White Citizenship: To Be Or Not To Be

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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 experience

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.

Opposition

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.

Authors

15 COMMENTS

  1. Why do you want socialism?? Socialism has failed in Angola, Benin, Cambodia, China, Congo, Cuba, Ethiopia, Laos, Mongolia, Mozambique, North Korea, Poland, Somalia, the Soviet Union, Vietnam and Venezuela. So, why do you want Liberia to be part of that experiment???

  2. Martin, read well. This is a food for thought; the story was written in 1982.

    However, I disagree with you that Socialism failed in all of those countries without putting your statement in context. Is China, Cuba, Venezuela, Ethiopia, etc.. failed states? What’s your time frame in calling some of these countries failed states? What make democracies successful in your view? In fact, what do you term success in democracies? I am deducing by your “Why do you want socialism?” to imply that democracy is a success story in its totality.

    Stop throwing jibes and tantrums without presenting evidence-based facts about the issues or analyzing critical points that will educate and guide.

    • Ok Mr. Gbason and Mr. Bah, let me give context to my earlier posting about how socialism failed in several countries around the world. Let’s take Venezuela, for example: Here are 5 Ways how socialism turned Venezuela in an economic basketcase:

      1. State-imposed price controls limited the supply of basic goods. Whenever a government imposed price controls, shortages are bound to follow. You can go waaaay back, thousands of years and you’ll find how price controls created shortages in the Roman Empire and ancient Babylon!

      2. Venezuela became a single commodity market. By discouraging businesses to pursue profit, the socialist government pushed the economy back to the dark ages! Creativity died. Nobody was incentivized to produce anything of value or innovate.

      Luckily, Venezuela had oil… lots of it. But oil prices on the global market fluctuates (prices drop and rise quickly) all the time. When your entire economy is reliant on one commodity (oil), then your economic fate is intertwined with price fluctuations that are beyond your control.

      3. Venezuela subsidized its unsustainable welfare state with oil revenue. The state-run oil companies were responsible for producing the revenue necessary to subsidize the government’s extensive welfare programs. Under the socialist system, the poor were promised FREE housing, FREE education, FREE healthcare and other wildly expensive benefits. To pay for all of this, the Venezuelan state sold oil in bulk overseas. But when the price of crude plunged, the Venezuelan economy went into the tank (uncontrollable free fall). Yikes!

      4. The socialist system encouraged CORRUPTION in Venezuela. A socialist government needs A LARGE number of government workers to run the day-to-day lives of the people. As a result, government itself becomes the one employer that is always hiring more employees. In socialist Venezuela, the government filled its coffers with oil revenue, generously paying top officials who exercised control over oil profit distribution. Government oligarchs grew rich while the people remained poor. Read The Washington Examiner for more details..

      5. The government had no way of controlling hyperinflation because the country’s monetary policy was imaginary. The Venezuelan state pretended to have control over the price of the bolivar, the nation’s worthless currency. The socialist state thought that it could set the price of goods, wages, property, and services and simply print money to make up for deficits. But as it turns out, recklessly printing money doesn’t actually work.

      It’s socialism, stupid… Credit goes to MICHAEL QAZVINI of the Dailywire.

  3. To add to the above, please be informed that socialism, in some respect, is already been practiced in all of the towns and villages in our country. Most of the lands are communal which is the basis (land) of all development.

    While I don’t support socialism in it’s totality, neither do I support democracy in it’s totality. With all of the criticisms, it seems like China is on the right path for success. With the right leadership we need to find a way forward to better our country by not dismissing people’s views but by critically assessing and analyzing the pros and cons to inform our judgement.

  4. Mr. Martin scott your question on Socialism is very vague. It doesn’t show the reason why Socialism is ‘so bad’ in your view.
    To one point, all tbose countries you just listed, were heavily being oppressed by their Western Imperialist powers. When we are making any arguement in the interest of our country, and our fellow citizens, let us educate them also.

    Democracy and capitalism are not bad. The word ‘DEMOCRACY’ is used by most of the imperalist powers to foster thier economic interests around the globe. Our fellow citizens who cannot read and write, may not have a choice when face with your explanation of this argument. We have to explain to them in detail, the pros and cons of both sides.

    Let’s take China, among your countries listed. You said China has Socialist system. I say, China is Communsit, with a free market system. Free market was introuced in 1979 by Dan Xioping. Fast foward….the economy in China has since climb the ladder. China trading partner today are USA, Canada, Europe (European Union), Britain etc. When Col. Muammar Gaddafi took over Libya in 1968, he nationalized the Oil sector. You may call that socoalism also, however; the period between 1970 to 1989 most African south of the Sahara were in Libya working, sending remittances to their relatives in thier variious countries. Labyian were not washing dishes or parking cars in Western Countries.
    Venezuela under Hugo Chavez had surplus oil revenue. The citizens were not going over to the boarder to Columbia to find jobs. Most of the countries you listed have political problems due to Western interfence. Gaddaffi was removed from power because his global view on politic was Pan African approach (the view that african should take hold of their own economy, and natural resource).

    The extension of European Colonization and the backing of wealths accumulated in the last 450 years by people of European descendants, is the marginalization of other race in their own homeland. It is based upon this argument that so many people around the world have skeptic view, when it comes to allowing people of European descend to own real estate in Liberian. Most people of Western status are afriad of Socialism, because it distributes the wealth of a nation to reach to the poor. It gives less monopoly to cooperations, some of whom are more powerfull than third world and developing countries government.

    Firestone came to Liberia in 1926, and became operation in 1941. How many rubber processing plants have been bult in Liberia? They shipped the rubber as latex (raw material no value added tax)from Liberia. It is taken to Akron, Ohio USA. The Liberian employee is been paid to collect and stored latex for 83 years.

    Socialism or Capitalism; Democracy or Communism, whatever is better for a group of people, that’s fine. When you have people telling you from the outside what is good for you, it is also in thier interest.
    This my openion

  5. Mr. Scott, you left one think about the Venezuelan situation. The political aspect. Prior to Hugo Chavez taken over the Venezuelan Government what was the GDP of the country? If you compare the GDP prior to Chavez taken over to that of his reign, you will find out that during his reign, the country GDP was better than what it was. The West became having problem with Chavez when he (Chavez ) nationalized the country oil industry. Any Government can do that to it natural resources. It was the same problem Iran had in 1954, when Mohammed Mosiddique (former Iranian leader) , nationalized the oil sector. A coup overthrew him and ushered in The Shad of Iran ( Mohammed Reza Pahlavi). I m not against the West, I m only explaining to you how, we in the third world, our economy is tied to our political affiliation.

    There is a down side to Socialism as well as Capitalism. You can not pick it with one side and say that Socialism is worst, and Capitalism is the best. So do in a capitalist economy, the rich gets richer.

    Public School system, Welfare to the poor and other government subsides programs are also Socialism. The government is taken from the poor, and given it to those who cannot afford. So, where does the ‘bus stop’.
    I m saying you can practice whatever you find good for you. It is not a one size fits all mantra.

  6. Since most of the meaningful and successful enterprises in Liberia are headed by white men or women, why not let them get citizenship. Countries all over the planet are in the process of hosting and integrating Liberians into their society. Think of the Liberian cousins living currently in the US. Should they be made to leave the US and come home or give them US citizenship as they choose. This should go both ways. Let people of other nations come and contribute. If they won’t contribute send them back. White, black, orange or gray, people are people. If Liberians don’t want to be taken advantage of, tell them to get off their backsides and be the people that they want to be. Too many sitting around and not being productive. Why not bring in others who can contribute to our good.

  7. Bah is right on the point. To add to your comment Bah, tell Mr. Scott that the partitioning of Africa amongst European powers in 1884 at the Berlin conference, in itself left our( third world and developing countries) interests thrown out for bidding. What ever system (democracy or capitalism) that were brought to us, were introduced to foster the interest of the benefactors. They get the lion share of the pie.

    Democracy, socialism, capitalisms, what ever works better for an individual, go for it.

  8. On the topic of whether Socialism has failed in some countries, I think Martin Scott is spot on. Indeed, there is no doubt that Socialism has miserably failed in the old Soviet Union and China as well as all of the countries that Martin Scott has mentioned above. The fact that some modifications have been made in China’s government corroborates Scott’s argument. As an example, consider the fact that there are Chinese billionaires today. About 30 years ago, the Chinese Communist Party was so rigid that it was impossible for any Chinese national to do business nationally and globally. The Chinese modification of their political system proves that their form of government could not function effectively as it was..
    As matters relate to the old Soviet Union, a breakaway of states or countries broke the spine of Communism. A reformation and liberalization of the Soviet Republics started in so many ways. A Russian leader named Boris Yeltsin was opposed to the country’s form of government. Next on the scene was Gorbacheve who complained about the lack of “openness” in the Soviet orbit. At that point, things began to fall apart quickly in what was known as the Soviet Union. In today’s Russia, no one knows for sure what’s happening politically. Putin is the strongest giant! His form of government is not Cummunism neither is it Socialism or Capitalism.

  9. The Right Honorable, Camai B,
    You continue to suffocate us with the idea of grating citizenship to non-blacks because according to you, some Liberians who reside in countries other than theirs are usually granted citizenship as well. Gentleman, you have to be careful according to how you shove this citizenship business down our throats. Not a threat at all, but let me tell you this: You are a lucky guy. If you and I were living in Liberia today, I would arrange a live debate between you and Bah of Australia or Rep. Morris. The purpose of the debate would be to state the pros and cons of why it is politically or economically beneficial for citizenship to be granted to non-blacks in Liberia. Such a live debate would be great.

    Whether Nigeria does it or not, we shouldn’t rush into it. Whether the Ivorians do it or not, their self-interests are not equal to ours neither do we have similar interests or colonial experiences. Nigerians as well as the Ivorians cannot wait to get out of their respective countries. That’s because the heat in their respective kitchens is above boiling point. Yet we are being told by you and others that the idea of granting citizenship is a brilliant idea. If it’s so good, why are those good countries going through the dumps economically or politically?

    The USA has a unique system as it relates to the subject of citizenship. In order for one to legalize himself or herself, one must apply to become a resident alien. Once that first order of business is approved, the next step is getting all documents together to apply for one’s citizenship. It’s a step by step procedure.
    I am not too convinced that Liberians are considering the step by step procedure..

    Let’s do this citizenship business carefully. It may boomerang in our face if it’s rushed through. If it took nine months for us to get out of the wombs of our loving mothers, I am sure we can wait a few more years before the proposal becomes legal.

    • F. Hney,
      Your made is great point. People need to understand that citizenship is not a one-size-fits-all process. If it were so then all countries would be told to have the same citizenship laws. Many people who are citizens in other countries really don’t understand the ramifications of their status. For example Nigeria: if you are a naturalized citizen in Nigeria, your children do not automatically become citizens. It is your grand children who may become automatic citizens–even that is left to the will of the governor of the state in which you preside and the approval of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, if he/she so chooses (See Nigerian citizenship laws in the 1999 constitution).

      Further, Liberia’s constitution does not violate any international human rights laws.
      The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, 1969) affirmed that the rules of non-discrimination do not apply when a government makes distinctions that favor its citizens over non-citizens.
      Article 1 paragraph 2 of the convention reads: “This Convention shall not apply to distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences made by a State Party to this Convention between citizens and non-citizens.”
      The Convention further reiterates that its rules on non-discrimination should not be interpreted as affecting the laws of a country regarding citizenship, nationality, and naturalization.
      Article 1 Paragraph 3 reads:
      “Nothing in this Convention may be interpreted as affecting in any way the legal provisions of states parties concerning nationality, citizenship, or naturalization . .

      In fact the UN warned developing countries to be very careful and not be hasty in how they empower non-citizens (See Article 2 Paragraph 3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) of the UN.

      So your point is well supported by international standards.

  10. Mr. Wisner, You mentioned that Liberia’s constitution violates “the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention of Racial Equality,” but you did not say which one and how since there were many conventions and covenants of the United Nations. Actually Liberia did not violate any of that anyway!

    The fact is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, 1969) affirmed that the rules of non-discrimination do not apply when a government makes distinctions that favor its citizens over non-citizens.
    Article 1 paragraph 2 of the convention reads: “This Convention shall not apply to distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences made by a State Party to this Convention between citizens and non-citizens.”
    The Convention further reiterates that its rules on non-discrimination should not be interpreted as affecting the laws of a country regarding citizenship, nationality, and naturalization.
    Article 1 Paragraph 3 reads:
    “Nothing in this Convention may be interpreted as affecting in any way the legal provisions of states parties concerning nationality, citizenship, or naturalization . . .”

    That is why different countries have different citizenship and naturalization laws.

    I encourage you to read another article previously published in this Daily Observer titled: “The Liberian Constitution: What We Didn’t Know” for discussion on Liberian constitution and UN declarations.

  11. Vanseia,
    We have a moral obligation to hammer this message all over Liberia. Are we Xenophobic? Not at all. We are suggesting that the granting of citizenship to non-blacks (if it is finally approved) should be done on a case by case basis. It’s not criminal or discriminatory when we caution against being careful. It may be done, but it’s wise to consider the pros and cons.

    In 2005-007 when Johnson-Sirleaf granted citizenship to Sierra Leoneans and others, a terrible mistake of the century was made in my opinion. Ladies and gentlemen, there was never a paper trail. Hypothetically, if 500 Sierra Leoneans decide to go to Liberia from their country, the Sierra Leoneans may say that they were granted citizenship in Liberia between 2005-007 by the government of Liberia. In this hypothetical scenario, does a Liberian border patrol officer have a right to demand any citizenship papers? No! That’s because when citizenship was granted, all foreigners, including hardcore criminals, did not go through the process of a background check. Poor Liberia……….

    It is okay with me if non-blacks are eventually granted Liberian citizenship. But, the process must be unlike the Sierra Leonean refugee experience. The process should be carried out on a step by step basis. Please General Camai B. Like you, we love our little potato greens with cow meat country. Let’s not make mistakes this time otherwise instead of enjoying our palmbutter over rice, we may chew beef fried rice.

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