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

Of interest:

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.

Passport limits

By 2010, a comprehensive study showed that 21 African countries, including DR Congo, Liberia, Algeria and Zimbabwe, prohibited dual citizenship. Meanwhile, 23 others permitted dual citizenship under certain circumstances like if acquired by marriage to a foreign spouse or allowed for citizens from birth only. Other countries did not address the issue of dual citizenship in their laws.

Despite these restrictions it is not unusual among middle class Africans to find people holding dual nationality in countries which don’t allow dual nationality, in part because many countries don’t have comprehensive systems for checking until they vie for office. In 2017, up to two-thirds of the presidential candidates in Somalia’s election held foreign passports while as many as 100 of its 275 legislators also held foreign passports. Eventual winner, now president, Mohamed Farmaajo, also held American citizenship. He had previously worked for the state transportation department in  Buffalo, New York.

Many African countries today have sizable diaspora communities, notably in Europe and North America, with an increasing economic, social and political influence aided by the improvement in communications and travel networks over the last couple of decades.

The World Bank estimates the African diaspora around the world at 30.6 million, but the figure could be even higher when unrecorded African migrants are considered. In 2019, remittance inflow from the African diaspora topped $48 billion. Such remittances in 2010 contributed to 2.6% of the continent’s GDP.

The IMF has estimated the African diaspora save an around $53 billion every year outside of the continent. There is a belief that if it was easier to invest in their countries of origin as dual nationals more of those savings would come to Africa.

Last year, Ethiopia’s parliament passed a bill to allow members of the Ethiopian diaspora, who have taken up nationalities in other countries, to invest, buy shares, and set up lending businesses in the country’s state-dominated financial sector.

Ghana seems to be one of the African countries which has been quick to recognise the potential of its diaspora and the advantage of granting them the possibility to hold dual citizenship. As early as 2000, it passed a law to recognize dual nationality for its citizens. The government of Ghana has since made efforts to attract its Ghanaian origin and other African descendant diaspora to return home, with the Year of Return, Ghana 2019 recording remarkable success.


Many African professionals and businessmen at home and in the diaspora want to pick up foreign passports for very practical reasons—they want to be able to move freely around the globe.

According to the Africa Visa Openness Report 2019, on average, Africans can only travel to 25% of other African countries without a visa. But holders of passports from North America and Europe can travel visa-free to more African countries than Africans.

Henley & Partners, the global citizenship and residency advisory firm which is set to open an office in Lagos, has pointed out that most Nigerians wishing to subscribe to their offerings have no plans to relocate. Instead, they just want to have a passport which makes it easier to travel without the unpredictability of visa applications.

The latest Henley Passport Index shows that two of Africa’s most populated countries, Nigeria and Ethiopia occupy the 97th and 98thpositions respectively on the index. The Nigerian passport offers its holders visa-free travel to just 46 countries mostly in Africa, while the number is 44 for Ethiopia.

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

Dual citizenship in Africa: ‘Benefits outweigh disadvantages’

Good overview of African citizenship policies:

Several African countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Ethiopia, reject dual nationalities for their citizens. In these countries the fear of people with two citizenships seems to be acute.

There are a number of African heads of state and high-ranking politicians who have dual citizenship themselves or roots in another country. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is a citizen of Somalia and the United States. Liberia’s former head of state Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has German and Liberian roots. Moise Katumbi, a leading DRC opposition politician, was an Italian citizen for 17 years. For this reason he was banned from running in the 2018 presidential election.

Pride or politics?

While the DRC does not recognize dual citizenship, an exception is made for children born abroad. They are allowed to keep both nationalities until they come of age at 21. Then they have a year to renounce one of their citizenships. An Ethiopian law of 1930 stipulates that Ethiopians acquiring another nationality will cease to be Ethiopians. Foreigners who want to become Ethiopians need to prove that they’ve already renounced or are able to renounce their original citizenship.

Tanzania also does not allow dual citizenship. In 2007, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe presented a report which recommended an amendment to this law. But the government argued that such a change represented a threat to peace, security and the Tanzanian population’s livelihood.

An infografic showing how African countries deal with dual citizenship

“It’s all a mystery, because the benefits outweigh the so-called disadvantages,” Ahmed Rajab of the Pan-African Institute for Strategic Studies, told DW. “The main benefits are to the economies of these countries,” he said. “Maybe it’s a question of pride. Maybe these countries are so proud of their nationality that they don’t want any of their citizens to acquire another citizenship.” Legalization would not bring about any new problems. On the contrary: “It has been proved in the case of Ghana, for example, or even Kenya, that the country benefits from the inflow of funds from the countries of the citizens who have dual nationality.” Ghana legalized dual citizenship in 2002. Kenya followed suit in 2011.

African leaders do not want to be challenged

Tanzanian analyst Gwandumi Mwakatobe believes there is more to the rejection of dual citizenship than mere pride. Many people often do not know where to get their information from so they believe whatever their president says. Mwakatobe believes that this works to the advantage of African heads of state. People with dual citizenship who live abroad “are exposed to so many things. They know so many issues regarding politics, regarding human rights. And they are very vocal. They criticize their country. They challenge the leaders from their original countries. Many African leaders don’t want to be challenged,” Mwakatobe told DW.

Two hands holding several Malian passports (picture alliance / Godong)Mali is one of the African countries that allow dual nationality

“I think that is a threat,” analyst Ahmed Rajab agrees. African leaders view people with dual citizenship as foreigners and don’t want them to participate in politics. “Because they have ideas on democracy, democratic processes and on how to run politics. It goes against the grain of the Ethiopian political environment, for example,” Rajab said. Dual citizens are banned from local politics in Ethiopia.

‘We are world citizens’

Gwandumi Mwakatobe considers this to be a useless strategy. “There is nothing you can hide in this world today, due to the communication technology. Even in the DR Congo, where they cut the internet, they were still communicating,” he said. The analyst also believes that states will benefit from allowing their citizens to have dual nationality. “We have to put in place good systems, good laws, that can guide us to make sure that we prosper,” he said. Increased business, transport of goods and networking with people abroad are just a few advantages of dual citizenship, Mwakatobe pointed out.

He would like every African country to build a bridge to the diaspora, to ease the way home for people with dual citizenship. “That is very important, because we are all citizens of this world, and not from one nation or the other. The whole world is ours. We are world citizens.”

Source: Dual citizenship in Africa: ‘Benefits outweigh disadvantages’