In 2010, Yahya Jammeh made a spectacular pronunciation offering citizenship to all Black African descents in the Diaspora willing to resettle in The Gambia. Hundreds of returnees have since stayed in the Gambia though Jammeh’s pronunciation got never backed legally. With the rejection of the draft constitution last month, the dreams of these Black African returnees to be Gambians have now vanished.
When in 2010 former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh offered citizenship to all Black African descendants willing to resettle in the country, dozens arrived in The Gambia to fulfill the dream of a “Return to ancestral roots“. But obtaining citizenship and resettlement in The Gambia quickly proved to be a station of the cross for this small community in the making.
“In 2010, we were lucky to acquire ten citizenship for Home-comers during the Roots Home-coming Festival from the previous administration. However, we realized that legally this type of pronouncement is not sustainable any longer” says Shakina Chinedu, a returnee living in The Gambia for 15 years, now resident of Brusubi.
Though the number of African home-comers kept growing since 2010, obtaining citizenship and resettlement into the local Gambian communities by these Black African descents became quasi impossible. They consequently formed a pressure group called Africa Diaspora Returnees Association (ADRA), to help in obtaining legal documents for its members, with little headways made so far.
Home-comer Shakina Chinedu owns a consultancy firm in The Gambia and is equally Head of Legal Affairs, ADRA. She has been in the forefront of the campaign to acquiring citizenship for the disillusioned candidates to citizenship in The Gambia.
“In 2018, we decided to work with the Constitutional 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’ rejection of the draft constitution,” said Shikina Chinedu.
The Home-comers obtained that the draft Constitution guarantees the acquisition of citizenship to this minority group that is frequent victim of stigmatization, alienation and discrimination occasionally springing from security agents and local people in The Gambia. According to Shikina Chinedu, the Constitutional Review Commission did its part of the job to address the issue by incorporating part of ADRA position paper.
“Our biggest disappointment came from the National Assembly Members who rejected the much awaited Draft Constitution. Section 188 of the Gambian constitution is asking for 15 years before returnees can be able to acquire citizenship in The Gambia. Obviously, waiting for So many years might be quite difficult to returnees above 50 years of age. What we are suggesting is reducing this 15 years to a shorter period of 4-5 years so that those above 50 years can be captured. This will allow them to contribute their quota to national development initiative“, said ADRA Legal Officer.
Africa Diaspora Returnees Association (ADRA) now counts over 300 members. In the wake of contributing to the draft Constitution, Jeanette Brown, the Secretary General of ADRA was all the way busy scheduling meetings and engaging local and State authorities. She told The Chronicle that obtaining Gambian citizenship and resettlement for Black African Returnees is more of an illusion than the reality.
“Most people we talk to will only offers sweet and pleasing words but no real action is taken to offer citizenship to returnees. We have been engaging various stakeholders including the CRC but at this moment, we have little or no hope after the rejection of the draft constitution. We have been very disappointed that the draft Constitution has been rejected by the National assembly. We will not relent in our efforts to obtaining citizenship for our members most of whom are over 50 years and cannot wait for 15 years to become Gambians“.
Keisha Daniel, Media officer for ADRA disclosed that her organization is our to give support to Returnees who want to resettle in The Gambia, create a smooth bridge for repatriation of returnees, establish business and homes, engage in charity works and helping residents on information, relative 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,” said ADRA Media Officer.