Dual Citizenship Debate: A Moral and Ethical Dilemma

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The author, Rev. Dr. Samuel E. Vansiea

By Rev. Dr. Samuel E. Vansiea

Liberia was founded as a Dual Citizenship nation. In the early 1800s almost all of Africa was colonized except the land now called Liberia. The natives traded with Europeans but did not allow them to own land. They however agreed to share land with Negro settlers from the United States of America in the spirit of Negro solidarity. It was through the political genius of the settlers that Liberia became a sovereign state in 1847.

According to The American Journal of International Law (Vol. 4), former U.S. Secretary of State Williams Evarts affirmed in a February 2, 1880 communication that the settlers sent to Liberia were actual United States citizens.

Several former presidents and government officials were foreign born. For example, President Joseph J. Roberts was born in the United States and President Arthur Barclay was of West Indian origin. Considering all that and, including the natives, it can be argued that Liberia was founded as a republic of Dual Citizenry. Therefore, the creation of the anti-dual citizenship law in 1956 (amended in 1973) raises some fundamental questions such as:

  1. What prompted the government of President William V. S. Tubman to make that law in 1956?
  2. Why would the Americo-Liberian ruling class for the first 133 (1847-1980) years reject Dual Citizenship when being called Americo-Liberians signifies dual nationality and their own children were going to school, getting married, and having children abroad?

To understand that phenomenon, we need to look at events of the1900s.

During the period between World War II and the Cold War, European powers were extremely protective of their interests in the countries they colonized. One way to protect that interest was to make the colonies adopt citizenship laws similar to laws of the colonizing country.

The U.S. did likewise in Liberia. According to Harrison Akingbade, author of U.S. Liberian Relations During World War II, the U.S. exerted much influence on the Liberian government during that time to protect the Firestone Rubber Company and their military bases at Roberts International Airport and the Freeport of Monrovia. Though Liberia initially maintained a policy of neutrality in the war, the U.S. pressured her to declare war on The Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan on January 27, 1944.

In early 1950, in what seemed like diplomatic pressure to prove further loyalty to the Liberia-America relationship, President Tubman had to ensure that no Liberian will bear arms for any other country except the U.S. and Liberia. In 1952 the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Mr. Edward R. Dudley, acting on behalf of President Tubman, solicited the expertise of Cornell University professor Milton R. Konvitz to create a legal document for Liberia which included the Title 3 Citizenship and Naturalization Law of the Republic of Liberia of 1956 (amended in 1973) that is in question today.

In 1943, Edward Richard Dudley (1911-2005) and Milton Ridbas Konvitz (1906-2003) both served as Assistant General Counsels for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, then headed by Thurgood Marshall. Konvitz later became professor of law at Cornell University, while Dudley went on to become the first African American to lead a U.S. Mission abroad, accredited to Monrovia with the rank of US Envoy and Minister (1948) and promoted to Ambassador (1949). Amb. Dudley then recruited his scholarly colleague, who for decades later worked with the Republic of Liberia as it established its laws. Konvitz also edited opinions of the Supreme Court of Liberia.

Of cause they used American naturalization law as template and included what looked like an “anti-dual citizens” section. The original term used in the 1956 law was “Repatriation.” It stated that any Liberian who transfer residence to another country or join another army will be punished. Thus, it is fair to state that the citizenship law seems more like a cold war strategy to secure America’s interest more so than to deprive Liberians of citizenship. This is significant because there were no needs for such laws for the first 111 years (1847-1956) of Liberia’s existence and beyond.

Citizenship Laws and African Governments

Kenneth Kaunda, first president of the Republic of Zambia

As mentioned earlier, colonial powers imposed their citizenship laws on their colonies of which the interpretation became problematic for the Africans. After independence, instead of fixing the laws for national unity, most African governments used the laws as a tool to silence and ostracize other citizens who they suspected of threatening their political ambitions. Two classical examples are when the Zambia Movement for Multiparty Democracy Government construed their citizenship law in 1996 in what was openly known as a strategy to disqualify their own first and former president Kenneth Kaunda (president from 1964-1991) from contesting in the 1996 election because his parents were missionaries in Malawi. He was deemed no longer a citizen of Zambia until the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights intervened.  His citizenship was restored, but elections were over. Likewise in 2001 and 2006 the Tanzanian government used nationality laws to terminate the citizenship of several journalists and the country’s own ambassador to Nigeria, Timothy Bandora all because the ruling party felt they were threats to their regime (Bronwen Manby, The Struggle for Citizenship in Africa).

Toward Dual Citizenship

Progressive countries in Africa, Europe, and Central and South America embraced the dual citizenship concept. According to the International Migration Review, more than half of all African countries have accepted and permitted their citizens to naturalize abroad without losing original citizenship. Those countries have the edge for economic prosperity and political stability compared to countries that do not. They also see dual citizenship as an extension of their influence beyond their borders. They use that influence as leverage in fostering tangible international relationship and partnership in a cost-effective manner. It also enhances the country’s presence on the modern globalization platform.

Examples:

Senegal’s first President, Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a French citizen.

Senegal: Senegalese embraced dual citizenship from independence in 1960. Their first president Leopold Sedar Senghor was a French citizen. Senegalese don’t lose citizenship when they naturalize abroad. In 1995 the government created the High Commission for Senegalese Abroad to ensure the best interest of Senegalese diaspora. It is established that this approach to Dual Citizenship is contributive to the peace, stability, and economic prosperity of Senegal (The International Migration Review, Vol. 45).

Israel: Martin Edelman, author of Who Is An Israeli said Israel automatically welcomes returning Jews, their children, grandchildren, spouses, etc. to full citizenship status.

Middle East: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia, all of which encourage Dual Citizenship, rely on economic support from their diaspora citizens to save the country in time of financial crisis. In 2008 when investment dropped by $22 billion, support from diaspora citizens went up $328 billion (Sameera Fazili, Middle East Report).

Democracy: Dual Citizenship helps to strengthen democracy especially in developing countries. Acceptance of Dual Citizenship is viewed as a sign of mature democracy (Beth Elise Whitaker, The Politics of Home: Dual Citizenship and the African Diaspora).

Historians have observed that Africans are strongly connected at the foot of the family tree than at the height of political affiliation. Most of the instability in Africa have been fueled by unequal privileges between citizen groups. The events of the last 40 years in Liberia attest to that. Historian Edmond J. Keller states that “Disputes over . . . differing conceptions of citizenship are at the heart of the most intractable conflicts in Africa. De-nationalizing Africans from their land of origin is a very slippery concept (Keller, Identity, Citizenship, and Political Conflict in Africa).

International Concerns:

Since 2013 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has been working on a protocol whereby all African countries will move toward the international norm that citizens and their descendants should continue to have equal rights of nationality in their native land (Manby, Citizenship Law in Africa).

Moral and Ethical Implications for Liberia

Commenting on the anti-dual citizenship law, Mr. Augustine Ngafuan argued that the law is the law and ignorance of the law is no excuse. But the Volume of Sacred Law, the Holy Bible warns that not everything that is lawful is expedient (1 Corinthians 10:23). This debate is one instance where “expediency” outweighs “legality.”

Furthermore, this debate is a golden opportunity in the hand of the current government to champion unity, unless it chooses to go down in history for effectuating divisiveness.

History will judge us that under Americo-Liberian rule for 133 years, (despite the 1973 law) no one dreamed about terminating another Liberian’s citizenship simply because he/she held another passport and neither did that happen under the military/civilian rule of the 1980s.

I remember during the struggles for democracy in the 1970s, how G. Baccus Matthews, Togba Nah Tipoteh, Amos Sawyer, H. Boima Fahnbulleh, and others rallied Liberians against corruption and one-party system. In fact, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) which was the precursor to multiparty democracy were based in America. At that time no one cared about which passport another Liberian had. We saw each other as one big family fighting for democracy.

Finally, we’ve got the democracy and we can go to the polls to vote for the leaders we want. Then now, we want to tear each other apart for political gains, forgetting that those who we want to reject equally fought for this same democracy. They, too, lost families, friends and loved ones just the same. Whether at home or abroad, no Liberian is more Liberian than another Liberian.

It is argued that diaspora Liberians are corrupt. That argument, like all other arguments against diaspora Liberians, is just another façade. In the1970s and 1980s when students of the University of Liberia protested even to death against corruption, they were not protesting against diaspora Liberians.

This issue of Dual Citizenship has put us at the crossroads of a moral and ethical dilemma: to choose national unity by approving Dual Citizenship or choose divisiveness by rejecting Dual Citizenship.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with my fictional story of “Jay-beah-muo” Island (Jay-beah-muo is a Bassa expression meaning, “Your lets go!”).

Jay-beah-muo was a beautiful island off the coast of West Africa. The inhabitants of hundreds of years accomplished nothing but mud houses and dirt roads. Eventually they got an innovative leadership that wanted to transform the island into a modern attraction. So they held meetings, made plans, and raised funds successfully. It seems they would soon begin their project.

But the demons of the sea did not want development on the island. So the chief demon called a conference of devils to discuss how to destroy the dream of the remote island people. Some said to destroy their farms and flood their island, etc. But all was quiet when one little devil said, “Give them what they want, and they will have no need for each other.” “What do you mean?” asked the chief devil. The little devil went on,

Give them Development and they will Devalue each other,
Give them Power and they will Paralyze each other,
Give them Fortunes and they will Forsake each other,
Give them Democracy and they will Demonize each other.

“How did you know all that?” the chief demon asked.  “I have been working among them a long time” said the little devil.

I hope this is not where Liberia is headed.

God bless the Republic of Liberia.

Authors

14 COMMENTS

  1. It hides killers under religious masks. It did not work. Will not work in Liberia. It corrupts, Caused civil upheavals, slave selling, and tyranny. Examples being the past war and others. It duplicates the right to choice of one identity. It complicates the meaning of a true Liberian to others outside the circle. It is redundant (intermarriage in skin texture and tribal cohesion among none segmented star) to settlers, tribes, and elders in the foundation of this nation. If you decide to be dual, how would you pass the way of the one Liberian who needs to be only a Liberian? In some nations you will have to denounce one nationality. How will you enter? Liberians will always be Liberians. How will you have what you have if we are not sure of your have not? Think twice or forfeit your right to have. One Liberia is the best Liberia. Stop calling the Liberian people back to fight another war. We are done fighting. Do not reply. Gone to silence.

  2. We are just puppets for America and the rest of the advance world to control. Even with the clear history of how the law was enacted, our people are still dump holding on to that oppressive law. In fact the entire Liberian constitution was modeled after the constitution of America. From the inception of Liberia, the country has always being run by America – like it or not. Every decision, every action of Liberia is controlled by America. America owns that land. They paid for it from the indigenous people before bringing the slaves there. Please know this, it was never because they wanted to let the slaves free, they wanted control of the territory that’s why our forefathers were brought there. As sooner they got there and settled down, America came and planted the largest rubber plantation in the world – firestone. Our so called leaders are what the Bible refers to as taskmasters. They are your own brothers and sometimes sisters, set over you to oppress you. Why do you think the majority of African nations do not progress no matter the effort and we are always pointing fingers at our leaders? They are there to carry out the will of their masters which if they do not, they get taken out either by killing or by banishment. The point is, we are still under the same oppressive slavery laws our forefathers were under in America. And it’s not that our people don’t have the ability to change those laws and write laws that fit us or write better laws that works for us as a people, they just can’t. Master is watching. If you even dare cough the word out, which means you want to brake out from master’s control…well…find out what they did to the slaves back in the days who wanted to run away.
    Understanding the history of the land, how its being run, and the current condition, I think it’s pure stupidity bothering your own brothers and sisters who are settled in other parts of the world sending in money daily trying to help build a national fighting against them. How much do you think is being transmitted to Liberia monthly through western union, money gram and other agencies coming from brothers and sisters who are based overseas? I have an American passport and guess what’s written on it for nationality? LIBERIAN. Not that I care anyway but I just want you to know the nations are not as stupid as we are. Even the blacks who stayed in America from slavery days, are not recognized as American. They are called African-American (meaning don’t get it twisted boy, you are not one of us) but you don’t see the white people calling themselves European American.

    Liberian, stopping oppressing your own people. Most Liberians or blacks are scattered around the world today in other countries not because they want to. Even these countries we find ourselves, we are still constantly being oppressed and killed. Whether it be at place we call home (Liberia) or overseas, the struggle continues. If only we understood the saying “United we stand, divided we fall” we would all strive to come together, those overseas and at home. Try to pull our resources together and build a nation we can call our own. Nation free of foreign control.

    • Brother….you made the most sound contribution to this post of all…you made the entire argument simple…. United we stand..devided we fall. To a point, upon awarding citizenship in the US…you are ask place of birth which served as benchmark (you are not from here). To your point of being called African-American even if you were Born in the US is very alarming (never thought about this in such a way you described). Why Asian are not called Asian-American…??? This is a clear indication..to separate the African American and the African descend(meaning naturalized African). It is to say that where ever you can from….it is your origin and don’t relinquish your ties… because you don’t belong here….

  3. Oh how wonderful, promising and above all wholesome it would be, were “dual citizenship” so beneficial, rewarding and golden for all alike, instead of just for those seeking the privilege. What Liberians, specifically those in America are seeking for themselves in this quest, is for all practical purposes a one-sided privilege from Liberia, whether the other party (US) signs on to this partnership or not. The few thousands of Liberians in America just want that bragging right over the rest of their abandoned brethren, that they have an alternative residence in the event of any unforeseen calamity. Dual citizenship could only be authentic were the proponents calling for the privilege to cover or be extended to all Liberians alike, as with Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, etc. Until then, this quest is a farce on steroid!

  4. This is a well researched document on Dual Citizenship. The historical path to the history of 1973 Alien and Nationality Law was well said .

    This is interesting : when the law was amended in 1973 and approved in 1974 Native Liberians claimed that the law was made to avoid educated native Liberians returning from the diaspora from participating in national politics.

    Today both Senate and House are dominated by native Liberians and they are the new champions of the Law. They have refused to change the law.

  5. This is on the best researche in modern Liberia. The question which comes to my attetion, are the Native in the front seat now have they achieve any good product since eliminating the children of the settlers. Realistically, the children of the settlers would have have abide by the laws without delay and pass the dual citizenship. They will neve ask for money.
    Thanks for research

    MSG1
    9174078106

  6. I beg to disagree propensity of the insinuation of the issue that is so reverend to be “well researched”.
    First of all, the concept that “America Controls Liberia” is wishful thinking The Actual fact is that Liberia and Liberians allow themselves to be mentally enslaved long (400 years) after the practice of gross plantation slavery and human degradation of Black People.

    The research in question on issues of Dual Citizenship in Liberia is inadequate and substantially limited to understandings of the pre-conditions and prevailing conditions as well as causes and effects of our Liberia Dual Citizenship Dilemma (DCD).
    The thematics on an inequitable and disadvantageous understanding of the deal or contract surrounding the establishment of Firestone. The nature of the deal made with Firestone has to do with ignorance and the intention of the Americans at the time to particularly exploit this ignorance…
    On the other hand, the Alien and Nationality Law of of 1973 and the constitutional clause on the acquisition of Liberian Citizenship stems from the existing preconditions and circumstances of Slavery and the plight of Black People in America.
    This historical and conditional fact is the logical rationale that prompted the protectionist tendency of the Liberian Alien and Nationality Law regarding Liberian Citizenship and the potential to Duality of same…
    Nonetheless, with passage of time and the nature of our Global collective and connectivity; it is not imperative, but necessary to accommodate Dual Citizenship in lieu of the devastation of the Liberian Civil crises and prevailing conditions of interracial and interethnic marriages…

  7. There is a very serious need to have a fix path to the dual citizenship program for us as a nation,do we know how many children of Liberia we will be leaving hanking just because few people are afraid that has the opportunities of being better and how sure are we that even the ones that are protesting are actually the real Liberians and if we are insisting that this program don’t work then let everyone of us do the DNA to determine who are actually Liberian and then the actual Liberians will determined what they want and I think every true woman and man will honestly go for the dual citizenship program looking at the facts that we are about to make a very huge mistake by denying millions of Liberians children their rights of returning home.

  8. Actually, Article 28 granting of citizenship status to Liberian children born in U.S. allows them to be dual citizens to at least the age of maturity. This raises the question, does this exclude children who parents are naturalized U.S. citizens?

    One nation that have greatly benefited from the dual citizenship status is Israel. For example, Israeli Americans are American citizens who can become Israeli citizens by descent or naturalization and maintain their U.S citizenship.

    As such, the State of Israel issues Israel Bonds that raises funds in the U.S. to support the state of Israel and they are given certain special tax treatment that benefits the buyers.

    If Liberian nationals in other countries, certainly the U.S were not to lose their citizenship status, and the government of Liberia were to institute such a program, Liberians away from home would invest in purchasing these bonds, especially if the U.S Congress can be convinced to enact laws that grants a pre-tax status for the dollar amount used to purchase those Bonds. That’s another way for the government to borrow; from its own citizens. It also allows non Liberian U.S. citizens supporters of Liberia to purchase these Bonds.

    I know the tremendous benefits Israeli Bonds sales bring to Israel. A prior employer of mine was one of the major investment firms that facilitated those transactions. In fact my Team, at the time, was responsible for reviewing, approving and authorizing each of the firm’s clients’ request to make sure it complied with all U.S. regulations pursuant to the Act that allows its sale in the U.S.

    Just a thought I’m putting out for thoughtful minds to ponder…

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