ABUJA, Nigeria – African and black American leaders meeting this week debated an unusual proposal to spur investment and interest in the continent – securing African citizenship for American descendants of Africans taken away as slaves.
The idea came out of a summit bringing African governments and the U.S. private sector together in search of partnerships to end Africa’s poverty. Presidents from 12 African countries attended the four-day conference, along with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.
“Just as the people of different races in America have a place they call home, I believe we should have a place we call our ancestral home,” said Hope Masters, daughter of the U.S. civil rights campaigner for whom the Leon Sullivan Summit is named.
Anthony Archer, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based lawyer, is heading a committee to consider how citizenship could be awarded.
“Dual citizenship will start the process of mutual and spiritual reconciliation of differences between the two continents that came as a result of slavery,” he said. “If we can feel like we really belong, we’ll feel more joyful about participating.”
Key challenges include determining the ancestral homelands of black Americans, Masters said. The upheaval of the slave trade left many without knowledge of their place of origin.
One possibility is granting continent-wide citizenship to slave descendants through the African Union, Archer said. Another is to work for citizenship of blocs of countries through regional organizations. It was unclear what rights would be granted under those scenarios.
A third proposal would have countries grant citizenship independently to those who seek it.
Masters said the proposal will be further developed before the next summit in 2008.