Malawi observed its fifty-first independence day this week. Millions of Malawians vast Diaspora gathered together on July 6th, 2015 to commemorate the day in solidarity with fellow Malawians living within the nations borders. They organized independence celebrations in the USA, South Africa, UK and other areas around the world.
Such annual gatherings in which they pay homage to Malawi reflect their continued recognition of Malawi as their homeland – regardless of where they reside or what passport they hold. It also reflects the desire of Diaspora Malawians to retain ties with Malawi.
As Malawians abroad convened, issues of their citizenship in a country that still does not recognize them as citizens came to the foreground.
The Malawi Washington Association (MWA) as an example, discussed dual citizenship this year at their annual panel discussion which was held at the Malawi embassy in Washington D.C. as did Malawians in other areas.
Simply stated, citizenship continues to be a priority for Malawians abroad. However, the realization of dual citizenship has been a slow process for Malawi.
In a region where its larger neighbors are quickly capitalizing on the benefits of dual citizenship, Malawi is yet to adapt to the current global trends. Therefore, Malawi’s citizenship laws continue to create obstacles for Malawians both the Diaspora and in Malawi.
Malawi’s Current Citizenship Laws
Malawians who leave Malawi and take up citizenship elsewhere are currently forced to give up their Malawian citizenship. This is because Malawian citizenship laws do not have a provision for dual citizenship for those above age twenty-one.
Therefore, many Malawians face the tough and emotional consequence of losing their Malawian citizenship if they take up citizenship elsewhere in order to increase their chances for employment or scholarship. The loss of their Malawian citizenship may mean a loss of identity or access to family property and land.
Women are further victimized by the dual citizenship laws. Women who marry foreign men are immediately stripped of their citizenship, whilst men are given choice as to whether they will retain Malawian citizenship or obtain citizenship from the country of origin of their spouse.
Such a system unfairly marginalizes Malawian women who want to get married to foreign spouses. It is not conducive to gender equality nor a world in which single women are more likely to travel abroad.
In brief, Malawi’s citizenship laws are problematic and in need of a major overhaul. In their current reiteration, they do not reflect the current globalized world, the needs of the Diaspora, nor the needs of Malawi.
How Lack of Dual Citizenship Holds Malawi Back
The current laws do not reflect the needs of Malawi. Malawi recently dethroned war-torn countries in Africa to earn the spot as the World’s poorest nation and is in need of an economic stimulus.
Malawi is simply not keeping up pace with the rest of the continent or region in terms of economic growth or corresponding policies that encourage growth such as dual citizenship. A country’s Diaspora is an economic advantage to that country because they participate in economic activities and bring in foreign exchange. Malawi’s Diaspora sends money which is used for building schools, creating businesses, paying tuition and supporting families who’s money is circulated in the Malawian economy.
In the majority of African nations, remittances from the Diaspora account for more foreign exchange and economic activity than foreign aid – and this is seemingly true for Malawi as well.
Beyond remittances, a nation’s Diaspora represents a network of ready and willing unofficial ambassadors who are development partners. They have skills, training and expertise that can be shared with their fellow citizens. Currently, many of these skills are being used to build other nations.
Like in much of the Global South, new global migration patterns has resulted in the development of a brain drain in Malawi.
The brain drain has become so pronounced that in countries like the US, African immigrants have become the most educated group. Dual citizenship laws will help mitigate this process by allowing Malawians in the Diaspora to travel back and forth and share skills with their counterparts.
Dual citizenship will also help the Diaspora create linkages between their home and host nations. They want to see Malawi prosper and develop but need the assurance that they belong to Malawi.
In today’s globalized world, many people see themselves as global citizens who can have allegiance to more than one country. It is akin to loving both a mother and a father. The current citizenship laws do not reflect these aspects of the globalized environments we live in.
The world has changed and the country needs to change with the world and not in opposition to it. Malawi cannot expect different results if it is relying on the same citizenship policies it set at the wake of independence – over fifty-one years ago.
The constitution was written to meet the needs of a world that was restructuring politically and economically. The cry, “Malawi for Malawians” was important in 1964 but is not relevant in a world which is highly mobile nor one in which traditional borders are disappearing because people are redefining geographic boundaries.
Malawi’s citizenship laws do not reflect the needs of a Diaspora who redefine what it means to be Malawian by gathering annually to celebrate the country of their birth or descent regardless of whether they have formal citizenship or not. Malawians in the Diaspora, including those born abroad, are seeking a sense of belonging to Malawi that is more than emotional – they need the political and economic security of their status as a Malawian which will encourage greater investment and interaction with Malawi.
They want to engage with Malawi. They recognize Malawi as their homeland and in turn, need for the Malawi government to recognize their connection and contribution to the country in a tangible way. The enactment of Dual citizenship laws will ensure this group as well as their offspring that the Malawi government recognizes them as Malawians.
In order to engage the Diaspora, the Diaspora needs to feel that they belong to Malawi, but not just in words – citizenship is important. Therefore, Dual citizenship laws should remain a priority for the Malawi government if they are serious about engaging the Diaspora.
It is important that as Malawians in the Diaspora gather annually to celebrate Malawi, their homeland is embracing them in return through policies that facilitate their participation in the nation. Until such a time, the Diaspora will remain a committed but untapped resource.