Michael Chilufya Sata, President of the Republic of Zambia, addresses the plenary session of the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012. President Sata has been a vocal opponent of dual citizenship for the diaspora, says blogger Sujata Ramachandran. (UN Photo/Luiz Roberto Lima)
Michael Chilufya Sata, President of the Republic of Zambia, addresses the plenary session of the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012. President Sata has been a vocal opponent of dual citizenship for the diaspora, says blogger Sujata Ramachandran. (UN Photo/Luiz Roberto Lima)

Dual citizenship for migrants living outside their country of birth is a contentious subject in Africa. In Zambia, for example, President Rupiah Banda added these rights to the First Draft Constitution in mid-2009, but it remains the focus of speculation and debate to this day.  The issue was debated in recent months in Constitution Conventions at the district and provincial level and here too opinion was divided. In January, delegates at the Northern Province Constitution Convention in Kasama rejected the clause, arguing that persons with dual citizenship display divided loyalties.[1] Chief Government Spokesperson and Information Minister Kennedy Sakeni urged participants at the Luapula Province Convention to refuse dual citizenship for patriotic and nationalistic reasons: acquiring of citizenship of another country was tantamount to rejecting one’s own. For other delegates, a person with dual citizenship no longer offered primary allegiance to Zambia. Deputy Labour Minister Ronald Chitotela argued that dual citizenship would make it easy for criminals to flee Zambia to other countries.  However, other areas like Luapula, and Eastern, Western and Central Provinces endorsed the clause, accepting that the diaspora be given rights similar to other Zambians. The topic will very likely be taken up again as early as next month when the National Constitution Convention is slated to debate the latest version of the Draft Constitution.

A vocal opponent of dual citizenship for the diaspora is President Michael Sata. Famous for his confrontational style (for which he has earned the dubious nickname “King Cobra”), he reportedly shocked diaspora attendees at an event in the UK last year with his provocative remarks on the negative impact of dual citizenship on Zambia. According to Sata, dual citizenship would increase unemployment among the Zambian poor by expanding the total number of Zambians and allow non-citizens to obtain citizenship.[2] He went on to advise the diaspora to return to Zambia and serve their country in the country.

This is not the first time the President has openly expressed his opposition to the diaspora and, for that matter, migration per se. During a previous trip to Botswana, he is reported to have commented that the Zambian diaspora have forsaken their country and not contributed to its welfare. He has also cited his personal experience of racism and alienation as a migrant in London, England, during the 1960s when he laboured as a menial worker at Victoria Station in order to emphasize the disadvantages of migration from Zambia.

Media coverage of the dual citizenship debate echoes these popular perceptions and concerns.  Some commenters see it seriously affecting “national security”. Like the President, they accuse diasporans of “running away from the country” and “abandoning the land of their ancestors”. The diaspora is seen as “unpatriotic” and wanting to gain added advantage in Zambia and other countries. As one person put it, the diaspora  wants to “eat with both hands”. Another observed that dual citizenship for diasporans cannot be seen as the “silver bullet” for various “economic problems” faced by Zambia.” A different commentator challenges the logic of dual attachment by asking why the diaspora would want to belong to two countries or “two families”.

On the other side of this debate is the Zambian diaspora itself.  Despite their residence outside the country, they emphasize their strong emotional, social and economic ties with Zambia.[3]  The diaspora “have their hearts rooted in Zambia”, despite “having a home in Canada or elsewhere” says Musaba Chailunga of the global network, Zambia Diaspora Connect (ZDC).  For others, the Zambian diaspora have “not forgotten their land of birth” or “motherland” despite living away from “home”.[4]  Results from a recent  survey show that the majority of Zambian diasporans regularly remit to Zambia and many survey participants expressed keenness to participate in its growth through investment, skills transfer, and philanthropic projects.[5]  In Ontario, for example, despite very small diaspora numbers, groups and organizations like Enanae Foundation, Global Lights Project, Masomo Education Foundation, Rural Action International are all attempting to “make a difference” through social projects in Zambia.  

Loyalty, belonging and value of diaspora are relevant subjects not only in countries of settlement, but carry significance in countries of origin too. The contemporary debate on the Zambian diaspora represents two contrasting perspectives on attitudes towards migration and migrants. In the traditional approach, migration is viewed pessimistically as a negative force, characterized by “brain drain” or the loss of educated workforce for communities of origin and their rejection by diaspora through emigration. The “lose-lose” tenor of this approach is countered by the other, newer view where the diaspora’s real and potential contribution is assessed more positively. Despite the distance, diasporans are seen as being invested, in many different ways, in their communities of origin.

While the diaspora cannot be treated as the panacea for all economic hurdles Zambia faces, or carry the burden of development (since migration itself is not without challenges), they can offer clear returns to sending countries. It remains to be seen whether Zambia will recognize and work to optimize these gains and benefits, or simply ignore them.

 


[3] Times of Zambia “Dual citizenship debate rages on”, December 24, 2012, http://allafrica.com/stories/201212241976.html

[4] Sichilima, Chasaya 2009 “Zambia” Citizens in Canada resolve to give back to the Motherland”, Times of Zambia, 8 October, http://allafrica.com/stories/200910080340.html

[5] Diaspora Liaison Office and IOM 2011 “Zambian Diaspora Survey: Report Feeding into the Development of a Diaspora Engagement Framework for Zambia”, Lusaka: Government of Zambia and IOM. 

Loyalty, belonging and value of diaspora are relevant subjects not only in countries of settlement, but carry significance in countries of origin too.
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