The world is dominated by economic integration, large scale migration and international trade. These domineering elements of globalisation have resulted to a decline in most of the traditional constrictions governing the notion of citizenship and/or nationality in most countries both in Africa and in the rest of the world. In addition to the individual benefits obtained from immigration, the increased prosperity related with successful migration can generate a successful monetary flow back to the immigrant’s family, and by extension the economy of the homeland.
Cameroon’s law on double citizenship and/or nationality still does not reflect the new global reality. The country does not recognise dual citizenship and/or nationality, which has heavy economic and social repercussions on the country’s economy.
The issue of nationality in Cameroon is governed by two laws of 1968. Citizenship in Cameroon is defined solely as ‘nationality’. Though the term ‘citizenship’ is not utilised in the specific laws, the term nationality expounded in these laws are similar to those related to ‘citizenship’ in other countries.
There are three main ways of obtaining Cameroon nationality: by birth, by marriage and by naturalization. Of these three ways, the foremost is by birth, which follows mainly a descent based definition of nationality. No formal categories of citizenship are defined by the applicable legislation. Section 30 (1) of Law 1968-LF-3 explicitly states that, nationality by naturalization shall be comparable in rights to that gotten by birth. However, an unofficial division exists between citizens who obtain nationality by birth and those who obtain citizenship by naturalization. Naturalized citizens may not stand for elected office for a period of five years after the date of naturalization. This impediment could however be annulled by an executive order, especially when it concerns the interest of the state.
Cameroonians can lose their nationality and/or citizenship by three ways. The acquisition or retention of a foreign nationality is ground for a Cameroonian to lose his or her nationality. Another way of losing Cameroonian nationality and/or citizenship is by voluntary renunciation. The third way of losing Cameroonian nationality is by an executive order from the central government. This implies that any Cameroonian immigrant, who naturalizes as a citizen of another country, automatically loses his or her Cameroonian nationality.
Restricting dual citizenship and/or nationality for Cameroonians in the diaspora has enormous economic, social, political and cultural ramifications.
Cameroonians in the diaspora are faced with humongous challenges in reinvesting their money back into the economy of the country. This is so because Cameroonian law considers those who have acquired foreign citizenship and/or nationality as foreigners in their own country. Though Cameroon law recognises foreign property ownership, the weak modus operandi of the rule of law, and the mala fide attitude of some government officials in charge of safeguarding the interests of foreigners, creates an unfavourable environment for Cameroonians in the diaspora to reinvest back into the country’s economy. Additionally, though the government should be given some credit for allowing Cameroonians in the diaspora to vote, there still remains a hurdle in protecting the legal and socio-economic privileges of Cameroonians in the diaspora. It is still difficult for Cameroonian investors in the diaspora to legally fully protect their interest in the country especially as ‘foreigners’. Socio-economic consequences of the restriction of dual citizenship include massive brain drain and a loss of human capital.
The application of legislation related to dual citizenship and/or nationality, has been inconsistently applied in some cases. For instances, reputable international Cameroonian footballers can hold dual citizenship and/or nationality without any problem. Cameroonian authorities argue that, this applies where the interest of the state is concerned. Several diplomatic representatives as well as top ranking government officials do hold dual citizenship and are also covered by the ‘interest of the state’ argument.
Cameroonians who suffer from such prohibitive laws against double nationality and/or citizenship are most especially activists who continue to lambast against ‘bad governance’ and corrupt practices in the system’s administrative ladder. Such Cameroonians do not benefit from the ‘interest of the state’ argument.
Prohibiting dual citizenship and/or nationality, thus prohibits the Cameroonian diaspora from adequately investing back at home. It also contributes to massive brain drain and loss of human capital. Although there is no absolute guarantee that dismantling prohibitive legislation against dual citizenship and/or nationality will curb brain drain and loss of human capital, massive economic gains from the Cameroon diaspora can nonetheless be registered by the economy of Cameroon. Accommodating legislation on dual citizenship and /or nationality would allow Cameroonians in the diaspora to safely invest back at home, even if they decide to permanently reside abroad.