Racism in Our Citizenship Clause


Chapter IV of the Liberian Constitution, which deals with citizenship, reads thus: “In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.”

This provision is racist, morally repugnant and has no place in the Constitution of any nation in the 21st century. There may have been some justification for it in the early part of the 19th century when it was first enacted in our 1822 Constitution. But, like the clause, also in that Constitution, that reserved voting rights only to those who owned real estate—-land and buildings—this provision should go the way of the dinosaur. It should be expunged.

Up until 1994, there were only two countries in world with racist citizenship criteria: Liberia and apartheid South Africa. Now we are the only country left with that dubious distinction. It is something of which I, as a Liberian citizen and son of the soil, am not proud.

The Founding Fathers of the Republic, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Yehudi Ashmun, Elijah Johnson and co. were all deathly afraid in 1822 that, having escaped the ravages of racial discrimination in the United States, if they allowed white people to become citizens of our fledgling nation, they would follow them, become citizens and rob them of the new-found freedom. One can argue about whether or not that was a well-founded fear. There is no gainsaying that in the climate of the times (Liberia later lost portions of its territory to the British [Sherbro Island, etc in what is now Sierra Leone]; the French took San Pedro in what is now Cote d’Ivoire and portions of what is now Guinea), it was not a fear to be taken lightly.

But that was over 150 years ago. We live in a different world today, a global village where the races are intermingling and where race as a basis for public policy is universally condemned. Liberians leave here, go to foreign countries—-the United States, France, Germany, etc. If any of those governments decided to enact laws that would prohibit Liberians from becoming citizens of their country on account of our race, we would be marching up and down at the United Nations with placards and condemning them loudly. So, why is it wrong for other people to be racist but okay for us to be racist? That is the hypocrisy of those who cling to the outdated notion that we should continue to prohibit white people, brown people, yellow people from becoming Liberian citizens unless their DNA contains a smidgen of Negro blood.

Then there is the question of what constitutes “Negro descent”? The argument is as absurd as the medieval, ecclesiastical debates about how many angels could sit on the head of a pin. An illustration will suffice.

A Han Chinese boy, born and bred in Outer Mongolia, who cannot speak a word of English and cannot recognize Liberia on a map, but whose great, great, great, great grandmother was from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, can get on a plane, fly to Liberia and in time naturalize as a Liberian citizen by virtue of his passing the “Negro descent” test. But a Lebanese boy, born in, and who has spent his entire life in, Bolahun, who has never been to Beirut, and who speaks only broken English but is fluent in Gbandi, cannot obtain Liberian citizenship on account of his race. That is wrong, morally wrong, and his no place in the Constitution of a civilized nation. We need to amend our Constitution to strike out that canker and we need to do it now.

The writer is a businessman. He can be reached at .


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