Liberian Scholar Launches Book on Dual Citizenship

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The author, Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey, launched her book on publication day at the University of Liberia. (Photo courtesy of Joy Jacobs)

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. 

Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey (center) along with panelists Mr. Thomas Kaydor (left) and Dr. Samuel Toe (right) at the launch of her book on dual citizenship.

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.

Critical praise

Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey’s new book, Development (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa: The Political Economy of Belonging to Liberia (Cambridge University Press, 2021). The book cover image was produced by Liberian visual artist Chase P. Walker.

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.”

World Launch

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.

Members of the audience listen keenly to a presentation on dual citizenship by Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey at the launch of her book on the subject.

“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.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I did not read Dr. Pailey’s book, but the topic it addresses: “Dual Citizenship in Liberia” is a topic that has been spearheaded by a group of diaspora Liberians predominantly based in the United States. A campaign of dual citizenship has been waged from the United States rigorously for over a decade by some Liberians who have naturalized as US citizens. I empathized with this group of Liberians, or American-Liberians. For many in this group, the nostalgia for mother Liberia is real, I mean, painfully real! However, there is also a real problem with their dream about becoming a dual citizens of the US, a country they admire, and Liberia, a country of their birth, which they love.

    It seems that Dr. Pailey may have addressed some of the compound-complex issues of this topic which, regrettably, some of the proponents of dual citizenship may have overlooked and/or taken for granted. The one thousand pound gorilla in the room surrounding this topic is embedded in the history of the Republic of Liberia as well as the experience of the ordinary Liberian in the streets of the nation today. The experience of the ordinary Liberian has been exacerbated by our recent fourteen plus (14+) years of brutal civil war in the country. A war waged by Liberians from abroad!

    The history of Liberia is just like a double edged sword to the freed slaves that returned from America and founded the nation state of Liberia, on one hand, and the natives of the hand, on the other hand. The experience of the returned freed slaves compelled them to include a clause in the the 1847 Constitution of the nation which states that only people of negro descent will be eligible for citizenship. A second clause carried in that constitution is, and to paraphrase, that Liberian citizens shall hold no citizenship (loyalty) to another country simultaneously. Their experience, and what was perceived as a threat, that compelled the inclusion of these clauses into the constitution were real – slavery in America, and divided loyalty to a small fragile nation in Africa – were, and still are perceived as threat to the economy and national integrity of the nation. Even, while President Samuel Kanyon Doe vowed to make Lebanese residents in Liberia citizens, the committee he set up to draft the 1984 constitution included the “only people of negro descent” clause in the new constitution. No Liberian citizen shall hold no other citizenship was also included.

    For the natives of the land, they felt and still feel the long struggles of marginalization and disenfranchisement, socially, politically, and economically on their own soil from the hands of the returned freed slaves from America, has been stingingly humiliating! Hence, Liberia has, throughout her history, been a land of suspicion and distrust, especially between the Americo-Liberians and the natives.

    The fear of marginalization of the ordinary Liberian and divided loyalty to the nation by dual citizens are the underpinning reasons why Liberians will always vote against any amendment of the constitution on these grounds as named above. As it is right now, the nation is struggling with loyalty to state and fellow Liberians by compatriots who are elected and put in charge of running the affairs of the national government. People who seem to care less about country and kin when it comes making sound and selfless decisions in the interest of the common good of the nation and posterity. Many feel that these woes will be compounded with the introduction of dual citizenship (people with dual loyalty). The Liberian experience is different and unique from dual citizenship in other countries in Africa or otherwise.

    • “The Liberian experience is different and unique from dual citizenship in other African country in africa”.
      Charise Anders.

  2. Charlse Anders

    Thanks for your insightful and illuminating comments. You are one individual whose comments I always gravitate towards reading in term of the quality of your inputs on many substantive issues pertaining to Liberia.

    By the way are you in academia Charlse?

    • Paul Albert, this guy has not even read the book and yet according to you he is able to make ”insightful and illuminating comments”?

      Is one ranting about the marginalization of the rest of the population by Americo or American Liberians ranging from these less than 5 percent of the population Americo Liberians or American Liberians regarding the rest of the population as inferior human beings? And worst,, these very half Liberians flighting away after stealing or waging war, anything new to anybody whether literate or illiterate???

      This half baked is simply another one of their types (intentional parasites on Liberia) foolishly believing he can come out here to cunningly disparage the rest of the population in his ignorance and idiocy.

      Is this not the same and very rascal along with that other satan on pulpit Samuel vansiea who came here in their usual presumptuous posturing elevating the worst of Liberian Presidents ..CDB King and WVS Tubman while discrediting leaders of the indigenous population, when the both of them are chronic dullards viz both Liberian History, and the United States policy towards Liberia from past to present?!

  3. Let me say this as a matter of effect. The dual citizenship issue in Liberia is merely a superficial gamesmanship. Liberians who are citizens of other countries are still Liberians when they return to Liberia.

    All these theoretical debates over dual citizenship have no relevance to reality.

    Several Liberians are United States citizens and have all held positions of trust in Liberia. No one has ever queried them for being a citizen of another country. I will show you several examples.

    Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who became president of Liberia is a United States citizen by naturalization. Likewise Charles Taylor, and current President George Weah. Fonati Koffah are United States citizens. What about all of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf children? They are all United States citizens.

    I am compiling the list of Liberians who are United States citizens and are in position of trust. No one really cares.

  4. I rarely reply to individuals who react to my post. But Mr. Neal, you made my day! If what you stated about the people you mentioned in your reaction is true, and nothing but the truth, then you made my point clearly. Two of the individuals you mentioned above were complacent in the fourteen-plus (14+) years destructive war in Liberia. They are very powerful people who fought their way to the presidency. Another one is the incumbent. He too is very powerful.

    I do not know how true it is, but the sitting president accused his immediate predecessor of presiding over four billion ($4,000,000,000.00+) US dollars from the international community for the reconstruction of war torn Liberia. Where did all that money go? The incumbent forgot to audit his immediate predecessor upon assuming office in 2018. If he did, he failed to inform the Liberian people who hired him as their president! But after criticism from the immediate predecessor for failure of paying civil servants for the holiday season he began spilling out information his auditors may have, indeed, found out!

    Are these examples testament to undivided loyalty to country and fellow country men/women?

    This is just a tip of the iceberg of the Dilemma of misrule in Liberia. There has also been rumors that the immediate past president may have accumulated properties in South Africa during her incumbency. Without an audit of her twelve years of stewardship, it will just remain a rumor. The struggling Liberian people may never know.

    Now, anyone would easily come to the conclusion why the ordinary Liberian will be highly suspicious of dual citizenship, and making people other than those that are of negro descent, citizens of Liberia. WHEN WILL WE START FEELING SORRY FOR OUR POOR STRUGGLING PEOPLE? Oh, after I get soakingly rich. But, a wise man once said: “Son of a bitch never gets rich”!

  5. That’s all this brilliant Economic Professor has to offer her poor country? To fight against dual citizenship for those who were born in Liberia? Is that what her Thesis was about? Is she serious, knowing that most in power in Liberia carry passports of other countries?
    I think she will stay long inside!

  6. Kweme

    Your comments seem to raise more confusion than understanding. First, you ask this question, “That’s all this brilliant Economic Professor has to offer her poor country? To fight against dual citizenship for those who were born in Liberia?”
    Are you saying the intention of her book is to fight against the effort of those who are trying to achieve dual citizenship or fight for their causes? Could you make some clarity here so readers do not misconstrue you?

    Second, you ask: “Is she serious, knowing that most in power in Liberia carry passports of other countries?”
    Now, here goes the second confusion. I agree a cross-section of Liberians or some members of congress do carry foreign passports. However, when you say that most of them in Liberia carry passports of other countries, then I disagree with you because you did not produce any statistical evidence to prove this point.

    Third, you also ask: “Is that what her thesis is about?” Well, if you do not understand what her thesis is about, then why do you conclude by saying, “I think she will stay long inside!?”

    I think a little more clarity is needed to get your topic across well.

  7. Why are Liberians so alarmed and unsettled by what some Liberians called “dual citizenship”? Why should Liberians born in Liberia and bred in one of Liberia’s towns and villages in the 15 counties of Liberia be apprehensive about been granted what some Liberians called “dual citizenship”? Come what may, Liberians born and bred in Liberia are Liberians, and they are always citizens of Liberia, no matter what. As far as my eyes can see and from where I sit, unfortunately, it appears to me those Liberians that are aggressively advocating and promoting the doctrine of “dual citizenship” may not know nor fully understand and appreciate the political and legal history of Liberia. Since Liberia gained her independence on July 26, 1847 to today’s date, Government after Government in Liberia, to include the Governments of Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Mr. George Manneh Weah, mainly the presidency of Liberia to include many other key agencies and institutions in Liberia, including the Legislature, (the Senate and House of Representatives), the National Elections Commission (NEC), and other publicly known and statutorily created agencies of the Government of Liberia has been occupied and overtly controlled by Liberians, many of whom are naturalized citizens of the United States of America and other countries.

    Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first and only female President of Liberia who governed Liberia from January 2006 to January 2018, though elected President of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is and remains an unrepentant naturalized citizen of the United States of America. Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya, the former Chairman of Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC), is a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. Also, Cllr. Boakai A. Duskily, a current member of the Board of Commissioners and a Commissioner at the National Elections Commission (NEC), is a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. Mr. Thomas Grupe, former Senator of Nimba County, is a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. And many more Liberians who have worked and are working in the Government of Liberia, like Mrs. Clara Marie Weah, the Wife of President George Manneh Weah, is also a United States citizen. Mr. George Manneh Weah, the current President of Liberia, is also a United States citizen. Mr. Alexander Benedict Cummings, the political leader of Alternative National Congress (ANC), the man who ran for the presidency of Liberia in 2011 and 2017 and lost, is a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. Other Native Liberians, Amara Mohammed Konneh, and others who worked in the Government of Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, are also citizens of the United States of America.

    What and how much more do Liberians and their Government to leave Liberians born and bred in Liberia alone and stop playing around with Liberia’s Constitution.

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