By Emmanuel S. Wettee
In the 1970s, both The Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) and Student Unification of Party (SUP) at the University of Liberia were founded. Both organizations represented the voice of the voiceless and advocated for multi-party democracy in Liberia of which Liberians are participating in today.
The 1970s witnessed the return of Progressive Liberians back home from the Diaspora and the progressives started the advocacy for multi-party democracy in Liberia, just like ULAA and SUP.
As the political status quo was challenged by ULAA, SUP and the Progressive movements, the government of Liberia began to change laws, policies, etc. to protect their One-Party democratic institution.
The government at the time even questioned the citizenship of Progressive Liberians returning home from the Diaspora. One of the laws changed was the “Title 3 of the Liberian Code of Laws of 1956, known as the Aliens and Nationality Law.”
It was amended through the Fourth Regular Session of the Forty-Fifth Legislature, and enacted as the new Aliens and Nationality Law, called Title 4 of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised. Sections 22.1 and 22.2 of Title 4 of the Aliens and Nationality Law approved May 15th, 1973 and amendments approved May 9, 1974 addresses the issue of “Loss of Citizenship “. In short, both sections created the legal reasons for Liberia to not accept dual citizenship or dual nationality.
The restrictive Alien and National Law that forbids dual citizenship was in political coma from the 1970s until the Liberian civil war when thousands of indigenous Liberians fled abroad to escape the carnage.
As terrible as the Liberian civil war was, it presented unique opportunities to thousands of Liberians to re-settle abroad. Today, there is almost no city, town or village in Liberia that does not have family members residing in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. Instead of celebrating this tremendous opportunity for families and relatives on both sides of the Atlantic, unfortunately, the Alien and Nationality Law has become a political weapon against Diaspora Liberians.
The danger of using the Nationality Law as a political weapon is that it denies citizenship to all Diaspora Liberians with dual nationality and prevents them from owing real property. This has legally limited their abilities to invest in the country, setup businesses and spur economic activities throughout Liberia because they cannot legally own real properties.
But the reality is that far less than one percent of Diaspora Liberians have returned home to venture into politics or even have the desire to engage in political activities in Liberia.
Diaspora Liberians feel strongly bounded by blood to their ancestral homeland and the overwhelming majority long to remain citizens not due to political motivations. This is why, irrespective of the overreaching restrictions of Proposition One, the vast majority of Diaspora Liberians view the Dual Citizenship Proposition as a significant step forward.
We have continued to advocate that everyone born of Liberian parentage must not be deny citizenship and restricted from participating in the development of Liberia, because “Once-A-Liberian-Always-A-Liberian”.
The All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship (ALCOD) was born in December, 2012 in Washington DC, USA out of this desire to advocate for dual citizenship in Liberia.
For the twelve years of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf presidency, ALCOD or other diaspora organizations fiercely lobbied the government of President Sirleaf to resolve this issue of dual citizenship but to no avail.
In 2017, the constitutionality of the 1974 Alien and Nationality Law was challenged at the Liberian Supreme Court and sadly, the government of President Sirleaf defended the law in court despite our intense lobbying.
In December 2019 the Supreme Court of Liberia nullified Section 22.2 of the 1974 Aliens and Nationality Law, meaning that anyone accused of violating the Nationality Law will be entitled to “Due Process” of the law” instead of being summarily stripped of their Liberian citizenship as the law had prescribed.
Both President Sirleaf and President George Weah publicly expressed support for dual citizenship in Liberia. But unlike President Sirleaf, President Weah has demonstrated actions and is investing his political capital and resources to allow dual citizenship. Immediately assuming office, President Weah publicly declared his official support for dual citizenship and in his second year, he made it one of his top legislative agenda items.
In his third year, his government has veered the country into a national referendum for Dual Citizenship, reduction of presidential and legislative terms and to make it easy to vote in Liberia. The referendum is slated for December 8th, 2020 elections. The Propositions on the National Referendum received more than two-third votes from the National Legislature including lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties.
The December 8th, 2020 will be referendum on the Presidency of President George Weah and the outcome may or may not impact 2023 national elections, so we understand why some will not want to see the Picture of President Weah on the referendum’s banners.
The toxic political climate in Liberia is making most people to see things from a political perspective and forgetting their own support for the same issue as President Weah.
Some opposition lawmakers whose signatures are on the resolutions creating the Propositions and some people who support Proposition One and the other propositions are now seeing the National Referendum from a political perspective because President Weah’s picture is on the referendum’s banners, asking for a “Yes Vote” for each proposition.
As a champion of Proposition One and other propositions in the National Referendum, President Weah can democratically campaign for “Yes Vote” for each proposition in the national referendum. In the United of America, if a President wants a policy to become law, their pictures are on all advertisements.
When President Barack Obama wanted The Affordable Care Act (ACA) AKA Obamacare to become law his pictures were everywhere in both print and media promoting Obamacare.
In Ghana President Jerry John Rawlings was the icon for dual citizenship advocacy for those born of Ghanaian parentage. Sound and result oriented leaders are always the icons for their leadership agenda items.
Liberians let us look at the bigger picture and the future of our country and join President Weah in campaigning for “Yes Vote” for each Proposition. Let us go beyond the pictures.
We all support the Propositions so let us not allow politics or picture to impact our resolve to move our nation forward. Proposition one, if voted yes, shall resolve the issue of “Loss of Citizenship’ for over 500,000 Diaspora Liberians.
This will allow a Liberian woman to pass on her citizenship to her birth or adopted child, restore the citizenship of Liberians with dual citizenship and enable Liberians with dual citizenship to own real properties.
Despite the restrictions mentioned in Proposition One, most of which we do not like, Proposition One provides the best path to legally or constitutionality resolve the issue of citizenship in Liberia for our generation and the generations yet unborn.
Emmanuel S. Wettee is Chairman, The All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship (ALCOD).