Gambia Diaspora Voting Rights Imperative!
Alagi Yorro Jallow
Mamudu: A good percentage of Gambian in the Diaspora community are bitter, malevolent, opinionated and angry. How comes the draft Constitution submitted for review did not explicitly and unambiguously include Gambians in the Diaspora community to participate in elections as well as those with dual citizenship to be eligible to hold elective (public office) as Diaspora representatives in the National Assembly like other countries?
Mamudu: Senegalese diaspora representatives received extra seats in parliament almost 10% of seats in parliament underlining the key role that Diaspora play in the Senegalese nation’s economy. For a long time, geographical marginalization was reserved for those in the Gambian diaspora, however, would not ideally be considered a marginalized community because it is economically powerful, sending home more than 22 percent of the GDP in remittances annually.
Mamudu: In reality, the diaspora is a forgotten population by the fact that it is a politically disenfranchised constituency, having been denied the right to vote and be voted, as expected in this draft Constitution. The path to the Gambia’s nationhood has been ridden with the marginalization of the Gambian diaspora. Marginalizing those whose political rights have been suppressed.
Mamudu: Being a Gambian is the most important thing, and once a person is a Gambian, particularly by birth and parentage, he or she can hold public office EXCEPT President and Commander In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the republic of the Gambia (Pursuant to section 92 (1)a of the draft constitution, you are disqualified to run for the presidency if you “holds the citizenship or nationality of, or in any other manner owes allegiance to, a country other than The Gambia.”). Gambians with dual nationality can be appointed and nominated in the civil, diplomatic and in the public service. The Gambia owe it to those who fight for inclusion and for tearing down discriminatory laws because when they win, we all win. Diaspora are qualified as Gambians whose dual nationality are a result of the “operation of that country’s law, without ability to opt out”
Mamudu: Having dual citizenship would not rob the holder of his/her primary citizenship. What is required for holding public office is for the person to be a citizen of the Gambia. There should be no law because you have dual citizenship, you are disqualified from holding an elective post or senior position in the Gambia government civil, diplomatic and in the public service. Nothing should be debarring any Gambian citizen from holding public offices as long as the person is a Gambian. What is important is for the person, either vying for a political office or being nominated for a position, to be a citizen of the Gambia and be qualified to hold such office. No law disqualifies anyone with dual citizenship from assuming public offices. This is perfectly Diaspora Gambians expect within the new Constitution, and there is no logical reasoning to support calls for a new of Constitution in order to disqualify Gambians on the grounds that they are dual citizens.
Mamudu: Political exclusion, like any form of marginalization, implies the suppression of rights. The Gambia diaspora has an active history of struggle for inclusion dating back to the turn of the millennium. It started with the push for dual citizenship. Gambians in the diaspora, especially in the US, and who had settled there with their families began to understand that they were here for the long-haul and they needed to secure a structured belonging as transnational citizens.
Mamudu: They learned from diasporas who had settled in the US for decades that no matter how long they stayed away from home, they still pledged allegiance to their home country. Jewish, Irish, Filipino, and other diasporas in the United States have become powerful contributors to their home countries’ political and economic wellbeing while still maintaining active participation as citizens of the United States.
Mamudu: The diaspora community is growing, and the government must address the issue of political exclusion. Opportunities to make this viable between the government and the diaspora are there. Voting is the most powerful of political rights, giving every individual citizen an equal voice regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, or wealth. Diaspora voter inclusion is an imperative that would strengthen the sense of nationhood and attract investment from an endowed constituency that is seeking to play a role in nation-building.
Mamudu: This demand is not only unrealistic, but it is also sinister and cruel to require someone with family in the Diaspora to shoot themselves in the foot in order to serve their country. It is also worth pointing out that it is global standard procedure for countries to appoint dual citizens as high-level diplomats. The United States has enough of these examples, starting with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who is Czech-American. The generous Internet will yield more good examples from several countries that have discarded the self-defeating and parochial view that dual citizens are to be feared, shunned and their role in nation-building limited.
Mamudu: This fear of dual citizens and Gambians in the Diaspora in general, has often elicited the open disdain of some Gambian politicians for Gambians living abroad. When this disdain and dismissal translate to a suppression of citizens’ rights and opportunities, then it inevitably becomes a legal battle. Gambians in the diaspora have never shied away from the fight for justice and inclusion. They have fought to make it clear that living a few hours away is a silly and unjust reason to be discriminated against and that legally holding more than one passport is not a measure of one’s loyalty or patriotism. It takes smart leadership to recognize that inclusivity of all citizens regardless of their global residence is visionary in the globalized 21st century and that attempts at exclusion are toxic to the nation as a whole.
Mamudu: It is also astonishing that the oft-quoted Diaspora remittances cease to count as a mark of loyalty for Gambian legislators’ intent on dismissing the Gambian diaspora’s fight to belong and to serve. Let us be very clear that recognized belonging is the right of every citizen. Gambians in the diaspora actively show their belonging by investing their hard-earned billions in their home country and, like every other Gambian, they partake in nation-building every day.
Mamudu: Most Gambians who lost their citizenship did so because of the autocratic regimes of the past as well as the constitutional rigidity of the old Constitution that we rejected. If the past regime were not despotic, a few Gambians would not have had a reason to flee from the Gambia let alone relinquish their citizenship by operation of the equally authoritarian constitution. Their actions were part of the struggle for a new Constitution, their plight directly influenced some formulations in the Constitution. These, and those in their circumstances, must never fill forms to regain their citizenship. The Gambia Citizenship and Immigration Act is blind and insensitive to Gambia’s quest for justice over its past ill-bend rule.