× Stateless persons in Africa

Regional standards

Identification for Development (ID4D) and regional passports

Breaking ground in West Africa: the Abidjan Declaration

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The Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative (CRAI)

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Identification for Development (ID4D) and regional passports

Across the region, many people face severe obstacles in accessing proof of nationality. Indeed, it has been suggested that “in practice, individual Africans far more often face the practical impossibility of obtaining official documentation than an explicit legal denial of nationality”. Where individuals or groups face systematic exclusion from birth registration, identity documents or passports, this can expose them to the risk of statelessness, especially where multiple generations are effected. As new policies or programmes relating to documentation of identity (and nationality) are rolled out in Africa, these can therefore also have implications for the issue of statelessness in the region.


In 2014 the African Union (AU) announced the launch of an African Union passport, with the aim of issuing these biometric passports to all Africans by 2018 and, in 2016, the first AU passports were issued to Heads of State. These passports are intended to promote the free movement of people as part of the 2063 Agenda objective of strengthening African unity and integration and optimising “the use of Africa’s resources for the benefits of all Africans”. Also in 2014, the World Bank launched its Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative to support efforts to provide documentation to the estimated 1.5 billion undocumented people worldwide. This initiative links to Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 “providing legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030” and recognises the connection between proof of identity and access to rights and services.


These documentation initiatives present both opportunities and risks for addressing statelessness in Africa. Increased documentation should improve the availability of data, which has been particularly sparse in Africa not least because of the difficulty of distinguishing between those who are undocumented citizens and those who are undocumented because they are stateless. However, this creates the risk that some individuals who have been treated as citizens will in effect become stateless as a result of being refused documentation (or because they are unable to produce the additional information and evidence required for the issue of these new forms of identification). Increased documentation also runs the risk of increasing the vulnerability of those without documentation, including those who cannot access documentation because they are stateless, both by limiting access to services for those without IDs and by increasing the tendency to see documentation as synonymous with proof of citizenship.

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