By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
In his article, The Liberian Dual Citizenship Debate: Another Viewpoint (The Perspective, July 14, 2014), Mr. Theodore T. Hodge writes that:
“Public intellectuals who take upon themselves the opportunity to educate and inform . . . about public issues have a responsibility to be objective . . . to present opposing sides of the issues . . . “, although in many of my interventions in the dual citizenship debate in opposition to dual citizenship in our country, I have not nor do I recall passing myself off as “public intellectual”, but I appreciate the recognition and anointment by Mr. Hodge. “It is disingenuous” he continues, “for a person (Bai Gbala) to pass himself off in the interest of the public when he (Bai Gbala), in realty, is only an advocate for a specific, narrow and parochial point of view, . . . writing or speaking for a specific interest group, not simply a public commentator”.
Indeed, Mr. Hodge accuses me, Bai Gbala, of being disingenuous - having hidden agenda, being insincere, false, dishonest, tricky, devious and deceitful, according to Oxford, English Dictionary. Perhaps, Mr. Hodge has not read my extensive, public policy writings on the subject or that he is unaware of or ignores the logical conclusions upon which my thought, speeches and personal beliefs are grounded and based, as we shall see later.
Moreover, Mr. Hodge observes “that the author (Bai Gbala) of the article (Foreigner in charge . . . Dual Citizens?, The Perspective, July 8, 2014) is only interested in presenting a parochial view of the matter (dual citizenship) and it is clear (that) his (Bai Gbala’s) viewpoint coincides with the specific agenda expressed by a special, interest group in the country . . . those interested in preserving their own political and economic interest . . . on the ground (that) have an interest in killing the dual citizenship proposition because it will limit any serious competition from abroad . . . for government jobs and influence”.
And finally, Mr. Hodge says that “Mr. Gbala . . . grabs another sensational statement ‘purportedly’ made by a Liberian Journalist . . . that 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 of Liberia and other countries . . . especially the developed countries, with the USA at the top off the list. But is this statement true? NO”.
This effort is dedicated to deny and refute, comprehensively, definitively, the arguments/accusations by Mr. Hodge, that our intervention in the national debate on dual citizenship, indeed, our opposition to dual citizenship in our country, is a narrow, parochial, representation of special-interest; is disingenuous - a term and language we find offensive, non-cordial, un-civil, disrespectful of the views of others, especially elders/senior citizens, in an atmosphere of free and candid exchange of views, hopefully intended, for the learning process.
But, that which we got from Mr. Hodge is disappointing, to say the least. For, we hope for and expect from Mr. Hodge, in fact, invite cordial and civil critiques/critical analysis and/or criticisms for or against, based on or in terms of law, logic and truth for clarity of thought and general contribution to human knowledge, not the usual “debates” – charges and counter-charges characterized by character-assassinations, vicious below the belt, personal attacks, ethnic/tribal and political profiling and/or guilt-by-association, etc., etc., suggesting claims of “know-it-all”, academic/intellectual superiority.
To do justice to our Response, we will present a series of articles (two or more) on our written position on the subject of our opposition to dual citizenship in our country, based on our worldview as the result of our socio-cultural and political experience from a public policy perspective, not only from the person of Bai Gbala, beginning with our remarks at the ULAA National Conference in 2006, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, when the subject was barely simmering in whispers.
From the relatively few thoughts expressed by the articles will radiate our concerns for the proverbial “human (Liberian) condition”, it is important to note that although psychologically, almost all arguments for the public good – liberal politicians, academics, intellectuals, philanthropists, etc., expect and appreciate some level of reward, in terms of recognition and social acceptance. Part #1 of the Response:
Bai M. Gbala
ON DUAL CITIZENSHIP: REFLECTIONS ON THE ISSUES
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA May 25, 2006
Citizenship and Dual citizenship have emerged in recent times to be one of the hottest subjects of intense encounters – social, economic, intellectual, legal and political – in offices, barber shops, beauty salons, street corners, house parties etc., here in the USA among and between opposing groups of Liberians and, presumably, at home in Liberia.
At a gala event held here in the City of Philadelphia hosted by the African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA, a Liberian-owned and managed socio-cultural & immigration service organization) in celebration of Black History Month, Liberians congregated at several tables and corners, engaged in heated debates on the merits/demerits of Dual Citizenship. This shows the critical nature of dual citizenship to many Liberians living here in self-imposed exile. Moreover, several articles on dual citizenship written by Liberians have been and are being published in US-based, online publications as well as panel discussions on local radio stations, regarding the merits and demerits of dual citizenship.
For the benefit of the reading public, it is necessary, reasonable and instructive to know the working definition of the term “citizen” in the context of the following discussions.
In simple terms, Citizen is an individual who is a natural-born, resident of a sovereign state or inhabitant of such state by naturalization; while Citizenship is the condition of being a citizen of a sovereign state. The status of such individual creates a lawfully-binding relationship by and between the citizen/individual and the sovereign state to which the citizen/individual owes allegiance – commitment to national duty, loyalty, patriotism, nationalism, etc. – to that sovereign state which, in return, is obligated to protect that individual-citizen’s socio-economic well-being, including his vital interests. With corresponding responsibilities, citizenship provides full political, human and civil rights – the right to vote, stand for and hold both elective and appointive, public offices, among others.
Dual Citizenship, then, is the extension of this relationship between an individual and a state, to the individual and two states; that is, an individual who is citizen of two states simultaneously. In the case of Liberia, the debate is about a Liberian citizen who has become naturalized citizen of another, sovereign state. The questions that arise, among others, are (1), does a Liberian who is a naturalized citizen of another sovereign state retain his/her Liberian citizenship?; (2), is dual citizenship legal in Liberia?; and (3), may such a Liberian citizen, who is also a citizen of another sovereign state, hold public office, elective or appointive?.
Mr. Edmund Bargblor, a Liberian professional educator who lives in Providence, Rhode Island, USA and teaches in the City of Providence School system, writes (http://www.liberianforum.com, February 28, 2006) in support of dual citizenship that “Most of Liberia’s best minds are in the Diaspora …”; that these “ … best minds … take up naturalized citizenship of their host countries …; that Liberians in the Diaspora have the necessary academic and professional preparations to help Liberia solve her problem of brain drain”; and that “closing the doors on others due to their dual citizenship status is not in the best interest of the economic development of the nation”.
Mr. John G. F. Lloyd, Chairman of Concerned Liberians based in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, holds (http://www.liberianforum.com) that “In this bid, available avenues must be pursued with reason and foresight to ensure that key issues are properly addressed within the laws, structures and processes for the ultimate benefit of Liberia …” However, the Coalition continued, “this attempt to invoke legal technicalities in the confirmation process (by the Senate) … over the issue of dual citizenship … as grounds for the rejection of several qualified Liberian nationals … is unnecessary at best and counter-productive at worst”. Therefore, the Coalition “call upon the Senate to live up to the requirement of judgment and sound leadership by (confining its hearings only to) examining the qualifications of appointed (nominated) officials strictly on the merits of qualification, experience and integrity. . .”
And lastly, Counselor-at-Law Mohamedu F. Jones, from a lawyerly perspective, argues (http://www.theperspective.org, February 13, 2006) that “. . . citizenship of non-constitutional officers of the Liberian Government is not a legal issue; it is a political issue. Liberia’s constitution requires that the president, vice president, members of the legislature and the judiciary must be Liberian citizens; it does not require that cabinet officers or sub-cabinet officers be Liberians. I guess”, the learned attorney concludes that “the framers (of the Liberian Constitution) simply presumed that it (citizenship requirement for non-constitutional officers of government) was a none-issue. Well”, he continued, “it is a major issue (now) in 21st Century Liberia and (that) it needs to be addressed in a reasonable, rational and deliberative way with a view to benefit the country and its people”.
The Dual Citizenship Debate
Certainly, the objective of the Senate Confirmation Hearings, involving Liberians who are citizens of other states - dual citizenship - (if there is such a political status in the Liberian context) or any other individuals/organizations for that matter, is not concerned only with academic and experiential qualifications, resolution of Liberia’s ‘brain-drain’ problem, nor the economic development of Liberia, as the basis for their (hearings’) inception and practice. On the contrary, the primary and major objective for the confirmation hearings by the Liberian Senate, is to determine, through thorough, rigorous and political/legal examination whether or not the given nominee possesses the requisite track record of progressive, national policy commitment, loyalty, patriotism and above all, allegiance to the Republic. The basic answer to this question is found by preponderance of evidence provided by the nominee’s faithful, loyal and patriotic citizenship of the Republic of Liberia; others, such as training, age, experience, etc. are important but of secondary considerations.
Now, our first question in this exercise is whether or not a Liberian citizen who willingly and consciously becomes a naturalized citizen of another country retains his/her Liberian citizenship. To this question the answer is no; in that, one who is a citizen of one country and later, consciously and willingly, becomes the naturalized citizen of another, has renounced, denounced and rejected the allegiance – duty, loyalty, patriotism, nationalism – to his/her original country; therefore, such a person has lost his/her Liberian citizenship.
The second question is concerned with whether or not dual citizenship is legal in Liberia. The answer is, again, no. Implicitly, the Liberian Constitution provides (Art. 28) that “Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia, provided that any such person shall, upon reaching maturity, renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country”.
Our third question is whether or not a Liberian who is a naturalized citizen of another country and, therefore, has lost his/her Liberian citizenship (and now an alien) may stand for and hold elective as well as appointive, public office. The answer is that such a Liberian, who is, in fact, an alien, is ineligible to:
However, on the critical question of holding appointive, public/political office such as cabinet and sub-cabinet positions, the Liberian Constitution is conspicuously silent. The issue is left, apparently, to the responsibility (as it should) of the political authorities. Indeed, it is as much a political issue as it is a legal one, for all practical purposes.
Importantly, it seems to me that Liberia’s political thinkers of today would be hard-pressed to justify the conclusion made by the framers of our constitution – the men and women who made sure that non-Negroes were excluded from becoming citizens of Liberia - during early 18th Century worldview, would leave open to such a critical issue of profound political implications as the appointment of non-citizens to high-profile, sensitive, political positions of trust in government!!!
In the light of these considerations, I am convinced that the framers of our constitution left the door open for the political process (represented by the Senate confirmation hearings) to safeguard the national interest, consistent with changing, socio-economic and political conditions. In this respect, I am inclined to go along with the suggestion of Cllr. Jones for a “reasonable, rational and deliberative …” debate to resolve the issue of dual citizenship one way or the other, consistent with 21st century, political thought and practice. However, in these days of terrorism, rebellious activities, violence and ethnic conflicts, it would be unwise, indeed dangerous, to appoint and entrust an “alien” or the so-called dual citizen - a former Liberian who has renounced, denounced and rejected his/her allegiance to the Republic by taking on citizenship of another country - with the political health and security of the nation, without careful scrutiny and safeguard.
Proponents of dual citizenship argue that past, Liberian governments have utilized the services of high-level officials who held foreign citizenships; and that those regimes also employed foreign technicians on projects for national development; therefore, why is it that we may not do so with Liberian, dual citizens at this critical point in time? Similarly, some writers observed, in rather chilling, perceptive detail, the psycho-social impact that the Senate confirmation hearings would have upon rejected, Liberian dual citizen-nominees and the negative signals transmitted to others in the Diaspora. We disagree, very strongly, with this simplistic analysis/conclusions to a profoundly complex, complicated socio-economic and political issue.
Firstly, because of the absence or lack of prior examination, application of diligent control and command in the management of our nation’s activities placed the country in the condition in which it is today – a “failed state”.
Secondly, hiring a known foreign national for a technical, professional job under contract is not the same, indeed, requires not the commitments/obligations of citizenship, as appointing an “alien” Liberian (whose loyalty and allegiance are to a foreign country) to a highly sensitive, socio-political position as a cabinet minister.
And thirdly, democratic, political communities thrive best and become successful under diligent observance and application of the rule of law.
Examples of Likely Outcome
In remarks at the 2006, annual convention of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, Inc. (ULAA), I told the gathering that, for an insight into the dual citizenship then being whispered, let us suppose and assume that:
1. Solo Gaye is a dual citizen of countries A and B. Subsequently, a ferocious and highly dangerous, ethnic/tribal war breaks out between the two countries, A and B. For which country will Mr. Solo Gaye take up arms and do battle? And,
2. Boima Sando is a dual citizen of countries C and D. Of the two countries, Mr. Sando lives in country “C”; country “D” is the wealthier and most powerful on the international scene, in socio-economic, diplomatic and military terms. After committing a series of serious crimes in his “native country”, C, Mr. Sando escapes to country D of which he is also citizen. Will extradition lie? If so, will extradition be effected, given the superior wealth and political/diplomatic and military clout/might of country D? The facts of Liberian history show, clearly, the contrary; no.
In consideration of all of the arguments and the Law of our country, Liberia, we must return to the compelling need for a “reasonable, rational, deliberative . . .” approach for acceptable resolution to the issue of dual citizenship, mindful to protect and preserve the proverbial, “VITAL INTERESTS OF OUR NATION”.
In this respect, I observed elsewhere that “laws are made by individuals in society to define and equitably regulate human interactions and relationships in order to protect and preserve their (individuals’) and society’s vital interests (and that) as these interactions, relationships and vital interests change over time, law must, inevitably, change in correspondence”, while LOYALTY & PATRIOTISM TO THE STATE REMAINS A CRUCIAL, CRITICAL, NECESSARY CONSTANT.