The Liberian Dual Citizenship Debate: Another Viewpoint


By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 14, 2014

                  

Theodore T. Hodge

Public intellectuals who take upon themselves the opportunity to educate and inform their audiences about public issues have a responsibility to be objective. They hold a responsibility to present opposing sides of the issue and allow the readers or listeners to decide the merits of the case depending on the evidence for or against the issue. It should be undisputed that the public deserves to know the truth, the entire truth, and should be allowed to determine the outcome of the issue under public debate.

On the other hand, it is disingenuous for a person to pass himself off in the interest of the "public" when in reality he is only an advocate for a specific and narrow point of view. Yes, a person does reserve the right to support and espouse a particular viewpoint, but that person has an obligation to tell his/her audience that he or she is writing or speaking for a specific interest group, not simply as a public commentator. I hope the distinction is clear.

In the case of Mr. Bai Gbala's piece on the dual citizenship debate in Liberia, which appeared here, http://www.theperspective.org/2014/0708201401.php, the latter is seemingly the case. Mr. Gbala presents the case in a very narrow and parochial way, as if he is simply stating and restating the case for a partisan base who has an interest in distorting the reality and promoting a narrow agenda for its own good.

Case in point, Mr. Gbala begins with a Front Page article that reports "...despite Liberia being independent since 1847, the country is controlled by individuals who pay allegiance to the USA..." 

There is no evidence to support the huge claim made in the foregoing statement, instead, the article points out that the President's son, Mr. Robert Sirleaf is indeed a US citizen who went on to become an advisor to the president. But is the paper, or Mr. Gbala, truly concerned that Mr. Sirleaf actually owes more allegiance to America than to his mother? Isn't it the president's choice to choose her advisors, especially when it comes to her own son?

 

The paper fails to provide evidence to support its allegation so it goes on to report: "The President (of Liberia) admitted that there are several individuals serving in her government who hold dual citizenship."

In the interest of fairness and accuracy, the paper should have pushed the president for the specific number of people in this category. Better yet, the paper could have conducted an independent investigation and told its readers just how rampant the issue is. But it is satisfied to report only the sensationalism of the topic, without the actual facts. Does the paper not find it useful to name these alleged dual citizens who serve in these sensitive posts that may compromise national security? Maybe it is only interested in scaring the public by over-sensationalizing the problem.

Mr. Gbala, continuing in his furious effort to poison the well, grabs another sensational statement purportedly made by a Liberian journalist named Thomas Toteh. According to Mr. Toteh, "Liberians have had (non-legalized) dual citizenship from day one (when) freed slaves landed on Liberian soil. Almost all Liberian government officials and their families (the ruling class) were and are today, dual citizens, citizens of other countries and Liberia, especially the developed countries, with the US at the top of the list."

But is the statement true? Are almost all Liberian government officials from the so-called ruling class dual citizens? Exactly how does the journalist derive this incredible piece of "truth" and why doesn't he share the evidence with his readers? And does Mr. Gbala bother to verify the statement before restating it as fact? No.

With an indictment in hand, Mr. Gbala hurriedly and conveniently concludes that: "Importantly, during these troubled days of international terrorism, ethnic/tribal, religious, socio-economic, political rivalry, deadly conflicts and the menace of “soldiers-of-fortune”, it is not a rational proposition, in fact, it is  dangerous, to entrust the life, well-being and national security into the hands, control and domination of an alien “Liberian”, born on the soil or not, one who has mortgaged, exclusively, his/her allegiance, loyalty and patriotism to a foreign country and known as a dual citizen."

Again, it is my observation that the author is only interested in presenting a parochial view of the matter and it is clear his viewpoint coincides with the specific agenda expressed by a special interest group in the country, i.e., those interested in preserving their own political and economic interest. It is fair to assume that certain people on the ground have an interest in killing the dual citizenship proposition because it will limit any serious competition from fellow Liberians abroad, thereby greatly enhancing their chances in the grab for government jobs and influence.

According to some of the opponents of dual citizenship, a strange argument is made that those Liberians who left the country during the Liberian crises did so because of a lack of patriotism. Armless civilians, untrained in the art of war, do not demonstrate patriotism by fighting against brutal warlords and dictators.

The Benefits of Dual Citizenship

In reading Mr. Gbala's article, one could easily assume that this great debate revolves only around a handful of Liberians, those smart or lucky enough to become professionals in the areas of politics or other specialized professions, or those who hail from a special "ruling class". That is simply not the case, and Mr. Gbala knows it better than most of us. Since the 1990's, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Liberians have migrated from their homeland to seek survival outside of the country. The vast majority of these fellow Liberians simply didn't come to the United States and many other countries across the globe to seek academic and professional qualifications. Their aim is not singly to go back to Liberia and compete for glamorous jobs to enable them to steal funds and stack it away in these foreign countries.

The vast majority of our people simply fled and sought basic survival. Many of them are doing menial and low-paying jobs. They are cab drivers, nurse aids, factory assembly line workers, housekeepers, live-in care caregivers and on and on and on... Why don't we hear anything about how dual citizenship will better and enhance these fellow citizens' lives? Are they to be excluded in the debate while we focus on political competition in Liberia?

What are the benefits to these ordinary Liberians who may become dual citizens of Liberia and the other countries that may allow it? Here are just a few:

People holding dual citizenship may travel with passports from both countries, creating ease of travel. For example, they may avoid the hassles of long-stay visas and customs complications. They may even avoid the costs of expensive visas. Additionally, using one passport, instead of the other, could make one less a target in some countries.

Sometimes dual citizenships allow people to take advantage of certain jobs that may not be available to legal residents who do not hold citizenship.

The benefits are many and varied. Just because someone holds citizenship in a country in which they reside does not necessarily mean they want to break their ties to their country of origin. They may do it for a job, the right to vote, government sponsored health care, and, most importantly, the right to bring other family members over for settlement purposes.

I'll like to emphasize a special factor here. Naturalized citizens in America have a wealth of rights and power that could be used to effect change in their homeland. For example, when Charles Taylor became a menace in Liberia, naturalized Americans of Liberian descent could have got together and signed and submitted special requests to the US government to use its powers to curtail the brutal regime of Charles Taylor. We didn't do so because the idea of assuming American citizenship had not caught on yet among Liberians. But it is a special privilege many nationals use on behalf of their home countries. It should be no different for Liberians in the United States.

Eventually US President George W. Bush got sick and tired of Charles Taylor and told him it was time to go or face the consequences. He abdicated immediately and didn't have to be told twice. Naturalized Liberians enjoying dual citizenship could have made President Bush's job easier; he could have taken action earlier against Charles Taylor in the name of American citizens.

The dual citizenship debate, therefore, should not simply settle around the issue of who holds or does not hold a government job, or who hails from "ruling class" or not. The issue should not wrongly be framed as dual citizens being more corrupt than Liberians who hold a single (Liberian) citizenship. It is common knowledge to observe that corruption is a major issue facing the Liberian nation. But to assume that Liberians who hold US citizenship are more prone to steal government funds and stack it away in America is misleading. One does not need American citizenship to buy property or own huge bank accounts in America.

Let me make one thing clear. I do not mean to dismiss or minimize the problem of corruption in our country. But we should be more rational in dealing with the problem than we are doing now. The Liberian legislature should vet candidates more thoroughly before confirming their appointments. We should enact better laws and enforce them with more vigor. Disallowing dual citizenship because it prevents Liberian officials from stealing money in Liberia and returning to live in America is a cop out. We need a more comprehensive approach to crime control. Certain Liberians are only using the issue to cover up their own inadequacies. In truth, the proposition has tremendous benefits for ordinary Liberians abroad and for those on the ground as well.


martin scott
Hey Theo:

Bai Gbala and the anti-intellectual buddies are NOT interested in debating the merits and demerits of dual-citizenship!

1) They are NOT interested in the amount of remittances sent by Liberians in the diaspora during and AFTER the war!

According to the Central Bank of Liberia-- in 2004, 2005 and 2006, the net remittances from Liberians in the diaspora totaled US$139.2 million.....

2) They are NOT interested in how poor Liberian back home would benefit from highly-skilled Liberians (holder of U.S passport) who wants to go back home and enlarge our country's economic pie!

In other words, they love to see Liberians going to Western Union every morning instead of going to work!

3) They are NOT interested in how many Liberian children are adopted by Liberians holding American citizenship!

I know a few who have.

4) They are NOT interested in how many Liberian children back home are receiving an education because of remittances from lowly-skilled Liberians (nursing home assistants with green cards and people majoring in political science who marry American women) living in America!


5) They NOT interested in removing that racist clause from our Constitution which denies citizenship to people of non-Negro descent.

BUT you can bet your rent money that Bai and anti-intellectual buddies will keep talking about Robert Sirleaf's American passport and how unarmed Liberians ran away from warlords!
martin scott at 09:34PM, 2014/07/13.
James Wright
Bai Gbala is one of the fools in Liberia, they are only thinking about what they can steal from the people,and nobody should be able to say anything,he will find himself on the wrong and loosing side of history, what he should be thinking on now, is asking the OLDMAN to help him with long life,because he will be shame.
James Wright at 11:40PM, 2014/07/13.
Sayzay
You have the intelligence to present an intellectual and balanced view. This is not very common in our society today. Keep up the good work! We are listening closely!!

Sayzay.
Sayzay at 02:34PM, 2014/07/14.
Alex T. K. Zoebohn
Theodore Hodge,

Why haven´t YOU THEODORE HODGE been able to;

(1) muster the objectivity, professionalism, and in fact, the decency to adhere to the "obligation" to tell your audience that you are writing or speaking for a specific interest group, not simply as a public commentator? My friend make the cleaning of the dirt from your eyes a priority before pointing accusing fingers at others.

(2)You sound more as an inefficient spinner or an unreliable spin doctor for a very corrupt President Sirleaf when you claim: "Case in point, Mr. Gbala begins with a Front Page article that reports "...despite Liberia being independent since 1847, the country is controlled by individuals who pay allegiance to the USA..."

There is no evidence to support the huge claim made in the foregoing statement, instead, the article points out that the President's son, Mr. Robert Sirleaf is indeed a US citizen who went on to become an advisor to the president. But is the paper, or Mr. Gbala, truly concerned that Mr. Sirleaf actually owes more allegiance to America than to his mother? Isn't it the president's choice to choose her advisors, especially when it comes to her own son?"

My friend or Mr. inefficient spin-doctor, yes it is "the president's choice to choose her advisors, especially when it comes to her own son?" BUT she the mother of her son is the President and has a constitutional and in fact moral duty to choose the right advisors for the national interest, because when she chooses the wrong advisors simply because that person is her son or whatever relative, the whole country partakes of the PUNISHMENTS resulting from such a wrong choice, as made evident with the very Robert Sirleaf´s selfish, corrupt, and incompetent advise on the oil issue now cancelled by the Legislature!

(3)Mr. Hodge, you make a clown out of yourself and become laughably hypocritical when you write "The paper fails to provide evidence to support its allegation so it goes on to report: "The President (of Liberia) admitted that there are several individuals serving in her government who hold dual citizenship." For God in Heaven sake, Mr. Hodge, there is no more evidence necessary considering the context where the highest and should be most credible public official --the Chief Executive, Commander in Chief, and President announces that such quantity or amount of public officials (SEVERAL) ARE SERVING IN HER GOVERNMENT HOLDING DUAL CITIZENSHIP! THE WORD "SEVERAL" IS ENOUGH! Now you see why you must consider yourself an inept wannabe spin-doctor for a corrupt individual!

(4) Mr. Hodge, "sensationalism" is not only a key element of news reporting, but indeed, THE SOUL of new reporting! So, your appear as and in fact prove to be TODDLER when you write: "In the interest of fairness and accuracy, the paper should have pushed the president for the specific number of people in this category. Better yet, the paper could have conducted an independent investigation and told its readers just how rampant the issue is. But it is satisfied to report only the sensationalism of the topic, without the actual facts." Mr. wannabe spin-doctor, the huge quantity of the word "SEVERAL INDIVIDUALS" confirmed by the President renders any further journalistic "independent investigation" regarding the issue NEEDLESS!

(5) Accordingly, Mr. Hodge, next time before you attempt to scapegoat dual citizenship advocates and opponents to dual citizenship for the sole hypocritical intent TO SPIN FOR YOUR KATO in the interest OF A CORRUPT PRESIDENT and her son, you should:

(6) have the common decency and indeed the intellectual acumen to know and do better!

Alex T. K. Zoebohn at 05:09PM, 2014/07/14.
Emmanuel S. Wettee
Brother Hodge very good document. Many thanks!
Emmanuel S. Wettee at 06:40PM, 2014/07/14.
Geoffrey
Very well written, thank you. Liberia needs qualified people, whatever their citizenship. Limiting that potential would simply be foolish and serve as a further brake on development.
Geoffrey at 09:58AM, 2014/07/15.
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