In response to a perceived threat to national security, the framers of the Zimbabwean Constitution were clear in conferring powers to Parliament to make an election of whether to prohibit dual citizenship and define the circumstances in which persons could qualify for or lose their citizenship by descent or registration.
Accordingly, the citizenship laws of the country were amended on July 6 2001 in terms of The Citizenship of Zimbabwe Amendment Act No 12 of 2001 to provide for the prohibition of dual and/or multiple citizenship and in so doing provided an opportunity to ask key and fundamental questions about what it means to be a Zimbabwean citizen in the 21st century.
Many who hitherto thought birthright conferred on them a right to Zimbabwean citizenship were surprised when they faced the risk of losing the only identity they knew if they did not renounce the citizenship of their parents.
Others thought that the law was only targeted at white people only to find that it could and has been used against black persons in an African state.
Should a confident nation like Zimbabwe worry about its citizens’ ties to other countries? Does dual citizenship erode national identity and social cohesion?
These are the questions that have occupied the minds of people involved in the constitution review exercise.
So when it was reported on June 10 2011 that the operations of the constitution making body, Copac, were suspended after a deadlock was reached following fundamental differences over the issue of dual citizenship, it occurred to me that I should have my take on this controversial, divisive, complex and emotional debate.
To the extent that the process of constitution making is driven by Parliament, the issues have tended to take a political content and context and yet any constitution-making process must necessarily be people centered.
I should like to believe that what has been labelled as Zanu PF’s or MDC-T positions on this important issue in reality reflects the deeply-held views about citizenship and not necessarily the perceived opportunistic agendas of the actors and political parties involved.
The opportunity provided by the current constitution-making process of reforming Zimbabwe’s citizenship laws may very well end up being squandered at a time when it is generally accepted that there are millions of Zimbabweans who are residents and citizens of foreign states, most of whom are middle class and any human capital exporting nation would find an interest in these people remitting funds to their place of birth and in so doing create jobs.
The timing of the debate could not be better as the Zimbabwean government has taken a position on foreign involvement in the domestic political economy compelling a critical examination of what it means to be Zimbabwean let alone an indigenous person.
To the extent that the 2001 law does not allow those born in Zimbabwe and naturalised in foreign states including their descendants to claim Zimbabwean nationality, a problem exists in terms of deepening and sharpening the indigenisation thrust that is inclusive of all persons that have a legitimate claim on the Zimbabwean promise.
Zimbabwe is not alone in prohibiting dual citizenship. Only about approximately 90 countries officially permit dual or multiple citizenship implying that the thinking that informed the enactment of the 2001 law is not unique to Zimbabwe.
Some Zimbabweans do worry about divided loyalties but the real issue is should that be of concern? It is not unusual for people to exhibit a feudal-like fear of people who are free to travel and communicate hence the prohibitions that are prevalent on media freedom.
It is not uncharacteristic for parents to want to cling to some form of residual control over their children. It is emotionally difficult to accept that a person can have allegiance to more than one country let alone more than one person.
Zimbabwean law and policy on dual citizenship reflects the control psychology that dominates political thinking in many states where citizenship is based on ethnicity. It runs right down the nub of what it means to be a Zimbabwean.
Citizenship in the case of Zimbabwe was not invented and, therefore, it was founded upon a concept that the country truly belongs to sons and daughters of the soil.
When the founders worked it out at the Lancaster House Conference, in their minds a Zimbabwean as the core identity in the minds of nationalists was founded on ethnicity and no other consideration.
The question that we need to ask in the face of millions of Zimbabweans seeking a better life in foreign states is whether identity should continue to be based on ethnicity, economics, language and even culture.
Should citizenship be based on civic faith that says that there are citizens anywhere on the planet, only subjects and sovereigns, rulers and ruled?
It would be wrong to hold the view that dual citizenship threatens Zimbabwean citizenship, for holding that view will be to condemn the millions of non-resident individuals who continue to have a moral and emotional connection to their country of birth, to think to be outsiders and deprive the nation of their ideas and skills, and more importantly in exercising the political choices.
The Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution exists within Zimbabwean borders where the government is compelled to keep them secure.
It does not dilute the universality of the principles that inspired the liberation struggle of freedom (including the freedom of citizens to decide where to obtain a better life supported by civil rights in the host country) and self-government.
On the contrary, when Zimbabweans seek and obtain the citizenship of other states, and equally when foreign born person seek Zimbabwean citizenship, it must renew the sources of the liberties promised by independence when immigrants come to Zimbabwe to become Zimbabweans.
Dual citizenship is only possible when a Zimbabwean citizen acquires another country’s citizenship.
What then are the legitimate interests, if any, that are injured when a person voluntarily takes an oath of a foreign state?
Any confident nation that values freedom and liberty will not be affected by citizens who live and naturalise as citizens of foreign states.
Regrettably some of Zimbabwe’s founders take a traditional African concept of a citizen as a subject that the State has jurisdiction over when in reality an individual is sovereign and not the State.
The polity of Zimbabwe ie all the citizens are the true owners of the country and not State actors and inalienable rights must and should reside in individuals.
The democratic constitutional order that post-colonial Zimbabwe subscribed to ensures that the majority rules on condition that the minorities are protected including naturalised foreign-born citizens.
Citizenship is and ought not be based on race or ethnicity.
Some have taken an overly harsh and confused view of citizenship ie a use-it or lose-it approach to nationhood that in reality overlooks the reality that immigration in no longer a one-time life (birthright) event in a networked and globalised environment.
Zimbabwe needs innovation, ideas, skills and talent that can only be efficiently attracted by dynamic and flexible citizenship laws.
The assumption that some might be classified as “more Zimbabwean than others” because of where they were born or where they now live poses a danger to the viability and prosperity of Zimbabwe.
A new discussion that begins with what it means to be a Zimbabwean, rather than what it means to be a Zimbabwean citizen, is more important for a country that has invested a lot in externalised labour because ultimately in better understanding the difference between a nation and a citizen may provide lasting solutions to the challenge that is
posed by a monolithic approach to the question.
Indeed, Zimbabweans are citizens of the world and the sooner we understand this the more secure the country’s future will be.