President George Manneh Weah, who only eight days ago took the oath of office to become Liberia’s new President, made pronouncements in his maiden Annual Message on policy issues which no President before him has done.
He boldly took issue with the very Liberian Constitution he last Monday took the oath of office to “support, uphold, protect and defend.”
He informed the Legislature, invited guests, who included his immediate predecessor, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the entire Liberian populace that he could not report much on the economy since he has been in office for only one week. He did, however, admit to them that he and his new administration had inherited an economy that is “broke.”
He pledged a number of issues to help revive the economy, including building paved roads connecting all county capitals—a move that would indeed create thousands of jobs.
Two major issues most people did not hear President Weah elaborate on in his Annual Message were Agriculture and Tourism, both of which are not only money makers but also massive job creators.
But the President rushed to enter territory no other President has been. He plunged headlong into very serious constitutional issues which have been enshrined in the Constitution since the beginning of the Republic—1847.
The first was on citizenship. The Constitution, in Chapter 4 under Citizenship, Article 27 b clearly states that in order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent, shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.”
On this matter, President Weah said in his first Annual Message, “I would now like to address you on what I consider to be my most urgent and imperative agenda: Limitation of citizenship only to black people and land ownership preserved only for citizens or black people.
This, President Weah said, may have been appropriate in the 19th century, but not today. He, therefore, put this to the Legislature and the Liberian people: “I therefore strongly recommend that consideration should be given to removing it by appropriate measures provided for in our laws for amending the Constitution.”
On the issue of land ownership to citizens only, President Weah recommended that this restriction be removed, and that appropriate rules and regulations of the Land Commission and other relevant agencies be amended and strengthened to accommodate this new development, if approved by referendum.”
These two fundamental constitutional issues have been put to referendum twice in recent years—first, when Dr. Amos Sawyer and his 25-member National Constitution Commission (NCC) toured the entire country and came back with the people’s verdict that this constitutional provision should not be touched. Again in 2011 another referendum was held on issues including this one, and the people’s verdict was the same: leave this thing alone.
Why did the Liberian people, even today, side with the framers of the original Constitution of 1847? For the same reason postulated in 1847. And what was that? Yes, 19th century colonialism and imperialism no longer exist, but who control and even DOMINATE the Liberian economy today? Foreigners, especially Lebanese and Indian nationals, who have shown no willingness even to train Liberians in business, and to invite them to join them in business.
Give these people citizenship, and the opportunity to buy land “in fee simple,” to use President Weah’s words. This newspaper has said on numerous occasions that there is enough money in the Middle East to purchase every inch of Liberian land. And soon, the poor Liberian people will find themselves living in segregated backwoods with no place to do their farming or live a free and normal life.
This newspaper is not against selling land to foreigners. Our contention is that this should be done ONLY when Liberians are better empowered economically and are no longer so poor and destitute, as we are now, that our people would be willing to sell their land for anything, and soon find themselves totally landless and far poorer tomorrow.
One young Liberian woman, upon hearing President Weah’s constitutional proposals about citizenship and land ownership “in fee simple,” remarked almost tearfully, “That is surely not coming from the people’s President.”
What we expected President Weah to have dealt with first and foremost is the abject poverty in which Liberians live and the dominant role foreigners are playing in our economy. We expected him to propose ways of empowering Liberians economically, by finding ways to promote Liberian entrepreneurship and to encourage Liberians in business.
The Mexicans tried this same thing in the 19th century—selling their land to foreigners, and soon found themselves (Mexicans) serfs (laborer legally bound to serve a lord) and peons (low paid workers) without hope in their own country.
We wish to assure President George Weah of one last thing: LIBERIANS ARE NOT racists.
To find out who the racist really is, we ask President Weah two questions: First, how many Liberian women does he know who have had children for Lebanese or Indian men? Second, how many Lebanese or Indian women does President Weah know who have had children for Liberian men?
We could go on, but will stop here for now.