By Theodore T. Hodge
Hon. Bai Gbala, Sr.
I am generally not in the business of constructing rejoinders to what others say about my opinions. In the case of Mr. Bai Gbala, his supposed rejoinder to my piece titled "The Liberian Dual Citizenship Debate: Another Viewpoint" deserves a revisit, at least for the sake of clarification. It is fair to state that he has a right to rejoinder. After all, I responded to him first after he wrote a piece titled, "Foreigner In Charge..." He is clearly entitled to state and support any opinion or position he chooses, just as I reserve the right to my own opinion. My objection is, if he decides to challenge me to a debate, then he must clearly stick to the issues I raised, just like I stuck to the issues he originally raised. To go outside of our discussion and attempt to lecture me on a series on unrelated issues I find quite unfair and contradictory to the spirit of a good debate.
First of all, before unleashing his arsenal in his response, Mr. Gbala finds time to reprimand me on my use of the word "disingenuous" in referring to his position taken. He finds my disagreement with him 'disappointing' because he finds the 'term and language… offensive, non-cordial, un-civil, disrespectful of the views of others… Really? I find the categorization quite shocking and completely misplaced and untrue.
I don't think all the meanings of a given word under a dictionary definition imply that they all apply to a given context. Sometimes only one meaning applies contextually; I think Mr. Gbala knows this fully well, but is being unduly disingenuous in misleading his readers. Instead of having a frank and honest discussion of the matter before us, he wants to poison the well by giving the impression that I have been rude or uncivil to him... that is not the case. I simply meant he had a hidden agenda and that he was only interested in presenting only one side of the case. He simply failed to present a balanced view; later on I shall show that he did once present another viewpoint representing another special-interest group. I'll let the reader be the judge.
After chastising me, Mr. Gbala goes on to say that this is supposed to be a "free and candid exchange of views". But if we are supposed to be having a free and candid exchange of views, then one wonders why he insists on putting me in a straight-jacket. He does not only have a problem with the choice of the word "disingenuous", he also raises an issue with my use of the word "parochial". Again, it is my belief that he fails to scrutinize the contextual meaning of the word. I simply meant "narrow"; and indeed, Mr. Gbala did present a narrow position i.e., "Liberians should not enjoy dual citizenship because they might be inclined to defect to the wealthier other country by showing less loyalty to Liberia", to paraphrase him. It is not entirely clear upon what statistics the observation is based.
Secondly, this is what I know about the debate process: When one speaker (or writer) takes a position to which the other disagrees and wishes to react, the second speaker or writer has a responsibility to address himself to the issue raised by the first. That lesson is seemingly lost on Mr. Gbala. It will be recalled that Mr. Gbala expressed his opinion narrowly on the dual citizenship debate. I read what he wrote and challenged the conclusion he hastily drew. I expressed an opposing position and gave points to support my viewpoint. In doing so, I tried to give evidence that the dual citizenship issue did cover a broader spectrum of citizens than Mr. Gbala made his readers to realize. I did point out other benefits the dual citizenship status would confer upon a broader group, as opposed to the "elite" group upon whom Mr. Gbala focused.
In this new rejoinder, Mr. Gbala raises issues beyond our original debate. I know what the definition of a citizen is. I know what the Liberian constitution says about citizenship. I know who qualifies and who doesn't. I do not advocate breaking the law to grant the rights of citizenship to non-citizens. So the lecture that Mr. Gbala presents, even citing his own old speeches and debates with others, is immaterial to the basic question under discussion: Should Liberians be given the right to enjoy the privileges of dual-citizenship as other nationals do? What are the drawbacks and what are the benefits?
Again, it is clear to all of us, at least it should be clear what the constitution says about the issue. But we also understand that the question of extending dual-citizenship rights to Liberians is a political decision that the Liberian legislature could tackle, especially when it does appeal to a large number of Liberians. It does not require an amendment, neither does it require a referendum. It is a matter of extending bilateral relationships between our country (Liberia) and other countries. Luckily for us, we will not be the first country undertaking the exercise; we have many countries' experience upon which to base our approach. We need to study their processes and the outcomes and tailor our case to a certain degree of specificity, such as deciding what offices could be legally occupied by those holding dual citizenship, and what offices will be off limit to them. I think the most crucial thing here is to understand that the benefits to be accrued are enormous, and the potential beneficiaries are numerous. We should not simply be put off by the drawbacks, some of which are massively exaggerated and revolve around a very small and defined group.
Since Mr. Gbala took the liberty to go outside of our debate to bring in how others weighed in on the issue, may I oblige him to remember another position he took on a similar issue that may be comparable to the one under discussion here: The issue of Liberian citizenship for Lebanese nationals living in Liberia. In an article penned by Mr. Gbala in 2005, before the national elections, Mr. Gbala was of the opinion that Lebanese nationals living in Liberia should be given full Liberian citizenship and allowed to vote in the election. Now, how are these two positions reconcilable? The same man who opposes dual citizenship for Liberians "because the Liberian constitution does not allow it", also favors granting full Liberian citizenship to Lebanese citizens. But don't take my word for it, here is what Mr. Gbala wrote. In his Part II rejoinder which we await, I hope he will have the time to address the issue of this contradiction.
In the introduction to that article Mr. Gbala stated: "Indeed, it is about time that these “Liberians” of Lebanese descent who lived, worked and contributed immensely, and continue to live, work and contribute, to the socio-economic, cultural and political development and advancement of our common country, the Republic of Liberia, be accorded Liberian citizenship with “all rights appertaining thereto”.
Mr. Gbala knows there is a problem to this position he has taken. He quotes the Liberian constitution to recognize the problem, he writes: "
Article 27(c) of the Liberian Constitution provides that “In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia”.
But Mr. Gbala is not the one to have minor problems set in his way. When he supports a viewpoint, he is prepared to argue the cause to the fullest, even if it contravenes the constitution. This is what he writes further about the Lebanes who were his friends in 2005: "The Lebanese, history tells us, are a people with traditional commitment to classical democratic principles and values; they are also an entrepreneurial, Phoenician trading class with a culture of the capitalist ethic – hard-driving, risk-taking, profit-seeking, equity and wealth accumulation – for a good life with socio-economic convenience and, thereby, contribute to society’s ever-present quest for socio-economic and political prosperity."
Here is the link for those readers interested in reading the thoughts of Mr. Gbala in 2005.
Now, isn't it clear what I meant that Mr. Gbala was writing for a special interest group? In 2005, he was writing on behalf of the Lebanese nationals because for reasons unclear to some of us, they were his constituent group. In this barrage against dual citizenship, isn't it clear he's writing and expressing the opinion held by another interest group? Is he not writing for that narrow band of Liberians who are trying to preserve their jobs by denying other Liberians the opportunity to return home and challenge them? Imagine a member of the legislature who feels secured in his chances for re-election until another citizen, perhaps much more educated, returns from abroad to rain on his parade. Can you see why it is to the benefit of that lawmaker to block the chances of a potential opponent? Take the case of someone eyeing a cabinet position until a better qualified candidate from abroad gets into the competition. These are rational players. They may be selfish, but they are indeed rational, one must concede.
The scenario described above is not far-fetched. There is a member of the Liberian senate who opposes the dual citizenship bill so much he went on record to say that he'd prefer white people, people of non-Negroid descent, to become citizens of Liberia before extending dual citizenship to those who have given up their Liberian citizenship to naturalize in other countries. That seems an extreme and illogical position to take... but that's the Honorable Senator's view. That is the same view Mr. Bai Gbala seems to hold, yet he dismisses and disparages anyone who has the audacity to challenge his views. Well, Mr. Gbala, you can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't say we're in a free and candid exchange of views, yet limit my choice of words. It is not my intention to be uncivil to you to you. I respect you just like I respect all the other participants in this hall of public dialogue. I rest now and awit your Part II, but hopefully, there shall be no need to continue. It's your call.
The Author: Theodore T. Hodge can be reached at: Imtthodge@gmail.com