By Omar Bah
National Assembly Member for Central Baddibu, Sulayman Saho, has appealed to President Barrow to grant citizenship to people of African descent from Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean wishing to resettle in The Gambia.
Mr Saho made the appeal at the Transatlantic Slave Home-comers Symposium recently held at the Paradise Suites Hotel in Kololi. During the symposium, the participants who included parliamentarians, members of civil society organisations and economists discussed business and investment opportunities in The Gambia.
Council Of African Descendants (COAD), a community of people of African descent who have returned to the continent and are found in many African countries including The Gambia, is requesting African countries to grant them automatic citizenship.
NAM Saho is one of many Gambian lawmakers who have signed on to this request. “I want to sincerely appeal to President Barrow to give the African descendants a formal official welcome and give them automatic citizenship. We should not allow them to undergo the process of seeking a Private Members’ Bill [to be tabled calling for them to be granted citizenship,]” Mr Saho said.
The UDP lawmaker said apart from the moral argument for them to be granted automatic citizenships “there is massive inward investment and fostering of harmonious relationship”.
“We know the National Assembly is crucial because we make laws but even if we make those laws, the president will have to assent to it. This is why on behalf of my brothers and sisters, I am appealing to the president to act now in the spirit of humanity,” he said.
He said President Barrow should follow the footsteps of the Sierra Leonean president Julius Maada Bio who recently conferred Sierra Leonean citizenship on 59 African-Americans who traced their origin to Sierra Leone through DNA testing.
Ms Juliet Ryan, COAD secretary, told the gathering: “We want you to understand that we are all the same people. It is only the experience that we went through that separated us. But that experience was not made by you or us and so you couldn’t ask to be born where you are born and I couldn’t ask to be born where I was born. We didn’t have that power or control but yet we are here and we find ourselves in a situation where we are discriminated against by virtue of the fact that our ancestors went through the Atlantic Slave Trade.
“We are here to build. It is our birthright. We are not begging for anything because we are already citizens of Africa – our ancestors never gave up their birthrights. We are proud Africans. We are coming back to unify and stop the decolonisation of Africa. I am asking President Barrow to allow us to meet him.”
Madi Jobarteh, a human rights activist, said he sees no reason why they should not be granted automatic citizenship.
The NAM for Serekunda, Halifa Sallah appealed to the African Union to consider looking into the constitutions of all African countries to ensure that they have provisions that will accelerate the reintegration of African descendants who want to return to the continent.