Katy Long spent a year in Uganda researching the meaning of citizenship in Africa and how it affects regional mobility, especially the social inclusion/exclusion of refugees on the continent. As she states in her post, The Citizenship Market, at Democracy in Africa, her findings are still ambiguous, and too early to be conclusive.

Yet Africa is also continent on the move and nowhere more so than in regions of conflict. If citizenship is often precarious for locals, what does that mean for refugees and other migrants from conflict? These individuals cannot claim protections from their state (either because of active hostility or the absence of effective government).  The humanitarian community may offer immediate respite from persecution, but in the longer-term refugees’ freedoms are limited, not least because the documentary identities they are given mark them out as non-citizens, and as a result heavily restrict their ability to claim basic rights.[…]

In Uganda I saw how resourceful, energetic and ingenuous approaches to citizenship could overcome the bureaucratic failings of state and humanitarian regime, allowing refugees to build a tolerable life in exile. But in the end, I find myself needing to strike a sombre note. This self-crafted citizenship was in effect a privatised citizenship, not eliminating but simply re-fashioning the lines of inclusion and exclusion.  The stories of Uganda’s refugees warn us all that if the only choice we create is one between arbitrary exclusion based on nationality, and arbitrary exclusion based on poverty, the promised freedoms of citizenship will remain, instead, the rationed privileges of a few.

Let me think out loud here. Citizenship, in the classic definition of nationalism by birth within artificial borders, is a concept perhaps truly understood by upwardly mobile and modern Ugandans. For a majority of us, “citizenship” is a foreign (colonnial) concept bestowed upon a people who self-identify by tribal lineage, before national identity.

I’ve met many people in my own Bunyoro tribe who don’t know that their citizenship is Ugandan. They’ll tell you they are Bunyoro from Masindi. Many are not even mobile within the national borders, preferring to move between a few villages within their their Districts – which are often drawn along tribal boundaries. I have a great grandmother who still asks me about Kampala as if it was a foreign land.

Another group that’s probably worth thinking about in terms of citizenship  and freedom of mobility are the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The LRA displaced and dispersed an entire population in Northern Uganda. I’ve had the privilege of working with some women who fled to Kampala at the height of the conflict. To this day, they still don’t feel “at home” in their own capital city. They struggle to fit in linguistically and culturally, surviving at the margins with informal employment as their only option, unable to make enough “to go back home.” They self-identify as Acholi, their tribe. I don’t think I’ve ever heard them use the term Ugandan in any context.

The best way I can have a cogent thought on citizenship in Uganda is that it is a modern construct best understood and embraced by the educated few and those with economic mobility. They understand the meaning of modern Uganda and that their birth within her borders grants them “citizenship” and that in order to travel outside her borders, they need a passport or travel documents. This is how modernity works and it is understood as such. As we become more educated and economically emancipated, I speculate the byproduct is that there will be an increase in the understanding of nationalism as it relates to modern citizenship.

I wish Katy could go back and do a study of the African immigrants that Israel is soon to deport to Uganda. If her findings from her one year study are murky now, I imagine the social impact around that migration process will be significant.


via The Citizenship Market | Democracy in Africa. (Thanks to @jacksometer for the heads up )

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