Salone News

Sierra Leone: DC Causes Row

By  | 1 October 2006 at 00:37 | 949 views

The new measure on dual citizenship has been received with mixed feelings by Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad as the report below illustrates.Perhaps now is the time for the government in Freetown to provide more information on what it is and what it entails.

The Sierra Leone parliament has on Friday September 29 approved a measure legalizing dual citizenship according to a report by Agence France Presse, the French news agency.

Pascal Egbenda, Sierra Leone’s Internal Affairs minister reportedly stated that immigration officials said the measure would benefit some 30,000 people but investigations by the Vanguard place that figure rather close to over 100,000 considering the huge number of Sierra Leoneans outide the country that have taken up or are in the process of taking up the citizenship of the countries in which they reside.

The amended act means, according to AFP, that Sierra Leoneans holding citizenship of another country and who by birth or by descent are Sierra Leonean are now eligible for Sierra Leonean citizenship.

The problem with the act, however, is that Sierra Leoneans who want to regain their citizenship would have to apply to a minister, probably Foreign Minister Momodu Koroma or Internal Affairs minister Egbenda himself.This of course will create problems for individuals considered dissidents or enemies by the government in Freetown.

Indeed the new measure has already created a lot of acrimony among Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora. In Leonenet-Tamu, a Sierra Leonean forum, Toegondoe Sagba, a long term US resident, stated that there was no need to politicise the issue while expressing the opinion that the SLPP government might use the act to frustrate their political opponents or diaspora citizens who might be more politcally savvy, have more resources and will be more intolerant of corruption which is presently a way of life in the country.He also pointed out that most of the rural folks in the country were not consulted on the new measure.

Toegondoe further argued that folks who had renounced their citizenship need not
re-apply for citizenship as long as they can prove by birth that they are Sierra Leoneans. But Dr. Patrick Muana
pointed out that that was exactly the point of re-application - just
as it is done in the case of British, American, Canadian, Australia,
and other citizens who renounce their original citizenship and want to
reclaim that citizenship right.

Muana claimed that the SLPP government, like all responsible
governments, has an obligation to review and establish the basis of re-application for each applicant - just as it is done in western democracies like US, UK, France, UK, Australia and so on.

Another forumite Dr. Marda Mustapha, says he is against dual citizenship.

Many other forumites criticised the inclusion of ministers in the application process, and these are usually supporters of the opposition while its defenders are usually government supporters.

Observers believe that the DC Act, despite its good intentions, might also be used by greedy politicians to enrich themselves by granting citizenship to unscrupulous characters including foreigners.There is also the fear that the application fee might be grossly inflated to discourage some applicants.

Support for DC is strong among the opposition political parties, probably because Sierra Leone political parties depend to a large extent on the financial contributions of their overseas supporters. The Charles Margai-led PMDC has for instance discussed DC in its manifesto going as far as declaring that a PMDC government would make it possible for diaspora citizens to vote and pay taxes to Sierra Leone from their coutries of residence.

At the Sierra Leone Discussion Group, another online forum, the focus of the discussion now is on how Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora can vote in the 2007 elections like some Liberians did recently. Amadu Massally, a forumite, even suggested that Sierra Leoneans abroad should form a political party and contest elections at home.

In a related development, as if by coincidence, the Sierra Leone government announced Friday that it is ready to review the situation of all those people expelled from the country in 1998 for their alleged support for the AFRC military junta (May 1997-January 1998). This involves hundreds of foreigners mainly Lebanese business men and their families.Many of them were branded collaborators of the military regime and were physically attacked and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in property.The announcement said such people could apply for a review of their individual cases on or before October 15, 2006.

The recent government notice is however silent about those Sierra Leoneans who were prevented from leaving or returning to the country for political crimes they allegedly commited before, during and after the AFRC coup. This involves thousands of professionals including academics,journalists, engineers, doctors etc.

A Sierra Leonean diplomat, Dr.Philip Sesay, recently died in Freetown after living for many years in poverty and deprivation after losing his job at the Foriegn Ministry. He was sacked because he did not leave the country or refuse to work for the AFRC junta.

He was also prevented from leaving the country to join his family in the US. The SLPP government asked the American embassy in Freetown not to grant him a visa.

Photo: Momodu Koroma, Sierra Leone’s Foreign Minister.