In the context of a global biometric turn, this book investigates processes of legal identification in Africa ‘from below,’ asking what this means for the relationship between citizens and the state.

Almost half of the population of the African continent is thought to lack a legal identity, and many states see biometric technology as a reliable and efficient solution to the problem. However, this book shows that biometrics, far from securing identities and avoiding fraud or political distrust, can even participate in reinforcing exclusion and polarizing debates on citizenship and national belonging. It highlights the social and political embedding of legal identities and the resilience of the documentary state. Drawing on empirical research conducted across 14 countries, the book documents the processes, practices, and meanings of legal identification in Africa from the 1950s right up to the biometric boom. Beyond the classic opposition between surveillance and recognition, it demonstrates how analysing the social uses of IDs and tools of identification can give a fresh account of the state at work, the practices of citizenship, and the role of bureaucracy in the writing of the self in African societies.

This book will be of an important reference for students and scholars of African studies, politics, human security, and anthropology and the sociology of the state.

chapter |26 pages

The social and political life of identity papers in contemporary Africa

Editor's introduction
BySéverine Awenengo Dalberto, Richard Banégas, Jessica Edwards

part I|100 pages

Biometric state versus documentary state: Identification technologies and citizenship

chapter 281|20 pages

African citizenships – A biometric turn?

BySéverine Awenengo Dalberto, Richard Banégas, Armando Cutolo, Rachel Robertson

chapter 2|16 pages

Documentary government and mathematical identification

On the theoretical significance of African biometric government
ByKeith Breckenridge

chapter 3|11 pages

Legible bodies and lives

How a biometric registration campaign reinvented the Chadian population
ByMarielle Debos

chapter 4|5 pages

Testimonies and social markers in the age of biometrics

The work of the identity control and verification commission in Chad
ByKelma Manatouma, Rachel Robertson

chapter 5|20 pages

Digitized paper barriers

Identity verifications and exclusion of immigrant learners in Johannesburg's low-income high schools
ByJeanne Bouyat, Nora Bardelli

chapter 6|5 pages

A proof of innocence

Biometric registration of Malian refugees living in Burkina Faso
ByNora Bardelli

chapter 7|16 pages

The republic and its double

Forgery, inequalities, and state morality in Cameroon
ByMarie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle, Nora Bardelli

chapter 8|5 pages

General amnesty for all ‘René Cailliés’!

Falsifying birth certificates and reforming legal identification in Côte d'Ivoire
ByRichard Banégas, Armando Cutolo, Souleymane Kouyate, William Snow

part II|110 pages

Identity, citizenship, and the politics of inclusion and exclusion

chapter 1289|8 pages

The French West African identity card in Senegal

The challenges and meanings of legal identification in the era of imperial citizenship (1946–1960)
BySéverine Awenengo Dalberto, Rachel Robertson

chapter 10|7 pages

A kipande for Ugandans?

The aborted 1947 ‘identity card for Africans’
BySandrine Perrot, Rachel Robertson

chapter 11|16 pages

Papers to ward off the threat

Identity cards, documentary uncertainty, and genocide in Rwanda
ByFlorent Piton, Nora Bardelli

chapter 12|6 pages


Identity papers under Belgian colonial occupation
ByLéon Saur, Jessica Edwards

chapter 13|19 pages

Kenya's ethnic Somalis and access to identity papers

Citizenship and nation-building in north-east Kenya
ByHervé Maupeu, Rachel Robertson

chapter 14|18 pages

Bureaucracy and the politics of identification in Nigeria

Issuing certificates of indigene and investigating citizens' ancestral origins
ByLaurent Fourchard, Nora Bardelli

chapter 15|18 pages

‘Hands off my citizenship!’

Biometrics and its politics in Mauritania
ByZekeria Ould Ahmed Salem, Nora Bardelli

chapter 16|16 pages

What state is there for those ‘without paper or pencil’? 1

A case study of women and identification in North Cameroon
ByClaude Mbowou, Jessica Edwards

part III|132 pages

Bureaucratic writing of the self: Political subjectivities and the social production of papers

chapter 18|20 pages

Bureaucratic interpersonal knowledge

Village identity papers and the production of moral homelands in Uganda
ByFlorence Brisset-Foucault

chapter 19|5 pages

Negotiating indigenousness

Citizenship and the struggle for papers of the Maragoli community in Uganda
BySandrine Perrot, Gerald Owachi, William Snow

chapter 20|14 pages

Bureaucratizing self-defence and reframing identities

The case of Koglweogo in Burkina Faso
ByRomane Da Cunha Dupuy, William Snow

chapter 21|9 pages

‘Here is my evidence’

The documented path of a woman ex-combatant from Côte d'Ivoire
ByKamina Diallo, Jessica Edwards

chapter 22|18 pages

Faith papers

Transnational mobility, Christian networks, and citizenship in Morocco and Senegal
ByJohara Berriane, Jessica Edwards

chapter 23|4 pages

A driver and his licence in Senegal

Professional ethos and documentary imaginary
BySidy Cissokho, William Snow

chapter 24|19 pages

Inanimate politics

Identifying ‘lifeless and undocumented migrants’ in Guinea and Morocco
ByAlimou Diallo, William Snow

chapter 25|26 pages

The identificatory city in sub-Saharan Africa

ByJean-François Bayart, Andrew Brown