Making the case for dual citizenship in Liberia

 

 

 

By George Klay Kieh, Jr.

Globally, the issue of dual citizenship or dual nationality is not a new phenomenon. This is reflected in the fact that several countries—e.g. Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States—have liberalized their citizenship requirements, so that dual citizenship can be accepted. Similarly, in the case of Africa, several countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Lesotho, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria and Togo do recognize dual citizenship.

However, in the cases of some of the countries that have not accepted dual citizenship, there are debates about the pros and cons. One of those countries is Liberia, which, after more than three decades of civil conflicts, including two civil wars(1989-1997 and 1999-2003), is faced with the Herculean task of post-conflict peace building  The debate about dual citizenship in Liberia is framed by two major perspectives. The anti-dual citizenship perspective is premised on several arguments. The core one is based on the absolutist conception of citizenship: An individual can only be a citizen of a single country at a time.

Accordingly, if an individual decides to accept the citizenship of another country through the process of naturalization, then he or she forfeits his or her Liberian citizenship. Another argument is that those Liberians, who left the country during the country’s civil conflict and became citizens of other countries, are not patriotic. Hence, they are no longer Liberians. The implicit postulate is that those Liberians, who have remained in the country during the period of civil conflict, are the true patriots. To use the local parlance, “those who have remained on the ground,” are the ones who are committed to Liberia. Also, there is the argument that those Liberians, who left the country and became citizens of other states, no longer, have an understanding of the so-called “new realities” in Liberia (a nebulous reference that lacks empirical specificities).

Importantly, there is a covert and selfish reason that is harbored by some Liberian elites, who currently have positions in the state bureaucracy. Their concern is that the adoption of dual citizenship would create competition for their jobs. That is, dual citizenship would make those, who are currently residing abroad, eligible to hold both appointive and elected positions. Significantly, since those in the Liberian Diaspora constitute the core of the country’s intellectual and professional capital, they would therefore be well-positioned to take positions in the public sector at the expense of those who are currently occupying those positions. This masked reason is the cardinal obstacle to the adoption of dual citizenship in Liberia.

On the other hand, the pro-dual citizenship perspective’s central argument is that some Liberians left the country and became citizens of other countries for legitimate reasons, especially their personal safety and security, against the backdrop of the excesses of the post-coup murderous regime of Samuel Doe, and the two civil wars. Hence, their migration to, and subsequent acquisition of citizenship in other countries was motivated by these stark realities. Also, despite their physical absence from Liberia, they continue to maintain ties with the country through, among other things, the provision of economic support for relatives and friends, the provision of humanitarian assistance to educational institutions, medical facilities and others, and the undertaking of advocacy on behalf of the country.

Against this background, this paper agrees with the pro-dual citizenship perspective, and uses its major arguments as the central foundation. In addition, the paper argues that the conception of citizenship that underlies the case of the anti-dual citizenship perspective in Liberia is Byzantine (it is archaic and outdated), because it fails to take cognizance of the travails of the Liberian domestic political economy and the civil conflict it engendered. And they ways in which the resulting civil conflict led to the waves of migration of Liberians in search of security and better economic opportunities.

Moreover, the adoption of dual citizenship would not harm Liberia in any way. To the country, as will be argued, it will benefit the country tremendously, particularly in light of the enormous challenges Liberia faces in addressing the roots of the multidimensional crises of underdevelopment—cultural, economic, political, security and social— that have bedeviled it, and resulted in a coup and two civil wars. The remarks made by Dr. Addo Kufuor, the then Ghanaian Acting Minister of the Interior, on July 3, 2002, on the occasion of the passage of the “Dual Citizenship Regulation Act,” captures the essence of dual citizenship: The legislation is a tribute to the great support Ghana has received from her citizens who have been living beyond her shores over the years. This support has been in the areas of economic, technical, social and infrastructural development…The NRGS contribution of 400 million dollars cannot be treated lightly, and so the importance Ghana attaches to NRGS cannot be overemphasized (Tande, 2012:1).

 

FRAMING THE CASE FOR DUAL CITIZENSHIP IN LIBERIA

In the current context of the debate, the adoption of dual citizenship in Liberia should benefit two major clusters. The first one consists of those Liberians, who left the country and became citizens (through naturalization) of other countries (countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, the Pacific, and Australia). The other comprises individuals, who were born outside of Liberia to a parent or parents, who are currently citizens of Liberia, as well as those(parent or parents), who were born in Liberia, but have become citizens of other countries.

However, in addition, I support the expansion of the ambit of the liberalization of citizenship in Liberia to include African Americans and others of African descent, who are desirous of maintaining their current citizenships, while acquiring Liberian citizenship. In other words, people of African heritage, who were not born in Liberia, should also be allowed to hold dual citizenship—their current ones and Liberian citizenship. The rationale is that this will benefit Liberia in several major ways.

 

THE CONTEXT: THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF LIBERIA

The political economy of Liberia provides the context for why some Liberians migrated to other countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, among others, and acquired citizenship. In this light, let us examine some of the major features of the country’s political economy. At the base is a state whose central mission has been to create propitious conditions for the predatory accumulation of wealth by the owners of multinational corporations (e.g. Bong Mines, Firestone, Liberian Agricultural Company, LAMCO) and other foreign-owned businesses(e.g. Lebanese-owned businesses) and Liberian state managers and their relations(Kieh, 2008; Kieh, 2012).

On the other hand, the state has visited deprivation and misery on the overwhelming majority of Liberians (Kieh, 2008; Kieh, 2012). The related feature is the unfair and unjust distribution of wealth and income. For example, in the 1980s, about 6% of Liberians (the members of the ruling class) owned and controlled about 65% of the national wealth (Kieh, 2008; Kieh, 2012). This was made possible through the instrumentality of the state: The members of the ruling class used the state to engage in the predatory accumulation of wealth through an assortment of illegal means, principally through the pillaging and plundering of the national treasury). Accordingly, the state has become like a “buffet service” in which those who have state power in Liberia at particular historical junctures and their relations “eat all they can eat” for free(Kieh, 2009:10).

Another characteristic of the domestic political economy was (and is) the failure of state managers to provide basic “public goods” such as employment, education, health care, etc. Also, in order to keep their privileged positions, state managers, as instruments of the ruling class, have used the coercive powers of the state to visit physical violence on both the real and imagined opponents of the particular regime that is in power at the time.

Cumulatively, the vagaries of the political economy led to multidimensional crises of underdevelopment, which reflected the failure of the state (its unwillingness to provide for the basic needs of the majority of its citizens) (Kieh, 2012). Concomitantly, state failure resulted in state collapse, as evidenced by the erosion of the legitimacy of the state and its regimes (Kieh, 2012).  The terminal phase of state collapse resulted in a military coup on April 12, 1980, and two civil wars in 1989 and 1999.  In turn, these violent activities created an environment of insecurity, as the Liberian state became the principal threat to the safety and security of its own citizens.

 

THE WAVES OF THE MIGRATION OF LIBERIANS

The failure of the Liberian state to provide human security for the majority of its citizens led to five major waves of migration. The first wave was from the 1960s to 1980. The thrust of this wave was economic: Those Liberians, who left the country and became citizens in other states, did so because they wanted to improve their economic conditions. This was because, as has been argued, the Liberian state failed to provide for their basic human needs.

The second wave spanned the period 1980-1989. The central propellant of this wave was that some Liberians feared for their safety and security, against the backdrop of the murderous nature of the Doe regime. These included those whose relatives were executed by the military regime after the coup, those who had been imprisoned at various times by the Doe regime, and individuals, who were subjected to constant harassment by the junta.

The third wave occurred from 1989-1997, and was driven by the first Liberian civil war. The war began on December 24, 1989, when the Charles Taylor-led National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) initially attacked north central Liberia from its launch pad in neighboring Cote D’Ivoire. Characteristically, the Doe regime mobilized the full battery of its military and security assets, thus setting into motion the country’s first civil war. Among other things, the war led to deaths, injuries, destruction, and a broader climate of violence and insecurity.

The fourth wave took place from 1997-early 2003. The pivot was the murderous regime of Charles Taylor. Contrary to its claim to set Liberia on the course of democracy and development, the Taylor regime created a “garrison state” that was anchored on repression and murder as the axles of state-society relations. For example, having lost legitimacy due to its horrendous performance, the Taylor regime undertook a vicious and violent campaign of ethnic scapegoating. And this was reflected in the political persecution of members of the Krahn and Mandingo ethnic groups, who the Taylor regime recurrently accused of treason.

The fifth wave (2003) was propelled by the second Liberian civil war. The war, which began in 1999, and remained, confined to the western portion of the country, reached the outskirts of Monrovia, the capital city, in mid-2003. Amid the characteristic mayhem, thousands of Liberians fled the country in search of safety and security in other countries.

Clearly, Liberians, who left the country at various periods, did not do so in a vacuum. Instead, their migration to other countries and the subsequent acquisition of citizenship was driven by the imperatives of the Liberian political economy. In other words, hamstrung by the lack of economic opportunities, and threatened by physical insecurity, these Liberians had to do what were best for them. In fact, given the same opportunities to migrate, there are only very few Liberians, who will not take advantage. Thus, the context of the migration of some Liberians and their resulting acquisition of citizenship in other countries is indispensable to understanding the rationale for the country’s needs to adopt dual citizenship.

 

THE BENEFITS OF DUAL CITIZENSHIP

The adoption of dual citizenship by Liberia will benefit the country in various major ways. First, as Liberia is currently faced with the Herculean task of addressing the taproots of the multidimensional crises of underdevelopment that has led to civil conflict and its resultant coup and wars, the country needs human capital. Clearly, Liberians in the diaspora, as has been argued, constitute the kernel of the country’s skills pool. Accordingly, dual citizenship would enable them to bring their expertise to bear in helping Liberia to address the conundrums of democracy and development.

Second, dual citizenship would create the enabling environment in which diaspora Liberians can invest their capital in the social and economic development of Liberia. This is because Liberian citizenship would provide them with a sense of security, as well as a stake in the material advancement of the country. In addition, these diaspora Liberians would be able to help in mobilizing the type of foreign investments that would accrue benefits for Liberia. Cumulatively, both the personal investments by diaspora Liberians, as well as those that they mobilize would help to create employment opportunities for Liberia. Undoubtedly, this would help to meet a current critical need, especially in light of the high rate of unemployment in Liberia, particularly among the youth.

Third, diaspora based Liberians would be able to continue their advocacy on behalf of Liberia in the international community. Historically, this group of Liberians, especially those in the United States, has played a pivotal role in the mobilization of international support for the promotion of genuine democracy in Liberia, and the termination of the country’s two civil wars. By having dual citizenship status, these Liberians would enable these Liberians to have a renewed sense of commitment to promoting Liberia’s interests abroad.

 

CONCLUSION

The central conclusion of the paper is that it is in Liberia’s vital interest to adopt dual citizenship for diaspora Liberians, as well as those individuals, who were born outside of country to Liberian parentage. This is because Liberia would derive tremendous benefits that would be pivotal to helping the county to address its perennial crises of underdevelopment. Clearly, the arguments by the anti-dual citizenship perspective are ahistorical and are driven by selfish impulses rather than the interest of the country.

 

REFERENCES
Kieh, George Klay. 2008.  The First Liberian Civil War: The Crises of Underdevelopment. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Kieh, George Klay. 2009. “The State and Political Instability in Africa.” Journal of Developing Societies. 25(1), pp. 1-25.
Kieh, George Klay. Liberia’s State Failure, Collapse and Reconstitution. Cherry Hill, NJ: Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers.
Tande, Dibussi. 2012. “Why Liberalizing Nationality Law is a ‘Win-Win Situation.” The New Black Magazine. www.thenewblackmagazine.com

Dr. George Klay Kieh, Jr., is Professor of Political Science and Former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of West Georgia. Professor Kieh can be reached at georgekieh@yahoo.com

[1]Disclaimer: The author would not benefit from the adoption of dual citizenship in Liberia. This is because he is a citizen of Liberia, and a permanent resident of the United States (since 1985). Hence, his position is not shaped by the desire for any personal benefit.

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