Influential members of the Liberian Senate are making a strong push for Liberia’s recognition of dual citizenship with other countries. This would allow hundreds of thousands of diaspora Liberians holding foreign citizenship to maintain all of the rights and privileges of the land of their birth and/or parentage.
The dual citizenship debate resurfaced on January 27, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf delivered her State of the Nation Address to the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“A great human capital resource for the development of this country lies in the Liberian Diaspora,” the President told lawmakers. “We trust that as you move forward during this session, and in your deliberations, you will give adequate consideration to the recognition of citizens’ rights for those persons born as Liberians, and those born of Liberian parentage who wish to contribute fully to the development of this country as citizens. The grant of Liberian citizenship would enable us to draw on the wealth of financial, technical and other resources available to that category of persons that could be deployed nationally," she asserted.
The Liberian Senate currently has a proposed dual citizenship legislation before it. Many senators interviewed by the Daily Observer expressed support for the bill, arguing that instituting such measure will increase diaspora Liberians’ participation in the nation’s economy.
Senators Cletus Wotorson, Jewel Howard Taylor, Joseph Nagbe, Abel Massaley, Thomas Grupee and Frederick Cherue all expressed support for legalizing said instrument.
Senators Grupee and Massaley in particular said they believed that the time has come for all Liberians to accept their fellow brothers and sisters who acquired second citizenship from elsewhere but want to maintain their original Liberian citizenship.
“If you leave this country and went to England; while there something goes wrong. You will be scrapped of the rights you enjoy at that moment and deported to your home country.
“This tells you that a citizenship you obtained by naturalization is temporary, and the only citizenship that matters is the one by birth,” Senator Grupee reasoned.
“The argument raised by some Liberians in many quarters indicating that legalizing dual citizenship would be at the disadvantage of state and large portion of the population is lazy,” he asserted.
Senator Grupee, a partisan of the National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP) hailing from Nimba County, added that Liberians should be receptive of their brothers and sisters who left the country to seek refuge in other countries, and because of circumstances, took up citizenship in those areas but still want to maintain their original status as Liberians.
“I strongly support the bill and believe that the bill is very good for our country,” he said. “The problem right now is lack of education on the bill. Most of our people don’t have knowledge of the proposed legislation and there is a need to have more awareness on the matter.”
For his part, Grand Cape Mount County Senator Abel Massaley described the bill as “critical but cardinal” to the long-term developmental process of the country.
He asserted that affording diaspora Liberians the opportunity to feel a part of their homeland is very important to the country’s reconciliation drive.
The Cape Mount Senator was quick to declare that most senators support the idea, “but nobody wants to sponsor it, I mean to serve as frontrunner of the proposed legislation like it is being done with other legislations.”
Other lawmakers, however, have said that the dual citizenship discussion is not a national or legislative priority at the present time. They, along with other Liberians against the urgent passage of the bill, argue that Liberia has more pressing issues to be discussed than dual citizenship.
The question has often been asked rhetorically: “How many Liberians returning home are looked upon as foreigners?”
One political commentator, Mr. Abraham D. Dillon, told the Observer that dual citizenship is not a priority item for Liberia right now.
Dillon, who is also a Senior Policy Advisor in one of Liberia’s opposition political parties (Liberty Party), stated that before one starts to talk about dual citizenship, one should look at the cause(s) of it.
“Have you ever heard of Liberians wanting to become citizens of Guinea, Sierra Leone or Central African Republic as it is with Western nations? I am not saying you won’t find one or two Liberians who would want to become citizens of those nations; but majority would prefer being citizens of the West because the opportunities provided by Western nations are not provided here in Liberia,” he explained.
He emphasized that if the Liberian Government can make opportunities such as access to student loans, better retirement packages and better jobs available to every Liberian, good healthcare, few Liberians would willingly become citizens of another nation.
He also argued, however, that most of Liberia’s insurrections have always begun with these ‘diaspora Liberians,’ who when the fire starts to burn, are directly evacuated by those countries of their second choice, leaving behind ordinary Liberians, who have had no say when they (diaspora Liberians) planned to destroy their own nation.
Liberians in Australia want Dual Citizenship
Meanwhile, Liberians residing in Australia want Monrovia to pass the legislation legalizing dual citizenship under the country’s nationality system.
In May 2013, our reporter attended a meeting in which the Liberian Community in Australia met with Vice President Joseph Boakai in Syndey. They asked that they be given the opportunity to reclaim their status in the country of their birth as a means of fostering development at home.
Justin K. Koholo, considered an elder by the Liberian Community in Sydney, noted that those with dual citizenship have the potential to transform the country but cannot do so with the current limitations regarding their citizenship status.
“I’m a born Liberian, [as are] my children. We sometimes encounter problems with Liberian immigration when we travel [because of] the passports we carry. I’m just a citizen by paper in Australia, but I consider Liberia my own birth place,” Mr. Koholo declared.
The Vice President, in response, applauded the Australia-based Liberians for remittances sent back home to family members but encouraged them to return.
“I know it’s difficult working here and taking care of family in Liberia. However, in the midst of all that, you are trying to contribute to our economy. I urge you to take interest in coming back home and contributing more to the society as Liberia needs all of us right now,” Boakai said.
US-based Liberians Weigh in
Liberians based in the United States have also reacted to President Sirleaf’s statement. Mr. Torli H. Krua, founder YOUNG-Africa Inc., told the Observer that he is not convinced by the President’s arguments.
“The government needs to do more. For example, the President needs to take the first bold step by granting visa waivers to members of the Liberian Diaspora, welcoming them to return, explore and serve. This action does not require legislation. Already, all citizens of ECOWAS states do not need a visa to enter Liberia. The government needs to lead in order for the legislators and voters to follow.”
Krua, also the founder of Universal Human Rights International (UHRI), a Boston-based organization, further stated, however, that Liberians in the Diaspora must put their money where their mouths are.
“The advocacy in the Diaspora community is all talk and little action. Diaspora Liberians won't even pay money for their own green cards. ‘I won't pay a dime for green card’ Krua quoted Liberians as saying. ‘When they get it, we will get it’."
Buttressing the argument proffered by those lawmakers who view a dual citizenship legislation as premature, Krua stated that the legislators are serving the citizens, who are the voters. They must therefore listen to the voters and take orders from their constituents. He agreed with those calling for more public education in such matters as a first step.
“While I have no evidence that ‘dual citizenship’ can develop a country,” Krua added, “it is a proven fact that ideas and innovation are fuels that drive the economies of industrialized and developed countries worldwide. In Liberia, our orientation, education and training are primarily political and bankrupt of new ideas and innovation. If bringing folks from overseas can transform the Liberian economy, then we already have what we desire. Not much has changed in Liberia because the mentality of Liberians by and large, whether in the Diaspora or at home, is driven by politics and self-interest. We need a new training and orientation that elevate striving for the common good, public service, patriotism and entrepreneurship. Joseph Jenkins Roberts created a model that we need to follow. While others deposit money earned in Africa in banks in Europe and America and are only concerned about enriching their children and friends, Roberts donated his estate to educate all Liberian children.”
Robtel N. Pailey, a Liberian writer and doctoral candidate in Development Studies at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), agrees. Pailey’s research focuses on the factors that have influenced the introduction and postponement in the passage of the proposed dual citizenship legislation for Liberia.
“There are a number of major gaps in the last copy of the proposed dual citizenship bill that I saw, so I’m not convinced it’s ready for Legislative consideration just yet,” she explained. “For instance, the proposed bill has no stipulations on the responsibilities or rights of would-be dual citizens, such as paying taxes, abiding by state laws, running for high political office, voting in national elections, or owning land. I’m also concerned about leaving such a contentious issue to a legislative vote. Since the proposed bill is essentially a constitutional issue, it should go to a referendum, allowing the Liberian people to decide, just like we did in 2011 for the 10-year residency clause, amongst other issues.
“I would hazard to guess,” she added, “that the vast majority of Liberia-based Liberians are less concerned about dual citizenship and more concerned about realizing the full potential of their own citizenship rights, like the right to a living wage; the right to transitional justice; the right to quality education; the right to derive meaningful benefits from natural resource extraction; the right to adequate health care; the right to electricity, clean water, and sanitation. When these issues are resolved fully, then perhaps we’ll be able to adequately address dual citizenship.”
With an assist from Alaskai Moore Johnson