Over the last few years the Uganda government has mulled over the steady flow of professionals out of the country and onward to the greener pastures that are offered by south Africa, Europe, North America and increasingly Australia. Like our parents, there was always the reassuring feeling that ‘east or west, home is best’, the migrants would one day return home from ‘kyeyo’. Kyeyo literally means to sweep, but it is also the slang word used to mean someone heading to the developed world for better career opportunities.
Uganda has always had a diaspora, starting in the 1970s during the brutal regime of Idi Amin hundreds of thousands moved across the border to other East African countries and onwards to lands unknown, just to get away from unbelievable brutality. The essence of the migration was political and personal safety, or lack thereof.
The current migration is far different, the population in question is younger, well educated and frustrated by the lack of opportunities back home. They are also highly westernised. Though the west they head to is far more protectionist, xenophobic and less welcoming of refugees, whether political or economic.
They kyeyo boys and girls soon find that the immigration regimes and the workplace issues make it necessary and increasingly helpful to take up the nationality of the country the have settled in. The price they pay is having to renounce their Ugandan citizenship as dual nationality is not permitted under Ugandan law.
In reality most ‘Ugandans’ illegally keep their Ugandan passports and use them when they travel back to kampala, that way they do not have to pay $50 visa fees. Everyone knows this is going on, the authorities do not have the heart to follow this up and prosecute. However, it is still an illegality.
The dual nationality law that was passed last year by the parliament, but not yet signed by the president allows the diaspora to regain their Ugandan citizenship and thus maintain their ties to the ‘motherland’. The economic benefits are not to be sniffed at, it is estimated ugandans abroad repatriate $500million.
For the diaspora it means that they can travel easily all over the world with their developed world passports, but also have easy access to uaganda and the East African community states. It also assures them of their cultural land rights, political rights and access to the economy. Though it must be said that Uganda is extremely liberal when it comes to access allowed to foreigners on immigration, purchase of land and economic investments.
Not be left behind Kenya has proposed dual nationality in its new constitution, Hving faced the same predicament of large migrations of skilled professional to OECD countries. Should the constitution be approved in the coming referendum then any Kenyan born person can reapply for citizenship.
Here is my question: I am a Ugandan living in Kenya, I qualify for citizenship simply on the grounds of living here for long enough. Ugandan law would allow me to keep my Ugandan passport, but Kenyan law say I would have to give it up as dual citizenship can only be granted by Kenya to Kenyan born person. A legal conundrum?
But hang on, the East African common market says I can live and work any where I want within the borders of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. So do I need to acquire Kenyan citizenship? Only time will tell?