Dual citizenship a boon to Kenyans abroad
The recent announcement by Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang’ that dual citizenship is now tenable is bound to open enormous opportunities for Kenyans.
The old Constitution outlawed dual citizenship and required that any Kenyan citizen who wants to acquire the citizenship of another first renounce their Kenyan citizenship. Indeed, many Kenyans secretly held two passports lest they incur the wrath of the law.
With the enactment of the Citizenship and Immigration Act, 2011, these Kenyans can now emerge from their hiding and lay claim to Kenyan citizenship in addition to being citizens of another country.
There are about three million Kenyans in the diaspora, with the United States and the UK hosting the largest numbers at 600, 000 and 300, 000 respectively.
The majority of Kenyans in these two countries went to pursue tertiary education but some who have since completed their courses have found well-paying jobs or engaged in businesses that earn them good returns.
Others are in America on account of having won the Green Card and are entitled to live and work in America and even acquire citizenship after some time.
Apart from those pursuing studies, Kenyans are also known to be enterprising. The number of Kenyans living abroad as evangelists is only second to Nigerians. With dwindling numbers of believers in the West, Kenyan evangelists are not being left behind in what appears to be a global concern to save the originators of Christianity from hell.
The boon did not come on a silver platter. At the National Constitutional Conference held at the Bomas of Kenya between 2003 and 2004, Kenyans in the diaspora sent a powerful delegation of lobbyists to convince the majority of delegates to accept dual citizenship.
The concern of the delegates at the time was the possibility that the opportunity could be abused by criminals to compromise the national security. But when it finally dawned upon them that the majority of well-meaning Kenyans stood to benefit, the proposal was removed from the list of contentious issues and adopted with near unanimity.
Also set to benefit are Kenyans married to non-nationals. Previously, only male Kenyans could confer citizenship to foreign spouses. The female counterpart remained discriminated against on matters of cross-border marriages as their male spouses had no automatic entitlement to Kenyan citizenship.
But all that is now water under the bridge. The Citizenship and Immigration Act 2011 gives equal opportunities to both male and female Kenyan to confer citizenship to a foreign spouse at least after a period of seven years of marriage upon application for citizenship.
Children born out of such marriages are also set to benefit from the new legal regime. In America, for example, a child born there automatically becomes a citizen even if the parents lay no claim to citizenship.
Many a Kenyan parent who had their children while living in the US and who faced the dilemma of what national identity to bequeath them can now breathe a sigh of relief as they, like their children, now have an opportunity to retain Kenyan citizenship as well as acquire American citizenship.
Mr Churchill co-chaired the Technical Committee on Citizenship and the Bill of Rights at the Bomas Constitutional Conference.