When a friend posted a newspaper article titled “Botswana to allow dual citizenship” on Facebook this week, I nearly fainted from sheer excitement! No doubt Batswana around the globe who saw it will also have been over the moon as well. As we all know, dual citizenship is a foreign concept for Batswana, a distant dream that we have only ever fantasized about. To be honest, I’ve long resigned myself to the fact that Batswana and “friends of Botswana” alike aren’t ever likely to be privy to the joys of dual citizenship in our lifetime.
However, when I saw the headline, I instinctively whooped for joy. Alas! By the time I’d read the full article, my bubble had well and truly been burst; because in reality, the headline does not quite convey the full story.
The Real Story
[The MmegiOnline report states that the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, Edwin Batshu intends to present to Parliament a Bill to amend the Citizenship Act in order to allow for dual citizenship in certain restricted circumstances.]
The objective of the Bill is to have the Citizenship Act amended among others to “resume Botswana citizenship of persons who ceased to be citizens of Botswana as a result of acquiring citizenship of another country as a consequence of marriage” and “align the act with the age of majority set out in the Interpretation Act”.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 was published on January 27, 2017 in the Government Gazette.
What the minister seeks to have amended
Clause 2 of the Bill amends Section 9 of the act by substituting the words “21 years” for “18 years” so that the provision is consistent with the age of maturity, which has been reduced from 21 years to 18 years.
Additionally, Clause 3 of the Bill amends Section 12 of the Act by substituting for the words “of full age”, the words “who is 18-years-old and above”.
[“The Minister may grant a certificate of naturalisation to a person who is 18-years-old and above and of full capacity, who satisfies the Minister that he or she is qualified under Section 13 for naturalisation, and that person shall, on taking the oath of allegiance, be a citizen of Botswana by naturalisation from the date on which the certificate is granted.”]
The amendment also states, “Any person who is a citizen of Botswana and acquires citizenship of another country as a consequence of marriage and resides in the other country where he or she has acquired citizenship, shall not cease to be a citizen of Botswana, unless he or she renounces the citizenship of Botswana.”
“A citizen of Botswana who before the coming into effect of subsection (3), had by virtue of contracting a marriage with a non-citizen where the law of the non-citizen spouse automatically conferred on the citizen of Botswana shall not cease to be a citizen of Botswana upon the coming into effect of subsection (3).”
What does it really mean?
It doesn’t take a legal mind to work out that this is not by any stretch of the imagination set in stone. What it really amounts to is the proposed amendment of the Citizenship Act. Nothing at this stage is definitive. It’s to be discussed in parliament and hopefully adopted. So to say “Botswana to allow dual citizenship” is not quite accurate. It could or it could not be adopted. And don’t let’s forget, the proposal points to amending certain clauses of the Citizenship Act, as opposed to introducing dual citizenship in its entirety.
For now, this is something that’s geared towards people of Botswana descent only. So for those who have foreign spouses with hopes of ever attaining Botswana citizenship and retaining their own, this sadly is not quite it. In truth, it’s not ‘dual citizenship’ as most understand it to be.
A Glimmer of Hope
It is, however, a good start because before now, the government wasn’t for moving on this at all, and was always seemingly resistance to the idea. While it does offer a glimmer of hope to those who are eligible, there’s still a long way to go. Some of the reasons cited in the past for not allowing dual citizenship include the fear that Batswana could very well clear off and never come back.
The truth of the matter however, is that Batswana are a lot more patriotic than they let on or are given credit for. We may not holler about it from the rooftops, but we are. Given the choice of acquiring citizenship elsewhere at the risk of losing our Botswana citizenship, many would opt to retain the latter and sacrifice the opportunity of the former. I should know; I’ve lived it and know others who have passed up the opportunity to gain the citizenship of their spouses in order to retain Botswana citizenship.
Is it a case of the green–eyed monster? You decide.
Whether it’s true of not, some people have even put the lawmakers’ resolute resistance to introducing dual citizenship down to the green – eyed monster in some quarters. Those who hold that view argue the reason the government is opposed to the idea is because the majority of them and their families would not benefit from it. Obviously, YourBotswana doesn’t hold that view. This view probably has no basis, but there are people who believe it.
Brain drain fears
There’s also the belief that there would suddenly be a brain drain of epic proportions, as Batswana would take off to far – flung countries in search of greener pastures. Like I said before, Batswana may not make a song and dance about it, but they are fiercely patriotic. So for me, this theory just doesn’t make any sense. What I think may happen is that people would certainly travel more, but would be keen come back home at some point. Batswana can’t stand the cold and do not relish being away from Botswana for too long. They also soon realise that although Botswana is still developing, it does offer a lot more opportunities as it continues to grow, that life outside of Botswana isn’t always easier. While there is a small minority who do renounce Botswana citizenship, many resign themselves to the status quo rather than give up their most prized possession, the Botswana passport.
There are some who allegedly weigh up the options and ultimately decide; sod it, I’ll have both… on the quiet
A little birdie tells me that some Batswana abroad who feel backed into a corner still go ahead and acquire dual citizenship on the sly for an easy life. Those who live and work abroad, or live in their spouse’s countries, find it’s a lot easier and cheaper to travel on a non-Botswana passport. There’s none of the hassle that goes with applying for visas and the associated costs. It also means that life on the whole, becomes a lot easier for you in your host country. For instance; getting a job becomes a lot easier, you’re able to tap into the social services should you need to, the opportunity to study abroad minus the hefty student fees, among others.
Most countries allow dual citizenship, so they turn a blind eye to your country of origin and its legalities. Therefore, some Batswana living abroad would rather acquire dual citizenship on the sly and keep schtum rather than renounce their Botswana citizenship. They reckon if they get found out, they’ll play dumb and only then renounce their newly acquired citizenship. But they really figure chances of getting found out are slim to nil, so they take their chances. Again, this is something I’ve heard and can’t substantiate. So it could all be poppycock.
On the other side of the coin, foreigners married to Batswana find themselves in the awkward situation of never being able to become full – fledged Botswana citizens, unless of course, they renounce their citizenship. I’m not sure how this is fair, when there are fears of Batswana doing exactly the same thing. Because no matter how much people love their adoptive home, everyone values their motherland above all else, after all, gaabo motho thebe phatswa -What then happens is that foreign spouses have to contend with having to keep renewing their permits every 4-5 years. Of course, that only increases the workload for the Immigration officials, because there are 2 lots of paperwork to process for each applicant (the work and residence permits – something a little weird, but a potential article for another day!) each time they need to renew their paperwork. This invariably means a lot of unnecessary work for the Immigration department, which is almost always lagging behind with their work.
Then there are some like me who just couldn’t do it
Being married to an Englishman, I lived in England for over a decade. Within three years of our marriage, I was eligible to apply for British citizenship. But because Botswana doesn’t allow dual citizenship, even though I could have got it and taken it to my grave, I decided against it. Britain was my adoptive home for years and it remains my second home; I have a natural affinity to the UK and have friends and family there. But I am first and foremost Motswana, something I never lost sight of in all the time I lived in England.
There are some who may think I was stupid not to do what many do and just go ahead and get British citizenship on the quiet. But when it really came down to it, I just could not do it. I always had this thing at the back of my mind, that I would be being a traitor. My darn conscience just would not let me do it.
It certainly would have made travelling around Europe a lot easier. I remember once missing out on a romantic short break to Alicante in Spain because the Spanish embassy wasn’t issuing visas at the time. This was one of those times during which I was almost tempted to get the UK passport, but I never could do it. And I know there are many others like me who feel such a strong sense of loyalty to Botswana, they would die before they risked losing their citizenship.
Children born to Batswana married to foreign spouses
I feel it’s grossly unfair for children born to Batswana married to foreign spouses to be made to choose to be Motswana or the other when they turn 21, renouncing whichever of the 2 they don’t choose. I strongly don’t see why they should have to do so when they should be able to celebrate both of their heritages and to be able to freely come and go between the two countries as they wish. However, I won’t labour that particular point because it’s one of the Clauses that’s being looked into and could yield a very positive outcome. For that, I sincerely applaud the government because I feel it’s long overdue.
So with all that said, I can only hope that when the proposed amendment Bill is tabled before parliament, our beloved and esteemed lawmakers will make groundbreaking decisions that will make life a lot easier for Batswana living and working abroad as well as those with foreign spouses and their children.
What do you think of the idea of Botswana offering dual citizenship? How do you think it would affect the situation in Botswana? Are you for or against it? Please share your thoughts with YourBotswana. Whether good or bad, we’d love to hear it.
Picture courtesy of www.businessinsider.co.id