Skip to content
Schedule a meeting

CAMEROON NATIONALITY LAW EXPLAINED

CAMEROON NATIONALITY LAW EXPLAINED

CAMEROON NATIONALITY LAW EXPLAINED

  1. Introduction

Nationality is the state of belonging to a particular country.  According to Black’s Law Dictionary (2004), 8th Edition page 1053 nationality is defined as:

“The relationship between a citizen of a nation … customarily involving allegiance by the citizen and protection by the state…this term is used synonymously with citizenship”

A citizen on the other hand is someone who by either birth or naturalization is a member of a political community, owing allegiance to the community and being entitled to enjoy all its civil rights and protection; a member of a civil state entitled to all the privileges.

 Before independence, nationality in Cameroon was governed by separate colonial instruments in the two Cameroons.  Ordinance No. 59/066 of 28th November 1959 instituting the Cameroonian National Code of French origin applied in East Cameroonian the British Nationality Act of 1949 of English origin applied in West Cameroon.

Today the rules relating to Cameroon nationality law are found in two laws:

Cameroon Nationality Law Guide

1. Law No. 68-LF-3 of 11/6/68, “To set up the Cameroon Nationality Code”

2. Decree No. 68-DF-478 of 16/12/68, “To Establish Rules of Procedure Under the Nationality Code” which contains the supplementary procedure

Cameroonian nationality is conveyed primarily by descent (jus sanguis), while nationality conveyed by birth (jus soli) is restricted to cases where the nationality of one or both parents is unknown.

There are three primary methods of attaining Cameroon nationality –

Birth, Marriage, and Naturalization.

There are three main ways by which Cameroon’s nationality can be lost or forfeited:

a) Acquisition or retention of a foreign nationality

b) Voluntary renunciation of Cameroonian nationality, and

c) Government decree.

2. The Code and the Decree

The 1968 Cameroon Nationality Code is divided into seven chapters and 48 Articles. Chapter One deals with general issues, Chapter 2 focuses on the Nationality of origin which is nationality acquired by descent and by birth, Chapter 3 deals with how the nationality of Cameroon can be acquired, Chapter four focuses on the nationality can be lost or forfeited while Chapter five contains acts that can be done to cause a person to forfeit the Cameroonian nationality. Chapter 6 focuses on the disputes on nationality and Chapter 7 contains transitionary provisions.

Decree No. 1968 DF-478 of 16/12/68, to establish rules of procedure under the Nationality Code is made up of three Chapters. Chapter One contains supplementary notes on the procedure for the acquisition of Cameroon Nationality by marriage, Chapter Two deals with the conditions for the examination of applications for naturalization and restoration and lastly Chapter Three focuses on the proof of Nationality before the Courts.

The Code provides in Section 30 (1) that:

“The acquisition of Cameroonian Nationality implies enjoyment from the same date thereof of all the rights attached to nationality.”

However, the Code does not make mention of the explicit rights and obligations of having the Cameroonian nationality. According to the Code Cameroonian citizenship is treated as nationality. It is therefore assumed that where the rights and obligations that go with being a citizen of the Republic of Cameroon found in the Constitutions such as the right to vote, life and a healthy environment to name a few are those rights and obligations that go with the Cameroonian Nationality.

The Code focuses on how the Cameroonian nationality is acquired, renounced, forfeited or lost.

According to the Code, the age of majority in Cameroon to acquire Cameroonian nationality is 21 years. Worth noting is the fact that the Nationality Code and its decree are subject to international treaties and laws even if the provisions of such treaties and laws are contrary to the Nationality Code.   For example, Article 9 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)  provides that:

“States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality. They shall ensure in particular that neither marriage to an alien nor change of nationality by the husband during marriage shall automatically change the nationality of the wife, render her stateless or force upon her the nationality of the husband” 

It states also that:

“States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men concerning the nationality of their children”

1. Cameroonian Nationality – The Code

Under the Code, Cameroonian nationality may be established as of origin or acquired. These can be by either of these 6ways:

 Descent, Birth, marriage, Common, Declaration, naturalization.

  1. Nationality of Origin

The code distinguishes between the acquisition of the nationality of Cameroon by a legitimate child and an illegitimate child. The Cameroonian Nationality can attach as a Nationality of origin in the following situations:

1.1.1 Descent:

1.1.1.1 Legitimate Children

Where the child is legitimate, the child must have been born to parents who have Cameroonian nationality. However, under the Code if just one of the parents of a legitimate child is a Cameroonian such a child born in Cameroon can obtain the Cameroonian nationality. A legitimate child may also acquire Cameroonian Nationality can also be obtained by descent where one of the parents of the child is a Cameroonian and the other has no nationality.

1.1.1.2 Illegitimate Children

An illegitimate child may acquire Cameroonian nationality where both parents are Cameroonians. Where an illegitimate child has two parents and one is a Cameroonian and his affiliation has first been established to this Cameroonian parent, he may adopt the Cameroonian nationality subject to the right to renounce the nationality 6months before his majority if he was born out of Cameroon and if according to the national law of the foreign parent, he can renounce Cameroonian nationality and avail himself of the foreign nationality.

An illegitimate child may also acquire Cameroonian nationality where one of his parents is a Cameroonian, and the other is of no nationality if his affiliation to the Cameroonian parent is later established.

1.1.2 Birth –by birth of either the parents of the child or/and the child

Section 9 of the Nationality Code provides that

‘Cameroon nationality attaches to every child born in Cameroon of unknown parents

It also states that a newborn child found in Cameroon will be presumed prima facie to have been born in Cameroon.

1.1.2.1 Legitimate Children

According to the Code, the Cameroonian nationality attaches to a legitimate child who is born of foreign parents, if both the child and his mother or father were born in Cameroon.

1.1.2.2 Illegitimate Children

In the case of an illegitimate child, who is born of parents who are foreigners, the child becomes a Cameroonian national if the child and the parent to whom his affiliation is first established were born in Cameroon.

In these cases, the child will become a Cameroonian national subject to the right to renounce it within 6 months before the majority.

The Cameroonian nationality also extends automatically to anyone born in Cameroon who is unable to claim any other nationality of origin.

1.1.3 Common

Section 14 of the Nationality Code provides that for the Cameroonian Nationality to be attached, the affiliation must be established either by Cameroonian law or by custom. Furthermore, the Code provides that a child having Cameroonian nationality as a result of descent or birth shall be deemed to be a Cameroonian from birth even if the conditions required by law for the attachment of that nationality are not satisfied.

This can only happen provided:

1. The attachment of Cameroonian nationality from birth does not affect the validity of acts- in the law of the person in question

2. the attachment of Cameroonian nationality from birth does not affect the rights acquired by third parties based on the child’s apparent nationality (Cameroonian)

1.2 Nationality by Acquisition

Additionally, Cameroonian nationality can be acquired in the following ways:

1.2.1 Marriage:

Marriage is one of the ways through which a person who is not born a Cameroonian can acquire Cameroonian nationality. Under the Code, a foreign woman marrying a Cameroonian may acquire Cameroonian nationality at the moment of celebration of the marriage by express request. A foreign woman may also decline to acquire Cameroonian nationality at the time of the celebration of the marriage.

Acquisition through marriage must be done through a declaration signed before the Judge of the magistrate court or diplomatic representative of Cameroon abroad or the President of the Civil Court at the Chief town (or president of the district court) of the subdivision in which the declarant resides. According to Decree No. 68 DF-478 of the 16th December 1968 to establish the rules of procedure under the Nationality code, such declaration must be done in three copies and signed before or at the time the marriage is being celebrated between the Cameroonian and the foreign woman or one presumed to be foreign (could be the man).

 The Decree provides that the original of the declaration shall be transmitted to the civil status registrar who is responsible for celebrating the marriage, while the second copy shall be handed to the declarant and the third copy shall be placed in a special register.  Before the celebration of the marriage, the civil status registrar shall inform the foreigner who is marrying the Cameroonian of the conditions of acquiring the Cameroonian nationality and shall explain the conditions found in the Code relating to the acquisition of Cameroonian nationality through marriage. 

 Furthermore, according to the Decree, the civil status registrar shall forward a copy of the marriage registration together with the declaration made by the foreigner for registration at the Ministry of Justice for registration.  This shall be done within a month from the day of the celebration of the marriage. The declarant must satisfy the conditions found in the Code and its decree for the registration of the marriage to take place. Where these conditions are not fulfilled the Ministry of Justice has the right to refuse the registration of the marriage. Where the Ministry refuses to register the marriage, their decision and the reason for their decision shall be notified to the declarant who has the right to make a new declaration following the procedure provided for by the decree. According to the Decree, the declarant shall request an attestation having the force of registration of the declaration; 6months after the celebration of the marriage where there is neither a decision to refuse registration nor a decree establishing the opposition of the government. This attestation shall be transmitted by the Ministry of Justice.

Additionally, under the Decree, the legal department or any person may challenge the validity of the registered declaration at any time.

 The Code also provides that the acquisition of Cameroonian nationality by marriage may be prevented by government decree six months after the celebration of the marriage while this law is in force or 6months from the date of promulgation of this law for marriages that have already been celebrated.

1.2.2 Declaration

Another way in which the Cameroonian nationality can be acquired is by declaration. The Code allows persons who are not Cameroonian nationals to acquire Cameroonian nationality by declaration however this is subject to the right of the government to prevent such acquisition by decree.

Persons who are foreigners or of other nationalities may declare their desire to acquire the Cameroonian nationality provided that the person was born in Cameroon and has been resident in Cameroon for at least 5 years before the declaration. This declaration must be done 6 months before attaining a majority. This means that a foreigner who is born in Cameroon but has another nationality may acquire the Cameroonian nationality by declaring 6months before the majority that he wishes to acquire the Cameroonian nationality provided that on the date of his declaration, he has been resident in Cameroon for at least 5years. The law is silent as to if the 5years period must be a continuous, uninterrupted 5 years.  The declaration shall be signed before the Judge or President of the Civil Court at the Chief town of the subdivision in which the declarant resides.

Again where a foreign child is adopted by a Cameroonian, the child may also declare within 6 months before attaining majority that he claims Cameroonian nationality provided that he has been domiciled in Cameroon. 

Additionally, where a parent has been restored Cameroonian nationality following the rules of restoration of the nationality under Section 28, the children of this person be they minors or majors who are already married may claim Cameroonian nationality by declaration (as provided by the Decree and Code) notwithstanding where they were born and wherever they are resident.

It is worth noting that any declaration be it declaring the wish to acquire, decline or renounce or abandoning the right to renounce the Cameroonian nationality where ever this is provided by the law shall be signed before the Judge or the President of the Civil Court at the chief town of the subdivision in which the declarant resides. A declarant outside Cameroon shall sign the declaration or formal request before a diplomatic or consular representative of Cameroon. The Code makes the registration of the declaration mandatory without which such declarations shall be null and void.

1.2. 3 Naturalization

Cameroonian nationality can also be acquired by naturalization. The Code provides the conditions under which a person can acquire nationality by naturalization while its Decree focuses on the procedure for acquiring nationality by naturalization. Section 24 of the Code provides that:

 “Cameroonian Nationality may be conferred by decree on a foreigner requesting it”

This implies that a foreigner may only acquire Cameroonian nationality by expressly requesting the nationality.  The application for the naturalization shall be addressed to the Minister of Justice, keeper of the seals.  The person applying must state expressly the reason why he wishes to acquire Cameroonian nationality. The applicant must attach to the application the following documents:

a) A Curriculum Vitae

b) A copy of his birth registration

c) A copy of a marriage certificate or civil booklet where it applies

d) A copy of the birth certificates of his children who are minors and unmarried.

e) Any other document which ascertains the full knowledge of the facts which may support his application.

On receipt of the application, the Minister of Justice shall cause a police inquiry to be conducted into the morals, conduct and loyalty of the applicant. He shall ascertain the degree of his assimilation into the Cameroonian community and his interest in this naturalization from a national point of view.

The Code provides strictly that Cameroonian nationality cannot be conferred on a person:

a) Who has not attained the full age of 21years

b) Who cannot show habitual residence in Cameroon for 5 consecutive years up to the presentation of the application

c) Whose main interests are not based in Cameroon at the time of the signature of the naturalization decree

d) Who is not of good character and morals, or who has been convicted of an offence against ordinary law and has not been expunged by rehabilitation or amnesty

e) Who is not of sound body and mind

The Minister has to transmit the No. 2 bulletin of the police records to the applicant who shall be subjected to medical examination.  The medical examination shall ascertain his physical and mental capacity. The medical examination shall be carried out by a board whose composition and function shall be determined by joint order of the Minister of Justice and the Ministry in Charge of Public Health.

In deciding to grant the nationality to a foreigner the Minister of Justice shall request the opinion of the Minister in Charge of Territorial Administration about the application for naturalization.

The Minister has the discretion to accept or deny granting the application for naturalization. The applicant shall be notified of whatever decision is taken by the Minister. The Decree provides that the applicant shall pay the sum of 30.000 FRS to the treasury before the signature of the decree of naturalization in case his application is granted.

It is worth noting that the Cameroonian Code seemly/impliedly provides for a probationary period (it will seem) for the grant of Cameroonian nationality to a foreigner. It provides in Section 26 that ‘notwithstanding the foregoing section, no probationary period shall be required of a foreigner born in Cameroon or married to a Cameroon wife or a foreigner who has rendered exceptional services to Cameroon or whose naturalization would be highly advantageous to Cameroon. 

Naturalization in Cameroon is finalized by the passing of a decree of naturalization of the applicant which shall be published in the Official Gazette.  The decree becomes effective from the date of its signing however such decrees shall not prejudice the validity of any acts of law carried out by the naturalized person or the rights acquired by third parties before the publication of the decree. This means that such decrees cannot act retrospectively.

The decree of naturalization may be revoked within a year from the date of discovery of a mistake or fraud on the part of the applicant or where the person did not satisfy the conditions required by law for naturalization

2. Losing and Forfeiting the Cameroonian Nationality

Cameroonian nationality can be lost or forfeited. It may also be renounced by a person who is already a Cameroonian.

2.1 Loss

The Code lists 3 ways through which the Cameroonian nationality can be lost. These include:

a) Wilfully acquiring or keeping a foreign nationality

b) Renunciation under the Code

c) Retaining a post in a public service of an international or foreign body notwithstanding an injunction by the Cameroonian government to resign.

According to the Code, the loss of Cameroonian nationality frees the person who losses all allegiance to Cameroon. 

2.2 Forfeiture

The Code does not define the forfeiture of Cameroonian nationality. It however states that:

‘A foreigner who has acquired Cameroonian nationality may forfeit it by decree’

This implies that forfeiture of the Cameroonian nationality of Cameroonian nationality under the Code is contemplated in the case of foreigners who have acquired Cameroonian nationality and later on carry out certain acts causing the government to rid them of the Nationality. The Code provides for two situations where the Cameroonian nationality may be forfeited namely:

a) Where a foreigner is convicted of an act defined as a criminal Act or an offence against the internal or external security of the state.

b) Where the foreigner commits an act which is harmful to the interest of the state.

For a foreigner to forfeit Cameroonian Nationality, the activities carried out must have taken place within 10 years from the time he acquired the nationality. The forfeiture can only be pronounced within 10 years from the commission of the act. (Time-barred after ten years the act is not pronounced).

3. Restoration

The Code and its supplementary decree do not define the restoration of Cameroonian nationality. Section 28 of the Code provides that:

“Restoration of the Cameroon nationality shall be conferred by decree without the condition of age or probation but subject to the necessity of proof that the applicant was formerly a Cameroonian and showing residence in Cameroon at the moment of restoration”

Section 29 also provides that

‘No person who has forfeited Cameroonian nationality may be restored to it without having later rendered exceptional service to Cameroon’

It can therefore be presumed that restoration of the Cameroonian nationality occurs when the nationality has either been lost or forfeited.

 According to the Decree, the application for restoration shall be addressed to the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals.   The Decree provides the list of documents that must accompany the application. These include:

a) A copy of the enactment whereby the applicant was granted foreign nationality

b) Any paper or document establishing that they had the status of Cameroonian nationality

c) A certificate of residence issued by the Mayor or sub-prefect of his place of residence (implying that the person must be resident in Cameroon)

d) A curriculum vitae of the applicant

e) A copy of his marriage registration or civil status booklet where applicable

f) Copies of birth registration of the applicant’s minor unmarried children

g) A medical certificate not more than three months old.

Restoration of Cameroonian Nationality in Cameroon is finalized by the passing of a decree of restoration of the applicant which shall be published in the Official Gazette.  The decree becomes effective from the date of its signing however such decrees shall not prejudice the validity of any acts of law carried out by the restored person or the rights acquired by third parties before the publication of the decree. This means that such decrees cannot act retrospectively.

The decree of restoration may be revoked within a year from the date of discovery of a mistake or fraud on the part of the applicant or where the person did not satisfy the conditions required by law for restoration.

4. Disputes

The Code does not specify which court has the jurisdiction to entertain disputes relating to Cameroonian nationality. It is silent as to whether it is the High Court or the Court of First Instance. It only states that: ‘the ordinary civil courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction of disputes on a question of nationality.’ However, Section 18 (1)b of Law No. 2006/015 of 29th December 2006 on Judicial Organization gives the High Court the jurisdiction in issues relating to affiliation and status of persons. It can therefore be assumed that any such disputes about a person’s nationality should be brought before the High Court of the residence of that person.

 According to the Code, any action relating to such disputes shall be brought before the court of the domicile or residence of the person whose nationality is in dispute according to the rules of procedure in force.

Under the Code, a Cameroonian can raise the issue of nationality as a defence before foreign courts during any proceeding before such court. Where this happens the proceedings in such a court shall be stayed until the issue of nationality is determined.   The determination of nationality shall be before ordinary courts.  It is not clear if these ordinary civil courts are the courts in Cameroon or the court of the country where the proceedings are taking place. However, the Code provides that the Legal department shall be made a party and the representation of the state shall lie within its exclusive jurisdiction. The final judgment on the question of nationality before the civil courts is notwithstanding the ordinary law res judicata against the world.

The burden of proof of matters of nationality rests with the party who by an action or an incidental plea of defence claims that he possesses or does not possess Cameroonian Nationality. However, the burden of proof shall be transferred to a person disputing the nationality of a Cameroonian who possesses a certificate of Cameroonian nationality issued by the judges of civil courts sitting at the chief towns of subdivisions the burden of proof shall be transferred to such a person disputing such nationality.

The Code provides that a certificate of nationality shall be given to a person to prove that he has the Cameroonian nationality. This certificate shall be delivered by the Judges of civil courts sitting at the chief town of subdivisions exclusively. The Code is silent as to when a certificate of nationality shall be delivered as such it does not say whether such a certificate can only be given on request by the person. However, the custom has been that such certificates are given by the Magistrate Courts on demand by a person who wishes to acquire a certificate of nationality.

Furthermore, the Code provides that the certificate of nationality shall refer to Chapters I and III of the Code.  The judge may refuse to deliver a certificate of nationality. Where he refuses the refusal shall be established by an attestation. The person who has been refused a certificate of nationality has the right to apply to the Minister of Justice who will decide whether the person should be issued a certificate of nationality.

5. Proof of Cameroonian nationality before the Courts

The proof of Cameroonian nationality shall be prima facie by a certificate of nationality.

According to the supplementary Decree, proof of a declaration to acquire nationality shall be established by the production of a registered copy of such declaration. Where this is absent it shall be established by an attestation delivered by the Minister of Justice either certifying that the declaration has been duly signed and registered or issued instead of registration.

Where the Code provides the right to sign a declaration renouncing or declining Cameroonian nationality such as in the case of marriage, proof that such a declaration has not been signed may only be established by an attestation delivered by the Minister of Justice.

The Decree provides that proof of a decree of naturalization or restoration shall be established by the production of a copy of the official Gazette in which such a decree was published. Instead of this, proof may only be established by an attestation from the Keeper of the Seals certifying the existence of such a decree.

Under the Decree, proof of a declaration renouncing Cameroonian nationality shall be established by the production of a registered copy of such declaration or failing this an attestation from the Ministry of Justice certifying that the declaration of renunciation has been duly signed and registered.

In cases where Cameroonian Nationality is lost in circumstances not provided by the Code either by loss, forfeiture or renunciation during marriage, proof shall be established by ascertaining the veracity of the facts and acts which resulted in the loss of nationality.

 The Decree provides that the proof of foreign nationality shall be established by any means except in the cases of the loss or forfeiture of Cameroonian nationality. This provision is subject to the fact that the foreign nationality of the person possessing the status of a Cameroonian shall only be established by a demonstration that the person concerned satisfies one of the conditions imposed by law for possession of the status of a Cameroonian.

6. Dual Nationality

A person is considered a dual national when he or she owes allegiance to more than one country at the same time.  A claim to allegiance may be based on birth, marriage, parentage, or naturalization. A dual national may, while in the jurisdiction of either country that considers that person it is national, be subject to all of its laws, including being conscripted for military service. There is no internationally agreed-upon principle governing dual citizenship. Each country is free to determine how it will treat an individual who is a national of both that country and another.

 The Cameroon Nationality Code provides that:

  “Cameroonian nationality is lost by any Cameroonian adult national who willfully acquires or keeps a foreign nationality” It goes on the state that “…loss of Cameroon nationality frees from allegiance to Cameroon:” 

It is therefore very clear that the Nationality Code does not provide for dual nationality and a Cameroonian cannot be said to have two nationalities. According to the Code, you are either a Cameroonian or you are not. Since the Code has not been amended this position is still good law presently.

 The Cameroon government has been very liberal towards Cameroonian soccer players or other persons who have acquired other nationalities and still retain the Cameroonian nationality; the position of the law is very clear on this issue. There is a global movement towards greater acceptance of dual nationality in countries around the world and even in Cameroon. Recently PICAM tabled a policy paper before the President of the Republic of Cameroon, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Cameroon, the Cameroonian Ambassador to the United States, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the Minister of External Relations of the Republic of Cameroon, all Political Parties Represented in the Cameroon National Assembly. PICAM is therefore calling on all Cameroonians to sign up for this campaign by going to http://www.picam.org/…/Campaign-for-Dual-Citizenship-in…

6. Conclusion

The Cameroon nationality code and its enabling Decree is a very restrictive piece of legislation dealing with nationality. It omits several important several issues which touch on the Cameroonian nationality. It fails to give a clear definition to several important issues in the Code and falls short of a contemporary law on nationality.

What is striking about the Code is how the Code makes a distinct difference between the acquisition of Cameroonian nationality by an illegitimate child as opposed to legitimate children. This demonstrates the attention that Cameroon places on the status of illegitimate and legitimate children which characterizes many other laws in Cameroon.

Finally, the current Cameroon citizenship laws prohibition holding dual nationality creates a diverse set of detrimental impacts on its people, both in Cameroon and amongst the sizable emigrant population. The negative effects are rift, ranging from dilemmas at personal levels to microeconomic levels.

 

Article by CHUO ANGABUA JUNIOR

 PRIME-TIME LAW OFFICES

‘’The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. We insist specialist advice be sought depending on your specific circumstance’’

 

TO TALK WITH A SPECIALIST

 

CLICK HERE

Best Lawyers in Cameroon

COMMERCIAL & BUSINESS LAW Service

Ship registration in Cameroon: CHANGE OF OWNER

Shipping and Maritime Service

SHIP/VESSEL REGISTRATION Service

Power and Energy Law Service

Immigration law Service

ICT Law Service

HUMAN RIGHTS & CRIMINAL DEFENSE Service

Family law Service

Dispute Resolution law Service

error: Alert: Content selection is disabled!!