African Citizenship for African-Americans

African People of Love! - Webmaster Newsletter - December 2010

Presidents from 12 African nations and private sector African American leaders began considering a proposal to grant dual citizenship to African-Americans in hopes of increasing  investment and interest in Africa at a summit in Abuja, Nigeria in 2006. The event was hosted by the Sullivan Foundation and included  former US President Bill Clinton and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. The summit considered granting either: Africa-wide citizenship through the African Union, Regional African citizenship, or individual country citizenship. Since that summit, there has been other campaigns by African Americans for African countries to allow dual citizenship on grounds that they are members of the diaspora and originally from Africa. They feel it will help them gain a better sense of cultural identity, thus healing the wounds of separation from Africa and giving an opportunity for mutual collaboration. African Americans, under this plan, would be allowed to travel freely to African, own property, and start businesses.

In  past discussions, problems arose over identifying which countries African Americans could legitimately lay citizenship claims to. However, since technologies have improved, DNA testing has allowed several African-Americans to trace there roots back to select countries. In Teresa Watanabe’s article, ‘Called back to African by DNA’, she highlights how celebrities like Isaiah Washington , have traced back their roots to Africa and are contributing to their ancestral lands. Isaiah became a citizen of Sierra Leone, after finding that he is a decedent of the Mende ethnic group and has since been contributing towards the development of the country. Likewise, many other Americans are seeking their African roots: Chris Rock- Cameroon, Whoopi Goldberg – Guinea Bissau,  and Oprah – Liberia (Kpelle ethnicity). The brothers that made up the 80’s band, “The boys”, moved to the Gambia a few years back and now operate music studios from Gambia . Under their new name, Suns of Light, they continue to produce music for both US (New Kids on the Block, Akon) and Gambian artists from their studio that is based in Gambia. They hope to promote Gambian music overseas (Interview: A Chat With ‘Suns of Light’). Despite many calls from African Americans to have dual citizenship offered to them, many African countries have not taken any extra steps towards this other than encouraging such a move.

Allowing dual citizenship would provide a sense of ancestral identity for African-Americans. It will also increase ties and trade between America and that respective country. In the sense of nation branding, it would make Africans appear warm, friendly, accepting and sympathetic towards the history of African-Americans. It would also be beneficial in carrying African culture to America using American born citizens. Oprah’s much publicized school in South Africa may have been built in South Africa in part, due to her belief that she was of Zulu origin. As a celebrity, she has helped bolster the image of South Africa  through her link with the school. No amount of advertising money can buy they type of publicity she brought for South Africa in choosing to build her school in that country. Even for the non-celebrities, people with dual citizenship can influence their families, churches, employers etc.. to invest, visit or work with a particular country. These dual citizens would help promote culture and development. In essence, it sounds like this would be a win-win situation.

So far, Ghana is the only country that legally allows for dual citizenship for African-Americans. Currently, there are an estimated 5,000 African-Americans living in Ghana. Other countries have been more hesitant. Perhaps, this is a more difficult move for those African countries that do not allow for dual nationality for their owned citizens that acquire citizenship in another country, or are born abroad to citizens. Perhaps landlocked countries that had fewer slaves feel that there is less linkage to African-Americans or perhaps there is the larger question involved as Anor, editor of Asante magazine aptly notes, “Just because your genetics show you came from a place, should that mean you can lay claim to that group of people or place now?”.

With Africa being the cradle of the humanity, essentially, anyone in the world could lay claims to African citizenship. Yes, some may feel inclined to dispute these distant claims using color lines, but does color define what it is to be African? Whilst I understand the plight for African-Americans in terms of self identity, I feel that African countries should tread cautiously in providing citizenship to large numbers of people that are distantly linked to the continent. One needs to consider the current image of Africa in the Americas. For example, a large number of African-American still have the ‘Tarzan’ image of Africa, and want little do do with the continent. Whilst some do not hold these perceptions, they are so pervasive to the point that they may inadvertently manifest in later dealing with Africa. Whilst we hope that African-Americans that discover their roots will have the desire to help improve the situation of their newly found cousins, we cannot assume that every African-American has good intentions and need to take protective measures.

If there is to be any dual citizenship, what I would propose, is to take the route of India. India’s diaspora is widespread and includes many Indians living abroad that have been in foreign land for generations. What they have done is introduced a new status quite like dual citizenship only with more limited privileges than what one would normally associate with dual citizenship. Like in the case of African-Americans, many Indians living abroad are many generations removed from India. In South Africa for example, the people of Indian origin have been there since the late 19th century and early 20th century. In the 1800’s many were sent to South Africa to work on the plantations as indentured servants (many involuntarily and on life contracts). South Africa hosts the largest population of Indians outside of India (about 1 million) and in some cities, like Durban, they are the largest ethnic minority (See: Indian South Africans). Given India’s situation, it would be problematic for India to incorporate that many people of Indian origin in to their already large population as full citizens. Instead, the government of India decided to grant the status of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) as a way to tap in their diaspora.  Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) of certain category who migrated from India and acquired citizenship of a foreign country other than Pakistan and Bangladesh, are eligible for grant of OCI. It is commonly known as ‘Dual Citizenship’ but Indian constitution technically does not allow dual citizenship. It is more similar to a ‘special status’ visa. Their benefits include: life long multiple entry, multiple purpose visas, exemption from reporting to Police authorities for any length of stay in India; and the right to work, study, visit, or own property (except in the acquisition of certain agricultural or plantation properties). People that hold OCI status may not vote or hold Indian passports. They may also not occupy constitutional posts such as President, Vice President, Judge of the Supreme Court or legislative posts (See: Passport and Citizenship – Dual Nationality)

In drawing parallels with India, in Africa’s case, African-Americans living in the U.S are also several generations removed, and also did not migrate purely from their own free will. A status similar to OCI would be suitable and perhaps more palatable for African leaders rather then conceding dual nationality with the same rights as a citizen. I will call the new proposed status ‘Overseas Citizenship of Africa (OCA)’. Like the India’s version, and OCA status would not concede the right to vote, change legislation, or hold high ranking government posts.It would make provision for multiple entry, land ownership (with restrictions), and the right to work, study or visit for an undisclosed period of time. It will hence facilitate trade, cultural sharing, and mutual understanding without the fear that exists in granting full citizenship rights to large groups of wealthy, and perhaps politically or culturally influential people (African-Americans are collectively the wealthiest population of black people). It would, in essence provide most of the benefits African-Americans are seeking from Africa, and it would provide Africa with most of the benefits they seek from the African-American diaspora.

Perhaps the biggest divergence from the Indian version that Africa may face with this level of integration, would be the language barrier. Unlike our Indian counterparts, Indians in the diaspora still largely speak or at least understand their mother tongue. African-Americans do not. Since language is a reflection of ones culture, I believe a requirement should be included that stipulates that person applying for OCA status, be required to speak at least one African language at the basic level. According to anthropological theory, the SapirWhorf hypothesis states that language determines culture, and thought process. It would be beneficial for African-Americans to thus understand the language so that they can better understand the culture. If citizenship is granted at the local level, than it should be the predominant language of that country that is required. If it is regionally based, than it should be a language of that region. At AU level, then any language should suffice.

Since the discussions of dual nationality for African-Americans started a few years back, I am sure that it will be a while before other African countries follow in the footsteps of Ghana. There are other factors that way in the minds of African leaders that prevent them from moving this forward. A major one would be justifying granting this type of status to African-Americans for countries that do not allow for dual citizenship for their own nationals that acquire foreign citizenship, nor for foreign born children to citizens. In this brave new highly globalized world, I feel that African leaders should be able to make bold decisions that are not carbon copies of western citizenship and immigration laws. A form of OCA status may be the way forward for brand Africa.

12 thoughts on “African Citizenship for African-Americans

  1. Proud hienz 57 American

    I think if they want to be known as something other than Americans then they should move to that country with no duel citizenship.

  2. Dan Oglesby

    African Americans are in no way empowered to determine whether an African should get American dual citizenship in return for African countries granting dual citizenship to African Americans.

    Also, if African Americans are bringing their money and experience from being oppressed for over 400 years, they should have the right to vote after a “trial period” since they will more than likely be required to pay taxes. Also, if they can help Africans learn the “Africa First” concept that leads to less corrupt leaders, then having dedicated AA’s who want to help work towards progress should not be considered a bad thing.

    To make the claim:“Just because your genetics show you came from a place, should that mean you can lay claim to that group of people or place now?”. is utterly absurd and highly insensitive. So if my blood brother was kidnapped and taken to a foreign country, does that mean I totally disown him simply because the kidnapping occurred in a country other than his own? SAD! I am over 90% Yoruba DNA.

  3. Angela

    As an African-American, I KNOW that we should be allowed to have dual citizenship solely because our ancestors were taken from Africa and withstood the atrocities of America. Just like any other person who reaps the benefits of their ancestors, so should the descendants of Africa who were enslaved. My ancestors weren’t given a choice to stay or go; they were FORCED to leave. In America, they were forced to obey, forced to submit to rape, forced to endure severe punishments and finally, forced to succumb to death. In spite of these horrific conditions, they SURVIVED AND THRIVED. Africa can NEVER take away the DNA that runs in us just like America can NEVER take away the DNA that they forced into us. Based on this evidence, how can we not be of both continents? We are and we will always be a people of both continents which only enforces the fact that we should have dual-citizenship. It is illogical that we should not be given the FULL benefit of what we would have received under our ancestors in either continent. As far as breaking up our “entitlements” Africa, the mere statement that we should not have a voice in the most important aspect of Africa (it’s laws) is ridiculous. The laws are what determine the education, the economy, the health care, the safety and everything else of the continent. I am confused when the writer states that the person returning from America cannot be involved in those vital activities since it denotes being enslaved again. It is akin to being whipped AGAIN as a slave by a master and WE as a people will no longer endure that negative rhetoric. At least Ghana gets it; they get that we do not want to live in a continent where we are oppressed in every activity important to America (even today) for NO legitimate reason. They understand that the majority of America still views us as inferior beings JUST BECAUSE of the color of our skin and the fact that we originate from OUR BELOVED AFRICA! When African countries say that African-Americans cannot become FULL citizens because we have not been there for generations, it sounds and is absolutely preposterous! Everybody in the present world is “generations” behind their ancestors. Does that mean that we all should not enjoy the benefits from generations past? Does it mean that I, as an African-American, should not share with my African family all of the benefits of the medications, inventions, ideals, education, and economic progress of my ancestors who were born in America? No matter how so-called “REMOVED” African-Americans are from our ancestors who crossed that ocean through no fault of their own, to even convey that statement is an abomination. We have no love from America and now this writer would also allow us not to receive love from our own mother continent? Disgraceful. In response to the idea that we should only have citizenship in America and cannot understand why we even call ourselves African-Americans (yet want to return to Africa because we KNOW that we belong), I believe that you are proving that you know nothing about your displaced brothers and sisters so here’s a tip: think of us as ONE, STRONG tribe that refused to have ANYTHING taken away from us INCLUDING our American citizenship for which our ancestors died for each and every day! You say that you believe every African-American should learn to speak a native language in order to gain citizenship. Are you kidding? We YEARN to learn our African language, our laws, our culture and everything else that Africa stands for because WE ARE AFRICAN and WE LOVE OUR HOME!!! WE LOVE AFRICA!!! I hope that this helps you and those who read this message a bit more about some of the feelings that African-Americans have had for centuries. Peace, knowledge and understanding.

  4. Please inform Chief X that I need to speak with him. I am Nana Kra Kwamina II, Tufohen, Elmina Ghana, African-American from Ohio, and I can be reached at ashe1ltd@gmail.com or 216.513.3266 domestically or internationally

  5. This article, while informative, needs a much broader, historically accurate, and cultural-psychological perspective which is missing as written. More specifically, the impact, duration and legacy of colonialism is much more of an enemy to Africa than the professed ‘concerns’ in the article. This is evident by the fact that virtually every African nation operates as a ‘neo-colonial’ subject of the former colonizing Master. Until Africa faces this harsh reality concerns about African-Americans – the ‘neo-slaves’ – are the least of Africa’s problems! Hoping to hear from Chief X.

  6. Given the history of African Americans in the New World, dual genetic African citizenship should be a given. There is no foundation for African distrust of African Americans. The current reluctance of countries like Tanzania to grant African Americans dual citizenship stems from their past distrust of Indian residents. It has nothing to do with African Americans. African nations need to become more magnanimous towards Africans of the Diaspora. Africans of the Diaspora need to learn the languages and customs of Africa so that they can more easily integrate into African societies. If Africa can absorb thousands of Chinese, why can’t Africa become more hospitable to New World Africans?

  7. Leon King

    I would love to become a citizen in Africa. I am a black American and I will gladly and proudly leave America to become a citizen in Africa. Please let me in.

  8. Leon King

    If I am allowed to become a citizen in Africa I will never go back to America. I wouldn’t want to even if I had to and again I will say my African brothers and sisters, please let me in.

  9. diamondluca1

    What are you talking about! Just because you get dual citizenship with another country doesn’t mean your not American!

  10. nema akhu el

    dual citizenship

  11. Fatimah Jackson

    African Americans have a right to dual citizenship anywhere in Africa. African Americans are an amalgamation of African peoples. Imposing language, financial, of genetic affinity requirements should not be a prerequisite for dual citizenship for African Americans whose ancestors were STOLEN from Africa and TRANSPORTED to The America’s AGAINST THEIR WILL. Many perished. All were tortured. Most were severely disenfranchised. malnourished, raped, whipped, beaten, and branded. Africa “leaders” SOLD their fellow Africans to the Europeans. In spite of these abuses, African Americans fought and died for the United States. But African Americans cannot get a fair deal in America and deserve dual citizenship to be fulfilled.

  12. James

    In June 2020, this an idea that should be revisited.

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