By Satang Nabaneh
The ongoing public consultations on the constitutional review process spearheaded by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) highlights a polarising debate on citizenship which reflects the difficulty of consensus building given the varied interests of stakeholders. Few of the questions at the heart of it are: should a child born in The Gambia be accorded automatic citizenship regardless of parents’ citizenship? Should a person who wishes to acquire Gambian citizenship be required to renounce any other citizenship he or she may have, when a Gambian can hold a dual nationality? Are the prescribed periods of 7 years ordinary residence for a foreign person married to a Gambian and 15 years ordinary resident for a foreign person applying for naturalisation too long?
1. 1997 Constitution and Citizenship
Chapter III of the Constitution deals with citizenship in The Gambia on four main grounds. A person is accorded Gambian citizenship either by birth or by descent. These two provisions give equal rights to a Gambian man and woman to give Gambian citizenship to his or her child. Citizen by birth applies to any person who is born in the Gambia and one of his parents is Gambian at the time of his birth. Section 9 states:
Every person born in The Gambia after the coming into force of this Constitution shall become a citizen of The Gambia at the date of his or her birth if, at the time of his or her birth, one or both of his or her parents is a citizen of The Gambia. [Emphasis added]
Citizen by descent under section 10 applies to any person who is born outside The Gambia and one of his or her parents is a Gambian at the time of his or her birth. This section only allows for citizenship to be passed for only one generation outside the country.
The Constitution takes as a requirement, the position that a parent’s citizenship is the basis for conferring citizenship to the child (jus sanguines or ancestry principle). This means that whenever a parent’s citizenship is uncertain, this undoubtedly affects the child. The primacy on the parent’s citizenship is highly disadvantageous. It is important to note that section 9 was amended in 2001 which originally stated that:
Every person born in The Gambia after the coming into force of this constitution shall be presumed to be a citizen of The Gambia by birth. [Emphasis added]