Kinship, documents, bureaucratic norms, and the meaning of evidence in the South Sudanese citizenship office
Ferenc David Marko
(Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)
Paper short abstract:
The paper seeks to concentrate on the questions of evidence in the South Sudanese citizenship office. Through a thick description of the bureaucratic process and the negotiations of citizenship, I ask what constitutes an evidence of belonging, and how do bureaucrats decide in various cases?
Paper long abstract:
Selecting and documenting the citizens in the newest country of the world is a gargantuan task. The paper, building on a yearlong ethnographic fieldwork carried out in and around the South Sudanese central citizenship office, seeks to concentrate on the questions of evidence. Due to the lack of reliable documentary evidence (birth certificates, former ID cards, passports) verification is done through witnesses, chiefs' letters, and oral life stories. The citizenship-applicant has to arrive with a witness, fill the application form - or pay a fixer to fill it for her - tell her story for the bureaucrat, in particular cases bring a letter from her "traditional" chief, or submit a - genuine or forged - school certificate or referendum registration card. The bureaucrat makes his decision after reviewing every element in this "bazaar of evidence". The main questions of the paper grow out from the ethnography of this bureaucratic process. What constitutes an evidence of belonging, and when and how do bureaucrats approve an applicant's claim for citizenship? When is a witness - who has to be "next-of-kin" according to the nationality law - accepted as a relative by the office, and when do applicants dispute these definitions of kinship? What is the role of ethnicity in the process and inside the bureaucracy?
The anthropology of public services and bureaucracies