.
Max, UK

A larger issue is the ease with which constitutions in Africa nations are rewritten to support short-term political needs.
John Pritchett, USA


The tribe from which your parents originate and into what tribe you are born governs the true identity of most Africans

Seyi Aiyegbusi, Nigeria
The issue of nationality within Africa is actually overrated. The majority of us claim nationalities designated to us by colonial powers that drew a series of random lines on a map and decided what those areas of land would be called. The tribe from which your parents originate and into what tribe you are born governs the true identity of most Africans. Arguments that refuse to take this unavoidable fact into consideration lose any substance they may have.
Seyi Aiyegbusi, Nigeria

The issue of the nationality of any presidential runner is not only an African one. For example, in the USA, one of the most advanced democracies on earth, only natural-born Americans can be candidates for the presidential elections, which excludes Allbright and Kissinger for example.
Cisko Kakou, Cote d'Ivoire

Many factors can determine one's nationality. However, when the issue of nationality involves the presidency, I believe only a patriot, whose sole interest rests within that country, can become its president. For that reason we have to define the word patriot. If indeed this means one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests, then I believe Alassane Ouattara cannot stand in the Ivory Coast presidential election. He was once a national of Upper Volta and I cannot say for sure where his true interest lies.
Prospa, Togo

It is sad in these times when many African countries are trying to unite that we have this situation come up. This is not good for "African Unity."
Barakat, USA

The immigrant population, especially in the Ivory Coast, has brought the nation, recognition and wealth, much like European immigrants who helped shape the backbone of the USA.
Yohannes, USA

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See also:

22 Jul 00 | Africa
Ivory Coast votes
05 Jul 00 | Africa
Why the world watches Abidjan
24 Jul 00 | Africa
Ivory Coast awaits result
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