Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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The Dual Citizenship Debate in Somalia

By Liban Ahmad

A friend of mine who went to the former College of Political Science and Journalism in Somalia had told me in 1990, that Somalia did not allow its citizens to have dual citizenship. The Somali government of the day would not permit someone with citizenship from another country to retain his/her Somali citizenship. An argument based on credulity can be made: leaders of the military regime (1969-1991) were more patriotic than the present-day Somali leaders. The rhetoric of the government was a product of the 1970s sloganeering campaigns based on socialism. What one can say with confidence about the twenty-plus years of dictatorship is that military leaders and their civilian co-leaders were honest when it comes to sharing data about national development strategies.

When the government introduced economic liberalisation in the 1980s followed by an IMF-guided Structural Adjustment Program, plantations in Lower Shebelle were handed over to companies. “75 percent of the earnings leave the country, such investment does not enhance Somalia’s capital accumulation fund”, wrote Professor Abdi Samatar. Empirical evidence undermines the patriotism narrative many people unquestioningly attach to the former military dictatorship.

In 2015 when Somali Federal Government representatives were touring Europe and North America to consult the Somali Diaspora on the Citizenship Bill, Diaspora members came out against granting of Somali citizenship to a non-Somali person. In a seminal essay, Professor Afyare Elmi of Qatar University argues: “citizenship is an offshoot of a state, and the essence of the state of Somalia is contested.” Which brings me to a question asked by another friend in Mogadishu: how can a minister or a director general with dual citizenship protect the national interest of Somalia? Implicit in the question is the unspoken assumption that a fundamental criterion for not being manipulated or pressured by a foreign country is to have only Somali citizenship. This issue is not about loyalty; it is about citizenship.

A large segment of the Somali people is known as the Fifth Clan (aka others). Members of the Fifth Clan do not dominate a clan fiefdom to enhance their power-sharing role in Somalia’s foreign-sponsored politics. They only retain a token political participation. Most members of the Fifth Clan have been forced to flee Somalia.  Suppose an MP from the Fifth Clan who has dual citizenship and an MP from one of the four major social groups are being interviewed for a position in the government. One requirement for this hypothetical job is to establish beyond any doubt that a winner will not be susceptible to foreign pressure. If you are a member of the selection committee, you will have to take into account one political fact.  The other candidate belongs to a clan whose politicians have been funded by foreign countries in addition to selling fishing licences to foreigners and displacing unarmed clans from their houses to allow their clansmen to dispossess rightful owners of properties and farms. If a foreign country (the country that granted him/her citizenship) can pressure or manipulate the MP from the Fifth Clan, isn’t the MP from the major clan equally vulnerable to the predatory political habits of his/her clansmen?  The above scenario puts a question mark over the relevance of citizenship to the Somali political dynamics of 2017.

Taking Al-Shabaab’s stance on the question of Somali citizenship into account will add another layer of complexity to the citizenship debate. Al-Shabaab views to be Muslim, regardless of origin, as the main requirement to belonging to Somali territories.  Its conception of citizenship runs counter to the Somali nation-state.

My friend in Mogadishu tells me that money sent by Somalis in the Diaspora is the lifeblood of the ubiquitous mobile money transfer services in many parts of Somalia. My friend should worry when the first generation of Somalis in Europe, North America and Australasia retires. Their siblings may not feel obligated to send money home or invest in ventures in the homeland towns of origin. When that happens, I hope Somalia will have had a functioning state and a mature political class who learned from mistakes of their predecessors.

Liban Ahmad

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