HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsAfrica 2012 When minds meet citizenship and representative democracy

Africa 2012 When minds meet citizenship and representative democracy


Animals do not suffer the obligation of identity and, therefore, it is easy for an animal to cross borders without a passport.

It must be accepted that human beings also belong to the animal kingdom, but the genius of humanity is the ability to play God by creating artificial boundaries.

Human development has been characterised by continuous attempts to give each human being a character and identity that is specific and exclusive.
Nation states also take the character of persons to the extent that in the case of Africa, one can reduce the continent to 54 brothers or sisters as the case may be.

Each state has through the intermediation of a constitution and laws, the power to define citizenship and how such a valuable commodity can be acquired.

Citizenship gives the holder a sense of belonging and yet when understood in its proper context it becomes clear that it is a product of choice. Some may acquire it through birth while others may take lawful steps to acquire it.

The emotional aspect of citizenship is not the subject matter of my conversation, but it is important that when discussing identity and citizenship we deal with what matters to the individual.

Life is not permanent and, therefore, the identity that citizenship confers is temporary. Citizenship out of itself does not guarantee a better life to the holder.

All it does is to give holders a stage within which to play. A better life should naturally be a consequence of effort and geography does not guarantee a better life, hence we have seen many promising Africans choosing to play in other jurisdictions than the place of birth or heritage.

A better life we all seek, carries with it obligations at the personal, community and national levels. A connection is often made between citizenship and ownership of natural resources and using this connection an argument is then advanced that citizens should use the State and its actors to assert a better claim on the fruits of the process of exploiting resources.

The post-colonial African story has produced mixed results, but what is ironic is that a better life for all has been elusive. Naturally, post-colonial Africas failure to deliver the true promise of independence has been attributed less to the choices that we have made, but to the evil intentions of others particularly foreigners.

What kind of Africa do we want to see? The Africa that we have is able to distinguish between a Nigerian, for instance, and a Kenyan. We may share the same pigmentation, but ethnicity still has its place in informing the choices about what kind of Africa we want to see.

Zenophobia, indigenisation and citizen rights movements share the same values about what matters in building successful and sustainable societies.

A homogenous Africa is a theoretical and practical impossibility, but harnessing the diversity of Africa to produce a seamless identity notwithstanding the creation of the African Union, will continue to be work in progress.

We are different but geography should never be a basis for dividing us. We should be able to cross African boundaries like animals in search of a better life or pasture. Regrettably, the true purpose of God is lost in our inability to rise above ethnicity to a value-based Africa.

Most African states have chosen representative forms of governments. Republicanism implies that the governed have as much stake on how the state is governed as the governors.

The connection between the governors and the governed is mediated through elections. The voters ought to be the people who create and control state actors but in reality the opposite seems to characterise many African states.

The voters do not represent the universe. They only represent citizens who choose to exercise their democratic right to vote. It is this class of people, who are relevant in creating the faces and voices, that dominate many of our conversations.
Discussions on dual or multiple citizenships often produce their own absurdities.

Should people who have voluntarily chosen to acquire the citizenship of another state be treated as if they have not done so? Many Africans in the pre and post-colonial eras have migrated for various reasons and the question that arises is whether such persons must have a say in their countries of birth in terms of governance.

The construction of the state to the extent that it is premised on a contract between citizens and their creature ie the state carries with it some form of rationality that will create an absurdity if people who are remote from the consequences of their choice are permitted to vote.

The relationship between the state and citizens is involuntary in that the primary source of income for the state is derived from income generated by citizens.

The people who are elected have the obligation of administering the state on behalf of the people who live in the state and not those who have voluntarily chosen to be subjects of another state.

An individual can never acquire a dual personality, but only exists in the physical sense in the jurisdiction of residency. Africans who elect to acquire citizenship of other states must be active in the states where they are resident and in which they are contributors.

In an interest-based society, it is the responsibility of citizens to assert their rights and in the case of non-resident persons it occurs that they are not directly affected by any abuse of the state.

What they can conceivably claim is that they are indirectly affected by a general decline in welfare as their absence does not extinguish their connection to their countries of birth.

It would be ideal to confer a new status of friends of the country of birth to those who have elected to acquire the citizenship of another state.

Allowing for dual citizenship does not solve the geography problem and the obligations that have to be met by citizens in between elections. An African living in Europe, for example, must be concerned about how Europe is governed for it is in that jurisdiction that his or her funds are collected as taxes.

Africans living in Africa must be concerned about how they are governed and how their funds are used. An injured person, for instance, would not need the assistance of another to complain about an injury. It is time that injured Africans take responsibility for the choices they make.

If a quest for a better life is undermined by the state and its actors then surely it is up to the people relevant in the jurisdiction where the injury occurs to respond.

Giving the right to vote to people who are external will not solve the problems of Africa. What is required in Africa is that citizens wherever they are resident, take an interest in the affairs of the state. The states existence can never be in a vacuum. The stakeholders are compelled to take responsibility.

Human beings do make choices and when they decide to identify with a foreign state then surely they must be relevant in their adopted homes. Africa belongs to those who live in it. The future of Africa is secure if citizens take responsibility for shaping and defining its character rather than building models premised on outsourcing solutions and leverage.

The amount of time that has been consumed in discussions about the need to legalise dual citizenship and possible links to a responsive and responsible Africa exposes the squandered opportunities that we have failed to exploit by investing in platforms that seek to connect people of African descent and ancestry, equipping each other with knowledge and inspiring each other.

There are those who have elected to domicile themselves in foreign lands to inspire many Africans, but rarely do invest in platforms to showcase their status as foreign ambassadors. The need to work within an African network can never be understated.

What we do know is that any African who chooses to reserve the choice to acquire foreign citizenship is guaranteed of an African citizenship and when that day arrives the question of rights of such persons will not be an issue. It is only an issue when people want to have it both ways.

Africa needs partners and for every citizen who elects to live in another jurisdiction, there may be as many as ten who want to use an African address permanently.

Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

Previous articleBenjani lost out
Next articleDonald back on top

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading