By Assan Jallow, a Gambian Citizen Residing in the United States
Section 62, subsection (2) of the Constitution of The Republic of The Gambia (1997; Reprinted 2002) states that “A person who holds the citizenship or nationality of a country other than The Gambia, shall notbe qualified for election as President.” Section 70, subsection (2) and Section 71, subsection (2) also prohibit an individual with dual citizenship from serving as vice president, or secretaries of state and the cabinet, respectively. As the constitution is currently being reviewed by the Constitutional Review Commission through a consultative approach, I would be remiss not to take the opportunity to provide my opinion on the eligibility of an individual running for the Office of the President, or serving as vice president or cabinet member in the government. The executive branch, in practice, undoubtedly wields the most powers (delineated in Section 76) in our government. This paper puts forth the case to eliminatethe requirement that prohibits dual citizens from being eligible for the Office of the President, Office of the Vice President, and for other cabinet positions.
- Dual Citizenship and Conflicting Loyalties:Some will argue that dual citizens are conflicted when serving in high office.This may be a greater concern in some Western countries, but for a country like The Gambia, I will argue the contrary. It is clear that constitutions are tailored to the context of each country. According to a World Bank report (The Gambia: Social Safety Nets Diagnostic; 9 June 2018), poverty in The Gambia stands at 48.6 percent nationally and almost 70 percent in rural areas.
Hence, the overwhelming number of Gambians who acquire citizenship of another country do so not because of lack of loyalty or commitment but rather because of the limited economic and educational opportunities in The Gambia. These people find more attractive opportunities in their host or adopted countries, including ease of movement and greater economic and educational benefits.
I am yet to meet a Gambian abroad with dual citizenship who is not committed or loyal to his or her motherland. On the other hand, I am yet to meet a Gambian who would not jump at the opportunity to acquire a U.S. citizenship or other advanced economies’ citizenship. It is a known fact that the elite and the upper-middle class in The Gambia will move mountains to have their children born in the United States, a country that provides citizenship to all born within its territories. It is also common in The Gambia for government officials to have their wives give birth in the United States. Former President Yahya Jammeh, whose tenure saw the current constitution put into law, had both of his children born in the United States. The current President, Adama Barrow tried his luck in the United Kingdom and sent his son to the United States for schooling since coming into power.
Another argument is that people with dual citizenship may be biased in favor of their adopted country. This argument, in my opinion, is weak as governments or leaders all over the world, especially in developing countries, have always shown biased in favor of some countries over others. For instance, the previous government of The Gambia was cozy with the Republic of Taiwan while the current government is befriending mainland China despite the fact that the leaders have or had no ties to China or Taiwan. Politicians will seek the greatest personal or national benefit from any country irrespective of whether they have ties with that country. Therefore, it is the character of the leader and not his or her dual citizenship status that should be questioned.
Another argument is that people with dual citizenship will be able to seek sanctuary and run to their adopted country after leaving office, especially when they want to avoid prosecution. Almost all leaders or dictators who were forced into exile, including Idi Amin of Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seko of formerly Zaire, Hissene Habre of Chad, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, were able to find sanctuary in a country that they have no citizenship status.
Hence, the case against dual citizens vying for high office in The Gambia, in my opinion, is merely to narrow the political field and nothing to do with loyalty to country. It should be left to the electorate to determine ones loyalty and commitment to country. After all, many countriessuch as the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Israel do allow dual citizens to become president, prime minister, or chancellor. It should suffice for anyone elected or selected to serve in the executive to be required to make a declaration or oath of allegiance to The Gambia.
- The Diaspora and their Contributions to The Gambia’s economy: In 2017, remittances, that is money sent by Gambians living abroad, amounted to about $200 million (underreported due to large informal transfer channels) which contributed about 22 percent of GDP (the value of the whole economy). The level of remittance-to-GDP for The Gambia is one of the highest in the world. This further attests to the diaspora’s loyalty and commitment to their motherland, The Gambia. For a segment of the population that contributes so much to their home country, it would be grossly unfair and unpatriotic to exclude them from serving at the highest levels of government.
- Higher Level of Human Capital: According to the World Bank, The Gambia has one of the highest net migration rates in Africa as well as in the world. In 2015, according to a World Bank report (The Gambia: Social Safety Nets Diagnostic; 9 June 2018), 65 percent of 16-30-year-olds interviewed said that they have at least two friends or relatives who had migrated using the “back way”. According to the same report, The Gambia lies toward the bottom, ranking 173rd position out of 188 countries in 2017 of the UN Human Development Index. Anecdotal information suggests that The Gambia has a high number of people in the diaspora in positions of significant responsibilities, including respectable and senior positions at the World Bank, IMF, United Nations, African Development Bank, etc. Unlike other countries with great human capital, The Gambia cannot afford to exclude this group of people from contributing fully to its development, including running for and serving at all levels of political office.
- Persons Born with Dual Citizenship Status:More than ever, there are many people born abroad of Gambian parent(s). Hence at the time of birth, these people have automatic dual citizenship. For instance, a person may be born in the United States (a trend that is on the rise) by a Gambian mother and shortly upon birth, is taken to Gambia and spend most of his or her young life in The Gambia. This person would be a U.S. citizen by birth automatically and a Gambian citizen by descent (per Section 10 of the constitution of The Gambia). Section 12A, subsection (1) states that “A citizen of The Gambia who acquires the citizenship of another country may, if he or she so desires, retain his or her citizenship of The Gambia.” With the constitution allowing for dual citizenship, I strongly believe that the constitution should not then bar these same people from serving in the highest offices in the land, especially when these groups of Gambians do not acquire dual citizenship by their willful intent but rather through decisions made by their parent(s). Many in this group would hesitate to renounce their other citizenship to be able to serve in cabinet for fear of getting hired and fired by the president since there is no due process as the president is vested with powers to hire and fire at will.
I hope that as globalization continues, The Gambia will look both inward and outward for the best Gambians to run the affairs of our beloved country. The current political class should not see the diaspora constituency as a threat to their political viability but rather should make the political landscape more inclusive for allGambians, regardless of dual citizenship status.