The issue of dual citizenship has generated a lot of commentary and heat here in Liberia as well as in the Diaspora, especially in the United States. Those who support it are exercised about the righteousness of their cause. Their argument goes something like this. Commencing with the coup d'etat mounted by M/Sgt Samuel Doe and his 17 compadres in 1980, Liberians started leaving the country involuntarily in large numbers, fleeing persecution and political instability.
The second wave came in 1985 in the wake of the abortive Quiwonkpa failed coup. The atrocities, especially those perpetrated against the Gio and Mano populations, have been amply documented in such books as "A Promise Betrayed" by Bill Berkeley of the Lawyers' Committee on Human Rights.
The civil war followed in 1989 and a third wave ensued, all the way through Octopus, April 6, 1996 and World War III in 2003. Those who were forced to leave Liberia to avoid slaughter, rape, maiming, displacement or such other horrors of war argue that they should not lose their right to Liberian citizenship because they opted to take citizenship of another country while they were in the Diaspora. They feel that they should be entitled to recover their Liberian citizenship, along with all the rights and privileges that go with citizenship now that peace and harmony reign. They want to be dual citizens, i.e. citizens of Liberia and of the United States or whatever other country they have adopted as their new home. They want to have their cake and eat it too.
Those opposed to the notion of dual citizenship are equally adamant that they don't want people with one foot in Liberia and another foot elsewhere. Citing the case of Ellen Cockrum, they fear that dual citizens will commit crimes in Liberia, then hop on a Brussels Airlines flight to avoid prosecution. Emotions are raw.
The issue of dual citizenship is a complex one. First, foreign citizenship is a matter of choice. A personal example will illustrate the point.
I fled Liberia in 1986 because C-I-C Samuel Doe was after my hide. My dear friend Jim Holder, Ellen Sirleaf, my father Harry Sr., Tuan Wreh, Jackson Doe, Gabriel Kpolleh and a number of other political figures had been arrested and incarcerated in the aftermath of the Quiwonkpa debacle. Because they had not gotten up soooon in the morning, Doe and his henchmen did not get me. I was hiding right under their noses in Monrovia. But when my mother-in-law, Justine Nimley, asked her brother, G. Alvin Jones, what would happen to me if I turned myself in, the clip response was that "They would skin me alive". Understandably, I was not brought out of my hiding place.
Instead, I journeyed to the United States and applied for political asylum. If ever there was a person for whom the asylum laws of the United States were created, it was me. I had a "well founded fear of persecution". So, when the time came and I became eligible for US citizenship I chose not to obtain US citizenship. I did so because I knew that eventually I would come back to Liberia and I didn't want to lose my Liberian citizenship. My wife at the time and eldest daughter, both of whom were born in Liberia, chose to become US citizens. I settled instead for a Green Card.
I lived in the United States for 16 years and missed out on a lot of the benefits of citizenship. But that was my choice. Life is like that. You make choices and you have to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices you make. That goes for citizenship as it does for many other things. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.
Proponents of dual citizenship focus on the benefits of citizenship but often forget about its obligations. One of the privileges of citizenship, which many proponents of dual citizenship are eyeing, is the right to vote in elections in Liberia. But if you do not live here and consequently have to live with the consequences of the choices you make at election time, is it fair for you to be given the right to vote here?
Another of the obligations of citizenship is supporting the cost of government through taxation. Under American law, a US citizen must pay taxes on their income wherever it is earned. Would dual citizens accept to pay taxes in Liberia as well as in, say, the United States even though they may not live in Liberia? If the answer is no, then how would they be contributing to upkeep of the government in Liberia in the way that those living in Liberia do?
The writer is a businessman. He can be reached at [email protected]