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Zimbabweans’ mostly tolerant views on citizenship - Briefing Paper No. 116
Eldred V. Masunungure and Heather Koga, Afrobarometer
March 28, 2013

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Citizenship is about the right to belong to a state and enjoy its rights while also fulfilling obligations. Without citizenship, a person can neither vote nor be voted into public office. Such statelessness has, in many an African country, been at the heart of numerous post-colonial conflicts. From Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa to Uganda and Kenya in East Africa through to Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, the question of who is or is not a citizen is frequently a fiercely contested and unsettled issue. Often, the question of who is and is not a citizen has been politically driven, for example, to prevent a political rival from challenging the incumbent, or to abridge the right to vote of a whole group of perceived enemies of the regime in power. This is part of the repertoire of juridical exclusion and discrimination that is widespread throughout the continent.

This has also been the sad state of post-2000 Zimbabwe. The emergence of a robust opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, which was formed in September 1999, posed a real threat to the long-ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF). The contentious issue of citizenship, which had been largely dormant in the previous two decades, assumed a foremost position on the county’s political agenda. It still occupies centre stage and has been one of the unresolved issues in the country’s search for a new democratic constitution. The immigrant population, especially those whose parents and ancestors had migrated to Zimbabwe in search of employment from countries like Malawi and Mozambique, and who were perceived to be largely pro-MDC supporters, became a target as the country prepared for both the 2000 parliamentary election and the crucial 2002 presidential election. The regime disparagingly referred to the migrant population as ‘totemless aliens’, and via citizenship legislation, it deliberately excluded these populations from voting and benefiting from other government programmes like land redistribution. The vast majority of the so-called ‘totemless’ people had grandparents and even great-grandparents born in Zimbabwe, and had no claim to citizenship in any other country; indeed they knew no other country.

There are many ways of gaining a country’s citizenship, the most common being by birth, registration, naturalisation, descent, or adoption. To our knowledge, no systematic research has been conducted to find out what ordinary Zimbabweans think about this important matter which affects a large proportion of the country’s population. The Afrobarometer survey, on which this bulletin is based, sought to fill this research gap.

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