Tanzanian-born American clamours for dual citizenship

Dr Shabaan Fundi and his children.  PHOTO | COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • He hopes for a future where Tanzanians abroad can contribute more freely to their homeland’s development

Dar es Salaam. Landing at Julius Nyerere International Airport, Dr Shabaan Fundi, a native of Tabora, had to get in the queue at the immigration desk to get a visa to get into Tanzania. His kids looked astonished. “Dad, I thought you said you were born here. Is this your country?” they queried.

So many natives of Tanzania who took another country’s citizenship have faced what Dr Fundi did—what he termed a confusing endeavour that he had to explain to his American-born children.

The fight for dual citizenship has been raging for close to 20 years now. In 2008, the diaspora community initiated talks with the then minister of Foreign Affairs the late Bernard Membe, in the Jakaya Kikwete government.

By then, there was an indication that the constitutional amendment would be possible, and a provision was added that ensured Tanzanian-born citizens would retain their citizenship even after they were granted a second nationality by another country.

Mr Kadari Singo was chosen as a representative for the diaspora community in the Constitutional Assembly of 2014. Still, most of their requests were brushed aside, and a reconciliatory step was proposed to look at providing “special status” to the diasporans who were Tanzanians by birth.

“We are Tanzanians not only by birth, but we are indigenous citizens, which means our parents, grandparents, and relatives were all born in Tanzania; it’s not right for us to ask for a permit to stay in our native country,” Dr Fundi grumbled.

Most Tanzanians abroad are convinced that it is their God-given right to maintain their citizenship regardless of where they decide to live.

The discussion about dual citizenship had turned into a murmur during Magufuli’s reign; it had either become a sensitive subject or had dwindled in importance.

The dual citizenship discourse resurfaced this time on the Clubhouse social media app when President Hassan’s government came to power. Several conversations were held in which Tanzanians in diaspora across the world weighed in their opinions on the way forward; eventually, they decided to go to court. “We didn’t take the government to court, but rather we wanted the court to interpret the constitution and what the law said,” he explained.

They had thoroughly gone through the Constitution and Citizenship Act of 1995.

In their observation, the constitution clearly gave the parliament the power to enact the law that defines who a Tanzanian-born citizen is, but it doesn’t give the parliament the power to deny him or her citizenship; the parliament has the power to strip the voting rights of any Tanzanian who has taken up citizenship in another country.

Among the rights that are taken away if one denounces their Tanzanian citizenship is also their right to contest for a position as a member of parliament, but the right to citizenship remains intact.

Dr Fundi argues that the constitution still identifies them as citizens, but the Citizenship Act of 1995 stipulated otherwise, and the reason they went to the court of law was to make sure the citizen act doesn’t contradict the primary law.

Objections were raised in the case, and eventually it was thrown out, but they have been fighting to file an appeal, for which they will soon find out their fate.

Though there are no hard facts to substantiate the claims that Tanzanians in the diaspora are viewed as a threat, the mere discussion of dual citizenship seems like it is contentious, and no one in power is keen to explain why, out of all countries in the East African community, only Tanzania doesn’t grant dual citizenship.

This leaves many Tanzanians abroad scratching their heads, trying to figure out this dilemma to no end. The lawmakers have on several occasions acknowledged the contribution made by the diaspora to the economy of the country, but still, none is willing to amend the law that will ensure their inclusion.

Maybe it is the fear of opening Pandora’s box and the rigorous procedure of stipulating who qualifies to obtain dual citizenship. As Dr Fundi said: “we can look at countries like Botswana as an example; only those native to the nation can retain their citizenship and also take up another.

“That’s what we were pushing for—dual citizenship for Indigenous Tanzanians,” he mentioned.

“Anyone else would still be required to abide by the existing laws,” he added.

Though the message resonates well with some leaders within the government who view the dual citizenship drive in a positive light, Dr Fundi is pessimistic. For the last 15 years, it has been all talk and leaders scoring political points.

When they speak with Tanzanians in the diaspora, they still sell them the idea of a special status that has never materialised.

“For anything to happen, we need a bill to be proposed to the legislature for their consideration, but for all these years we have not seen anything, even for the special status,” he pointed out.

When our neighbour Kenya enacted dual citizenship into law in their new constitution in 2012, their investment from their diaspora grew tenfold, and the remittances have grown from 500 million US dollars in 2012 to 4 billion US dollars as of 2023. “There is a huge relationship between dual citizenship and how much people are willing to invest back home,” Dr.

Fundi insists

“That is a fact if you look at India’s diaspora, Nigeria, or any country,” he added. Not all Tanzanians in the diaspora have a lot of skills and money that they can bring back to the country and help it prosper, as well as help eradicate the unemployment issue that is currently undermining development in the country.

The network analysis in Tanzania indicates that one worker supports a network of 45 to 50 people behind him. So if a member of the diaspora community comes to invest and employ locals, they would be reducing the unemployment rate in the country.

The World Bank analysis indicates that the diaspora sends back home less than 7 percent of what they earn, so if they get recognised in their country, that percentage would greatly increase, which translates to more money in Tanzania. Dr Fundi earned his M.S. in education from Johns Hopkins University, and as an educator, he extended his knowledge by building a school in his village in Tuliani Morogoro.

Upon seeing that most women would stop participating in economic activities after having children, he sought to construct a school that would accommodate the children and give their mothers time to engage in small entrepreneurial activities that were essential to their livelihood.

He equipped the school with state-of-the-art facilities and even trained teachers who would be educating the children from the village, who would otherwise not be able to afford the quality education he has established.

“I want children in the village we grew up in to get educated and reach the heights that we have been able to reach,” he said.

Dr Shaaban Fundi left Tanzania for the US in 2001 for further studies after getting his bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and Microbiology from the University of Dar es Salaam.

He would get a Master’s degree in Environmental Science from the Towson University of Baltimore, Maryland.

He successfully defended his PhD in Education at Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he currently resides.