Editor’s Note: The following article was originally published 36 years ago, in the April 21, 1982 edition of the Daily Observer. Thanks to Theophilus J. W. Browne for resurrecting this article as a tribute to the author, whose arguments provide much needed insight on how far the debate for and against White Citizenship in Liberia has come.
By Walter Y. Wisner
One of the fundamental issues dominating the constitutional hearing throughout the country by illiterate and literate citizens has been, and continues to be, whether or not a white man should be granted Liberian citizenship under the new constitution of the Republic of Liberia.
Various interest groups have expressed different opinions on this issue, apparently due to its racial nature. Against this background, some of these interest groups have approached this issue from a partisan point of view, while others approach is simply for respect of international conventions to which Liberia is a signatory.
Despite differences in views and opinions, fundamentally, excerpts from all views and opinions seem chauvinistically nationalistic: how to save our country from foreign encroachment or domination.
Indeed, since the subject is sensitive in nature, and requires objective analysis, it needs a scientific approach. And it behooves us all as citizens, to find the best solution possible, regardless of ideology, and provided such ideology could serve as a lasting solution. This is what Liberia needs, and Africa, for that matter.
Fear of Domination
The history of domination of man is as old as mankind. But the domination of man by man is as old as the inception of capitalism. To make matters short, I shall look at man-by-man domination in Africa from the colonial political and economic point of view, which emerged out of the need to invest capital in commercial activities on the continent.
During the colonial era, many Africans were forcibly ejected from their motherland against their will by European countries. Of course, one would be naïve to say conquest of territories in Africa were being practiced by only Europeans.
Indeed, some African chiefs and kings, for example, the Ashanti chiefs, engaged in this practice. But unlike the latter, the conquest by the former had some diabolical and sinister objectives: investment of finance capital, and hired labour. As a consequence, vast number of land was expropriated and cheap labour sought in many African countries.
For example, we are told by Y.M. Ivanov in his book entitled: AGRARIAN REFORMS AND HIRED LABOUR IN AFRICA (pp.63-93) that on the eve of the revolution in Algeria, four percent of all Algerian landlords (European) owned 37.9 per cent of the land, while there were 600,000 landless peasants, with 440,000 peasants “with next to no land” (p.93).
The situation, according to his book, was by no means better than colonialist land invasion in Morocco, between 1913-1950 where 20 per cent of the fertile land was taken from peasants by 6,000 European capitalists. Under the same colonial situation in Tunisia, 4,700 Europeans owned 600,000 hectares of land, while 450 peasants were left with 3.5 million hectares (p.63). The case of the racist South African colonialists and occupanionists is even more disturbing. Approximately, four million racists have occupied nearly 87 per cent of that country, while over 20 million Africans are left to scramble over nearly 13 per cent of land.
Local land expropriation in Liberia testifies to the fact that an exploiter may be black or white; and that fundamentally, all exploiters have the same aim and objective to dominate those without means — capital and tools for exploitation especially in a capitalist society. Take the Tubmans’ plantations in Bong County and Maryland, the Tolberts in Bong County.
And not to mention, Firestone in Harbel and Cavalla, B.F. Goodridge in Bomi territory and other so-called corporations such as LIBSUCO in Maryland etc. All of these plantations not only left many peasants landless, but have rather employed the cheap labour of agriculture workers on these plantations.
Added to this gross insult, has been deprivation of these workers of the right to form unions, until the April 12 revolution that brought the PRC government to power.
From the above mentioned experiences, one realizes the fact that the Federation of Labour Unions (FLU) had a case when it resolutely opposed to white citizenship on the grounds that ‘current experience in South Africa…among blacks…gives white people the chance to dominate black societies’.
However, the Federation of Labour Unions, seemingly through emotionalism and unscientific investigation, failed to realize that current local land expropriation not only involves white people, but as well as black — all of whom help to dominate the working people of Liberia; let alone foreign capital, which dominates the nation as a whole.
Indeed, a one-sided approach in this connection has rendered FLU’s suggestion racial and subjective, hence lacks permanent remedy for the solution to man’s domination in South Africa and Liberia for that matter.
Conclusively, one realizes that an adherence to such proposal in the new constitution would subject Liberia to a blatant violation of the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention of Racial Equality — all documents to which Liberia is a signatory.
The Liberia Medical and Dental Association (LMDA) must be commended for having realized this fact. However, in my opinion, this learned body lend itself to questionable double-standards, when it advanced the need to provide white citizenship in the new constitution, but called for the limitation of land to white.
Could such contradiction not be a contravention of the very treaties — Human Rights and Racial Equality — which the LMDA used as justification for the inclusion of white citizenship in the new constitution? Will we not practice apartheid if we accept white citizenship but limit land ownership to it? will a white citizen accelerate economic growth under white-wash apartheid system as this learned body and expert businessmen think?
In the first place – why would a white man desire so desperately a Liberian citizenship? And by way of deviation, why would a politician continuously perpetuate himself into power, particularly in a ‘democratic society’ characterized by a multi-party system? As a matter of fact does multi-party system in a capitalist society represent class interest or take into account the interest of the nation? Should there be a multi-party system in a society which has its root as a communal way of life?
To the first question, a white capitalist and not a poor white man may decide to obtain Liberian citizenship not because of other circumstances such as natural disaster or political oppression in his country, but because of the economic climate of Liberia.
Hence such a capitalist white man may decide to naturalize, simply because through this process, he may enjoy all the benefits as a citizen, hence the ability to increase profit margin becomes legitimized by the existing laws and constitution of the state.
And this is where the big-time lawyers who have resolutely called for the naturalization of white would give legal advice and protection to them. The question here is: Would a white man seek Liberian citizenship if the economic condition of the country is not favorable for exploitation? Or course not.
Even if the new constitution or the Liberian Government provides in the new constitution that at least each citizen should be given a cup of milk and bread free of charge within a day, not a single white capitalist may be willing to come to Liberia.
As a matter of fact, recent situations in the country point to this fact; most capitalists are hard-pressing the present government for almost everything free, which is exploitation. Thanks to the Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Liberia who cautioned that business people should not be invited into the country just for exploitation.
Brushing aside the white citizenship, let’s look at the other questions advanced above the question of political parties and the presidential term. There are a great number of us who believe that multi-party system would provide better economic and political condition in Liberia, that the presidential term, when limited, would deprive greedy politicians of continuous perpetuation of political power, and hence the wealth of the country will be shared as various political parties come to power; but is this true?
Let us examine the fact. Do political parties – Republican and Democratic parties in the United States which boast so much about democracy, have any fundamental difference other than the selection of leadership that represents one interest of the financial oligarchy in character and principle?
Indeed, the only contradiction which exists but is non-antagonistic in form and essence, is the selection and election of people who believe that money people are the custodians of leadership in any part of the world. This fact allows the two parties in the United States to co-exist without the suppression of the other.
Interestingly but dishearteningly, such so-called democratic exercises cannot exist in Africa particularly in capitalist-oriented countries like Liberia. There are many factors that are responsible for this, prominent among them is that our petty bourgeois politicians lack financial capability than their European and American counterparts; the second aspects is that in most African countries, political parties take on tribal line and not political bodies representing a class interest.
As a consequence, the false bourgeois class which takes political power through ethnicity, surrounds itself with tribal loyalists, particularly in key positions. Internally, it is guided by tribal elements, and externally, supported by financial oligarchy. The support of the latter, including the plundering of the national wealth, enables such leaders of a party to consolidate their bases and to meet up with the western style leadership.
Against this background any voice of dissent is considered not to be in the interest of the state. And as far as experience and history have shown, not a single opposition party in this connection is left to exist without being crushed.
Here the security problem hangs like the sword of Damocles over the political leaders. And as far as history has shown again, political leaders no longer rely on their own officials, but secret service police who pass out information which they think their bosses would like to hear. This security disinformation most often allows officials to render unqualified and unlimited loyalty to the president or leader in power.
As the leaders of such political party consolidate their positions — that is, lay the foundation for the perpetuation of political power, degeneration in ethics, morals and progress begin to slide into the national fabric of the society.
Patronage, greed, sectionalism/tribalism and political consideration most often take on loyalty to the boss. Sooner or later, nationalism, which constituted the bedrock of national policy or political platform inherently manifests itself in the form of national corruption.
And here, not even a single partisan with a doctorate in morality and ethics is left behind in the game of embezzlement, demand for kickback or a percentage before foreign contracts are signed and other forms of corruption.
As I have already explained above, we would be embarking upon a fruitless exercise if we maintain that denial of citizenship to whites would help to save our land; and that the institutionalization of multi-party system, including the limitation of the presidential term, would curtail the perpetuation of political power in Liberia. For experience has shown that African politicians have never been removed from power through the ballot box, but through violence. But this has been happening and continues to happen in the United States and France etc.
What is to be done?
This is the question which is being asked in every turn of a corner in Liberia. From my own point of view the controversy surrounding all the issues above mentioned is purely economic-based and not political; although political and economic factors are inseparable. Hence, it is the economic system of the country which is proposed should be changed, since we are in a revolutionary era. For revolution means a complete change in a system.
Indeed, since the capitalist system in Liberia has for the past 133 years brought no progress in Liberia, but poverty and backwardness, socialism should be given consideration within the next revolutionary era under civilian government.
Why socialism? I recommend socialism because fundamentally, it is closer to our traditional communal way of life in which all is concerned about the welfare of the society, in which land is owned in common and not owned by an individual because he has money to buy up all the land that he and his generation yet unborn cannot utilize. Such is the practice in capitalist society.
Indeed, socialism has one of its basic objectives: the suppression of those with greedy inclination, the immunization of all human sufferings, and the maximization of good life for all citizens, regardless of colour. In fact, that is why a classless society is institutionalized so that one class will not dominate the other as is done in capitalist societies; hence the need to organize multi-party system, characterized by class interest, is substituted with a mass-based party led by the working class that takes into account each according to his need.
Given this social and historical reality, it is difficult to tell where one man, particularly a white naturalized citizen, can expropriate a vast amount of land in the country; for the very socialist policy will restrict both white and black exploitative nature. Against this background it is proposed that whites should be given the right to naturalize under the new constitution.
Last but not the least, it must be stressed that the implementation and fulfillment of socialism in its truest sense, cannot be derived from a paper document like the constitution. It would come about through the struggle of the oppressed masses led by the workers of this country; it cannot come about by mere rhetoric, but through national consciousness, dedication, honesty and hard work.