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Should the Right of Africa’s Diaspora to Vote Come With the Responsibility to Pay Taxes?

A polling station in the Ivory Coast

African countries are increasingly including provisions in their constitutions that extend the right to members of the Diaspora to vote in national elections while living in foreign countries ­the result of an emerging consensus that they hold great potential to contribute to the development of those nations. As is evident from emerging economies, with appropriate policy frameworks the Diaspora can be an effective force in the development process. Beyond remittances to support relatives, the African citizens abroad contribute through investment in productive activities that support economic growth and job creation and can be tapped to contribute to policy dialogue as well as the transfer of knowledge and skills. Additionally, beyond simple economic support, some countries include the Diaspora in commissions and management boards of state institutions.

Given the immense contribution to their home countries, it is quite justified that members of the Diaspora have the right to participate in electoral processes. For a number of countries, the debate has progressed beyond whether this community should vote but to the logistics of implementing voting. For some countries the Diaspora vote could tip electoral outcomes. At any rate, the right to vote essentially means that Africans abroad has a voice in how their home countries are governed.

What appears to be missing in discussions is the responsibility of the Diaspora in supporting the operations of the governments they would help elect. In all African countries, there are no requirements for citizens living abroad to pay taxes on incomes earned abroad. Although sending remittances and investing in their home countries is a significant contribution, citizens living in Africa do the same. The citizens dwelling on the continent have the right to vote and determine how they are governed, but they also have a responsibility to pay for the operation of their governments. Considering that members of the Diaspora have incomes higher than the median incomes of their home countries, giving them the right to vote without requiring tax payments is a luxury that African countries cannot afford. Rights must come with responsibilities. The debate then should progress beyond implementing voting to logistics of taxing the Diaspora such as allowing for deductions for taxes paid in other jurisdictions.