Why President Weah Should Read My PhD Thesis on the Promise and Peril of (Dual) Citizenship

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By Robtel Neajai Pailey

When President George Weah announced in his inaugural address to the legislature last month that he would actively advocate for the passage of a contested dual citizenship bill and the removal of a so-called “racist” Negro clause from Liberia’s Constitution, I was bombarded with calls and e-mails.

At the time I was attending the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, so felt naturally distracted. Instead of reacting immediately, I read with interest the avalanche of responses either supporting or rejecting President Weah’s statements—from Liberians at home and those further afield in diasporic hotspots.

Just as I’d expected, however, most of the retorts were based on sentiments, rather than evidence. They echoed the anxieties and aspirations of the 200+ Liberians I had interviewed from 2012 to 2013 in Monrovia, Accra, Freetown, DC, and London while collecting data for my PhD thesis—a transnational study of constructions and practices of Liberian citizenship across space and time and their myriad implications for development.

Completed in 2014, my thesis is the first comprehensive scholarly investigation of the promise and peril of dual citizenship for Liberia, based on fieldwork conducted in five countries spanning three continents, during which I spoke to Liberian officials of government, homelanders, returnees, and diasporas as well as Sierra Leonean policy makers. I embarked on this study because I wanted to fill an important gap by elevating our public discourse and policy-making around citizenship. Since then, I have published two scholarly journal articles in *Citizenship Studies and *Migration Studies and a book manuscript is forthcoming.

An extract Robtel Neajai Pailey’s article on citizenship

My PhD thesis in general is less preoccupied with the legal parameters of Liberian citizenship and more concerned about how Liberians experience the institution differently based on social qualifiers such as gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, etc. In the Citizenship Studies article, I argue that even Liberians with legitimate Liberian citizenship do not benefit equally from the privileges and protections therein, and this is a sociological reading of citizenship. In the Migration Studies article, I explore why Liberians I interviewed (and in public discourse in general) are so staunchly pro- or anti- dual citizenship and how their beliefs about the contested bill are tied to tactile experiences of migration, or lack thereof.

An extract from Robtel Neajai Pailey’s article on migration

As I discovered during my three-year PhD research, contemporary sensitivities around citizenship are deeply embedded in Liberia’s long history of political, economic and social exclusion, which have yet to be resolved 170 years on. I learned that the pessimism expressed by those who support the ‘Negro clause’ and reject dual citizenship is just as valid as the optimism of those who eschew the clause and champion dual citizenship.

And so, the proof of President Weah’s clout will lie in his ability to reconcile these competing, yet equally legitimate perspectives. He must not succumb to the pressures of lobbyists who have their own agendas. As we continue to navigate our controversial, yet fascinating, legal provisions around citizenship, I urge President Weah and others to read my findings because they reveal important insights across the wide citizenship-dual citizenship continuum.

Evidence is needed now more than ever before.

Watch this space.

Robtel Neajai Pailey is a Liberian academic, activist and author of the anti-corruption children’s book, Gbagba. E-mail the author at [email protected] for full copies of the journal articles on citizenship and dual citizenship.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Everybody bringing big book even those not living in Liberia and like the author who is former employee of Ellen. There are many books the president can read if he wants . Some people already looking for job.

    • Peter, don’t waste your time responding to everything people write or post. Some people have their motives for writing or posting pictures. I think the President has his agenda for this country. If it is to read books, then so be it. It is always good to give a person or people the benefit of the doubt by not responding to writing/s or post/s if the writing/s or post/s is/are intended to provoke mix reactions. Just be mute, I hang my case!

  2. This is an excellent piece of article. Congratulation Robtel Neajai Pailey. Research of this nature is vitial at this pivotal time for the development of the new Liberia. Government officials, public workers, and institutions should make decisions based on a sound Liberian research. It is only through research that those countries which give us aids use to gain wealth and respect. For those that care to know, it is evidence that there is a direct parallel between wealthy nations and established academic of research culture. There are many books the president can or should read but research about Liberia and Liberian is crucial. The President is a good leader because he listens and takes decision base on his own assessments. We should not be threatened or either rush to assume that a researcher is seeking a job when she suggests that the president should read findings of a research about a critical and highly sensitive topic. My beloved people, in my personal view and understanding, a research is a careful/critical investigation/exploration/observation of phenomena with the aim to present facts based on balance a view. Nothing is scary about this research.

  3. As long as Liberia’s Constitution maintains these racially exclusionary policies, this will cast a dark shadow over its government and people and it dissuades others from investing in the country… and THAT is why the President has raised it as a pressing issue that needs to be resolved (read that as ‘got rid of’).

    What Liberia desperately needs is investment or, failing that, please tell us where all the money is going to come from, i.e. the money needed to fix all those ‘pressing issues’?
    As we’re soon to find out, the Government very likely has little money in the bank… and certainly not enough to commence work on projects to address the pressing issues.

    And who in their right mind would invest somewhere when they are going to be treated in some 2nd class manner?!

    And as for the “negro” clause in the Liberian Constitution, one doesn’t need to ‘know book’ or spout a dictionary full of big fancy words to know that discriminating against someone based upon the colour of their skin and / or particular physical attributes is nothing more than plain & simple ‘racism’… and besides, what specifically defines a ‘negro’… answer me that one if you can?

    E.g. when it comes to race, does ‘negro’ mean ‘black’, or is black different from negro in Liberia?… and, if so, what about a very dark skinned (‘black’) person from, say, southern India… could they be classified as ‘negro’ and therein get citizenship in Liberia (and if not, why not) ?

    And my wife is a 100% Kpelle woman, but one with a very bright skin colour… is she ‘negro’ enough to be a Liberian? And our mulato children are of an even lighter skin tone… though genetically they are obviously of ‘negro descent’… or do they have to be 100% ‘negro’ (whatever that is?) in order to be a Liberian?

    Do you see how stupid the ‘negro’ argument starts to sound, when you test it with logic?!

    So, remove the racist clause, and also allow dual citizenship, and watch the investment money roll in… or elsewise don’t complain when mama Liberia stagnates and you’re left wondering why investment isn’t forthcoming; you already have your answer as to why not, it’s printed in the Constitution.

  4. Why will you want the president to read your thesis? We have a opening in the History Department at the University of Liberia, can you come and help? The president has important things to do than read thesis. If you think your thesis is important sent it to Donald Trump to read.

    Good-luck!

  5. Robtel Pailey is one of Liberia young promising, bright and astute academic. She’s not looking for job as some of you may think, nor is she insisting or imposing anything on PRESIDENT Weah to read. Most of you are resistant to the idea of dual citizenship because you’ll are ill prepared and unqualified to compete in a global society. we are not the dummies nor the ventriloquist and We are not responsible for your broken dreams and promises.

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