Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Dual nationality in Africa: the urgent need for further analysis

Article from AFRIC Editorial
Since the 1960s and independence in Africa, the debate on the acquisition of dual nationality has remained a sensitive issue in some countries. Despite the evolution that has taken place over time, many of these countries have remained silent in their positions, resistant to any such idea as granting and acquiring dual nationality. If their conception was based on issues of mistrust, characterized by suspicion of any citizen applying for or taking up another nationality, today things are changing in view of the impact of globalization. This hypothesis was rapidly endorsed by a study by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights which stated that “beyond the relations of distrust between Western and African States, individuals who had acquired dual or foreign nationality were considered as a "fifth column at the service of foreign interests”.

Several laws on dual nationality have been passed in Africa over time, though at a general level. The idea of finding a single and common solution for all African nations was difficult, since granting dual nationality is a decision specific to each nation. However, in the eastern part of Africa, the East African Community (EAC) countries as a whole, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, things have moved on in the right direction, as measures have been taken to legalize dual nationality. For the rest, following the general trend and in the face of political pressure from the African Diasporas, many governments have agreed to lift the barrier. Among their ranks are Angola, Djibouti, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Mozambique and many others. However, despite this development, there are still at least fifteen African countries that do not recognize dual nationality, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Liberia and Malawi. For the governments of these countries, which sometimes use it as a political weapon, it may be necessary to take a break and reflect in order to discuss the outlines of the attribution of dual nationality which seems to be unavoidable.

The denial of the economic importance of the formalization of dual nationality

Debates over a dual nationality has always been linked to issues of loyalty, security and sovereignty, says researcher Bronwen Manby in his book, Nationality Laws in Africa: A Comparative Study. Manby argues that African countries that persist in denying dual citizenship to their citizens are losing out on the contributions and investments of these citizens. Contrary to countries such as Morocco or Algeria which have made dual nationality a reality and which, in return, receive substantial investments from their diasporas, countries such as the DRC and Cameroon, although they occupy an important rank in the transfer of remittances from their diaspora, are limited; twothirds of the transfers, for these countries, only serve to purchase consumer goods and pay school and health fees. Consequently, in these countries, even if this resource responds to everyday problems, it does not really contribute to the formal circuits of production and wealth creation, says a World Bank report.
The return to the country of origin movement, has also been neglected for a long time from a statistical point of view. To address these deficits, countries that still prohibit dual nationality must put reception policies in place for people with dual nationality, says Bronwen Manby. These countries would be well advised to do so in order to amplify and benefit from the return to the continent of children from the diaspora, in terms of know-how and skills.

This phenomenon among Anglophones is called “repatriation”. According to a study by Inspire Afrika, the entrepreneurial success stories of “repat” that flourish in Nigeria or Ghana, for example, are invisible in Cameroon or the DRC because these countries are totally opposed to the policy of keeping people with dual nationality in the country.

According to Dr Christian Pout, Internationalist, President of the CEIDES Think Tank, Visiting Associate Professor, Director of the Seminar on African Geopolitics, Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, at the Catholic Institute of Paris, a reform of the nationality code for the adoption of dual or multiple nationalities can have major positive consequences on the evolution of the continent. Beyond the economic and investment aspect, it can contribute to the resolution of major crises, such as the ongoing crisis North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon.

Counterproductive political weapon for the general interest

The question of dual nationality is also acutely felt in Africa, in line with the political connotation given to it. The issue is a matter of ongoing debate in several African countries, where some leaders use this argument against their political opponents to keep them out of the race for power. Governments in these countries, which have taken the opposite direction, then use dual citizenship as a last weapon of defense. This situation has manifested itself over the past years and even today in several African countries. 

In addition to Cameroon’s case, this weapon has also been used in Zimbabwe, where, in past years, persons who were potentially entitled to another nationality have been forced to renounce it, even though they had never had any connection with the other State. In the DRC, where this situation was also very evident, it led to the exclusion of several candidates, including Moïse Katumbi, from the presidential race on 30 December 2018. He was accused, among other things, of holding at least one other nationality in addition to that of the DRC. In Senegal too, a controversy had invaded the political class on the issue in 2016 when Benoit Sambou, the elections officer of the presidential party, a member of the ruling Alliance for the Republic, launched the debate less than three years before the presidential election scheduled for 2019. He said that “any presidential candidate must renounce his nationality or nationalities at least five years before election day”. Within the opposition, this was clearly a well-thought-out maneuver to exclude certain potential candidates from the presidential race.

An argument for the promotion of African culture

The year 2020 opened with good news for African countries where dual citizenship is authorized. On the cultural level, it has made it possible to sell the image of several countries on the continent and to attract investors internationally. In the case of Gabon, which is in favour of dual nationality, it was thus observed that the American rapper Christopher Brian Bridges, better known as Ludacris, acquired Gabonese nationality on 2 January this year by obtaining his Gabonese passport from the hands of the Gabonese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alain Claude Billie By Nzé. On his Instagram page, he let his joy burst forth with a more than an evocative post: “we start the new year with dual nationality. I am  officially African. This is the most beautiful day of my life. By showing his new passport to his more than 11 million followers and posting on his Instagram account in a traditional African dress, so many people will be led to take an interest in the culture of Gabon and the continent in general. Other American stars long before him also made this move, such as the American singer Cardi B, whose latest clip, published in June 2019, received 71 million views on YouTube. On her Twitter page on 3 January, she said she wanted to acquire Nigerian nationality.

Before her, in August, American actor Samuel L. Jackson was granted the Gabonese passport. Several local media even reported that he will soon be appointed Gabonese ambassador for the environment. Ghana also benefited from this opening with the American film actor Michael Jai White, who had been inducted King of the Kingdom of Akwau in Ghana at the beginning of 2019. By this fact and by obtaining the Ghanaian nationality, he promised to “continue to represent and promote the beautiful land of Africa and its wealth”. Imagine then the benefits for Africa, if all countries unanimously adopt flexible and positive positions on dual nationality.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit : google image/illustration

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