CITIZENSHIP – AN ISSUE THAT NEEDS URGENT ATTENTION MANY WHO THINK THEY ARE GAMBIANS ARE STATELESS

A stateless person is one who is not the citizen of any country.
Many persons living in The Gambia for long or who were born in The Gambia regard themselves as citizens of The Gambia, but this is not necessarily correct. It is not uncommon to here people say, “I was born and bred in The Gambia, and I am therefore a citizen of The Gambia.” But is that the case?
It is necessary to clarify this point because it is sometimes propagated in fora that being born in The Gambia makes one a citizen of The Gambia.
Merely living in The Gambia for decades or being born in The Gambia does not make one a citizen of The Gambia. Who then is a citizen of The Gambia? For the sake of simplicity we will focus on the so-called “citizenship by birth.”
First, before 1965. We consider a couple from a neighbouring country settling in The Gambia before 18 February 1965 and giving birth to a boy in The Gambia called X. This boy is not a citizen of The Gambia because neither parent nor grandparent was born in The Gambia. In short, the 1970 constitution stipulates that a person born before 1965 shall not be a citizen of The Gambia if neither of his parents nor any grandparent was born in The Gambia.
Suppose the son X gives birth to a baby gets a girl child Y with a non Gambian on or after 16 January 1997, when the current constitution came into force. That child Y is not a citizen of The Gambia because neither of his parents is a citizen of The Gambia. Hence even though her father was born in The Gambia, the father is not a citizen of The Gambia, so  daughter Y is therefore not a citizen of The Gambia.
In short, section 9 of the 1997 Constitution states clearly 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 if at the time of his or her birth, one of his or her parents is a citizen of The Gambia.”
Clearly then the new provision has not ‘rectified’ the anomaly in citizenship, it has only made it more difficult for person born in The Gambia to become a citizen.
The distinction must be drawn between being born in The Gambia and being a citizen of The Gambia.
The example above clearly shows how generations of grandparents, parents and grandchildren are not citizens of The Gambia even though they were born in The Gambia.
Many persons living in The Gambia are in this situation of statelessness and this situation needs to be addressed by registering those who have lived here for a long period and wish to be registered as citizens.
This issue may seem trivial because many find it easy to get national documents such as ID cards and voters’ cards. However, politicians can use it as a weapon whenever they desire.
For example after a demonstration in the early seventies, a sixth former was deported to Senegal even though he grew up and did his schooling in The Gambia. But he did not meet the criteria for citizenship.
Another example is the mass prosecution of voters from Upper Saloum for unlawfully obtaining voters’ cards. It was alleged that even though these voters were born and bred in that constituency, neither their parents nor their grandparents were born in The Gambia.