By Samuel T. Kortue, Ph.D.
Of all the contemporary controversial concerns which have sparked and bred arguments, public opinion and debates that have drawn immense attention in this country, “Dual Citizenship” stands out the most. it has been and still is the most intricate one.
In fact, this debate is a regeneration from an old-age concern which started even with the genesis of this land becoming an independent state. The 1847 Constitution flatly forbids it in Article 27,Section (B). This concern was also ignited during the “People’sRedemptionCouncil” (PRC) Era of the Late Samuel K. Doe (1980 – 1990). Although attempts were made to flag the issue of dual citizenship in the then regime (PRC), it was overwhelmingly rejected. The fourteen years of civil crises and the subsequent formation of “Interim Governments” also had debates and hearings on “dual citizenship” but was again rejected.
This issue seemed to be delicate because it crosses the broad spectrum of our political, social, cultural and economic divides. The fact of the matter is, dual citizenship stands at the crossroads of two opposite extremes: it is either a beacon of light and hope as it is in the United States of America or it is one of evils and sufferings as it was in former Apartheid South Africa.
Who is Dual Citizen?
A dual citizen is generally one who is not only a natural citizen of his motherland, but also one who is a citizen of another country into which he is naturalized. He is like a religious phenolic who is also deeply rooted in his native traditional taboos and values. By definition, dual citizenship sounds good; but it is not without problems.
For us Liberians, what will be our specific definition and interpretation? How can we make it benefit us uniquely by our definition and implementation? The main issue is what will be the determining factors that will lead to our definition and interpretation. It should not be with dark clouds as is the “CodeofConduct”, which is the most beclouded document of the Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf Era—it is filled with many personal and political party interpretations undeniably filled with ambiguities.
Desires and Methods
Generally, the expectations from such venture are either benefits for each country or humanitarian gesture.With the quest for dual citizenship, is Liberia interested in it for economic growth or infrastructural development? Could it be for public fiscal discipline? If we tailor our thinking towards industrialization best practices since some of our countrymen are also citizens of other countries, especially America,then, our desires could be to attract huge capital investment when other nationalities are citizens of Liberia.
No matter how ourexpectedintentions could be, it must be well planned and legalized. Intentions and desires are just one side of the coin. We think what matters most in such a venture regarding dual citizenship is the methodology to be employed. In this regard, the below are the two sides of the coin that could be debatable for this intriguing national debate
COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS—OIL AND DUAL CITIZENSHIP
Since oil was discovered in 1855 by David Beaty in Warren, Pennsylvania, it has been a great cause of economic growth for many countries such as Kuwait or China. But it is a curse for other countries such as Libya (now), the former South Sudan and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For instance, the Delta Region of Nigeria has been a place of destructions and deaths. To the contrary, the same oil discovery was a blessing for the people of Venezuela under Chavez but now a woe for the same people currently.
Based on these two experiences, if could be inferred that “Dual Citizenship” could be a blessing or a curse for Liberia depending on how the issue is treated. The truth is, there is no ingrained evil in oil or dual citizenship; the evil is in the time, the policy and the regime that rules. Besides, the evils could be perpetrated by the so-called Commercial World with its many diverse interests. In this vein, if Liberia is not prepared educationally, and political and ventures to open her oil discoveries, it will be a devastating effect as compared to the “fourteen years of senseless wars”. The war experience should serve as a caveat for Liberians.
Gaining our experience from President William V. S. Tubman’sopen door policy, we were not prepared when it was instituted. The “Door” was opened for aliens, foreigners and foreign interests who became rich to the detriment of Liberians due to unpreparedness. The result from such a situation made our citizenspoor and are still very poor today. Only a tiny portion of our population became financially affluent. This is because we had no Liberian entrepreneurs or technocrats at that time—we were just not prepared!If we retrospect on the American scenario, we will notice thatwhen America started her developmental sojourn, she began as an agrarian society where she empowered average American family for such economy.
To realize this goal, America distributed acres of land to each family to help them begin their lives through farming. In contrast, Liberia is more interested in empowering aliens and foreigners against Liberians. This situation has made Liberians to be spectators in their own economy.
The issue of Dual Citizenship
The issue of dual citizenship has its own historical dynamism and progression. Back in the days of the Doe era, Americo-Liberians under the banner “Union of Liberian Association in America” (ULAA) sent their representative to project their voice in the debate, because they live in a society that is the melting pot for Dual Citizenship. Key issues they advocated for at time(1980’s)were:
- Because of the high rate of illiteracy (at 85%) at that time, “we were not prepared for a dual citizenship legislation and life”.
- They who said that it would be dangerous for a very rich country with a huge and gigantic population that was and is still very poor to think of such. She would stab herself in the back.
- Lastly, they cited that “we were not matured enough to legislate policies and programmed policies that would give every citizen the level playing field fordevelopment”. They argued that Liberia would experience physical development without socio-economic development.
To advocate for dual citizenship today is a paradoxical imagination. Interestingly, these same views were repeated during the Charles Taylor regime but became a futile endeavor. In a desperation to achieve the push for dual citizenship acceptance, many interest groups deliberated on the matter with the same key stance, but again to no avail.
Today, we hasten to argue that the situations are the same or even worse, but yet still, we are pushing for dual citizenship.What a paradox?Our population, according to demographers has increased to 4.5 million but with no educational corresponding effect. President Ellen Johnson -Sirleaf said, “Our educational system is a Mess”. To justify this, let’s look at the below scenarios:
- Lots of our youthful population are motorbike riders who aremaking no effort to be educated, and not even the government is opting for such educational opportunities
- Hundreds of our young girls are in Red-light or other markets while others are passing around the country with markets in their hands selling goods worth less than five thousand Liberian Dollars. Pathetically, most of them are in early marriage. This situation is contributing to the high rate of poverty in the country. During the inauguration of President George Weah in January 2018, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations told President Weah he was taking over a country that is rich in natural resources but with a poor population.
The fact is, dual citizenship, like crude oil or children born to parents has its own “pros” and “cons”. It may rain tremendous blessings upon us as a people or shine the burning heat of the equator—region sun upon us. HEED THE WARNING OH LIBERIANS. If we are not prepared and force it into being, we will definitely blaze heat of the desert landupon us.
During the regime of Madam Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf, she constituted NOCAL and placed her son Charles Sirleaf as head.This did not yield Liberians any benefit when NOCAL had her GREAT FALL like “HumpyDumpy”. At last, she shouldered the responsibilities for its short life, failures and fall. But what did she shoulder? We don’t know whether itwas because she appointed a novice like her son to that position; was it that she shouldered the cost and in time will refund our money or what else?
PROS OF A DUAL CITIZENSHIP NATION
Dual citizenship (Gaille, 2018) occurs when an individual has concurrent citizenship in two different countries. It allows more than one country to recognize an individual as an official citizen. Every country has different rules regarding this status, so before applying for citizenship to a second country, it is important to know what local rules may apply to you.
Here are the pros of dual citizenship to consider if you’re thinking about maintaining this status.”
- It offers individuals an extend level of privileges and benefits.
People that hold a dual citizenship have the privileges and benefits which come with citizenship from two different countries. That means they can potentially vote in local elections, serve in office, or take advantage of the social systems of both nations. Travel restrictions are reduced, and work permits are not required to be employed in either nation. Individuals can even attend universities at domestic tuition rates.
- It permits an individual to carry two passports.
Dual citizens are allowed to carry a passport from each qualifying county. That makes it easier to travel between those two countries because the customs and entry process is different. It guarantees a right-of-entry, something that even a long-stay visa or work permit may not allow.
- It allows for property ownership in both nations.
Because individuals are a legalized citizen of both countries, they are permitted to own property according to local laws and regulations. Some countries restrict ownership rights to citizens only. That can be very useful for individuals who travel a lot between those two countries, as property ownership tends to be more economical than the costs of the hospitality industry.
- It creates opportunities. Diversity is what creates opportunity in today’s world. Being part of two distinctcultures gives you a unique experience that employers crave. It offers an opportunity to learn a new language or approach life in a different way. Some governments even promote the idea of having dual citizenship for those who qualify as it can enhance the perceived reputation of that country. Many who hold dual citizenship rate themselves as experiencing high levels of personal satisfaction because of these opportunities.
- It allows for governments to create new revenue streams.
Several countries allow individuals to purchase citizenship that comes with a second passport. There are 7 countries that offer citizenship through investment, with 3 offering a “powerful” passport. Cyprus currently offers access to an eventual EU passport for as low as 2 million euros. Malta offers access for 650,000 euros. Belize has been known to allow for a citizenship investment for as little as $50,000. These revenue streams can help small nations stay afloat financially while opening new doors to individualized investments in the future.
- It keeps families together.
Citizenship laws generally follow two basic principles: you’re a citizen of the country where you were born; and you can apply for citizenship to a nation where your parents are from if you were born overseas. This process keeps families together because it eliminates the requirement to be born on “national soil.” Imagine someone with U.S. parents, born in Spain, being refused entry as a newborn because they didn’t hold the proper immigration papers. Without dual citizenship, scenarios like that are a real possibility.
WHAT DO LIBERIANS WANT?
As we walk through the corridors of the advantages of dual citizenship, one is tempted to ask, WHAT DO WE LIBERIANS WANT”? Is it that we really need it, or we are fronting for foreign interest? What segment of the Liberian populace need it?
When we think about those in the diaspora, the handful of the Liberian elite, the slowly growing professional class and the vast poor majority, we cannot logically guess whose interests it is. We need to know the real advocates.
The best answers to these pondering questions will serve as LIME LIGHTS in our dark valley of desires. It it then logical to conclude that to reject or accept dual citizenship entirely rests on critical thinking and analysis — not on emotions and sentiments — not because other countries have it so we must have it.
So, as we sit on the drawing board of decision making, we need a TRUMP CARD QUESTION. And that is, ARE WE PREPARED? PREPARATIONS ARE OF DIFFERENT KINDS AND FOR DIFFERENT REASONS. Our desires should compel us to create our own yard sticks of preparation.
THE LEGAL STATUS
First and foremost, we need to put in place sound, national and patriotic legislations and laws that will first protect our native interests. And key to these interests are our native land and natural resources so that we do not have a repeat of those days SOUTH AFRICA. And these legislations must be well explained to the people for referendum
Legislations sometimes create institutions for implementations and guidance. For example, one of such laws could be to create a “special Court”, “Authority” or “Commission” for dual citizenship. For now, our constitution only speaks on two kinds of citizens, being, the naturally born and aliens who do naturalize. It says nothing about non-Negros who want citizenship.
The would-be institutions by laws will then use the many radio stations, the newspapers, the social media, and local television networks. At these points, people will be educated and be prepared to vote their consciences. Anything less than proper education in dual citizenship will lead them to vote on emotions and sentiments.
When these legislations or constitutional provisions are made and enacted, Liberians will have undoubted clarity with the following counts:
- When will Non-negro Africans (ex. Egyptians, Libyans, etc.) and foreigners become citizens, what positions in government and the private sector will they have rights to? And what will be their limitations?
- Since they will have the right to land and property ownership, will there be limitations to the size(s) of land and capital investment? What are the laws to govern us all?
- Marriage will be another great concern. Few years back, inter-tribal marriages were very difficult until President Tubman found it fit to put in place the “National Integration Policies”. As is the case now, the Islamists, the Lebanese, the Fulani and even the Indians love, marry and born by vast majority of the Liberian tribes, but never allow their daughters and sisters to marry a Liberian. We will have to avoid what went on in America in the 1950’s and 1960’s. (what went on?).
- Another key factor is religion. There is proverbial saying that, “The child is notyet born but yet the eyes are so big, what if they areborn”?
In recent time, the Islamists were demanding religious rights and freedom including holidayswith NO CONDEMNATION TO THEM. But the true is, a multi-racial society demands multi-religious relationship. The name of the game will be TOLERANCE. Are we tolerant and prepared?
There is something in language called, “experience”. In this case, vagarious experience. That is, experience that we learn from others, not our own. We need to learn from the experience of South Africa, The Ivory Coast, Namibia and that of Zimbabwewho experienced the worst multi-racial land dispute in Black Africa.
OUR ECONOMIC SITUATION
Economically,we need to study our economy and come to some logical conclusion as to whether we have the enabling environment. When people are poor and living below all international standard lives, do they need dual citizenship?When more than 50% of our professional and non-skilled labor forces are out of jobs, what does dual citizenship mean to them?And when those who are working experience delay in taking their pay, how can they compete with those rich and money people that are to come under the guise of dual citizenship?
The biggest fear will be, will not those rich foreigners or Liberians in foreign land praying to come overshadow the poor native Liberians? We see this happening even now. Ghanaians and Nigerians linked to our rich Liberians are doing machine mining or our diamonds and gold because they have money. In Liberia, he who has money has justice and the opportunities to more wealth.
Under such situations, you do not have to be a magician to know that the poor majority will labor as slaves for the rich. Know that the best of our resources, land will be bought by the rich. In that case, the poor will become landless and migrate further into poverty.
Do we not think that land and property possession are pivotal factorsto economic growth and development?It is certainly clear that dual citizenship will bring with itself many investment opportunities. But who is actually prepared for the coming opportunities in the midst of such economic stagnation? Well, we think it is only the WELL-TO-DO.
The killing of the former LAC’s (Liberia Agriculture Company) Manager during the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf era is a case in point when LAC was on its extension farm programme, from District # 3 to 4 and started the negotiations with the government.
That negotiation was centered around the natives giving their land farmers and villages to LAC for the total benefit of the natives. The competing cards on the table were investments, government’s interests as well as cash and future benefits for the natives and the commercial interest of the company.
It all started well. But what went wrong that led to the killing of the manager remains a mystery. No side has given us any real and factual story.
Judging from such instances, we think that if proper legislations and policies are not put in place, then the struggle and rift between the vast poor majority and our new citizens to be will be grave. Why? This is because those with money will over shadow the majority poor people.
OUR POLITICAL CLIMATE
Our political environment is riddled with lots of uncertainty. There are protests here and there. Elections violence is on the increase and one never knows what the next hour would bring.
Dual citizenship dwells in a society that rotates on the axis of political tolerance. And political tolerance is an off-shoot of mature democracy where an opponent is an opponent but not an enemy. If a nation cannot properly handle the issue of opposition, can it tolerate multi-racialism?
In dual citizenship South Africa, the clock is ticking against the great majority Blacks. Indeed, they control politics now, but who controls the economy? it is the minority Whites. Remember that just as the one who controls the stomach has the voice of command, so too is the one who controls the political economy.
When our politicians cannot be trusted, jumping from one political party to another without sound political justifications except belly-driven opportunisms, can we have a sound and people-centered dual citizen society? The thing is, we are governed by politics. So, if the political environment is immature, in-experienced and riddled with bad governance as far as Liberian has been concerned, can we do better with dual citizenship?
When laws and policies are made by any government, the citizens have their own responsibilities. They either accept or reject it. For example, citizens respond to “Election Laws” as the laws dictate. Or for example, if new tax laws and policies are enacted, they respond accordingly. If not, they are fined, or suffered the penalties.
This is why we advocate for legal provisions so that the citizens will know their rights, limits and bounds as they interact with their new brothers and sisters. Also, when the economic environment is not conducive, the native Liberians won’t have the opportunities to live up to their responsibilities. And finally, when illiteracy overshadows the populace, they will not only fail to respond to things educationally, but they will be over looked, down played and marginalized.
We know that knowledge is power and those who lack it are doomed to perish. So, we think that it would be prudent enough for those conditions to be satisfied before a dual citizenship referendum. The state needs the understanding and support of its citizens. The advocates of this referendum need to understand that migration, to be followed by naturalization has become a huge problem worldwide, especially in America and Europe.
Note that the problem of responsiveness is never with the government but with the citizens whose land, jobs and security are at stake with migration and dual citizenship.
And here are some key responsibilities for the citizens:
- Acceptability – without fear of being overshadowed by the new comers
- Cooperation — working with the newly- born. Citizens for their general good
- Peaceful Co-existence – where they have to interact according to norms and values
BEGINNING TO PROCEED
We know that a “a thousand miles’ journey begins with one step”. So true. Similarly, when a lad begins to hunt, he does not start hunting elephants. It’s too big a game for him.It must be a qualitative progression.
That is why our exposition is not aimed at comparing our yet-to-be dual citizenship nation with any country in The Americas or Europe. And not even in Africa. And the logical reason is that there are cultural diversities. Not only that but the political dynamism or changes. So, from our own understanding and uniqueness of the matter, we need a unique model for our country – – not a copycat snare.
Historically, when we retrospect on the Charles Taylor episode with Samuel Doe and the Ellen Cokorum issue with Ellen Johnson -Sirleaf, both of whom allegedly committed crimes in Liberia but could not be tried because of their US citizenship connections, we wonder what the situation will be under the dual citizenship?
AN ALTERNATIVE FOR PROCEEDING
First and foremost, we think it’s fine if we were to treat our own citizens as human first. We need an economic enabling environment for our citizens; we need a sound political relationship between the government and the opposition community; we need a huge educated and professional class, all for our citizens before any dual citizenship campaign.
In proportion to our ever-growing population, we need at least 60 to 70% of our people to have quality and professional education so as to prepare them for the dual citizenship. They must be marketable for the new deal.
Next, we need to get rid of all of these political violence and uncertainty for us to create that new society.
The average Liberian is now living on less than US $3.50 a day. This is sad. This is not an economy to begin a dual citizenship society with. When jobs are created and an average family can afford and live on double (US$7.00) our so-called “Decent Work Bill” then, we can begin to proceed.
It goes without saying that we need a DECENT LIBERIAN CITIZENSHIP environment before we can invite other Liberians from the diaspora. We must love and care for our nation and its people first.
LIBERIANS ABROAD FIRST
Liberians abroad should be the second step in our dual citizenship drive. When they naturalize as citizens in other countries, they should have equal rights when they return home. They must be entitled to full citizenship rights. But care must be taken by laws and policies that they should not overshadow other Liberians home.
We know that these Liberians have made many attempts for these rights but to no avail. Any nation that wants to accommodate other nationalities must first make room for its citizens. These Liberians will not only come with money and skilled labor, but they will come with experiences living in a dual citizenship society in the west.
Their wisdom and guidance are vital to the crafting of legislations and policies. For our desire. And when we are on course with the process qualitatively, then we can move forward.
ACCEPT AMERICA FIRST
Next, open the door to the Americans who are our traditional western friends. The founders of this nation came from America. Our constitution and flag are the off-shoots of America. In fact, many African nations consider Liberia as “Small America”. Our economic system is a copy of the American system except that we are not in control of our own economy.
When Americans are given the first privilege to become the first non-negro people to become naturalized citizens, they will rightly guard us in the new era. YOU SEE, WHEN TROUBLE SHOOTS, YOU CALL ON YOUR NEIGHBOUR FIRST.
No amount of dual citizenship intention will be successful without the involvement of UNCLE SAM. She not only has the “Melting Pot”, but she has long standing experience of the pot.So with their advanced experience, prosperous economy and advanced technology, Liberia will then be on the right path for an unlimited dual citizenship society.
We believe that when Americans become our first naturalized citizens, we will have a great hope for a non-racial dual citizenship Liberia. When we start with America, our system promises to be good. The cardinal truth is that such society requires a UNIQUE MODEL.
The process then ends with invitations to the rest of the world after considering and following all of the above. That is, as we grow, develop and mature from the outlined steps, then we can open the door to the rest of the world — to all races and cultures.
Dual citizenship has its own merits and demerits. It involves life and death. That is why we compare such society to an oil-rich society that may rain blessings or curses upon its people. And this depends on how well it is crafted and handled. Like a wedded couple, their children could bring shame or glory upon their parents.
So it is because of its sensitivity and delicacy that we are sounding these cautions beforehand. In Deuteronomy 28, Moses told the Israelites to choose between “life and death” as they lived their lives. Therefore, the choice is ours to listen and handle this matter with care or refuse the “Angelic Warning”, or do it the common Liberian way of “DO AND LATER REGRET”. But do not say that you were not warned.
Samuel T. Kortue is Associate Professor and Chairman, Department of History, University of Liberia