Liberia Must End ‘Racist Negro Clause’

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By Willard Russell

The framers of our Constitution knew that time could blind us to certain truths and later generations can see laws once thought necessary, can only serve to oppress. It is the case with the ‘Nationality Clause’ in the Liberian Constitution, the 6,000-pound elephant in the room. Liberia’s Nationality Laws, based on its original 1847 Constitution and included in subsequent revisions, are profoundly discriminatory, which requires being black as the only prerequisite for becoming a citizen. Nationality is conferred solely based on race. Under the current constitution, only persons of Negroid origins can obtain citizenship. It is wrong! It is archaic! It is hypocritical, especially when Liberians are in the US, Canada, and other majority-white countries demanding and gaining citizenship in those countries.

One of the great intellectual and moral epiphanies of the modern era is the realization that human racial diversity is a tremendous asset. It has become conventional wisdom that being around those unlike ourselves makes us better people, and more productive people. Social scientists have long shown that diversity in the workplace can increase creative thinking and improve performance. Meanwhile, excessive homogeneity can lead to stagnation and poor problem-solving.

Amending the discriminatory ‘Nationality Clause’ in the constitution would encourage greater investments in the country at a time when Liberia’s economy is in tatters, with one of the highest unemployment rates in Africa. As a founding member of the United Nations and signatory to many international treaties including the “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” Liberia cannot cherry-pick which world order it supports when dealing with human dignity. The issue of racial prejudice in Liberia is a worrying concern for many non-black investors. Liberia can enact laws to protect local small business owners from wealthy foreign investors, but a constitutionally endorsed discrimination against whites, Asians, and other non-black groups is not a wise public policy.

In Nigeria, where I worked for two years, there are many issues, prominent of which are tribalism, sectarianism, and regionalism, but state endorsed racial discrimination is not one. People of various ethnic orientations are active both in the formal and informal economic sectors. My boss was a white Nigerian; yes, they do exist, and are visible throughout the country. I had the opportunity of interviewing and hiring a Pakistani Nigerian engineer to design solar systems for health facilities in northern Nigeria. Unfortunately, Liberia, which turned 170 years-old last month has a dearth of professionals in the public sector who are of different races because the country’s constitution bars non-Negroes from becoming citizens. The government even excommunicates Liberians who acquire citizenship in other countries. Liberia has stopped short in both the understanding and appreciation of human diversity — the variety of nationalities — and that problem is taking a significant toll on productivity at home and the nation’s image abroad.

I was ashamed to read an article in the New York Times recently about a prominent Harvard-trained medical practitioner, Dr. Raj Panjabi, who was born in Liberia but denied citizenship. Dr. Panjabi and two other civil war victims founded Last Mile Health, which is headquartered in Zwedru with offices in Boston and New York City, and works in the neglected southeast to train community health workers. Last Mile Health has won many international awards and high praises for its work in training frontline health workers in hard-to-reach communities. Dr. Panjabi didn’t start an organization in India, the birthplace of his parents, but in Liberia where he was born. But, the country has turned its back on him. Sadly, he is not alone. There are countless people born in Liberia to parents of different races, including some who are of mixed race, who are denied citizenship. A Guinean American colleague once asked me, “what’s wrong with you Liberians? Why don’t you support dual citizenship?” I was surprised at how well known and silly our dual citizenship debate has become. I said it didn’t make sense to me either. “What is the situation in Guinea,” I asked? He pulled out his American passport and his Guinean passport. Guinea accepts dual and non-negro citizenship, so does most every country in Africa, except Liberia.

Repealing the nationality law will confer rights and duties and put non-black immigrants on an equal footing with native-born citizens. Naturalized immigrants will vote in elections; protected from deportation; travel with a Liberian passport; buy land; and invest their money in the country instead of taking away. The sense of security that comes with citizenship and a commitment to one’s adopted country can lead to increased economic development and long-term investments, such as buying property or opening a business. What many Liberians don’t understand is that diversity doesn’t just sound nice, it has tangible benefits. Many research studies show that homogeneous groups (racial or tribal) like the cabinet can be less creative and insightful than diverse ones. They are more prone to group-think and less likely to question faulty assumptions. Being racially mixed makes it harder to fall back on the tribal identities that have guided so much of Liberia’s history and politics, and has unfortunately re-emerged in this election cycle with some political parties dangerously pushing their so-called “Indigenous Ticket.”

The point is that diversity of groups of people solving problems and creating jobs is linked to economic prosperity. Changing the racist nationality law would also allow Liberia to benefit from the skills, education, and expertise of second generation Indians, Lebanese, Syrians, and Europeans to contribute to the development of the country. Nations and cities that are more diverse are prosperous than the ones that are not, and that often means higher wages for ‘native-born’ citizens. The perception that “whites or Lebanese” gain at “natives’” expense persists, which is folly. Liberians need to quit scapegoating the Lebanese and embrace them, many of whom have a deep devotion to the country and have been in Liberia for generations and know no other homeland.

But, let me be the first to acknowledge that diversity isn’t easy. It is uncomfortable. It can make people feel threatened, but it is necessary and leads to productivity. Most Liberians cling to discriminatory racial views even when exposed to mountains of evidence contrasting those views. But an optimistic interpretation is that when Liberia’s racial makeup moves beyond a certain threshold – when dark-skinned Liberians stop being the majority, for example, and a significant percentage of the population is mixed – racial stereotyping may be harder to do. Maybe.

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51 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a stinking shame that Liberia canNOT confer Liberian citizenship on Dr. Kent Branty because he’s white! During the Ebola crises, this was man who risked making his wife a widower, who risked making his children father-less and who risked his LIFE to save Liberians! But we couldn’t grant him Liberian citizenship because of a racist clause ( Negro Clause) in our Constitution! Shame. Shame. Shame.

    What kind of people are we?? A bunch of racists?? Don’t someone like Dr. Brantly deserve Liberian citizenship, regardless of his race?? Our Constitution should be color blind. It should allow any decent human being to become a Liberian citizen, regardless of their race, creed or color! What the hell are we waiting for to remove that racist clause from our Constitution?

    • There are foreigners of various races who do some good work in Liberia and deserve recognition but their contributions are peanuts when compared to what their countries of origin actually owe Liberia and Africa in general. With Europe and the United States becoming increasingly anti immigration now would be the worst time to change this law; the intent of which was to protect and preserve Liberia in the face of the white supremacist agenda. An agenda which, at present, is still being pursued.

        • Hey Opi, are you saying that it is “peanuts” to save the life of a Liberian? Do you have children? If so, would YOU call it “peanuts” if white doctor safe the life YOUR child?? Also, can you name ONE country, only one, that “owe” Liberia? And how much money, and for what do they owe Liberia? I’m dying to hear your response!

          • No, “their contributions are peanuts when compared to what their countries of origin actually owe Liberia and Africa in general” is exactly what i said. How many children in Africa die due to lack of access to adequate healthcare? This isn’t just the result of poor governance. The state of Africa today can be directly attributed to its exploitation (slavery, colonization and neo colonization) by the Western world. They used this to build their countries and leave us undeveloped. So yes they do owe us and until they recognize this to hell with them and their feelings about our citizenship law.

          • Oh one country is Portugal for starters. Why Portugal you may ask?! Simply because they were one of the countries who was actively engaged in the slave trade on the Grain Coast (by the way they named the area that would eventually become Liberia “the Grain Coast”)
            I can name more if you like?
            Google search “Portuguese Slave Trade”

  2. Opi, if your grandfather committed a murder, should you be blamed and punished for it? People must be treated as individuals when they’re acting as individuals, not as a member of a race or a religion or a gender, until you get that you’ll always be a bigot.

    • Ever heard of false equivalency? Well that is exactly what you did there.

      Answer this question; was Germany ever held accountable for its crimes against humanity? You probably know the answer already. In fact there are countries still claiming reparations from Germany. White supremacy AND general indifference towards to historic crimes committed against African people has empowered Western Nations and left Africa impoverished. Until you get that you are part of the problem.

    • There is NO statutes of limitations on MURDER. So to answer your question if someone broke into your house raped and killed everyone in that house THEN proceeded to take over that house, raise their family and generations upon generations go by and the person who raped and murdered you and your family has been long gone from this earth but their descendants are STILL living in that house that makes them an ACCESSORY TO THE CRIME!!! So long story short, YES THEY SHOULD BE PUNISHED! I applaud Liberia for wanting to take care of their own all these other African nations are sellouts. Blacks/ Negroes FIRST!!!

  3. An anonymous philosopher once said, “Laws are not invented; they grow out of circumstances.”

    Under what circumstances did the Founding Fathers of Liberia put such racist law (only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia) in the original 1847 Constitution of Liberia?

    It is now 2017! This segregated law is still in the Revised Constitution of 1986 under the Liberian Citizenship Clause: Chapter IV, Article 27 section b.

    Liberia’s racial discrimination law to grant Liberian citizenship to “only people of Negro descent” grew out of prevailing circumstances at that time: to expatriate free slaves to Liberia by the American Colonization Society (ACS).

    Therefore, to protect Liberian citizenship for the free settlers, it was agreed upon to limit Liberian citizenship to only people of Negro descent in the original 1847 Constitution of Liberia.

    However, over the past 170 years of Liberia’s Independence, this racist protectionist law has kept Liberia’s socio, political and economic development in bondage.

    As Willard Russell said, “It is wrong! It is archaic! It is hypocritical, especially when Liberians in the US, Canada, and other majority-white countries are demanding and gaining citizenship in those countries.”

    There is an air of xenophobia inherited from our fore fathers to bestow Liberian Citizenship to people of non-negro race. In present day Liberia, some Liberians still fear that these “non-negroes” if granted citizenship will one day take over Liberia’s socio, political and economic affairs thus making black Liberians second-class citizens as our fore fathers experienced in bondage.

    Such paranoiac attitude has led to countless brain-drain that rubbed Liberia of its potential economic development over the last century. Many people of “non-negro descent” that came to Liberia to live, to work, and to study or, to do business in Liberia over the past one hundred years: some married Liberians, some had children born in Liberia, and some married non-blacks of a different race.

    Because of our racial discriminatory citizenship law that forbids granting citizenship to people of “ non-negro descent”, all these “non-negro” born in Liberia were denied Liberian citizenship.

    I can attest for some white children born in Yekepa, Nimba, at the defunct LAMCO in the seventies. Some “non-negro” children born in Bong Mines; some born in LMC (Bomi Hills): some children born in Firestone, (Harbel); some children born at the Mano River Mines; some children born at Vamply (Sinoe County); some children born at LIBSUCO (Maryland Co.); some children born from expatriate employees at LIBTRACO (Waterside); and children born from parents who owned many Syrian, Lebanese, and Indian Businesses that dominated Liberia in 60s, 70s, 80s.

    Where are all those “non-negro” children now who were born in Liberia? If they were granted Liberian citizenship, today they could have contributed their talent to the socio, political and economic development of Liberia. Instead, our racist law has deprived them of their place of birth called Liberia.

    We can give Liberian citizenship to people of “Negro descent” no matter where they come from, but Liberia Constitution denies people of other racial groups from obtaining Liberian citizenship even if they were born in Liberia. This is a complete travesty to the international norm!

    No wonder, foreign blacks who acquired Liberian citizenship through naturalization are using our lax citizenship law as a means of convenience to acquire wealth, and as a means of convenience to acquire Liberian passport to get the United States of America.

    Denial of Liberian citizenship to people of a different race who were born in Liberia is detrimental to economic development. It causes brain-drain of talented people to leave the country. It creates an economic barrier to capital investment. It breeds ground for capital flight to other countries. It alienates foreign nationals who want to permanently settle in Liberia as Liberian citizens…..and just to name a few.

    Remember, just as this racist law grew out of circumstances around 1847, present day circumstances in Liberia, are reasons to abolish this racist law in Liberia’s Constitution.

    As Willard Russell said, “This law is archaic! This law is wrong!”

    May God Bless The Republic of Liberia!!!

  4. Ok, let me get this straight: Are YOU saying that Dr. Brantly’s contributions to the Liberia is “peanuts”, when compared to what his country (United States) “owes” Liberia for slavery? Is that your position?

    But comparing an individual’s (Dr. Brantley) CONTRIBUTION to the Liberian people to what his COUNTRY of origin “owes” Liberia sounds like comparing apples to oranges to me.

    First, Dr.Brantly did NOT enslave any Liberian!. And second, his contribution to Liberians was based on his Christian Faith. So what does his contribution to the Liberian people has to do with slavery??

    During the era of slavery in America, most white people didn’t owned slaves. Few whites in the southern states did owned slaves! Whites in the North did NOT owned any slave! So, why should the DESCENDANTS of ALL white people be obligated to pay for slavery?

    Hey Opi, if your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather owned slaves, do YOU think you should be obligated to pay cash money to their ANCESTORS for HIS slaves?? In other words, do YOU think people alive today are responsible for what their ancestors did in centuries past?

    Also, how about those millions of white immigrants who came to America from Europe, Asia and Latin America after slavery was over. Are their descendants guilty of slavery too and expected to pay out hard cash to Americo-Liberians?

    By the way, if anyone is “owed” cash for slavery, it would be the Americo-Liberians (congua people) and their ancestors! Why? Because they were the ones who were taken to America as slaves!

    Also, I agree that the Portuguese “actively engage in slave trade”. But hasn’t slavery been a part of the human condition throughout recorded history?. Romans enslaved other Europeans; Greeks enslaved other Greeks; Asians enslaved Asians; Africans enslaved Africans, Arabs enslaved black Africans and Asians.

    Oh wait, shouldn’t we denied Arabs Liberian citizenship because of their enslavement of Black Africans?? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander–right?

    • Do you agree that the Jewish people deserved reparations? Do you agree that Europe was entitled to a Marshall plan? Your answer(s) will be very telling.

      • Opi, do you think Germans are allowed to become Israeli citizens? Can you name a single country anywhere, apart from Liberia, that has explicitly racist citizenship laws? You can’t such blatantly racist laws do not exist in any other country, not in Africa, not in Europe, not in Asia or anywhere else.

        • Apologies, I thought you were Martin Scott replying. Even though you still haven’t answered my question regarding affirmative action (please do so in your next response) I will respond to this.

          1. Please note that the State of Isreal was founded in 1948.
          2. Germany paid billions in reparations to Jewish Germans and the State of Israel (see previous comments where I provided links) BEFORE laws allowing non Jewish persons citizenship were introduced.
          Today Jewish Germans are allowed to become Isreali citizens via the Law of return (these individuals are fast tracked). Non Jewish Germans are also allowed to become Isreali citizens via a stringent process.

          Why does this law not exist “explicitly” in any other country? Liberia is the ONLY country in the world founded by Diasporic “freedmen” and former slaves from the United States (note I said United States). These are people who experienced and witnessed the abusive and exploitative agenda of white supremacy on both continents (chattel slavery in the US, colonialism in Africa). They created Liberia and its laws in direct RESPONSE to this abuse and exploitation.

          Liberia’s citizenship law is a result of this and there remains ample justification for it to remain in place. Why? Because the exploitation remains unabated. This is proven by the fact that other African nations without this citizenship law are still immensely underdeveloped? Sierra Leone is just one example.

          Again, until you recognize this you are part of the problem. You can be part of the solution by standing as an advocate for some form of reparations and a genuine Marshall plan for the African people.

          Perhaps the same sequence of events employed by/for Israel could be employed by/for Liberia!

          • The founders of Liberia are no longer with us so their reasons cannot be used as an excuse.
            African leaders have been too aid dependent, too many have spent their time seeking morsels thrown from the tables of the rich countries. It is only the countries whose leaders have come to recognize that Africa’s wealth lies in her own people and her own lands and who are now spending their energy on developing that potential who are moving their countries forward. Your call for more begging would only ensure that most Africans remain beggars and continue to destroy their self respect.

        • “Israeli citizenship is designed very differently from the American model. Here, if you are born in the country or become an American citizen, you retain your citizenship unless you seek to renounce it. U.S. citizenship is not conditioned on ethnic or religious origin, and every citizen has the same rights and responsibilities.

          In Israel, it’s more complicated, with a variety of pathways to different categories of citizenship. All Jews in the world are eligible, under Israel’s 1950 Law of Return, to be fast-tracked to Israeli citizenship. And yet even citizenship for Jews is not simple.”

          http://articles.latimes.com/2014/jan/14/opinion/la-oe-myers-israel-citizenship-arabs-20140114

  5. Based upon your response and failure to answer my questions it is clear you believe the Jewish people were entitled to reparations while Africans are not. No need to debate any further. You are part of the problem. You may not be racist but you are most likely a silent supporter and benefactor of white supremacy.

  6. Jews: “We demand reparations for human rights abuses!”
    Andrew Worth & Company: “Yes, we agree. it is your entitlement! We will also help fund the development of your own country…virtually free of charge!”

    Western Europe: “We demand reparations for human rights abuses!”
    Andrew Worth & Company: “Yes, we agree. it is your entitlement! In fact we will do one better and also give you a Marshall plan!”

    Africans and People of African descent: “We demand reparations for human rights abuses!”
    Andrew Worth & Company: “Stop begging!!!!”

    • You appear to have forgotten that African nations have received over a trillion dollars in aid since gaining independence.
      If Germany thinks she should pay compensation to the victims and families of holocaust victims that’s Germany’s call, I don’t care either way. My objection to aid to Africa is not the aid itself but rather the effect it’s had on African leaders and the lack of benefits it’s had for most African people, it’s fueled corruption which has just caused more poverty and conflicts. It’s kept leaders in power who’ve wrecked their countries, rather than focusing on the huge potential in Africa the focus has been on getting more aid most of which has gone to Africa’s elite. Perhaps Opi is one of those elite who has most benefited from aid and so demands even more. The tragedy is that Africa is a very rich continent, the potential is there for it’s people to be very wealthy, and a simple truth is that that potential wealth far exceeds the potential wealth that can be gained through aid and unlike aid the wealth from Africa is certain to end up in the hands of the people who deserve it rather than the privileged elites like Opi.

      • Andrew Worth, Foreign Aid is much different from Reparations and a Marshall Plan. Foreign Aid is a form of neo colonialism. I already stated that I am against neo-colonialism so why are you wrongly accusing me of supported the scheme?

      • Foreign aid has made many foreigners rich and done nothing for any African country. It has gone into the pockets of NGO. I dont know how you could ever praise something thats never benefitted any of the intended parties.

        Let me tell you how it works..
        A person steals an idea from an ancient practice (ex. Latrines). He adds a new aspect (usually not revolutionary – see using waste to manure). This person is granted 10mil to employ thia technology for the betterment of a poor, struggling country. The individual or group hires collegues and student, who they can pay cheaply. They also hire like a few Liberians, to say they consulted nationals and show that the countryman were involved. The leads each take a salary of about 100-500k (dont be fooled by their indiana jones khaki). They give the students a considerable wage and cover travel, housing, inaurance. They pay the Liberians about 15k US, IF THAT. Once in country, they do the run around for the term of the first period, however long that may be, then ask for an extention to do more of nothing and get paid. They install a couple boreholes and latrines (cost of like$ 400). They party, seduce women, eat like kings ans enjoy the tropical life ( posting blogs and pictures – generating more wealth).

        Now they go back to their country and say how messed up, poor and backwards Liberia is and how the government is corrupt all the while…Guess what? They get a better position next time. Soon they are an expert of african affairs. Setting up a private NGO to get private contracts.

        Oh and the Liberian who gets peanuts comes on the internet to praise Joe who now has a yacht and 5 houses and 2 familys because he was nice and helped out a bit.

    • I am not aware off any aid package to Africa that has been structured and implemented like a “Marshall Plan”. Only recently have I heard about a few proposals for any such plan.

      • Perhaps I should have been more concise and for clarity stated “Foreign aid as it is currently structured is a form of neo-colonialism.”

  7. The simplest explanation is this excerpt from FP (I will include the link in the separate post):
    “The Marshall Plan was fundamentally different from the aid that Africa has received over the past four decades. The Marshall Plan made loans to European businesses, which repaid them to their local governments, which in turn used that revenue for commercial infrastructure — ports, roads, railways — to serve those same businesses. Aid to Africa has instead funded government and NGO development projects, without any involvement of the local business sector.”

    Its really that “simple”, the focus is to use aid to promote economic growth through investment in industry and vital infrastructure. Got it?

  8. So why don’t commercial banks set up ship and lend money to African businesses on a much larger scale than they do now? Answer: risk and regulations. And the same issues would exist to an aid program along the lines you describe – as we have recently seen in liberia. While European businesses were short on case after WW2 the business culture still existed.

    • As we have recently seen in Liberia? Not sure what you are referring to. So you are saying that Africans do not have a “business culture” and as such any plan along these lines would not succeed?! First you reveal your indifference to the historic abuse, exploitation and crimes committed against African people now this. Lets just agree to disagree.

  9. Actually and despite where our conversation went you and I are probably not that far apart. I’ve been advocating at FPA for less government interference with business, smaller government and less concessions to large corporations. Certainly the weight you place on how the Marshall Plan aid was distributed and managed makes sense. Where we differ is in Liberia’s racist citizenship laws and the need or justification for any Marshall Plan, get government mismanagement, regulations, monopoly and corruption out of the way and I think double digit economic growth should be easy.

    • So we are back to Africans not being deserving of any redress for crimes against humanity committed by European countries and the United States. Foreign nations that built their immense wealth off of those very crimes. I hope you realize this mentality is rooted in white supremacy and racism. Then you wonder why people who know better still support our citizenship law as a safeguard and reaction to this mentality. Good day.

      • What crimes, slavery? That would be the black people living in Europe and the Americas, not Africa. Do you mean colonialism? A trillion is enough.
        The only people who can make real long term changes for the better in Africa are the people that live there.

  10. Only a self-hating black would write this kind of nonsense. This clause is neither archaic or racist. Liberia is a black nation. There are plenty of places where whites and others can go and make a home. Please pick a average joe off the street and tell him to become a citzen in the US or UK. He will be on a plane back to Liberia in just a month or ducking and hiding to go unnoticed like a mole rat.

    To those in the comments who are talking about foreigners that have contributed to the country. They do NOT want Liberian citzenship because they are proud and inclusive. They want it so they can buy up all the property, make Liberia a tourist haven and send all of you into the hinterlands. You have no ally in Chinese, White, Lebanese, etc. They already own all the businesses anyway. Be warned.

    Its sad. They don’t even have to steal from you anymore, you bow down and give to them.

    • I think it’s you who is the self hater, your whole argument is based on the assumption that Africans can’t compete with whites or the Chinese, that Liberia has to keep them out because if they’re let in they’ll do so much better than Liberians can. That’s B.S. Liberians and other Africans are as capable as everyone else, the logic of people like you is based on a lack of self belief in you own people. Europeans aren’t scared of Africans arriving in their countries and taking all the businesses, why are you so scared?

  11. Andrew Worth, a few comments ago you inferred that Africans have no “business culture” and therefore investment in them is not worth “Western” dollars! Furthermore you clearly believe Europeans and Jews were worth the investment. You are a complete hypocrite. This is my last comment.

    • I’m not surprised that you choose to misrepresent what I said, it’s a common strategy for those with weak arguments.

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