The Diaspora, dual citizenship and development

The term Diaspora comes from the Greek word meaning “to scatter about”. That is exactly what a people of a Diaspora do – they scatter from their homeland to places across the globe, spreading their culture as they go. There are a multitude of reasons for movements of these people, ranging from genocide, wars, famine in their countries of origin to trade and sometimes just simply the desire to earn a decent living abroad.

There are many different ways that the Diaspora can contribute to their countries of origin, they contribute socially, economically and politically.

Socially the Diaspora may contribute to the evolution of knowledge and standards through the transfer of ‘social remittances’. Social remittances are the norms, values, attitudes, and the ways of doing and being that migrants “send” back to the countries of origin. This could be in innovations in processes, in an industrial setting, new ways of producing a product or new way of service delivery. Or influencing attitudes such as the protection of civil liberties, attitudes towards gender equality, new thinking around reproductive health amongst others. Over time as Diaspora share new perspectives with those who remain in country of origin, subtle changes in values those people hold may occur. In this way, Diaspora often support gradual social change.

Economically there direct and indirect ways that the Diaspora contribute to development. The transfer of financial remittances, the money a migrant sends to other members of their social network is a more direct means through which Diasporas contribute to economic development. A number of studies have shown that such financial remittances reduce poverty head count and severity. For recipients, the money is a predictable and regular cash that supplement and diversify existing incomes. In many instances they support the core basic services, which is supplementing educational costs and attaining basic health services. At a macro-level, the Diaspora members may be more willing to start or invest in a business in a less stable economic or political context than other foreign investors. Diasporas likely know more about the local context, have local networks that can help them navigate the regulatory environment, and can better detect untapped market niches that innovative businesses can fill. This can be critical for employment generation and creating wealth. Countries such as India, Nigeria and closer to home Kenya, have harnessed this to bring billions of forex into their economies.

Politically there are many ways that the Diaspora contribute to their countries of origin. The role of the Diaspora in supporting governance transitions, particularly in conflict and post-conflict scenarios is well known and has been extensively documented. The Diaspora has contributed to peace negotiations and agendas in post-conflict settings as varied as Afghanistan, Burundi, Nepal, Somalia, and Sudan. In such settings, Diasporas have acted as intermediaries between conflicting parties, encouraged dialogue with international mediators, suggested elements to be included in peace agreements, and have supported their implementation. Diasporas are known to have contributed extensively to the promotion of transitional justice measures including peace and reconciliation processes that promote disclosure of past crimes as a way to build trust among different actors. Members of the Diaspora, including refugees, have been instrumental supporters of transitional justice in countries such as Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, and Zimbabwe. We in Tanzania have hosted many political African Diaspora. The ANC, ZANU PF, FRELIMO and many more. Thabo Mbeki, Robert Mugabe, Samora Machel a just a notable few of many that resided in Tanzania and could rightly be termed political Diaspora as they all held Tanzanian passports at one time or another.

Is time ripe for dual citizenship in Tanzania?

I have summarized a few of the acknowledged benefits that the Diaspora contribute to their countries of origin, socially, economically and politically. It would be prudent for all developing countries including Tanzania, to device and formulate a clear policy to harness the incredible potential that the Diaspora can bring to our socioeconomic development. On the economic front, the Diaspora can be the leading source of FDI in the country, greater than any of our exports and greater than all the assistance provided by our development partners combined. Such potential needs to be harnessed, nurtured and encouraged. The Tanzanian Diaspora abroad collectively feel neglected, discouraged and not meaningfully engaged by their country of origin to enable them to contribute effectively. The unanimous request of the Tanzanian Diaspora is dual citizenship. I believe it’s high time we adopt and implement the policy of dual citizenship. The arguments against the adoption of dual citizenship, National Security (spies and saboteurs), a perception that those who chose to live abroad are unpatriotic and should not be accorded the same rights as resident nationals and a false sense of nationalism that can only exist with those living within the country geographically. These are clearly outdated relics of the cold war and the conditions of the 1960s and 70s.

The world has changed. Spies and Saboteurs do not need the Diaspora, then can do all the damage on a laptop sitting anywhere in the world, with their satellites, drones and an army of hackers. Patriotism and nationalism should not be defined on the basis of geographical abode, but rather what one does for one’s country. This can be done residing anywhere in the world. It is time we change with the world and adopt the policy of dual citizenship as a weapon in the fight for development.


Abdullah Mwinyi is an experienced corporate lawyer. He was also a member of the East African Legislative Assembly for ten years