Compared to those of his predecessor, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President George Weah’s first Annual Message to the Legislature was short. He spoke for 41 minutes, whereas President Sirleaf’s Annual Messages averaged two hours or more.
It must be stated, of course, that President Sirleaf’s first Annual Message, too, was relatively short. Volume 3 of Dr. Elwood Dunn’s trilogy (three volumes) on the Annual Messages of all Liberian Presidents, from J.J. Roberts to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, showed that her first Annual Message, delivered on January 23, 2006, spanned five pages, compared to her second, delivered on January 23, 2007, which took 25 pages. That was because she tried in each of her Annual Messages to give an account of the activities and important accomplishments of most parts of the Executive Branch—all the Ministries and parastatals as well as initiatives undertaken by her from the Executive Mansion, including reports on her travels, etc.
President Joseph Jenkins Roberts’ first Annual Message covered 10 pages, while his third was 14 pages, according to Volume 1 of Dr. Dunn’s trilogy. The first Annual Message of President W.V.S. Tubman, Liberia’s longest serving President, delivered November 1, 1944, covered 25 pages.
But short though President Weah’s maiden Annual Message was, it was loaded with issues that Liberians and the public in general will debate for a long time to come.
Three of these stood out: his proposal to change the constitutional provision restricting citizenship to blacks or people of Negroid descent; selling land to people of non-Negroid descent; and his proposal to allow dual citizenship in Liberia.
Let us deal first with the dual citizenship issue, which is far less controversial than the other two.
There have been many in the country and abroad who have been arguing over a long period for dual citizenship. Among the proponents of this idea have been hundreds of thousands of Liberians in the United States, Europe and other parts of Africa. Many of them, mainly for economic reasons, have been constrained to acquire American or European citizenship. Most of them are very highly skilled in various professions, including the arts, aviation, engineering, medicine and medical arts, science and technical and vocational expertise. Without local citizenship, these Liberians—and not them only but other foreign nationals, found it next to impossible to benefit from promotions or to climb the corporate ladder. So they took on foreign citizenships not because they did not like the lands of their nativity but simply to submit to economic and political realities.
This newspaper, the Daily Observer, too, has for a long time advocated that our people in the Diaspora be granted dual citizenship. Our arguments have been three-fold: first, many of them are loaded with expertise that we need desperately in Liberia; second, many have money or access to it; and third, they have valuable financial, professional and other contacts that we need in our still backward country.
Several of our Legislators have been the main ones opposing dual citizenship, purely, we believe, out of ignorance. The Daily Observer has tried over the years to explain that how Israel became the most highly developed nation in the Middle East because it welcomed back home, through direct and dual citizenship from Israelis from throughout the world, including Australia, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and North and South America.
Most controversial among the proposals presented in President Weah’s first Annual Message were his proposals to grant citizenship and the possibility of selling land to all races.
As we noted in our Tuesday Editorial, these issues have been presented twice in recent years in referenda—1985 and 2011—and both times have been overwhelmingly rejected.
Our problems as a newspaper with these matters are timing and the condition of the Liberian masses, who live in abject poverty. You put propositions to such people living in destitution, they could sell the only thing they have—land—and live the rest of their lives in even deeper poverty and utter hopelessness.
We hope that our foreign friends of a lighter hue (color) would place themselves in our shoes and understand the reality of poverty in Liberia. What we need to do is to take very serious and urgent measures to build a Liberian middle class that will empower Liberians and make them less vulnerable to the drastic, even dehumanizing consequences of such fundamental constitutional changes.
But as we said earlier, these are prime subjects for debate and we are sure that Liberians are ready for it.