In her 9th Annual Message, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf reflected upon the many accomplishments of her administration as she laid out her vision for the next twelve months and beyond. One poignant aspect of her vision which must be put into perspective was contained in her call to the National Legislature to render "adequate consideration to the recognition of citizens' rights for those persons born as Liberians, and those born of Liberian parentage who wish to contribute fully to the development of this country as citizens." In this call, the President went further to drive home the strategic logic of socio-economic gain in the form of valued human resource which many nations in the developed world have wisely tapped. She noted, "The grant of Liberian citizenship would enable us to draw on the wealth of financial, technical and other resources available to that category of persons that could be deployed nationally." Her call was made in full recognition of billions of U.S. dollars transferred in remittances to Liberia by Diaspora Liberians, and the vast talent pool and transferable assets gained by this sector of Liberian society abroad.
The President's proposition reveals the essence of reconnecting a missing link not yet brought to bear in the quest for national reconstruction so desired by millions of Liberians at home and abroad. It triggers a sober reflection upon the tremendous loss of essential resources by Liberia during the war years. The mass exodus of an estimated 1.5 million Liberians in a dark chapter of human and infrastructural destruction gave way to massive brain drain and accumulated economic disadvantages. These losses account for the missing links, and stubborn hindrances to accelerated reconstruction. Accordingly, the President's call to action must be pursued with great vigor as a strategic initiative to attract, regain, and maintain the maximum resources of all Liberian nationals at home and abroad, to achieve the goals of reconstruction.
The task of consolidated nation-building cannot be achieved if we fail to pursue all available resources within our reach. It has been observed that the primary obstacle to the achievement of this initiative is not within any Constitutional provision, but rather within a 1972 Liberian Statute which has been deemed incompatible to the Liberian Constitution by major legal scholars, including the acclaimed American Bar Association (ABA). Therefore an Act by the Legislature to repeal of this obstructive Statute would achieve the goals of national reunification as envisioned by the President and the host of Liberian nationals abroad.
However, she cannot ably proceed on this crucial matter without grappling with the reality of a divided nation. A crippling challenge to this pursuit of national reunification lies in the growing cynicism on the part of local Liberians towards the intentions and perceived domination by their fellow citizens from the Diaspora. It is also a sad commentary that a nation reeling from the aftermath of war would suffer such an unnecessary schism triggering political hesitation within the corridors of the Legislature, as key supporters in the Senate gear up for re-election this November. While we commend the President for this visionary and courageous reflection, we note that this call to the Legislature on behalf of Diaspora Liberians is not the first. It has been repeatedly made in previous Annual Messages.
Consequently, further action beyond oratory is now required on the President's part, considering the essence of this issue, so long delayed, as it relates to national reunification, human development and reconstruction. A word of advice to the President on this issue, especially in a polarized year of legislative elections, is to consider the use of her constitutional options related to Executive action in the best interest of the nation. The Liberian leader can follow the example of President Barack Obama who took the bold step to use the pen of Executive order to secure opportunities for millions of children born to undocumented immigrants in the United States, even as he battled fierce opposition to his call for immigration reform.
In so doing, Liberia, as many developed nations have done, will expand access to unlimited economic, political, and social advantages which lie in the potential of her own nationals. The changing trends and demands of a global community make it increasingly logical to reach out in an earnest effort to tap the vast human and material resource potential of all Liberian nationals scattered abroad.
Hence, the path to this objective lies both in a conscientious effort by the President, and the courage of the Liberian Legislature to revisit the Laws of Liberia to guarantee full citizenship rights to natural born Liberians and their children, who circumstantially acquired citizenship in other countries as means of survival during a time of war.
JOHN LLOYD, today’s Guest Editorialist, is former Commissioner, Office of African Affairs of the District Government of Washington, DC. He is a former leader of the Liberian Community Association in Washington DC and the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). He served as member of the editorial staff of the Daily Observer prior to the civil war.