Liberia: “Push-back Against Dual Citizenship Is Due to Inequality”

Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey during her presentation at the Senate. 


... Says a Liberian Scholar 

Acclaimed Liberian scholar Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey has disclosed that public backlash against dual citizenship stems from socio-economic inequalities in Liberia. 

Dr. Pailey, an Assistant Professor in International Social and Public Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), was invited by the Liberian Senate on 14 December 2021 to present the findings and policy recommendations of her recently published book, Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa: The Political Economy of Belonging to Liberia.

She argued that reducing inequalities would minimize the fears of Liberians at home, who, she said, “view dual citizenship as a zero-sum, infringing upon their already limited access to political, economic and social rights.” 

Dr. Pailey acknowledged that many Liberians abroad want to be able to keep their Liberian citizenship by birth and ancestry because they have helped to keep the country afloat during times of war and peace. “Liberian diasporas have been important political, economic and social actors—sending remittances, lobbying for the cessation of war, investing in productive sectors such as real estate and agriculture, etc.”, she said. 

Yet, while arguing that dual citizenship is inevitable for Liberia, since most African countries permit some form of double nationality, Dr. Pailey cautioned policymakers to “strike a balance between advancing the aspirations of Liberians abroad and addressing the anxieties of those at home.”

She disclosed that Liberian diasporas, through their actions, have elicited both support and rejection of dual citizenship. 

Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa was published in January 2021 by Cambridge University Press.

“One of the key findings of my book is that Liberian diasporas have simultaneously helped and hindered post-war development through their public-sector productivity and post-war profiteering, respectively, and that backlash against dual citizenship stems from the outsized influence of diasporas/returnees in managing the affairs of government, especially those who have been implicated in corruption,” Dr. Pailey informed the Liberian Senate. 

Because of this, the LSE assistant professor maintained that would-be dual citizens should be prohibited from holding key positions that impact national security, law enforcement, and the economy. 

“Given concerns around divided loyalties, I don’t think a would-be dual citizen should head the Supreme Court, Armed Forces of Liberia, Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Liberia, etc.”, she reasoned.

Dr. Pailey continued: “I argue in the conclusions of my book that Liberia must take a gradual, phased approach to dual citizenship enactment given the legitimate concerns of Liberians in Liberia. It must minimize inequalities, including those related to income, land access, and transitional justice. It must reform the judiciary to enforce standing legal regulations. It must extend rights to diasporas while also extracting responsibilities from them.” 

Dr. Pailey presented her book to President Pro-Tempore of Liberia's Senate, Senator Albert Tugbe Chie, in his Monrovia office.

Dr. Pailey praised a recent dual citizenship bill passed by the House of Representatives for reconciling some of the contradictions between Liberia’s 1986 Constitution and 1973 Aliens and Nationality Law and for removing the sexist provision barring a Liberian citizen woman from passing on citizenship to her children born abroad. Yet, she said the House bill, which was sent to the Senate for concurrence, must include essential revisions. “These include restricting the political rights of would-be dual citizens, penalizing would-be dual citizens who contravene Liberian laws, and requiring would-be dual citizens to pay income and property taxes to the Liberian state, regardless of residence”, Dr. Pailey disclosed. 

Her two-page briefing and oral presentation to the Senate were based on almost a decade of extensive research, including in-depth interviews she conducted with over 200 Liberians in Monrovia, Freetown, Accra, Washington, DC, and London. 

Dr. Pailey’s book has been featured in The Washington Post, OK FM’s The Afternoon Conversation, the BBC’s Focus on Africa, the LSE Review of Books, amongst other media outlets. It continues to receive praise from prominent scholars in her fields of expertise, including seasoned Liberian academics. 

Watch Dr. Pailey’s full Senate briefing beginning at 00:45:48.