Liberian scholar Robtel Neajai Pailey on January 7, 2021 held the inaugural launch of her latest book, Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa: The Political Economy of Belonging to Liberia, published by top academic publisher Cambridge University Press.
According to the book’s synopsis, it draws on “rich life histories from over two hundred in-depth interviews in West Africa, Europe, and North America.” In it, Pailey “examines socio-economic change in Liberia, Africa’s first black republic, through the prism of citizenship” and explores whether dual citizenship reproduces inequalities.
Dr. Pailey also “reveals that as Liberia transformed from a country of immigration to one of emigration, so too did the nature of citizenship, thus influencing claims for and against dual citizenship.” She discusses citizenship from an Afrocentric and empirical perspective, something Dr. Pailey says is often missing in scholarly literature.
“Most of the literature on citizenship tends to be Eurocentric and abstract,” she says. Though the book addresses dual citizenship in Africa, Dr. Pailey says it is specifically a case study about Liberia.
“Why Liberia? Liberia, as you know, was the first black African republic and as a result, it was really the first country in the continent of Africa to devise legal norms around membership and citizenship. It is a unique case study,” she says.
According to Dr. Pailey, her book is the first study that looks at both domestic and diasporic constructions and practices of Liberian citizenship across space and time. The book takes as its entry point a dual citizenship bill that was introduced in Liberia in 2008 which was never passed.
Dr. Pailey’s research was conducted from 2011 to 2014, during which time she interviewed Liberians of different ages, genders, socio-economic positions, citizenship statuses, migration histories, etc.
“I talked to homelanders, Liberians who did not leave during the war or maybe left for a very short period of time, and I compared their experiences to returnees. I compared and contrasted executive branch policymakers with legislative policymakers. I interviewed the four sponsors of the 2008 dual citizenship bill — Jewel Howard Taylor, Cletus Wotorson, Sumo Kupee and Abel Massalay. The third group that I compared and contrasted are near and wider diasporas,” she says.
According to Bronwen Manby of the London School of Economics and Political Science, “Pailey has broken new ground, creating the first in-depth scholarly examination of Liberian citizenship.” She calls it “an invaluable contribution to the literature of citizenship and dual citizenship in Africa.”
Frances B. Nyamnjoh, of the University of Cape Town, says: “In a global context of growing ferment in citizenship, Pailey’s brilliant historical and socio-anthropological account of the politics of belonging in and to Liberia exposes the games of power and privilege in claims, denials and contestations of citizenship and its materializations.”
Séverine Autesserre, of Barnard College, Columbia University, says that Pailey “combines an in-depth understanding of Liberian society, politics, and economy that only an insider can possess with the thoroughness, nuance, and rigor of the best kind of outside academic research.”
Beth Elise Whitaker, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says the author “weaves together theory, interviews and reflections from her own experiences navigating Liberia and the diaspora, bringing a richness to the discussion that makes the book accessible to a broad audience.”
And Nicholas Van Hear of the University of Oxford says “Robtel Neajai Pailey is prominent among a new cohort of young African scholars who are reinvigorating the way we look at African societies, diasporas, mobility, conflict and citizenship.”
The inaugural launch of Dr. Pailey’s book at the University of Liberia coincided with the official publication date. Other launches have been scheduled in the cities where she conducted interviews, including London, United Kingdom; Washington, DC, United States; Accra, Ghana; and Freetown, Sierra Leone.
“Even though I am based in London, I was determined to ensure that the inaugural launch of this book would be held on Liberian soil,” she said.
The Monrovia launch of the book was graced by many officials including Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, Lofa County Senator-elect Brownie J. Samukai, President of the University of Liberia (UL), Julius Julukon Sarwolo Nelson, UL Vice President for Graduate Education and Research, Dr. Jonathan Taylor, Chief-of-Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Prince C. Johnson, amongst others.
According to Dr. Pailey’s personal website, she “is a Liberian academic, activist, and author with more than 15 years of combined personal and professional experiences in Africa, Europe and in North America. Having worked across a broad range of fields supporting universities, governments, media institutions, multilateral, regional, non-governmental and community-based organizations, she has practitioner-based proficiencies in qualitative research, capacity development, policy design and analysis, program management, report and grant writing, journalism and strategic communications.”
Dr. Pailey is currently Assistant Professor in International Social and Public Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Visit https://www.robtelneajaipailey.com/events for more information about her launch tour.