(JollofNews) – The path to Gambia’s nationhood has been ridden with the marginalization of communities that now include the Gambian diaspora. Marginalization does not only affect communities under economic distress, but also those whose political rights have been suppressed.
For a long time, geographical marginalization was reserved for those in remote rural part of the Gambia. The Gambian diaspora, however, would not ideally be considered a marginalized community because it is economically powerful, sending home more than $ 182 million in remittances annually.
Official statistics put it at around $182 million in 2016 or 22 percent of GDP (World Bank World Development Index,2016), making the Gambia the third largest in Africa and eighth largest in the world (again, as a share of GDP) from diaspora remittance to the Gambian economy far greater than what Foreign Aid and Development Assistance contributed to the Gambian economy.
The diaspora is a forgotten population by the fact that it is a politically disenfranchised constituency, having been denied the right to vote, as enshrined in the Constitution.
Political exclusion, like any form of marginalization, implies the suppression of rights. The Gambia diaspora has an active history of struggle for inclusion dating back to the turn of the millennium. It started with the push for dual citizenship.
Gambians seeking higher education or economic refugees, especially in the United States and elsewhere, and who had settled there with their families began to understand that they were here for the long-haul and they needed to secure a structured belonging as transnational citizens.
They learned from diasporas who had settled in the US for decades that no matter how long they stayed away from home, they still pledged allegiance to their home country.
Jewish, Irish, Filipino, and other diasporas in the US have become powerful contributors to their home countries’ political and economic wellbeing while still maintaining active participation as citizens of the United States.
On a visit to the US, former president Yahya Jammeh once dismissed dual citizenship as a pipe dream, a silly notion that one should have one foot in one country and the other in another. The concept of transnational citizens, as advocated by diaspora Gambians, was alien to many.
The Gambia diaspora has actively been involved in numerous relief efforts whenever there was a disaster in Gambia — from floods to civic engagement, philanthropic and scholarship funds — efforts that speak of connectedness with home despite distance.
The diaspora community is growing and the government must address the issue of political exclusion. Opportunities to make this viable between the government and the diaspora are there. Through the Gambia Diaspora groups, these Gambians have pushed for the acknowledgement of the diaspora vote through online petition processes and have the right to registration and voting mechanisms.
Voting is the most powerful of political rights, giving every individual citizen an equal voice regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, or wealth.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) must work with the diaspora to enable it to vote in next General Elections. One of the excuses the IEC has repeatedly used is that it does not have reliable statistics of Gambians in the diaspora.
One of the solutions to resolving the political inclusion stalemate against these voters is for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the IEC to recognize the diaspora’s solutions such and create partnerships.
Diaspora voter inclusion is an imperative that would strengthen the sense of nationhood and attract investment from an endowed constituency that is seeking to play a role in nation-building.