× Stateless persons in Africa

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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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Stateless persons in Africa

Statelessness remains a significant but poorly documented problem in Africa. The stateless population overlaps with a larger undocumented population whose nationality status is unclear until put to the test through efforts to acquire documentation. There are, however, important signs of progress: a number of States have taken important steps towards resolving cases of statelessness; the African Human Rights system has developed its positions and guidance on the right to nationality; and the Abidjan declaration by the Heads of State of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has shown that there is political will to eradicate statelessness.


Statelessness in Africa has a number of causes. Of the 27 States which still discriminate against women in their ability to transmit nationality to their children, nine are in sub-Saharan Africa and many African States do not have safeguards guaranteeing nationality to children born in their territory who would otherwise be stateless, with the result that children continue to be born stateless across Africa. Racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination are present in the nationality laws of around ten African States and result in individuals being unable to acquire nationality. Nomadic and cross-border populations continue to face practical and political challenges as nationality laws are not designed to accommodate them and settled populations remain suspicious of their loyalties. Displaced persons, including refugees, run the risk of losing their connection with their country of origin as well as facing difficulties acquiring documentation, which may result in statelessness, particular in subsequent generations. State succession, both the legacy of decolonisation and more recent succession situations, and the resulting redefinitions of national belonging are also a cause of statelessness in Africa. Finally, statelessness can result from the lack of due process and the broad discretion granted to State officials responsible for the issuing of birth certificates and identity cards, which in practice may determine an individual’s access to nationality.

Table 1: Countries in Africa with over 10,000 stateless persons


Cote d’Ivoire 700,000
Zimbabwe 300,000
Kenya 20,000
Democratic Republic of Congo *
Eritrea *
Ethiopia *
Madagascar *
South Africa *


At the end of 2015 UNHCR recorded 1,021,418 persons under its statelessness mandate in Africa, but the real figure is probably much higher as this is based on the estimated populations in only six countries. Five further countries are marked with an asterisk in UNHCR’s figures, indicating that they have significant, but uncounted stateless populations. An estimate of the stateless population of Zimbabwe was included in UNHCR’s statistics for the first time in 2015, but represents the only change in the figures since 2014.

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