Quest for citizenship – the story of the Maragoli

Published: 23 Jan 2019
By: Johanna Seidl

Statelessness affects ten thousands of people in East Africa. Being stateless has significant negative impact on the lives of affected persons – who are unable to access fundamental rights to which they are entitled under human rights law, but which require state mediation to access in practice. Without identification documents they are not able to open a bank account, register their marriages, enjoy freedom of movement or own land. In addition to a large number of stateless people across East Africa, a significant number of persons is further at risk of becoming stateless.

In Uganda, nationality laws are based on a mix of jus soli, or access to citizenship through birth in the territory, and jus sanguinis, or access to citizenship based on descent. Both provisions, however, are constrained on the basis of ethnicity, the jus soli provision allows those born on the territory automatic access to citizenship only if they are a member of one of the indigenous communities listed in the 1995 Constitution. While this provision on one hand provides for significant protection against statelessness, it places communities not included in the Constitution’s Schedule at a higher risk of statelessness. This risk is further exacerbated by the limitation of the jus sanguinis provision to the children only of citizens by birth. Thus, the children of a naturalised citizen are not eligible for citizenship meaning that naturalisation is not a sustainable solution to reducing the risk of statelessness.

The Maragoli community, living in western Uganda in Kiryandongo District is one of the communities affected. The Maragoli Community Association, founded in 1998 to raise the voices of their community, has made tremendous efforts towards their quest for inclusion into the list of indigenous communities. During their journey they have been supported by the Minority Rights Group, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda, Equal Opportunities Commission and the International Refugee Rights Initiative, among other government and civil society stakeholders. This is their story.

This blog article was first published by Voice on


Programmes: Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative
Regions: Uganda
Type: Advocacy, IRRI Blog, Library, Staff Publication