By Francis K. Zazay
It is often said that history should be a source of wisdom, for the mere sake of making an informed decision, as is expected of wise leaders. At the same time, however, nobody gives what they do not have, including ethical standards and sound judgment. No sooner, therefore, did I conclude reading the hate article about the Legislature’s passage of a Dual Citizenship proposition when I realized it represents an element that confirms the level of attrition meted out against returning Liberians and one that is also replete with discrimination. One is therefore left to wonder, as to how could it be that the Legislature could reach a decision on such a critical issue as the “Dual Citizenship Proposition” in such a short time as if it was making a breakfast decision!
The Liberian diaspora is one of Liberia’s largest stock of intellectuals that includes a strong moral will, great ethical standards, adept professional competence, training and discipline to support their country. They are the group of Liberians who supports the country with remittances in foreign currencies both in times of crisis and in time of peace. It is this class of citizens who had fled during the civil war to friendly countries of Liberia that the Legislative Proposition to the Constitution, seeks to alienate and debar.
The proposition was surprisingly hasty because one would expect that such a landmark proposition should have at least considered public hearings. This would have given the legislature an opportunity of understanding the feelings of its citizens, since many of those who will be affected by this amendment are Liberians who fled the country, not by their own will, but by reasons of the civil war. Understanding the total history of the scenario when making laws that have far-reaching implications on the people for whom the laws are made, creates a sense of collective decision making, thereby erasing any thought of bias. This is particularly important in the wake of the numerous suspicions that returning Liberians from the Diaspora are not welcome and are treated with attritions, disdain, and rejection. Some allegations by Liberians on the ground are that returning Liberians have little or no interest in Liberia because whatever income they earn in Liberia is sent back to their current places of residence, and therefore, have no economic effect on Liberia.
Regardless of the merits of this allegation, it should behoove state leadership to exercise prudence in making decisions so as not to create the appearance of hate and disunity amount Liberians. The Legislature’s failure to do so gives the appearance that they are confirming the hate meted out against fellow Liberians, an action that is contrary to our historical principles for which Liberia was founded, the value of our national state and it a proposition that is different from all of Liberia’s allies, since independence. Additionally, rather than amend the 1974 Aliens and Nationality Law, the Legislature sought to make a proposition so that the process of ever discussing citizenship will be difficult since it would now require a constitutional amendment. By defining the details of the Proposition amounts to judicial interpretation, therefore outside the scope of the Legislature.
Why Call It Dual Citizenship
Liberia was established as a Free Land of Liberty. Therefore, a Negro who set foot in Liberia, under the old law was a citizen of Liberia. Many of, currently affected by this proposition were bore during this period and with that mindset. Also, many of our former leaders were born in a foreign land. As a direct consequence of the war, many Liberians traveled out of Liberia, obtained foreign citizenship to acquire education and returned home to serve their country. Many of them acquired foreign citizenship to easily take care of their families, acquire education, bear and meet other social obligations. Consequently, many of their children were born and schooled in foreign land and may be ready to return to Liberia to serve in various capacities, except that many Liberians at home view them in a different way, which is why Diaspora Liberians have been calling for Dual Citizenship, as is done in places like the US or Israel, etc.
Dual citizenship is the nationality status of a person with citizenship of two countries concurrently. That means the dual citizen, at the same time, has legal rights and obligations relating to the two countries. The right and obligations include mandatory national services, voting, taxation, and etc. In the State of Israel for example, a dual national is not considered a “foreign citizen under Israeli Security Service Law and is, therefore, subject to mandatory military service”. In the United States, it is left to the individual, upon answering the question of whether they have denounced their citizenship to the US. Therefore, a U.S. citizen may naturalize in a foreign state without any risk of losing his US citizenship. The same is with France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and many of Liberia’s long-standing allies since independence. According to my research, many of the countries named above have dual citizenship arrangements with countries with whom they have particularly foreign interest and where most of their citizens travel, reside and do business. From an African Culture perspective, “if we are one, you will have no problem with how long your child lives in my house”.
Contrary to these practices of Liberia’s long-standing allies, the Liberian Legislature, during the week of October 4, unanimously approved a Dual Citizenship Bill by amending Article 28 of the Liberian Constitution to read as thus: A natural-born Liberian may hold the citizenship of another country but will not qualify for elected positions and many cabinet positions including, heading nonacademic institutions, like CARI, etc. The positions include President, Vice President, Cabinet Minister, Ambassador, etc. The same amendment continues that “a child born unto a natural born Liberian is a citizen” of Liberia. This arrangement is contrary to dual citizenship and should not be called as such.
From the reading of the legislative proposition, it is quite obvious that there is every attempt on the part of many powerful Liberians and disappointingly the National Legislature, to make life difficult for returning Liberians and deny fellow Liberians just every opportunity to serve their country, simply because they have traveled to foreign land to acquire what their own country could not provide, including education, security, the right to safety, freedom, and happiness. [Should I add Electricity]
Supreme Court’s Ruling of Justice Johnnie N. Lewis on Citizenship
The career life of the late Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis provided him an opportunity to rule on the migration that took place between the periods 1979 to 2005. That period ushered Liberia into turbulent times, forcing many to flee into exile. While in exile, the Military Government of Liberia sought to exclude the political elites of that time, many of whom were Americo-Liberians or Americo- Liberian oriented. To achieve their sinister goal, the Military government included in the draft constitution, after it was drafted and submitted, a residency requirement of 10 years, prior to holding any elected position in the country, in addition to the citizenship clause. Article 52(c) of the constitution requires a Liberian to be a resident in the Republic ten years prior to his/her election, provided that the President and the Vice-President shall not come from the same County.
Many Liberians saw this proposition to be problematic for the fact that the attending situations leading to the migration of Liberians in their numbers, was caused by the government. The question then became, in a situation where the Government of the Republic of Liberia, fails to protect its citizens, to the extent that they are forced to leave and seek greener pasture in a foreign land, does the residency clause apply!
In addressing this issue, the late Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis, on October 7, 2011, ruled out the residency argument, in a case seeking to deny some politicians from contesting the presidential election in October 2011. In that ruling, the Supreme Court ruled “…on account of the civil war and its devastating impact on the lives of the Liberian people at different periods of the nation’s history, which necessitated the flight of citizens from the country, it is our opinion that the framers of the 1986 constitution could neither have contemplated nor intended that Liberians faced with the state civil crisis be ‘resident’ because at some point in the future they may want to run for the office of president…”
Additionally, and prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Liberian Political leaders and people themselves had attempted to oppose this clause in various actions, knowing that enforcing it would have excluded them from participation in the nation’s political process. The Court concluded that Article 52 applies only to the Constitutional period as it was contemplated and intended by the writers of the Liberian Constitution (1986). The Chief Justice was merely quoting history, so as not to recycle bad decision. Justice Jonnie Louise exercised judgment in rendering that opinion, an action that the Legislature did not do. He reasoned that had the Government exercised prudence in managing Liberia, its citizens would not have experienced the level of divesting civil war that caused them to be spread helter-skelter, and in different countries.
Although there was a National Referendum of the 1986 constitution, it was a charade, which was meant to constitutionally usher in the military government; all to the shaken dismay of the intellectuals that President Doe had invited to help with the drafting of the constitution. It was an open secret then that Liberians who voted in that national referendum did so believing that General Doe would have been defeated in the 1985 General Elections so that the elected President would have then ushered in the desired reforms. Unfortunately for Liberians, that time did not come in 1985 until 20 years later, when Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President. One can, therefore, see that the 1986 constitution was imposed on Liberians by the Dictator, Samuel K. Doe. It is owing to this imposition that led to the civil war. One, therefore, finds it difficult to imagine that the current legislature would want to enjoy such constitutional arrangement, when in fact a good number of them were members of the uprising that opposed the 1986 Constitution, to the extent that the political situation resulted into one of the bloodiest civil wars in modern history.
As a result of this bad constitutional decision, along with many intervening reactions of Liberians, the nation was a scene of so many political upheavals since 1985: the Liberian Nation has been labeled a failed state; its economy, civil service and all that characterize good governance, collapsed. Liberians fled in their numbers to just anywhere they could make a living for the fear of being murdered in the most indescribable manner that characterized the civil war. This created a massive displacement, both internally and internationally.
Life of Diaspora Liberians and the Desire for Home
Liberians who fled their country were forced to seek various means to make a living, depending on their unique situations and challenges. Some got married in order to adopt, live and take care of their families. Regardless of the fact that many traveled to traditional allies named above, their nationality laws had to be observed. Some sought residency statuses, some citizenship and some sought the prison of academia-stay in school to avoid being deported or being out of a job. It is important to note that in spite of these difficulties and challenges, Liberians Never Stopped Being Liberians or Africans. The building of new Liberian communities in the Diaspora, sending remittances home, supporting various political arrangements to bring peace to Liberia, were always their undertakings. They endured the challenges of living an exiled life but triumph above the odds. This is why Diaspora Liberians must not be denied the right to serve their homeland, in the same manner as they are denied in a foreign land.
As a reprieve for all who fled Liberia, including politicians, and ordinary Liberians, the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) that ended the civil crisis, called for the repatriation of Liberians, resettlement of Liberians, and opportunity for the involvement of Liberians in various programs to make rehabilitation much attainable. The CPA further calls for a total inclusion! Under this arrangement, all members of the political class were absorbed, including the Transitional Government of the late Gyude Bryant. Ordinary Liberians who were yet struggling had no chance! Interestingly, the Liberian Senate is not on record for summoning the Executive to show any cause why it has not suggested a program aimed at returning Liberians back home. Interestingly, all interested Liberian Politicians who were in the Diaspora, including former warlords, somehow got absorbed and resettled. Some even got prominent positions in government, in spite of the length of time stayed in the Diaspora. Additionally, we are yet to see our own Legislators advocate for the return and resettlement of Liberians.
The Hate Proposition
Although the President, in his good wisdom, had asked the Legislature to help him with this Dual Citizenship issue that has plagued the desk of even his predecessor, our Legislators, who are under oath to serve us, instead took the position to alienate its own citizens. The President, also, in his good wisdom, asked the legislature for term reduction, since it was one of the main reasons for the civil war, the legislature is finding it difficult to do. In their haste to pass their proposition, when they merely sought to copy from neighboring Ghana, the legislature constitutionalized what should be a rulemaking process. Objectively, alien nationality law is usually interpretative, which is why it is usually treated either through the court system or from a rulemaking perspective if it is to be legislated.
By reasons of the proposition, the Senate is essentially proposing to Liberians that for any time the issue of citizenship is discussed, Liberians should have a national referendum to amend the constitution, contrary to what is done in Ghana and many decent civilizations of the world. It is a proposition such as this that discourages and denies Liberians outside of the country from returning home. This Legislative Proposition further represents an element of discrimination against fellow Liberians in the Diaspora, given that politicians, who were equally members of the Diaspora community, were treated differently. They were brought home, given lucrative positions and empowered.
Take note that we are aware that many West African brethren are serving in Government, including the Legislature, and we interposed no objection to their service because we are aware of the history and principles for which Liberia was established. May we begin to ask some of you to show us your original towns and villages, and even show us the graves of your parents and grandparents, to justify your Liberian citizenship? The pursuit of such an option is not within the option and will defeat the cause of African Brotherhood.
The call to every well-meaning Liberians, especially, President George Manneh Weah, to fight this diabolical legislative proposition is, therefore, in place. Mr. President, Members of the Diaspora Community, Fellow Liberians, the call is now to help fight this discrimination or never. Let us remember that One Ounce of Liberian anywhere in the world, born onto a union of natural-born Liberians who came from a village, settlement or town, Regardless of Where They Are!
About the Author: Current resident in Liberia and formerly an active member of the Liberian diaspora in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Main Photo: Darius Dillion, Senator Montserrado County