Tanzania dual citizenship debate rages on.  Photo: Immigration Services Department, Tanzania.

By Lulu Sanga

A steady trickle of Tanzanians renouncing their citizenship to embrace that of other countries — 66 this year alone — and the government's stand on the issue has opened the floodgates for a debate on dual citizenship across social networks in the East African nation.

The release of the latest official data on Tanzanians choosing foreign citizenship over their own comes around a month after the government clarified in parliament that the time is not ripe to offer dual citizenship as an option.

"When this request on dual citizenship becomes the plea of the majority, then the government would reconsider its position.

For now, the government is in the final stages of deciding on special status for the diaspora," minister of home affairs, Hamad Masauni, told the parliament on May 15.

Tanzania's minister of foreign affairs, Stergomena Tax, has since officially announced that people of Tanzanian origin living abroad would be entitled to a special status from December 2023, enabling them to participate in economic activities in their native country.

The plan has evoked mixed feelings among the Tanzanian diaspora, with many refusing to attach much significance to the grant of special status as a preliminary step. Some people of Tanzanian origin living abroad even see this as a way of cancelling the discussion on dual citizenship.

Samia Suluhu Hassan became Tanzanian President in 2021. Photo: Immigration Services Department, Tanzania.

Bupe Amon Kyelu, chairman of the Tanzanian Diaspora Council, cites a study by the institution as having found out that many expatriates living in nations that do not allow dual citizenship at this moment might find the special status granted by their native country a quick fix.

"Currently, special status can be a solution because the issue of dual citizenship is not yet accepted worldwide, and even if it is allowed in Tanzania, some of the diaspora who are already citizens of other countries that have not accepted dual citizenship will have a difficult time, including losing their rights in those countries," explains Bupe.

Goal of convenience

The apprehensions of a section of Tanzanians that a person holding the citizenship of another country can still participate fully in national activities in Tanzania, including elections, are largely unfounded, Bupe tells TRT Afrika.

"That is not the goal," she says. "We want this special status to help us in basic matters such as special identification; the freedom to return home to Tanzania without applying for a visa; investments and children inheriting assets at home. The bonus is bringing home the knowledge that we have acquired abroad."

According to Bupe, the constitutional impact of special status for the diaspora, and whether this might overlap with political rights, currently isn't even in the realm of discussion.

The government says it has special status arrangement for Tanzanians abroad. Photo: Immigration Services Department, Tanzania.

"The issue of voting or competing for political positions is absolutely not a topic of discussion because it is a constitutional issue,’’ the diaspora council chairman says.

Bupe sees special status as only the first step, insisting that in the near future, the issue of dual citizenship will return.

"We believe that just as the government promised, we will get special recognition. But the future generation will need dual citizenship as things are changing. There can be a change in leadership policy, and it is a broad political issue. We have not given up," she says.

Reason for hesitancy

Godwin Gonde, an expert from the Diplomacy Academy in Tanzania, explains that the issue of dual citizenship benefits the individual more than the country in question. National security is another aspect to consider.

"Also, it is very difficult to measure the patriotism of a person who is granted dual citizenship. So, there is no getting away from the potential for this to become a security threat. It can be a big challenge to prevent sabotage if someone with dual citizenship resorts to this against either country," Godwin tells TRT Afrika.

Tanzanians living abroad contribute to country's economy through remittances. Photo: The Bank of Tanzania

For a long time now, Tanzania has maintained its position of not allowing dual citizenship by citing the Citizenship Act's Chapter 357, Reference 2002, which says that "all those who are denied Tanzanian citizenship lose the right to continue being Tanzanians".

However, the Tanzanian authorities have established a digital system to list members of the diaspora.

The Central Bank of Tanzania has given instructions to financial institutions to allow Tanzanians abroad to open foreign-currency bank accounts using identification documents of the countries where they are settled.

These measures are meant to ensure that the contributions of the diaspora to the country are clearly visible. But the debate over dual citizenship rights might rage on given the growing number of Tanzanians now opting to live abroad.

TRT Afrika