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Draft law raises hopes over dual citizenship

By | Nov 15th 2009 | 4 min read
By | November 15th 2009

By Kenfrey Kiberenge

Two days after winning a marathon in 2007, Kenyan-born Mushir Salem Jawher – previously Leonard Mucheru – was stripped of his Bahraini citizenship for competing in Israel.

And so Jawher became stateless, since he was assumed he had denounced his Kenyan passport when he acquired that of Bahrain in 2004.

Imagine also having to queue in different lines with your own children simply because they are regarded as foreigners and you are Kenyan.

Your only mistake is being a woman.

This is the experience Ms Koki Muli, the executive director of Institute for Education in Democracy, has had to contend with.

"My children are French and they have to get a permit to live in Kenya. It is more traumatising when we are travelling because we have to queue on different lines as different nationals, here and abroad," she says.


In the Constitution, a man can bestow citizenship to his foreign wife, and subsequently his children, but the same is prohibited for a woman.

Muli, who is married to a Frenchman, says she is the only Kenyan in the family.

"I am waiting for the new constitution with bated breath because it is very traumatising," she says.

These two cases represent the dilemma of the more than three million Kenyans living abroad.

As other countries pursue multiple citizenships, Kenya is still grappling with the law that prohibits dual citizenship.

Those who are working or studying abroad are also denied several services by host governments — such as subsidised healthcare, education and tax relief.

Egara Kabaji, the spokesperson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, adds another twist to the debate.

He says most Kenyans in the Diaspora miss out on opportunities for better jobs just because they are foreigners.

"Have you ever wondered why most professionals, especially in the US, take up shoddy jobs?" poses Prof Kabaji.

But even as the debate over whether to include dual citizenship in the new constitution continues, some say politicians are waiting to use it to win support of Kenyans in the Diaspora come 2012 General Election.

Lawyer Paul Muite says the clause denying dual citizenship was included to ensure people from certain countries do not settle in Kenya.

"Now, these fears do not exist. Actually, it is the other way round: It is Kenyans who are going to those countries," says Muite.

He argues many Kenyans have been denied citizenship of other countries on grounds their countries do not allow dual citizenship.

"As a result, they cannot benefit from services such as subsidised healthcare from the host nation, which they fund. In effect, it means they cannot contribute more to the local economy," he argues.

Kenyans abroad

The Kenyan community abroad has contributed immensely to the economy through remittances. Experts say this could increase with the provision of dual citizenship.

Statistics released by the Central Bank last week, show Kenyans abroad have pumped into the economy Sh207 billion between January 2004 and September.

Last year alone, they remitted $611 million (about Sh46 billion).

Kabaji says a survey is being conducted to ascertain the number of Kenyans abroad.

He says estimates indicate there are more than three million Kenyans in the Diaspora.

"Their remittances are now beating coffee sales," he observes.

Muite, who chaired the Departmental Committee on the Administration of Justice and Legal Affairs in the Ninth Parliament, believes dual citizenship should not await the new constitution since it is not contentious.

In the run-up to the 2007 General Election, his committee tagged this as one of the amendments in the proposed minimum reforms.

"All political parties were in agreement we should have dual citizenship but the Government sabotaged reforms," recalls Muite.

During the campaigns, the three leading presidential contenders dangled this carrot to Kenyans in the Diaspora, while on trips abroad.

Kibaki’s promise

Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s ODM-Kenya had dual citizenship in their manifestoes. President Kibaki promised the new constitution would provide for this.

But two years down the line, little has changed. Instead they are banking on the new law, which has always been a pipe dream.

"All you need is a constitution amendment Bill and it won’t cost you a thing to get the two-thirds of MPs to support it," says Muite.

But Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo calls for patience, saying the new constitution is in the horizon.

"If going by the Press reports, then the Committee of Experts has finalised the harmonisation of the draft constitution," Mutula says.

The minister says because of the draft constitution, it would not be wise to go for piecemeal amendments.

Kabaji is also optimistic the new law would allow dual citizenship. "Clamour for dual citizenship is no longer an issue. It is just a matter of time before it is actualised," he says.

And in the unlikely event it is not passed, Mutula adds, "We will amend the Constitution to allow for dual citizenship".

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