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No to dual citizenship in Liberia

8 December 2020 at 02:33 | 1113 views

No to dual citizenship in Liberia

A position statement by Concerned Liberians Against Dual Citizenship, Monrovia, Liberia

Dual citizenship for Liberians born in the Diaspora is a serious issue and it is one of the propositions of the referendum in the upcoming midterm senatorial election on December 8, 2020, in Liberia. President George Weah, other officials of the government, and other individuals support dual citizenship. We are against dual citizenship, and these are our reasons.

Some Liberians left the country due to the civil war. Many became citizens of their host countries. These Liberians knew that or should have known that they would lose their Liberian citizenship, their right to vote and own land in Liberia if they naturalized abroad according to the Liberian constitution. They made a choice, a choice between Liberia and the foreign country, mostly America.

Becoming a US citizen is not an overnight effort. You must first become a legal permanent resident or a green-card holder for several years. With this status, you can work; own property, start a business and can live in America for as long as you want. You can visit or live seasonally in Liberia, own 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 national elections and hold a federal sensitive position. In other words, those who became American citizens did not make a quick decision. They had time. Moreover, they did not have to become citizens.

Certainly, Liberians in the Diaspora have sent millions of dollars to Liberia in remittances to their loved ones. However, they would have still sent home this money regardless of their naturalization or permanent residency in these countries. These Liberians merit many thanks and appreciation for their sacrifices. America is a land of opportunities. Individuals should try to come to America particularly for education to return home to contribute to national development. But America is also a difficult country. You are on your own and have to work very hard.

Because of the remittances, it is viewed “that Liberia stands to get huge foreign direct investment and vast infrastructure investment if dual citizenship is approved in the country”. Supporters of dual citizenship based their campaign on this assumption. But the truth is that money from abroad does not necessarily develop a country. For example, over $17 billion of foreign investment and direct assistance was put into Liberia in the Sirleaf administration, yet there is hardly any substantial development and no adequate employment. The average Liberian lived on less than $1.25 a day. The unemployment rate did not change much from that of the Charles Taylor government, an administration which encountered an international embargo. If $17 billion did not make a huge impact, what do you think several million dollars would do?

Because other West African countries have dual citizenship, it does not mean that Liberia should have dual citizenship. Liberia is unique historically. A critical view of these countries shows that dual citizenship does not significantly contribute to development. Sierra Leone for instance is not more developed than Liberia. A country’s development comes mainly from concerned and patriotic citizens who live in the country and are determined to work hard to improve conditions through investment and effective utilization of natural resources particularly agriculture. The citizens do not have divided allegiance.

Now let us look at the statistics. 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 to warrant a change of the constitution and it would not have a great development impact on Liberia.

Only a few of the naturalized Liberians are advocating for dual citizenship, a campaign that started in the Sirleaf administration. The majority do not care about dual citizenship. Most of the advocates supported Sirleaf in the 2005 election and therefore they started their campaigning for her support. Further, Liberians who entered the United States due to the civil 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. Additionally, most of the Liberian naturalized Americans are not business people; business-minded or investors. Dual citizenship would not make them otherwise.
Dual citizenship would encourage Liberians who go to America purposely for education to stay after their education to seek American citizenship. This would cause a brain drain, depriving Liberia of the needed manpower for development. It would also make many Liberians already in America to apply for naturalization, creating a multitude of American-Liberians.

Dual citizenship could divide Liberia into two additional groups, such as dual citizen Liberians and those who are single citizen Liberians or the ordinary Liberians. The dual citizen Liberians would have preference over the ordinary Liberians in government jobs and would feel superior over them because of the American background. This would be somewhat similar to the Americo-Liberians and the native situation where the former from America felt better than the latter and therefore suppressed and ruled over the native majority for over 130 years.

Dual citizenship 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?" These are examples of what some Liberians at home say about Liberians from abroad. Dual citizenship could add to our division.

Liberians with dual citizenship could make Liberia their farm. Most of the American- Liberians would live in America and the income from their land, properties, or business would be sent to their American account. This would help increase the US dollar exchange rate in Liberia and raise prices. Note that most prime land in central cities, like Monrovia, is owned by the Americo-Liberians, many of who left the country for America after the 1980 revolution that overthrew them. Thus, with land right through dual citizenship, they could eventually regain power and control. Many are behind the advocacy for dual citizenship.

Dual citizenship would put our national security at risk. In the event of a national crisis, let us say civil unrest, the dual citizens would flee to America. They could also escape from justice: they could commit a crime and run to America. The case of Ellen Corkrum is an example of what could happen if there is dual citizenship in Liberia.

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 pledge their allegiance only to Liberia. Their children born abroad upon maturity can do the same. According to our constitution, children born abroad of Liberian parents are Liberians until the age of maturity. After that, they can choose their nationality. The parents can encourage them to choose Liberia. In this way, they and their parents can vote, own land, and exercise all their civil rights. But all those involved do not want to do that. They want both worlds; they want to have divided loyalty, one to America and the other to Liberia. They want land. That is their main goal. They are using their political connection to impose dual citizenship on the Liberian people. Some government officials or some holding important government jobs are naturalized Americans. Dual citizenship would legalize or legitimize their dubious existence.

Proponents of dual citizenship are using President Weah to accomplish their aim. They know that the president is popular and has children born abroad. He has many properties. If his children are not Liberians, who would inherit his land and houses if he is no longer around? The president may have thought about this and therefore sided with the advocates of dual citizenship for common interest; that is, to secure land and properties. So you see, the call for dual citizenship is personal and not for national development as advocates claimed.

President Weah and his administration are determined to have dual citizenship and the entire referendum passed no matter what without considering its future consequences. The Liberian Supreme Court has ruled prohibiting the National Election Commission from including the referendum as presented on the election ballots. The referendum is untimely; no adequate public awareness and education is given on it. Regardless, the administration is proceeding with the referendum for the election.

We are against dual citizenship for the reasons stated above. We urge Liberians to vote no to dual citizenship and no to the other propositions.

Photo: Street scene in Monrovia, Liberia

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