The Case for Dual Citizenship and Overseas Voting Rights for the Liberian Diaspora
By J. Patrick Flomo
The question of dual citizenship is a “win-win” game for Liberia; as such, the receptivity of the Diaspora’s pleas to the people of Liberia should be seen as a positive for both Liberia and the Diaspora, and as vitally important to our prosperity. Dual citizenship gives the Diaspora an unfettered fresh start and a fair chance to continue nourishing their affinity for the motherland in business, economics, education, healthcare etc. Moreover, there is a universal sentiment among civilized nations regarding the moral duty of never abandoning their natural citizens under any circumstance.
Liberia has everything education, training, business, professional expertise and more to gain from dual-citizenship Liberians and their children born abroad when they retain all the rights and privileges of the land of their birth. The education, business, professional expertise and training Liberians in the Diasporas have acquired present a brain-gain for the country. Moreover, it reverses the brain-drain problem that has affected the social, economic and political development of Liberia since April 12, 1980. This paper purports to advance the argument for amending the citizenship clause in the constitution.
The Moral Dimension
The idea of dual citizenship for Liberians in the Diasporas has a moral perspective that should frame our thinking: familial importance to the motherland, and the paradigm significance of the family relationship between the homeland and Liberians in the Diasporas. Being a natural citizen is a title that cannot be torn asunder by taking citizenship in another country. It also encompasses the question of “basic moral human rights.” The metrics of basic moral human rights is the beauty of the “association” formed between the motherland and those on the outside who still feel affinity for the homeland.
There are two fundamental common denominators that govern human existence from cradle to grave: a) the principle of self-preservation, and b) the yearning to be free. Of these two denominators, self-preservation is the most primal. When faced with a situation that is life-threatening, people will muster all their adrenocorticotropic hormones to escape that peril. A case in point: the Liberian Civil War was the cause of the greatest exodus of Liberians. They sought to find a safe environment anywhere in the world in a quest to preserve their lives. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Liberians now reside in the U.S., and this number is increasing geometrically. Liberians began obtaining legal residence in the U.S. in the early 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1860 and 1869, 43 Liberians obtained legal residence in the U.S. Between 1870 and 1879, 52 did so, and between 1820 and 1909, there were 146 (The Immigration Statistical Yearbook). Between 1990 and 2011, there were 29,500 Liberian people legally residing in the U.S., and 11,000 naturalized Liberians. In Britain, the number was 533 (Front Page Africa).
In addition to the political and moral dimensions, the question of dual citizenship is also an issue of economic and human rights. A man’s or woman’s natural affinity for his or her birthplace is grounded in his or her soul and spirit. This is a natural relationship that is inseparable and indivisible. Yet Liberians who acquired citizenship in other countries are declared by the Liberian Constitution (1985) as having forfeited all the rights of citizenship to Liberia. What is most puzzling about this issue is that the previous 1847 Constitution had no problem with dual citizenship.
I suggest that the Liberian Constitution has not taken into account all the mitigating factors and circumstances, such as the aftermath of the 1980 coup and the subsequent civil war, that caused thousands of Liberians to acquire citizenship in other countries. Liberia’s unwillingness to amend the Citizen Clause to accommodate dual citizenship for her sons and daughters seems unconscionable. The forfeit of rights of citizenship also means that Liberians who acquired real estate properties in Liberia prior to acquiring citizenship in other countries have lost legal rights to those properties. While there seems to be a reluctance to amend the Citizen Clause, the government has not taken up the question of compensation for property owners.
It is estimated that there are 98,000 Liberians living in the United States under various statuses. Of these 27,000 are permanent U.S. residents and 11,000 are naturalized U.S.citizens. The rest have temporary permanent status.
To deny this number of Liberians the right of citizenship in their birthplace when it does not cost the Liberian government a single cent and does no harm to the country is viewed as morally unconscionable. It also displays the denial of basic human rights. An amendment to the Article will put Liberia on par with other countries that do not deny dual citizenship to their citizens. These include all the countries in West Africa (except Liberia), Israel, the Philippians, Iran, Iraq, many Latin American countries and some European countries.
The Economic and Political Benefits of Dual Citizenship
Before the advent of Liberia’s senseless civil war in the 1990s, there was no Liberian Diaspora. The civil war created Liberian Diaspora around the world. The largest (90,000) is in the United States. Its members, now and in the future, are poised to enhance the economic and political development of Liberia. The full re-integration (dual citizenship) of Liberian Diaspora into Liberian society will ease the movement of Liberians between the mother country and the adopted country.
The world has become globally interconnected; movement of people across the globe is now a matter of hours rather than days. The movement of money and information is equally as efficient with the use of electronic transfers. In short, our world has changed, and the question of boundaries and citizenship is becoming a secondary issue. The role of dual citizenship in this interconnected global world is to serve as a bridge for cultural understanding, economic transformation and rapid technological transfer between the motherland and the adopted country.
The 27,000 U.S. Liberians who are permanent residents of the U.S and the 11,000 naturalized U.S citizens form an economic powerhouse, poised to bring huge economic benefits to Liberia. At present, these Diaspora and those on temporary status are the social safety net for millions of Liberians in Liberia. Without their monetary support of family and friends, Liberia would have experienced another catastrophic implosion, because the government is too corrupt and careless about the downtrodden Liberians. Moreover, these emigrant Liberians have acquired professional training, technical education, business enterprise experience and a whole host of capital ventures that can benefit Liberia.
Globalization and reverse immigration have dramatically altered the dual-citizenship debate in many countries. For example, Ghana is a success story in West Africa when it comes to dual citizenship. The Republic of Ghana had the foresight to take the appropriate constitutional redress of dual citizenship. The Ghana Parliament passed the Ghana’s Citizenship Act of 2000, which went into effect in July 2003. The Act states: A citizen of Ghana may hold the citizenship of any other country in addition to his citizenship of Ghana. Ghanaians living abroad make an enormous contribution towards the socio-economic development of their nation.
In 2003, the Philippines also addressed the question of dual citizenship. The Philippines Legislature passed the Republic Act No. 9225, or the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003; it is a law passed on 29 August 2003 that grants natural-born Filipinos who have lost their Filipino citizenship through naturalization in a foreign country, the opportunity to retain or re-acquire their Filipino citizenship. In the 1990s, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Brazil passed dual-citizenship laws granting their expatriates the right to naturalize in the receiving country without losing their citizenship of origin. Based on data from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. censuses, immigrants recently granted dual nationality rights are more likely to naturalize. They also experience employment and earning gains, suggesting that dual citizenship rights not only increase the propensity to naturalize, but that they may also promote economic assimilation.
The effects of dual citizenship on improved economic performance, if mediated through naturalization, are consistent with the idea that American citizenship confers greater economic opportunities. In the last 12 years, Colombia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Mexico the suppliers of some of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in America have allowed their nationals to become citizens elsewhere without losing their original nationality. New leaders in South Korea and India have expressed support for the same idea. Australians in the United States have been pressuring their government to allow dual citizenship so they can become Americans without losing their native status. Economic advantage is the main motivation here. They want to avoid the stiff estate taxes that the U.S. government imposes on foreigners operating in the United States. There is a large degree of evidence of naturalized USA and UK citizens operating in official capacities in their former countries of origin. Iran has an even more liberal policy when it comes to dual citizenship. Iranians do not lose their citizenship when they naturalize in other countries; more importantly, children born to Iranian parents aboard are considered citizens of Iran.
There is clear, voluminous empirical evidence that all countries that allow dual citizenship have experienced positive economic and cultural benefits - far more than those that do not. The time has come for Liberia to embrace this concept, like many others in West Africa and around the world. The question is not a controversial issue since it poses no harm to Liberia and is a win-win concept. To deny 11,000 and growing, brothers and sisters the right to property they already own, and the right to honestly participate in the political process of their motherland, is something to ponder seriously. The psychological and moral consequences of such a denial may have devastating effects.