Being a Zambian citizen and a permanent resident in the UK, the lack of dual citizenship in Zambia has over time become an increasingly massive inconvenience in the pursuance of my activities as a diasporan engaged in work that involves development and influencing policy
As the Founder and CEO of Diaspora for African Development (DfAD), an African diaspora-led non-profit organisation that aims to contribute to Africa's sustainable and social economic development through harnessing the potential of the African diaspora for development, I have inevitably put myself on a collision course with the effects of the lack of dual citizenship in Zambia. The current Zambian constitution states that ‘a person shall cease to be a citizen of Zambia if that person acquired the citizenship of a country other than Zambia by a voluntary act, other than marriage, and does any act indicating that person’s intention to adopt or make use of any other citizenship’.
This all came to a head for me last month when I got an invitation to participate in the United Nations General Assembly Informal Interactive Hearing in preparation for the High-level Dialogue (HLD) on International Migration and Development, taking place at United Nations Headquarters on 15 July, and the Preparatory Civil Society Meetings preceding the Interactive Hearings on 13 and 14 July, organised by International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) in New York, USA. When I called the US embassy in London for a visa interview appointment, I was informed that the earliest date they could see me was 10th July. Given that I was scheduled to fly out to New York on 11th July, this was impractical because my passport and visa, if the visa was approved, would not be delivered back to me until 18th July.
There isn’t enough space in this article for me to describe in detail what went through my head at that moment. However, I can confirm that, like many other diaspora Africans with no access to dual citizenship who bemoan the prerequisite of first expending 3000% of our time, effort and energy just to level the playing field before we can hope to achieve the same objectives which only take 2% of effort for someone else in a similar position, I did contemplate becoming a ‘Secret Dual Nationality Holder’ like most have done in the past. Eventually, I opted to rant and rave on social media, as one does when in such a state of exasperation, and to also send an email to the US London Consular explaining why I should be given an urgent visa interview appointment! Consequently, I can confirm that ranting and raving to effect a change for something important does work because, within 24 hours of sending my email, I got a response from the US embassy informing me that I had been given an expedited appointment within the next 48 hours and, best of all, my US visa interview was successful, my visa approved and delivered on time.
It therefore fills me with hope to see that, as Zambia races towards its 50th independence anniversary in 2014, the experts mandated to analyse the Citizen’s Clause at the Sector Groups Convention in Zambia this year unanimously resolved to maintain the dual citizenship article in the first draft constitution as reported in the Times of Zambia newspaper. They indicated that dual citizenship was progressive as it would allow Zambians in the diaspora who had acquired wealth to invest in Zambia. They also stressed that a significant number of Zambians in the diaspora were unable to invest in Zambia because the current constitution had no provision for dual citizenship. The Sector Groups also adopted Article 20(1) which states that a Citizenship Board shall be established. Article 20 (2) states that parliament shall enact legislation, which provides for the composition of, appointment of members to, tenure of office of members of, and procedures to be followed by the Citizenship Board of Zambia. The group also unanimously adopted Article 19 under the Citizen’s Clause which states that ‘a citizen may renounce citizenship or shall be deprived of citizenship only if that person acquired citizenship by means of fraud, false representation or concealment of material fact’.
However, I am concerned that there may not be enough political will to see this through due to the mixed messages that tend to come from senior members of the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ). There is also an element of some resentment from parts of the general Zambian populace who believe that diaspora Zambians seek some form of special treatment. This is far from the truth. It therefore upsets me to read some of the arguments from opponents to dual citizenship in Zambia. The latest ones being that ‘a patriotic Zambian can never ever wear two coats over one body or have one leg in Zambia and the other in another country; diaspora have no allegiance to Zambia; we want to be more capitalist than the capitalists themselves; we are not proud to be Zambian..’. It is further argued that post-independence era expatriates working in Zambia never surrendered their citizenship, and that we are traitors who ought to be ashamed of ourselves for having obtained a good Zambian education for free just to go and benefit another country as economic refugees who clean the streets in out host countries.
As an organisation, Diaspora for African Development, is working extremely hard on a global level (despite our full time jobs, family commitments and lack of funding for its staff) to raise the awareness and importance of the African diaspora as agents of Africa’s socioeconomic change, and as inputs of skilled labour and bridge builders between countries of origin and destination who also help to stimulate not only economic activity, but transfers of knowledge, cultural and social norms. However, as I mentioned above, the prerequisite of first expending 3000% of our time, effort and energy just to level the playing field before we can hope to achieve the same objectives, which only take 2% of effort for someone else in a similar position, will never give us the opportunity to fully come into our own. And remarks like those above emanating from the continent only serve to perpetuate the status quo.
It is also very clear that these remarks are obviously directed at first generation migrants, like me, who still have direct ties to Zambia. And therein lies the other flaw. So, if I may, can I ask these opponents what will become of my 10-year-old daughter who had no choice of living in the diaspora, save by virtue of her being my daughter, and whom we have raised to value her identity as a Zambian and as a princess from Mufumbwe District, which is her birthright. Is she a traitor too? Besides eliminating my visa woes, Dual Citizenship will offer my daughter a platform to reconnect with her Zambian roots when she is older. She will have the possibility, like many other Zambian children of being raised or being born in the UK and other countries of destination, to live, work or set up a business in Zambia. Many Zambians, like other African nationals, have been migrating to foreign countries for a countless number of years now. Those enslaved during the Middle Passage also qualify to being included in this assumption because people migrate for several different reasons, both voluntary and non-voluntary.
As the African Union celebrates 50 years of Pan-Africanism, Nelson Mandela’s words come to mind, ‘To this day we continue to lose some of the best among ourselves because of the lights in the developed world shine brighter’. Article 3(q) of the AU’s amended Constitutive Act ‘invite(s) and encourage(s) the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of our continent, in the building of the African Union.’ It is only apt therefore that the African Union has invited the diaspora to the negotiation and discussion table to establish a solid Working Plan of consolidating and involving its diaspora going forward. And we are happy to accept! There is a need for the creation of an enabling environment, both in the country of origin and destination, that will allow the African diaspora to fully come into their own. Just as in the case of all the raw materials that Africa is so rich with but yet is still so poor, we, its diaspora, are a wasted resource that African leaders are only now beginning to acknowledge.
My colleague Daniel Mwamba, a member of the Zambian diaspora in the UK and publisher of UKZAMBIANS Media, was fortunate enough to attend the Constitution National Conference last March whilst visiting Zambia. This was the final stage for writing the Draft Constitution before it goes to parliament and the president for approval. According to Daniel, the current situation in Zambia now is that ‘The Constitution National Conference adopted Article 18 of the draft constitution which provides that a Zambian Citizen can acquire dual-citizenship. Article 18 (1) in the draft constitution states that ‘A citizen shall not lose citizenship by acquiring the citizenship of another country’’. He added as well that the proposal was widely supported by many delegates. I therefore wait, like all other quintessential Zambian and African diasporans, some with access to and others with no access to dual citizenship, for both the ratification of the amendments to the African Union Constitutive Act by member states and the final sign off of the Dual Citizenship clause by President Michael Chilufya Sata of Zambia. We wait with the hope of realising the dream which is an African Renaissance that includes the diaspora.
Now that the ‘little huddle’ of US visa application has been crossed and my bags are all packed and ready to fly to New York on 11 July, I am looking forward to getting on with the real job of preparing to get the diaspora on to the United Nations High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development’s agenda this year. As DfAD, our participation will focus on the theme: Human Development, Diaspora Action; (1) Ensuring migrants’ and migration’s rightful place on post-2015 development goals and (2) Engaging migrants and diaspora as entrepreneurs, social investors and policy advocates in development.
Let Africa harness the potential of its diaspora for development.
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