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Opinions of Monday, 23 June 2008

Columnist: Asare, S. Kwaku

Is Dual Citizenship the same as Dual Allegiance?

The new game in town is disqualifying Ghanaian nationals from some political offices on grounds that they possess dual citizenship. There is no law in Ghana that disqualifies dual citizens, although there is a law that disqualifies those who owe allegiance to another country. This triggers an obvious question, what is the relationship, if any, between citizenship and allegiance.

Allegiance is a term of art that originates from the common law. Under the common, allegiance was permanent and was determined by nationality. As the old judges used to write "nemo potest exuere patriam," which simply meant "the bond of nationality once forged could never he broken." Accordingly, anyone born a British national owed an allegiance to the British crown which he could never resign or lose.

Nationality is established at birth by a child's place of birth (jus soli) and/or bloodline (jus sanguinis). It is a one time call that is made at birth and not subject to change. Nationality is to a child what his mother is to him. Just as you can only have one mother, you can only have one nationality. (The astute reader will notice that the same is not true about a father. For a child can never really know who the father is).

The implication here is that a Ghanaian at birth will always be a Ghanaian and will always owe allegiance to Ghana. Of course, being a Ghana national means one is also a Ghanaian citizen

But while nationality is prima facie proof of allegiance to a country, citizenship, without more, does not imply allegiance. Further, while one could never become another national, one could easily acquire the citizenships of other countries. It therefore becomes necessary to distinguish between nationality and citizenship.

Citizenship is acquired by agreeing to belong to a political or a social community and fulfilling whatever rules that community sets as citizenship criteria. In some cases, it is acquired by service in the military. In some cases, it is acquired by academic or athletic distinction. In yet some cases, it is acquired by marriage.

Unlike nationality, citizenship can be acquired at different times in one's life. (If nationality can be likened to a mother then citizenship can be likened to a wife). Place of birth and/or bloodline are neither necessary nor sufficient to establish citizenship or to preclude it.

However, citizenship is acquired, it is important to state very loudly that acquiring citizenship does not mean or even imply owing allegiance to the community that one has newly and consciously joined. Whether one can even owe allegiance to this new country is a matter of serious debate, one that the common law has provided an answer in the Latin maxim at supra.

But setting aside that maxim, it is clear that whether the new citizen owes allegiance to the new country is one that has to be determined on a case by case basis. Put another way, any general rule which states that a dual citizen owes dual allegiance is wrong as a matter of law. The reason is simple. Every community makes up its own rules for citizenship and different people feel differently about the new country that they have become citizens of. Just as it will make very little sense to give a general rational for why people marry, it equally offends logic, law and common sense to have a general rule which states that having multiple citizenships implies owing multiple allegiances!

It follows that the wholesale disqualification of people on grounds that they have dual citizenship is unconstitutional and must cease forthwith.



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