Recently, as reported in a local daily, Fulas in Liberia are seeking recognition through Legislation to be recognized as one of the original ethnic groups of Liberia.
And the reason(s) underlying this appeal for recognition as one of the original ethnic groups of Liberia, according to a spokesperson, is due to their long presence and immense contribution, economic and otherwise, to Liberia.
The Constitution of Liberia provides for equal treatment before the law for all. It also provides for the right of any individual of Negro descent to become a citizen of Liberia in keeping with the laws of Liberia.
The question which arises from such a proposition is whether Fulas in Liberia can rightly be classified as stateless persons/individuals as their quest for recognition appears to suggest.
According to the UN, “the 1954 UN Convention relating to the status of stateless persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are the key international conventions addressing statelessness. They are complemented by international human rights treaties and provisions relevant to the right to a nationality.”
Liberia acceded to the Convention on September 22, 2004 while Guinea acceded to it on July 17, 2014.
Further, according to the UN, “Article 1(1) of the 1954 Convention sets out the definition of a stateless person as follows: “For the purpose of this Convention, the term “stateless person” means a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.”
Additionally, according to the UN, “the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are the key international conventions addressing statelessness. They are complemented by international human rights treaties and provisions relevant to the right to a nationality.
“The 1954 Convention is designed to ensure that stateless people enjoy a minimum set of human rights. It establishes the legal definition of a stateless person as someone who is “not recognized as a national by any state under the operation of its law. The 1954 Convention also establishes minimum standards of treatment for stateless people in respect to a number of rights. These include, but are not limited to, the right to education, employment and housing. Importantly, the 1954 Convention also guarantees stateless people a right to identity, travel documents and administrative assistance.”
Liberia is a signatory to the Convention, to which it acceded on September 22, 2004 while the Republic of Guinea acceded to it in 2014.
Given all the above, the question must be asked whether Fulas residing in Liberia qualify as stateless persons. To the best of publicly available information, the Republic of Guinea has not expelled any group of its citizens, neither has that country stripped a large number of its citizens of their natural citizenship effectively declaring them stateless.
Also, to the best of publicly available information, there are hundreds of Fulas if not thousands who have legitimately acquired Liberian citizenship either through naturalization or by birth.
The same can be said of others from West AFrica, including Ewes, Igbos, Yorubas, etc. Could they justifiably claim that because of their presence in Liberia dating more than three-quarters of a century, they deserve to be classified as one of the original tribes/ethnic groups of Liberia?
Of course the answer is No. From history, we know that when the settlers arrived on these shores, there were several ethnic groups occupying the land-space of what would eventually become the nation of Liberia.
Historically, the tribes occupying Liberia have been divided into three language groups, Mande, Kwa and Mel/West Atlantic.
The first census of Liberia, conducted in 1962, revealed that Liberia’s population at the time was 1.1 million people while the second census, conducted in 1974, put the population at 1.5 million, consisting of 16 ethnic groups amongst which the Fulas are not listed.
There is however nowhere in the Constitution of Liberia that gives the power to the Legislature to declare an ethnic group as one of the original ethnic groups of Liberia. Ethnicity in Liberia is associated with land and ownership and occupation of ancestral lands.
In this regard, Fulas in Liberia do not as an ethnic group occupy a particular land space but are instead dispersed throughout the country in small groups with the largest concentration in Monrovia. Over the last few years, they have been queuing regularly in their numbers to vote in Guinea’s elections but right here in Monrovia.
This clearly suggests that most Fulas in Liberia regard themselves as Guineans although they live and work in Liberia. And for those Fulas who have acquired Liberian citizenship either by birth or naturalization, it is not clear whether they are allowed to vote in Guinea’s elections on account of their ethnicity.
What is of concern and what appears to have prompted the call for recognition as an original ethnic group of Liberia is the level of discrimination Fulas and other Liberians of West African extraction face at the hands of local authorities, especially Immigration officials, even though they may be citizens by birth or by naturalization.
Liberian security officials, especially Immigration officers, are guilty of this practice, and more often than not they misuse/abuse their authority as a cover for extortion. Liberia can be a home for all regardless of race, creed, or sex and should/must be a country in which its citizens enjoy equal treatment before the law.
In view of this, the quest for respect and recognition of their rights under the law as citizens of Liberia should not be confused or commingled with a demand to be recognized as an original ethnic group of Liberia, simply on account of having lived in Liberia for a long time.
Such a demand, according to a Liberian social scientist (name withheld) is deeply laden with a potential conflict because, according to him, in the final analysis, it will come to the question of allocation of land space to be designated as a Fula ancestral homeland.
Liberia, especially post-conflict Liberia, is beset with land conflicts all over the place involving individuals, communities, and even tribes/ethnic groups; so it behooves all and sundry to be careful in treading on such grounds.