Friday, October 1, 2010

Three Paths to Dual Citizenship

For the past six years, I have worked on the issue of dual citizenship for members of the Africa Diaspora. Anthony Archer, an attorney and professor at the University of California Dominguez Hills, who became interested in the issue as the result of attending a Leon H. Sullivan Summit, has been with me on this journey from the beginning. He wrote a paper on the subject that provides background on this increasingly relevant subject. He joined me in the task force I organized a year ago for the Sullivan Foundation, along with Faruq Muhammad and I. Nia Rogers of the UNIA/African Communities League; Dr. Lisa Aubrey of Arizona State University; Paula Coleman, Tendai Johnson and Eurica Huggins of the African Diaspora Ancestral Commemoration Institute, and more recently, Dr. David Horne of the University of California Northridge.

What I have found through this work is that there are three predominant and equally legitimate paths for the pursuit of citizenship in an African country, while maintaining citizenship in the United States. Each of us has our preferences, but on our task force, we respect the decisions made by individuals unless their concepts are so unworkable that they would not only fail, but could lead others to failure as well.

For example, during the second of our two workshops on dual citizenship in Atlanta, Georgia, the other day (the first was in Washington, D.C., two weeks earlier), a woman identifying herself as an “ambassador” said all one needed was a letter from the president of an African country or even a governor to travel to any African country and to obtain land.

First of all, what airline would allow you to get on a plane from America or Europe these days with no visa where required from the country to which you are visiting? Even if you did manage to take the flight to a country with no visa (one can obtain them sometimes at the airport), no letter will get you into a country without permission. Ask yourself this, all countries have a process of obtaining a visa to enter unless they require no visas for residents of selected countries, so why would a government circumvent their own visa system?

As for land, yes, members of the Diaspora were dispossessed of land their ancestors owned or might have owned had they not been kidnapped into slavery. However, to imagine that you can walk into a country and claim land from a government or from people who legitimately own it is not only absurd, it is incredibly selfish.
This kind of magical thinking is why our task force pursues three paths we consider legitimate and reasonable.

First, with the introduction of DNA testing by companies such as African Ancestry,
members of the African Diaspora can now pursue citizenship in countries in which those from their ethnic group now reside. The test, which draws on DNA data from throughout Africa, shows you where the specific branch of your ethnic group resides today. It will not tell you where they were when your ancestors were stolen away, but then the borders established by the colonial powers were and are artificial and do not reflect the normal migration patterns that have held for millennia.

We believe this DNA testing can be further certified by African scientists if necessary so that African governments will find the results conclusive for the purpose of honoring the Right of Return. This international code was codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving any person the right to return and re-enter his country of origin. Without conclusive evidence that we came from a specific country, it has been difficult for members of the traditional African Diaspora to successfully invoke the Right of Return. Now we have science in our corner.

Second, African leaders have called on members of the African Diaspora to come to their country to help rebuild for the future. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana made this call in the late 1950s, and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made the appeal this year. For more than 50 years now, members of the Diaspora, without any proof of ethnic linkage to Ghana, went there to become a part of Ghanaian society. Others went to Tanzania because of their respect for what then-President Julius Nyrere was trying to accomplish.

While many in those countries appreciated their efforts at building businesses and employing people, most Diasporan émigrés have not been able to become citizens in the country to which they have devoted so much of their time and energy. That is an injustice that must be corrected.

Third, the UNIA/African Communities League is following the path set by the late Honorable Marcus Garvey back in the 1920s. At that time, only Liberia, Ethiopia, South Africa and Egypt were free from colonial rule. Mr. Garvey was the only leader at the time working to unite Africa and its Diaspora, and his organization has built a tradition over time on that. To abandon tradition because there are new alternative methods of approach is like walking on the beach and having your footprints washed away by the time: you have no record of where you came from and your successors have no path to follow.

The UNIA/ACL approach is to continue to represent the African Diaspora, especially the traditional Diaspora, in pursuing citizenship, land and acculturation for those becoming part of an African society. For any Diasporan who wants organizational support along the way in pursuing dual citizenship, Marcus Garvey’s organization offers that guiding hand.

The Sullivan Foundation dual citizenship task force recognizes that there is more than one path to a goal, and we intend to achieve our goal by any means necessary that are legal, ethical and effective.

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