Africa Coming to Terms With a Growing Diaspora’s Dual Citizenship

A Ugandan-American family celebrate becoming US citizens at a naturalization ceremony in Boston. (AP photo)

Quartz Africa

African countries are having to come to terms with a growing diaspora’s dual citizenship

Earlier this year, Jawar Mohammed, the prominent political activist and media entrepreneur, who had returned home to Ethiopia from the US, looked set to challenge his former ally, prime minister Abiy Ahmed, in the country’s election. But there was immediately uncertainty created over Jawar’s eligibility simply because he had been a US citizen. Ethiopian law does not allow dual nationality and even though he written letters saying he’s renounced his US citizenship that uncertainty remains.

Jawar’s case is one of many that highlights an increasingly common issue for many African countries, who after years of battles with Western imperialism and colonial rule were determined at independence for their citizens to literally pick a side and not be allowed to carry the passports of other countries.

But in the 60 years since independence across the continent, the forces of globalization and transatlantic migration has seen dual nationality come up more frequently as an issue which needs to be addressed across politics and business through to sports.

Back in 1985, Saudi Arabia’s soccer authorities initially refused to hand over the trophy of the Afro-Asian Cup after losing to Cameroon in the finals of the tournament. They claimed Cameroon had fielded an ineligible player who was none other than legendary star Roger Milla, who had traveled to Jeddah on a French passport as he couldn’t also have a Cameroonian one.

Now, Cameroon is considering a revision of its nationality code which was enacted in 1968. The current law stipulates any Cameroonian adult who willfully acquires a foreign nationality automatically loses their Cameroon nationality.

But a new draft bill—a copy of which Quartz Africa has seen—says “a Cameroonian who has acquired another nationality shall retain Cameroon nationality unless it is expressly relinquished by the concerned.” The bill is expected to pass through with little challenge.

Some African governments have been reluctant to legalize dual citizenship, arguing the patriotism of people with dual citizenship could be questioned. But there’s also anecdotal evidence some of these governments are more concerned an influential and economically independent diaspora, able to move freely between countries, could support a challenge to the leadership.

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