Philosophical Perspectives of Citizenship in Africa: Roots & Sustainability of Citizenship

Philosophical Perspectives of Citizenship in Africa:

Roots & Sustainability of Citizenship


Josephine O. Soboyejo, PhD

(Philosophy of Religion & Theology)



The Keywords are Philosophical Perspectives, Citizenship, Africa, Roots, Sustainability, Historical Context, Communal Values, Kinship Ties, Colonialism, Independence, Inclusive Frameworks, Governance, Identity, Diverse, Cultural, Ethnic, Linguistic, Challenges, Inclusivity, Effectiveness, Democratic Governance, Human Rights, Regional Integration, Communitarianism, Ubuntu, Pan-Africanism, Interconnectedness, Collective Identity, Social Harmony, Shared Responsibilities, Legalistic Definitions, Active Citizenship, Community, Well-Being, Prospects.


The article used multiple methodologies: Review of existing Literature, Historical, Philosophical, & Sociological-Discourse Analysis,


Citizenship, as a concept, encompasses the rights, obligations, and membership status of individuals within a particular political community. In the context of Africa, citizenship has a unique historical and philosophical foundation that has shaped its understanding and practice. This article explores the philosophical perspectives of citizenship in Africa, focusing on its roots and sustainability. By delving into the historical context and examining the philosophical frameworks that underpin African citizenship, we might have insights into the challenges and opportunities for its sustainable development. The Philosophical perspectives of citizenship in Africa have become imperative due to the trending political and economic current issues in the Continent. Political awareness among Africans has improved tremendously. In Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana is under severe allegations due to the country’s economy’s poor state and the people’s hardships. The Cedi, Ghana’s official currency, became globally’s worst-performing currency in late 2022. Recently in Kenya, a candidate many saw as an underdog emerged as the president despite not having the support of his political superior and principal. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa is fighting a political battle that may end his presidency.

Nigeria’s issue appears more troublesome with a decline in all political, micro & macroeconomic facets. Nigeria’s February and March 2023 general elections are still in the courts. Though Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been sworn in as the Executive President and has been working in that capacity, some believed the election was rigged, and justice might still prevail.  The EU Observers for the general elections 2023 in Nigeria said:

However, the elections showed the commitment of Nigerians to democracy; they also exposed enduring systemic weaknesses and therefore signalled a need for further legal and operational reforms to enhance transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability.

Recent figures from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics show that rather than pull 100 million Nigerians out of poverty as pledged by former President Muhammadu Buhari, he instead ensured 133 million Nigerians sink into multidimensional poverty during his eight years of governance. African heads of state are being called out for overstaying their tenure of office. From South Sudan to Cameroon, Uganda, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Brazzaville, and Congo.  In some cases, some of these presidents with obvious health challenges that impede their performance in office pay no attention to calls for their resignation. Government highhandedness and political prisoners have returned to several African countries. A recent survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation shows that more Africans believe that the continent is moving in the wrong path compared to those who think otherwise. It is now or never to take a comprehensive look at Africa and Africans and discuss Citizenship in the Continent.

The Roots of Citizenship & Sustainability:

The roots of citizenship in Africa can be traced back to ancient African societies, where communal values, kinship ties, and shared responsibilities formed the basis of belonging and participation. Colonialism and subsequent struggles for independence further influenced the development of African citizenship as new nation-states sought to establish inclusive frameworks for governance and identity.

The sustainability of citizenship in Africa is complex, given the continent’s diverse cultural, ethnic, and linguistic landscape. Challenges such as ethnic tensions, corruption, and limited resources often strain the inclusivity and effectiveness of citizenship frameworks. However, Africa has also witnessed positive developments in promoting democratic governance, human rights, and regional integration, contributing to the sustainable growth of citizenship ideals. Philosophical perspectives on citizenship in Africa encompass a range of ideas, including communitarianism, Ubuntu, and pan-Africanism. These perspectives emphasise the interconnectedness of individuals and the importance of collective identity, social harmony, and shared responsibilities. They provide frameworks for understanding citizenship beyond legalistic definitions and promote active citizenship that contributes to the community’s well-being. In conclusion, it is crucial to understand Africa’s historical context, current challenges, and prospects. By acknowledging and building upon Africa’s roots, Africa can forge a path towards inclusive and vibrant citizenship that reflects the diversity and aspirations of its people.

Historical Roots of Citizenship in Africa:

The roots of citizenship in Africa can be traced back to ancient African societies, where communal values, kinship ties, and shared responsibilities formed the basis of belonging and participation. In these traditional African societies, the community was considered the fundamental unit, and individuals were seen as interconnected and interdependent. The concept of citizenship was not solely based on legal frameworks but also on the recognition of one’s place within the community and the fulfilment of communal obligations.

Colonialism and Independence:

The advent of colonialism in Africa brought significant changes to citizenship. European powers imposed their own legal systems and administrative structures, which disrupted the existing communal foundations of citizenship. Africans were subjected to discrimination and unequal treatment based on race and ethnicity, further undermining their sense of belonging and rights. However, colonialism also sparked resistance movements and struggles for independence, which aimed to restore African autonomy and redefine citizenship within the African context.

Inclusive Frameworks for Governance and Identity:

Following independence, African nations sought to establish inclusive frameworks for governance and identity that would encompass the diverse cultural, ethnic, and linguistic landscape of the continent. It involved creating legal systems that granted equal rights to all citizens, regardless of their background. The goal was to build nations based on justice, equality, and participatory democracy. In this sense, citizenship became a means of fostering national unity and ensuring the inclusion and participation of all individuals.

Challenges to Sustainable Citizenship:

While progress has been made in developing citizenship in Africa, numerous challenges hinder its sustainability. Ethnic tensions, deep-rooted inequalities, and limited resources pose significant obstacles to realising inclusive citizenship. Ethnic conflicts often arise due to the historical legacies of colonialism and the contestation of resources and power. Corruption and weak governance further exacerbate these challenges, leading to a lack of trust in state institutions and hindered citizenship engagement.

 Perspectives on Citizenship in Africa:

Philosophical perspectives on citizenship in Africa provide valuable insights into overcoming these challenges and achieving sustainable citizenship. Communitarianism emphasises the importance of community and shared responsibilities in citizenship. It recognises that individuals are interconnected and have obligations to the broader society. Ubuntu, a concept deeply rooted in African philosophy, highlights humanity’s interconnectedness and promotes empathy, compassion, and social harmony. Pan-Africanism, another influential perspective, emphasises Africans’ unity and collective identity across the continent, transcending national boundaries.

Promoting Active Citizenship and Collective Well-being:

These philosophical perspectives offer pathways to promote active citizenship and collective well-being in Africa. They go beyond legalistic definitions of citizenship and encourage citizens to shape their communities and address social challenges actively. By fostering a sense of collective identity and shared responsibilities, these perspectives can contribute to sustainable citizenship by building stronger social cohesion, promoting participatory democracy, and addressing the needs and aspirations of all citizens.

Regional Integration and Citizenship:

Regional integration initiatives, such as the African Union (AU) and regional economic communities, have influenced the concept of citizenship in Africa. These initiatives promote cooperation, integration, and unity among African nations. They often include provisions for regional citizenship or the free movement of people, which expand the traditional notion of citizenship beyond national boundaries.

Human Rights and Citizenship: 

Promoting and protecting human rights play a crucial role in sustaining African citizenship. Human rights frameworks, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and regional human rights instruments, provide universal principles underpinning citizenship. Ensuring respect for human rights strengthens the legitimacy and inclusivity of citizenship frameworks and contributes to the overall well-being of citizens.

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: 

Gender equality is essential to sustainable citizenship in Africa. Historically, women in many African societies have faced discrimination and marginalisation. However, significant advancements have been made in promoting women’s rights and gender equality. Recognising and empowering women as full citizens is critical for achieving sustainable development and inclusive citizenship in Africa.

Education and Citizenship: 

Education plays a vital role in nurturing active and informed citizens. Access to quality education equips individuals with the required skills, knowledge, and values necessary for meaningful participation in society. Investing in education and promoting civic education programs can foster a sense of citizenship and civic responsibility among African youth, ensuring the continuity of sustainable citizenship in the future.

Diaspora and Citizenship: 

The African diaspora, consisting of Africans living outside the continent, also contributes to the discourse on citizenship. The diaspora maintains connections with their countries of origin and often seeks ways to engage in the development and well-being of their home communities. Acknowledging and involving the diaspora in citizenship discussions can enrich perspectives and foster transnational citizenship bonds.

Environmental Citizenship: 

The Need to recognise the importance of environmental sustainability and citizenship is gaining prominence in Africa. Environmental citizenship emphasises the responsibility of individuals to be good stewards of the environment for future generations. African countries increasingly adopt sustainable development practices and involve citizens in environmental conservation efforts.

Technology and Citizenship: 

Digital technologies have opened up new avenues for citizen engagement and participation. Social media platforms and online activism have facilitated grassroots movements and amplified citizen voices. Leveraging technology for citizen empowerment and creating digital platforms for civic dialogue and participation can contribute to the sustainability of citizenship in Africa.

Indigenous Knowledge and Citizenship: 

Indigenous knowledge systems and practices hold significant value in African societies. Incorporating indigenous knowledge into citizenship frameworks can enhance cultural diversity, promote inclusivity, and ensure the representation and participation of indigenous communities in decision-making processes.

Migration and Transnational Citizenship: 

Africa experiences significant migration flows within the continent and beyond. Exploring the intersection of migration and citizenship clarifies the challenges and opportunities faced by migrants and the concept of transnational citizenship. Addressing issues of migrant rights, inclusion, and integration is crucial for sustainable citizenship in Africa.

Conflict Resolution and Citizenship: 

Africa has witnessed various conflicts and post-conflict situations. Promoting peacebuilding, reconciliation, and conflict resolution mechanisms is integral to sustainable citizenship. Citizenship frameworks prioritising justice, reconciliation, and healing can restore trust and social cohesion in conflict-affected societies.

Youth Empowerment and Citizenship: 

Africa has a youthful population, and empowering young people is vital for sustainable citizenship. Providing opportunities for education, skills training, and meaningful youth participation in decision-making processes can foster active citizenship among the youth and contribute to their socio-economic development.

Disability Rights and Inclusive Citizenship: 

Recognising and promoting the rights of disabled persons is essential to sustainable citizenship. Ensuring equal access to education, employment, healthcare, and social services for persons with disabilities strengthens inclusive citizenship and upholds the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

Decolonizing Citizenship: 

Engaging in critical discussions on decolonisation and post-colonial perspectives is crucial in redefining African citizenship. It involves challenging the legacy of colonialism, decolonising institutions, and integrating African epistemologies and worldviews into citizenship frameworks.

Civil Society and Active Citizenship: 

Civil society organisations promote active citizenship and hold governments accountable. Supporting the work of civil society organisations, protecting civic space, and encouraging citizen participation in social and political processes can contribute to sustainable citizenship in Africa.


Exploring the philosophical perspectives of citizenship in Africa provides valuable insights into its historical roots, challenges, and opportunities for sustainability. By acknowledging and building upon its roots, Africa can forge a path towards inclusive and vibrant citizenship that reflects the diversity and aspirations of its people. By embracing philosophical frameworks that emphasise communal values, interconnectedness, and collective responsibility, African nations can overcome challenges and foster sustainable citizenship that promotes social harmony, equality, and the well-being of all citizens.

**Any interested researcher or person desiring to know more could consult these books and articles:

  1. Wiredu, K. (1996). Cultural Universals and Particulars: An African Perspective. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  2. Mazrui, A. (2009). African philosophy: New and traditional perspectives. Dakar: CODESRIA.
  3. Gyekye, K. (1997). Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Dor, G. (2015). Exploring Indigenous Interpretive Frameworks In African Music Scholarship: Conceptual Metaphors And Indigenous Ewe Knowledge In The Life And Work Of Hesin? Vin? k? Akpalu 1. Black Music Research Journal, 35(2), 149.
  5. Murithi, T. (2016). Philosophy and Practice of Ubuntu: Lessons from Africa. Cham: Springer.
  6. Okwudiba, N. (2008). Citizenship Education and Democratic Governance in Africa: An African Perspective. Journal of Educational Foundations, 2(1), 37-51.
  7. Mamdani, M. (1996). Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  8. Bertelsen, B. (2015). The Spirit of the Laws in Mozambique. Anthropological Quarterly, 88(2), 569.
  9. Belgium: The European Union Election Observation Mission presents its final report. (2023, June 28). MENA Report.
  10. International Society for Sephardic Progress.

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