Banjul, Gambia(PANA) - The journey to acquiring Gambian citizenship for Black African returnees suffered a setback after parliament rejected the “Promulgation Bill 2020” on the country’s draft constitution late last month.
Section 188 of the draft constitution guaranteed the acquisition of automatic citizenship to this minority group who have been struggling to regularize their citizenship status since 2006, amid frequent stigmatization, alienation and discrimination occasionally emanating from security agents and local people.
In 2010, former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh made a proclamation offering citizenship to all Black African descendants willing to resettle in the country.
However, this was made orally without any legal guarantee to support such rights.
Thus, obtaining citizenship and resettlement into the local Gambian communities by this group of residents becomes difficult warranting the involvement of a pressure group dubbed Home-Comers, now Africa Diaspora Returnees Association (ADRA), championing the course of obtaining documentations for members with little progress for now.
Shakina Chinedu, 15 years resident in The Gambia living in Brusubi, 20km outside Banjul, and owner of Nubian. L Consultants Firm, led the campaign to acquire citizenship for descendants of the enslaved envisioning the approval of their citizenship in The Gambia but to no avail.
However, late last month, lawmakers of the West African nation rejected the “Promulgation Bill 2020” on the country’s draft constitution that would have guaranteed citizenships of this minority group in the country.
“In 2010, we were lucky to acquire ten citizenships for Home-comers during the Roots Home-coming Festival from the administration of ex-President Yahya Jammeh.
“We realized that legally this type of pronouncement is not sustainable any longer. In 2018, we decided to work with the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) by presenting our suggestion paper on an exceptional clause for descendants of the enslaved to be given automatic citizenship in the country but all these efforts have been shattered by the National Assembly members by rejection of the draft constitution,” said Shikina Chinedu, head of legal affairs, ADRA.
According to her, the Constitutional Review Commission has done their part of incorporating part of ADRA position paper presented before them.
She revealed that ADRA’s biggest disappointment came from the National Assembly members who rejected the much awaited draft constitution to the dismay of both Gambians and international partners.
“Section 188 of the Gambian constitution is asking for 15 years before returnees can acquire citizenship in The Gambia and, obviously, waiting for these long years might be quite difficult to returnees of above 50 years. “What we are suggesting is reducing this 15 years to a shorter time period of 4-5 years so that those above 50 years can be capture and this will allow them to contribute their quota to national development initiative,” said the ADRA legal officer.
Jeanette Brown is the Secretary General of ADRA with more than three hundred members.
She has been busy with various schedules of meetings and engaging local and state authorities on this important issue of obtaining citizenship for descendants of the enslaved for the past two years.
She told PANA that obtaining citizenship for Black African Returnees had been a major challenge in the country since resettling back, stressing that most state authorities would only offer sweet and pleasing words but with no real action taken to offer automatic citizenship to returnees.
“Our major concern is how our members will resettle in the country and obtain their citizenship so that they can play their part in the development initiatives of this country.
“We have been engaging various stakeholders, including the Constitution Review Commission, but as at this point we have little or no hope after the rejection of the draft constitution,” Brown told PANA.
She added: “We have been very disappointed that the draft constitution has been rejected by the National Assembly. We will not relent in our efforts to obtain citizenship for our members most of whom are over 50 years and cannot wait for 15 years to obtain a citizenship.”
Keisha Daniel, media officer for ADRA, disclosed that her organization was ready to give support to returnees who wanted to resettle in The Gambia, create a smooth bridge for repatriation of returnees, establish business and homes, engage in charity works, and help residents with information on business registrations and taxations as well as lobbying for citizenship.
“We started here and we are demanding to return here, resettle and reconnect with our ancestors who were forcefully taken away from here to other parts of the world.
“We are not only expecting to return and fold our hands but also to giving back to our communities for the socio-economic advancement of the country,” Daniel said.
-0- PANA MSS/RA 11Oct2020