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Dual Citizenship in Liberia: An opposing view

24 February 2016 at 22:55 | 4333 views

Dual citizenship in Liberia: An opposing view

By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, USA.

Dual citizenship for born and bred Liberians in the Diaspora community is a serious issue. It has gained the support of many important Liberians, including the president, the vice president, the chairman of the ruling Unity Party and other officials and citizens. But I am against dual citizenship. Before I say why, let me state some of the main reasons given by its supporters.

They say that some Liberians in the Diaspora became citizens of their host country because of the Liberian civil war, that they had no other choice but to become citizens. That citizenship of their host country, example, US, gives them greater opportunity, which has enable them to send money to their families in Liberia and to bring loved ones to America. Moreover, that dual citizenship would bring development to Liberia, pointing also that other African countries which allow dual citizenship, are doing well economically. They say that as born and bred Liberians, they are still Liberians and should not be deprived of their rights.

These reasons, though noble, are weak. Although the civil war forced many Liberians to foreign countries, becoming citizens abroad was a choice. Let’s take the United States for instance. Before you can become a naturalized citizen, you must first become a legal permanent resident. With this status, you can work; own property, start a business and can live in America as long as you want. You can visit your country, buy land and vote. You can also sponsor your parents, spouse and under aged children to the US. You have all rights, just like a born or naturalized American, except the right to vote in a public election and hold a federal position or employment.

Unlike a citizen, however, a permanent resident can be deported after serving jailed time for a criminal act. Becoming a naturalized US citizen is not an overnight endeavor. You have to hold a green card or legal permanent residence for many years and have to take a test, have an interview and pay about $700.00, including $595.00 application fee. In other words, you have time to think of the consequences of giving up your Liberian citizenship, entailing your right to vote and own property or land in Liberia, according to the Liberian constitution.

As an employed permanent resident, you can send money to your family abroad as an obligation. Development of Liberia does not depend on foreign investment or dual citizenship; rather, it largely depends on Liberians living in Liberia. In fact, over $17 billion of foreign investment has been put into Liberia in this administration, yet there is hardly any development and no adequate employment.

Additionally, because other African countries have dual citizenship, it does not mean that Liberia should follow suit. Liberia is different historically and culturally, also behaviorally. Yes as a Liberian, you act and behave as a Liberian, but once you become a citizen of another country, you are not a Liberian legally. The Liberian constitution does not allow or recognize dual citizenship. The constitution grants citizenship by birth or naturalization of persons of Negro descent. Under the principle of sanguinity, under aged children of Liberian parents in a foreign land are Liberians until they reach the age of maturity to decide their nationality.

Why I do not support dual citizenship
As I have stated above, Liberians who became citizens of another country did so willingly, knowing or should have known what they were doing. I have resided in the US for fifty years now. Each time I thought about becoming a citizen, the fact of losing my Liberian citizenship discouraged me not to. The opportunity for me to vote in America would not make a significant difference, and the chances of me holding a federal position would be difficult. I felt that with my permanent residency, I could do and can do nearly everything legally in America, while at the same time, exercising my rights in Liberia as a Liberian citizen.

I started a profitable business in the US, have extended the company to Liberia and have acquired properties in Liberia. But my greatest temptation came in November 1992 after the first election of Bill Clinton. Having worked in his campaign and with his transitional team, I was encouraged to become a citizen for consideration for employment in his administration. Clinton and I attended the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. With my qualifications and contacts, the possibility of gaining federal employment was good. But again I did not pursue the opportunity. I felt that Liberia is my home and would not trade it for another country regardless. That was my choice.

Further, I have talked to Liberian friends who have become naturalized US citizens. They told me how guilty they felt when they renounced their Liberian citizenship and pledged allegiance to America. They felt they were betraying Liberia when they stood in the ceremony hall taking the oath of allegiance. Despite the feeling of guilt, they had and had made a choice.

Certainly, Liberians in the Diasporas have sent millions of dollars annually to Liberia. However, they still would have sent money home regardless of dual citizenship, naturalization or permanent residency. These Liberians merit a tremendous thanks and appreciation for their sacrifices. Though America is a land of opportunity, it is a difficult country. Some people work two or three jobs to make ends meet; no one gives you anything for free or promises you a rose garden. Freedom, liberty and justice, which all people enjoy now, was fought and died for.

From 1981 - 2003, the number of Liberians in the US was about 95,000, of which about 9170 became naturalized Americans, about 10%. If we add 537, which is the number of Liberians granted citizenship in the UK from 1997 - 2003, the total number of naturalized Liberians would be about 9710 in the two major countries.

Though the total does not include the number of Liberians naturalized in other countries, the stated total is very small and would not have a significant development impact in Liberia. Only few of the naturalized Liberians are advocating for dual citizenship, a campaign which started in the Sirleaf administration. Moreover, Liberians who entered the United States due to the war did not become desperate and were not neglected in America. The US government and local agencies provided them socio-economic assistance, including employment and visa or TPS extension.

Dual citizenship could divide Liberia into two additional groups such as dual citizen Liberians and single citizen Liberians. This would deepen the already negative feeling, which some Liberians have concerning Liberians from abroad. They resent Liberians from abroad getting higher positions in the government over them. Some feel that Liberians who renounced their citizenship do not deserve enjoying the rights of Liberian citizenship, saying, "They can vote in America and come to Liberia and vote also." or "They can hide their foreign citizenship and hold high salary government positions in Liberia, while we on the ground have no employment. Is that fair?"

That were views which I heard during my visit to Liberia. I too have been a victim of this resentment, though I am a Liberian and do not seek government employment. Apparently because of my long stay in the US, they viewed me as an American trying to take what belonged to them.

The Ellen Corkrum saga does not support the campaign for dual citizenship. As reported, she is a Liberian-American citizen, who came to Liberia and was appointed Managing Director of Roberts International Airport. She was alleged to have robbed the Liberian government. She secretly left Liberia for America before prosecution. As an American, the Liberian government tried but failed to have her extradited to Liberia. This means that a Liberian with dual citizenship could violate Liberian law and run back to his/her naturalized country, or the individual could quickly depart Liberia in time of trouble.

The civil war is over. Many people who left Liberia have returned. There is peace, though fragile, in the country. Those who say they became citizens of a foreign country because of the war or for any other reasons can come home and regain their citizenship by following the prescribed law and pledging their allegiance only to Liberia. In this way, they can vote, own property and exercise all their citizen rights. But they do not want to do that. They want both worlds; they want to have their cake and eat it at the same time. They think they can achieve their goal by lobbying government officials, including lawmakers. That would not work. Even if the legislators agree for dual citizenship, it has to be put in a referendum for a general vote.

According to the Constitution Review Committee, majority of Liberians do not support dual citizenship. Dual citizenship would not help Liberia generally. It would benefit only a minority few. Further, as indicated, the number of Liberians naturalized overseas is very little to warrant a constitutional change, which would cost the country substantial money. This is money that the country could use to help improve our educational and healthcare systems.

In short, those Liberians who naturalized in foreign countries were not forced to do so. They had a choice. The war is over; they can come and regain their citizenship by doing what is required. Dual citizenship would not benefit Liberia, but would help only few individuals. Dual citizenship could also divide Liberia and hamper national unity.