JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
‘FINALLY I no longer have to pay to enter my own country,” says Carol Chanda.
Twenty-four years ago, Ms Chanda moved to the United States of America for work and decided to settle there, renouncing her Zambian citizenship.
Well, she did not have much of a choice at the time because the Zambian law did not allow for dual citizenship.
However, that decision came with a lot of sacrifice and the huge inconvenience and absurdity of always having to apply and pay visa fees in order to visit her own country.
But she may not have to go through such trouble again after Government announced that Zambians living abroad can now be citizens of a second country.
The dual citizenship was widely debated during the amendment process of the Zambian Constitution, and it was finally included in the amended Constitution, which was signed into law by President Lungu on January 5, 2016.
And last week, the Ministry of Home Affairs officially announced that those who wish to apply for Zambian citizenship could start doing so.
People who renounced their Zambian citizenship to become citizens of other countries can now apply to the Citizenship Board for bestowal of citizenship, a thing which has excited Ms Chanda.
“The first emotion is excitement,” she says.
“It’s a great feeling because I never ceased being a Zambian. My heart belongs here and my loyalty is first to my homeland despite the colour of passport I hold,” says Ms Chanda.
Ms Chanda, who is a registered critical care nurse by profession, is also the founder and CEO of Carol Cares Foundation, a humanitarian organisation. She also runs Oasis Universal Radio USA, which broadcasts on an online platform.
What excites Ms Chanda even more is the prospect of investing back home.
“Finally, I can fully contribute to the development and reconstruction of our economy. The mass depletion or the brain drain era can be remedied by allowing the return of Zambian citizens to participate in national building,” she says.
Ms Chanda adds: “I have always wanted to use my medical knowledge and expertise I have acquired here, back home. Finally, I can do that knowing I will have full access to resources. I will be able to freely acquire land and build a home without going through red tape as a foreign national.”
Ms Chanda, who describes herself as a humanitarian and philanthropist, has also been involved in various humanitarian projects in Zambia such as the construction of women’s resource centre, malaria screening, feeding street kids, as well as sponsoring children to school.
Her plan is to expand her base in Zambia by adopting more projects that support, empower and reach out to the vulnerable in society, with particular focus on women and children.
The mother of three also wants to support Zambian-owned businesses, especially those run by women.
But dual citizenship alone is not a magic wand that will bridge the gap between Zambians living overseas and their country, argues Elijah Mwitanti.
“One has to intentionally keep the lines of communication open and be known to genuinely care about the affairs of the nation. This is especially critical when we consider the fact that where one spends more time can have a profound effect on who he becomes,” says Rev Mwitanti, who pastors a church under the Lutheran Church in Washington DC.
“Dual citizenship does not change much of how I feel as my focus is on my calling both to my family and ministry here in USA. However, the emotion of knowing that I am still a Zambian with all the familial and social ties is worth considering,” he says.
Rev Mwitanti and his wife, Kerris, relocated to the US in 1993, first as students and later started working there.
“The earlier part of my 24 years in USA were filled with studies and getting settled into ministry. I only started thinking of the benefits of dual citizenship when opportunities for investment began to open up in the past 12 years or so,” says Rev Mwitanti.
He feels he can now participate in whatever is going on back in his country.
“For example, it is easier to provide feedback on matters that affect people when you know that your skin is in the game. One of the things I have noticed on social media is the ferocity with which some Zambians on the ground respond to feedback coming from those in the ‘diaspora’. The impression I get is that some folks feel that if the goings on are that important to us, we should be part of the solution, something which in many cases is untenable without citizenship,” he says.
Justina Mutale moved to London, England in 1989 to pursue higher education. After working for the Commonwealth Secretariat for a number of years, she formed her own non-governmental organisation advocating for gender equality and women’s empowerment, and another one advocating for an AIDS-free world.
She says the diaspora is a great pool of resource that Zambia, and Africa at large, can tap into.
“A few years ago, I attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York, on the high-level dialogue on international migration and development. One thing that stood out for me at the UN meeting was the emphasis on the huge potential that the Diaspora have that can enable them to make life-changing contributions to their home countries,” Ms Mutale says.
“In a competitive globalised world in which we now live, I believe the diaspora can play a key role in the economic, social and even political development of our home countries, as we have the requisite international experience and world exposure to be able to effectively do so,” she says.
Andrew Chimasa is studying sociology and politics at Goldsmiths University of London, but before that, he worked for HSBC Bank Plc, one of the biggest banks in the world.
Mr Chimasa, who has lived in the UK since 2004, says the dual citizenship was long awaited by many Zambians living in the United Kingdom. He says on July 17, 2015, many Zambians turned up the Zambian High Commission in London to take part in a discussion with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on dual citizenship.
“I strongly felt that the meeting went well as it set the platform for the voices of the many Zambians living in the diaspora to be heard openly,” he says.
“Through my experience, I have come to appreciate the opportunities that are eminent from global partnerships. I believe that dual citizenship will offer Zambians a fantastic opportunity to enhance trade deals to Zambia, as well as bring innovative ideas to the country,” he says.
Cynthia Chirwa, a social researcher, considers the ability to own property back home as the greatest benefit.
Dr Chirwa has lived in the US since 2001 and owns a consulting company called CARE Global Health Consultants in New York.
“Having dual nationality is significant to me because I have worked for over 16 years in the US and have paid into social security and this would serve as my retirement pay should I decide to move back to Zambia and still hold US citizenship. The ability to receive a monthly cheque from my social security would greatly benefit me and my family,” she says.
Towela, who requested her identity to be concealed, says the dual citizenship will help her children be more connected to Zambia.
The mother of two is now considering getting her children registered as Zambians.
The citizenship law also allows adopted children to be granted citizenship on account of their parents.
Towela has been living in Colorado, US, since 2004.
“I came here for five months in 2004, returned to Zambia for one year in 2005, and returned permanently to the US in 2006. As soon I knew that I was moving to the United States permanently, the topic of dual citizenship became relevant to me,” she says.
Towela is excited about making longer visits to Zambia, once her citizenship is restored.
“This gives me a sense of relief that my family and I can travel back and forth much easier, and possibly move back to Zambia someday and maybe settle there,” Towela says.