6 August 2010

Kenya: Dual Citizenship Benefits the Elite and Raises Questions of National Security


Had Kenyans in the Diaspora been allowed to vote in the referendum for the new constitution on Wednesday this week they would overwhelmingly have voted "Yes" because it allows for dual citizenship.

It is the single most appealing benefit for the estimated two million Kenyans living abroad.

Here are four typical voices of some of the Kenyans in the Diaspora regarding the prospects of dual citizenship:

"I left Kenya 18 years ago to study medicine in the United States, found love and decided to settle in the US where I practise medicine. My little daughter Natalie would one day in future call herself a Kenyan-American because of her dual citizenship. My American wife, Tracy, a dentist, will one day realise her long-term dream of practising in Nairobi without being treated as a foreign mzungu."

Aonther says: "I am Juliet Kimakia. Dual citizenship is a step in the right direction for me. I have been toying with the idea of becoming a British citizen, but I could not reconcile that with losing my Kenyan citizenship. Dual citizenship answers my prayers."

Yet another Kenyan writes: "I live in Phoenix, Arizona, where I came to study computer science in the 1990s, acquired American citizenship, and now work for a multinational IT company. If the new constitution is voted in, then this is an opportunity for me to have two passports. I can visit my motherland without having to get a visa and pay visa fees, and I can travel freely to Europe using my American passport.

"I already have two passports, one Canadian, the other Kenyan. But I have been feeling like I am cheating each time I come to Kenya and present my Kenyan passport to avoid having to get and pay for a Kenyan visa. With Kenya recognizing dual citizenship, I can live like an honest man."

Dual citizenship, almost meaningless to the majority of Kenyans, mainly benefits Kenyan elites who work abroad and want to have the other foot in Kenya.

It is provided for in section 16 of the new constitution in these terms: "A citizen by birth does not lose citizenship by acquiring the citizenship of another country."

Dual citizenship was one of the non-controversial provisions. Most Kenyans saw the provision as innocuous -- merely recognising that Kenyans who acquire other citizenships should remain Kenyans. No real thought was given to the potential implications of dual citizenship, including taxation and conflicts of laws.

The advantages of dual citizenship are almost entirely for the people seeking it, not the state giving it; they gain a lot in terms of ease of travel and entry into the country and economic benefits despite having other citizenships. It is like eating their cake and having it too.

Kenya as a state has little new or nothing to gain. Remittances and investments by Kenyans in the Diaspora will always be made with or without dual citizenship. You don't have to be a citizen to invest in a country.

If anything, the country loses in visa fee collections, stimulated and accelerated brain drain, divided loyalties and possible betrayals (including espionage). In particular, the provisions for dual citizenship do not adequately take care of security concerns.

Only "a state officer or a member of the defence forces shall not hold dual citizenship", according to article 78 (2) of the constitution, while article 78 (3) exempts judges and members of commissions "or any person who has been made a citizen of another country by operation of that country's law, without ability to opt out".

It is also widely assumed that since countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Canada allow dual citizenship, it must be fine for Kenya. Nobody asked why countries such as Germany, Japan, China and India do not allow dual citizenship.

India, we must note, offers a modified form of dual citizenship, what it calls "overseas citizenship", which stops short of dual citizenship.

An Indian overseas citizen is given a special status that enables him or her to obtain a long-life visa to visit the country and obtain some economic rights.

Is this what we should have given instead of offering full citizenship?

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