Written by Amadu Mansaray    PDF Print E-mail
Dual citizenship now enjoyed by Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora
News - Society

For thousands of Sierra Leoneans who left their homeland for greener pastures in Europe and America, the issue of dual citizenship is very important.
visa They campaigned and lobbied the Sierra Leone government hard to modify sections of the 1973 Citizenship Act which prohibits the holding of dual citizenship for Sierra Leonean nationals.

Diaspora citizens got a breakthrough at the “Homecoming" Conference in Freetown in December 2002 where the issue was hotly debated.  The most dynamic and outspoken speaker at the conference was then Ghanaian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Cabral Blay Amhire  who pointed out that since the Ghanaian government opened up the chance  of dual citizenship to Ghanaian nationals, the amount of foreign exchange coming into Ghana has increased. 

One benefit of dual citizenship he argued is that it encourages citizens to return while enabling them to use their unique influence as citizens of western nations to bring much needed development to their native countries, in other words he asserted that Sierra Leoneans abroad may be able to get foreign investors to partner with them to invest in Sierra Leone.

Sources within parliament say that it was at this time that the Sierra Leone government actually contemplated the right strategy in enacting a dual citizenship Act which was then put before the influential Law Reform Commission headed by Dr Peter Tucker.

In September 2006 the Sierra Leone Parliament unanimously passed the Dual Citizenship Act 2006.  The Act approved a measure legalizing dual citizenship, which immigration officials believed would benefit tens of thousands of citizens living abroad. Then Minister of Internal Affairs Pascal Egbenda, was upbeat as he heralded yet another move on the part of the government to open up the country for business, stating that Sierra Leone as a nation have finally amended portions of the Citizenship Act of 1973 which states that no person shall have Sierra Leonean citizenship and any another citizenship at one and the same time. Simply put, the amended Act means that Sierra Leoneans holding citizenship of another country and who by birth or by descent are Sierra Leonean are now eligible for Sierra Leonean citizenship.

What is dual citizenship from the legal point as stated in the Dual Citizenship Act? According to a Freetown legal practitioner, a person is considered a dual national when he/she owes allegiance to more than one country at the same time. However, he stated that a claim to allegiance may be based on facts of birth, marriage, parentage, or naturalization. He also stated that a dual national may, while in the jurisdiction of the other country which considers that person its national, be subject to all of its laws, including being conscripted for social or military service.

An official at the immigration department in Freetown stated that dual citizenship should be welcome news for all Sierra Leoneans abroad. “During my several years in this profession I can categorically tell you that for so many native born Sierra Leoneans who are now holding citizenship status of western nations, they find it difficult to go through immigration procedures that other aliens go through.” Sierra Leoneans no longer have to feel alienated, especially when they had to go through visa renewal procedures after they overstay. The new Act should help to reverse this trend and encourage Sierra Leoneans from abroad to stay and help build their country with their expertise and resources.

A political science student at the Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, stated that as a country that is heavily reliant on remittances from abroad, it is vital that those in the diaspora be given a significant opportunity to maintain their citizenship status in a country that they are contributing so much to.

However, the issue of dual citizenship in Sierra Leone is not without its downside, some observers have warned that there is a risk of it being hijacked by people with different motives. In this election year, local politicians are jittery about the potentially richer citizens of other countries parachuting into local politics. Whatever the downside of it, most analysts believe that the benefits of dual citizenship far outweighs the fears of a few local politicians.

The need for dual citizenship has been made all the more important because the US Embassy in Freetown recently revealed that remittances from Sierra Leoneans abroad constitutes a major chunk of the country’s GDP. Not to be outdone, President Ernest Bai Koroma has established an office of diaspora affairs at State House to look after the welfare of citizens abroad. If this is anything to go by there is an ultimate need to tap into the origin of those resources by encouraging thousands of Sierra Leoneans abroad to come home and use their dual citizenship privileges to build a better Sierra Leone.

And for Sierra Leoneans living abroad, no need to pay for a visa, just a Sierra Leonean passport and you are good to go home.