Malawi is failing to adapt its citizenship policies to meet the needs of this new globalised environment. For the past several years, African nations have been bestowing dual citizenship rights to their Diaspora.
Malawi’s neighbour Zambia recently joined the ranks of countries offering Dual Citizenship, leaving Malawi in the minority of African countries that do not extend citizenship rights to their populace. Whilst its neighbors move towards this trend to improve their viability, the move toward Dual Citizenship in Malawi seems to be sluggish at best and stalled at worst.
Currently, more than half of African nations offer Dual Citizenship to their Diasporas. It is a way to facilitate their nation’s growth in in the backdrop of globalization and economic growth on the continent. Their Diasporas contribute to the economy through remittances sent home which is used to pay tuition, buy groceries, invest in businesses and infrastructure projects. According to a World Bank Study, remittances to the continent reached US$32.9 billion in 2014.
Their Diasporas also helped overcome some of barriers to trade from abroad such as cultural differences or lack of trust and information. Therefore, embracing Dual Citizenship laws has been conceived as a progressive approach to nationality laws for them, signaling a willingness to adapt to the global political economy. Malawi’s deteriorating economy is in desperate need of such reform and innovative financial approaches that factor in the nation’s future.
Dual Citizenship seems like an easy part of the solution yet, Malawi seemingly continues stand by and watch whilst its neighbours move forward. So what has been contributing to the lukewarm approach to deliberating Dual Citizenship in a poor nation such as Malawi which is in desperate need of innovative approaches to growing its economy?
Lack of Public Support
Gaining general public’s popular support on this issue is important for enacting the laws – public opinion has always been beneficial for advancing national policy as it galvanises politicians to action.
It is also important for preventing a potential backlash against Diaspora Malawians which may manifest as witnessed in countries such as Liberia where their Diaspora began to be perceived as “foreign” and the sole beneficiaries of Dual Citizenship. Simply stated, the Malawian public needs to perceive themselves as stakeholders and beneficiaries to advance the debate.
Malawi’s general public does not draw connections between domestic economics, international trade, and Dual Citizenship laws – for many, it does not seem to affect their well-being nor that of the country. Therefore, the public may not be attuned to the importance of Dual Citizenship for emerging nations.
Therefore, detractors tend to focus on issues of patriotism or are unwilling to see “others” benefit “unfairly” to their limited understanding of the issue. In absence of an earnest attempt at making this debate public, the benefits it provides have not been well communicated or framed. Consequently, there is a need for the public to be sensitized about it so that they can support it.
Malawi’s political leaders need to be sensitized just as much as the general public. It is clear that some Ministers simply don’t support Dual Citizenship, and perhaps, their role in the debate is the most oft cited reason that it’s not receiving widespread support among both the public and decision makers.
Many of them do not consider themselves as beneficiaries of Dual Citizenship and are quick to dismiss it. During a 2014 Presidential running mate debate, when pressed on the issue of Dual Citizenship, one UDF candidate stated that the issue was a matter of “principle” and would not be discussed if his party were to come in to power – such a brazen proclamation on a national stage provides insight in to the type of heavy-handed reactions and lack of foresight with regards to this issue.
Some of Malawi’s leadership fail to link Dual Citizenship to the economic health of the nation. Rather, they seem steadfast on blaming Malawi’s economic problems solely on the usual suspects – donors, poverty, geographic constraints or the mindset of Malawian people – that is, everything except inadequate government policies. Therefore, their solutions center on traditional non-structural solutions such as changing administrations at the next elections or striking oil!
Malawi should not expect different results if it is going to use traditional policies. Some major reasons that Malawi continues to watch it neighbors grow whilst remaining stagnant is because its leadership has displayed lack of political will to harness change, apathy, disinterest, short-term vision, lack of vision altogether or restraints because they are thinking about how it affects their own welfare or political future.
Critics have noted that Malawian MPs clandestinely believe that Dual Citizenship will bring an influx of Diaspora Malawians who will compete with them for business or political positions. Whilst this is possible, one needs to consider that those in Malawi have the advantage of already being on the ground and hence closer to voters or potential employers.
The other reality though is that not all members of the Diaspora are interested in working in Malawi or have political ambitions – many just want to secure homes for themselves or family. Therefore, such apprehensions are often fantastical and may be misplaced.
They also highlight the possibility of politicians not wanting others to be successful in their endeavors due to gluttony or envy which is explained by the recurring responses from them that Diaspora Malawians just wants to “eat from two pots.” The aforementioned reasons may be indicative of leadership focused on personal interests rather than national ones – if we cannot allow healthy competition within the country, how does Malawi expect to compete with foreign countries?
Towards National Interests
Dual Citizenship should focus on the political players rather than the game. Focusing potential Diaspora business or political competitors rather than a larger blueprint for development at the expense of national interest is problematic. We should not be drafting laws based on individual interest and political maneuvering, but instead on how we want to structure our political system to benefit the nation regardless of the current players.
Albeit its benefits, Dual Citizenship is one of those issues that has been wrangled up in contemporary politics rather than being treated as what it is – a strategic move towards a broader vision for a country that wants to actively position itself to harness growth in a new global world order.
Until then, Malawians will continue to be told by each subsequent administration that they are considering Dual Citizenship, while the issue continues to be seemingly tangled in bureaucracy and political maneuvering.