By 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”.
In response, we wrote, “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”, with our published article entitled:
Bai M. Gbala
ON DUAL CITIZENSHIP: REFLECTIONS ON THE ISSUES
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA May 25, 2006
Additional Charges, Allegations . . .
About to put pen to paper on Part #2 of my planned, “comprehensive response” to Mr. Hodge’s charges/allegations, I noted additional charges in his article, The Dual Citizenship Debate Revisited (The Perspective, September 21, 2014).
In his new article, Mr. Hodge says that, “I (he, Mr. Hodge) am generally not in the business of constructing rejoinders to what others say about my opinions. In the case of Mr. Gbala, his supposed rejoinder to my piece . . . deserves a revisit, at least for clarification”, while I (Bai Gbala) say that I reject and refuse to be drawn into debates with other Liberians – friends and relatives – especially, debates NOT CONCERNED with the issues raised, in terms of relevance, validity, truth, law/public policy, our socio-cultural patterns of behavior, but “debates” or charges and counter-charges characterized by name-callings, personality attacks, ethnic/tribal profiling, the usual, worn-out, Liberian clishe`s designed to show or prove academic/intellectual superiority, etc.
In the instant “debate” on dual citizenship, I made no charges against anyone and raised no new issues, but, simply, responded/responding to the issue(s) raised and the catalogue of personal attacks/accusations against me, including the use of the English term “disingenuous”, the use or application of which I found and still find offensive, with Mr. Hodge’s admission which confirmed my conclusion; that is, that almost all of the various, contextual meanings are emotionally contemptuous, offensive and, indeed, do not or are inappropriate in a friendly, cordial, civil exchange of views.
Mr. Hodge now “clarifies” that he “simply meant he (Bai Gbala) had a hidden agenda” (I used that as an example), in that, “he (Bai Gbala) was only interested in presenting only one side of the case . . . in misleading his readers”. However, that, in other words, says that Bai Gbala is a liar, deceitful, not sincere, dishonest and calculative, based on Bai Gbala’s secret plan (the hidden agenda), obviously against the interest of Bai Gbala’s readers and, by extension, the people, the public.
In Mr. Hodge’s new article, he accuses that “Mr. Bai Gbala raises issues beyond our original debate”. This, simply, is not true. For, at the beginning or introduction of my response in answer to Mr. Hodge’s accusations, I restated and restate, by quotations verbatim, the full catalogue of charges against me. This approach restricts and confines my exposition, reasonably, to the issues raised.
It is a reasonable requirement to present relevant, validated evidence in the effort to denyand refute accusations in this case and context by public policy speeches, articles, literature, etc., “based on my worldview, the result of my socio-cultural and political experience from a public policy perspective, not only from the person of Bai Gbala”.
Now, Mr. Hodge accuses Bai Gbala of “contradiction” regarding “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 . . . 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 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’ . . . I hope he will the time to address the issue of this contradiction”. Indeed, we have been over this issue many, many times before this inquiry. As a public person, one who has chosen public service as a career, the people, the public has the right to question his/her motives, actions/activities in the public domain; as such, I welcome, in fact, invite such questioning. However, allegations concerned with the right to know must be expressed fully, fairly, openly and consistent with our body of laws. The quotation was selective, not full, out of context!! So, we publish it in full.
Let us be very clear about critical, socio-economic and political issues from the beginning. Remember, I raise no issue, but respond to issues raised. In this case, it is necessary that I indicate that I am deeply opposed to adoption of dual citizenship in our country, whether in favor of Ghanians, South Africans, Kenyans, Liberians or the Lebanese. I am opposed, also, to segregation/discrimination based on race, color, creed, national origin, religion, age, gender, etc. and I support the United Nations Charter, the Charter against human rights violations and segregation/discrimination based on race, color, creed, national origin, religion, age, gender, etc. This, then is the full article for the information of the readers.
“LEBANESE DEMAND LIBERIA POLL RIGHTS” : A REJOINDER
By Bai Gbala
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA August 15, 2005
Indeed, it is about time that these “Liberians” of Lebanese descent who live, worked, contributed immensely and continue to live, work, contribute to the socio-economic, cultural, political development and advancement of our common country, the Republic of Liberia, be accorded Liberian citizenship with “all rights appertaining thereto”.
In an article featured by the BBC NEWS on the Internet (BBC NEWS, UK EDITION, Friday, July 22, 2005), Correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh, a Liberian, wrote that “as Liberians prepare for their first elections (October 2005) after 14 years of war (of wanton destruction of public/private properties, historic brutalities, human suffering and death), the influential Lebanese community is pressing to be allowed to take part. Liberia’s economy (that) is”, he continued, “dominated by the 4,000-strong Lebanese community, many of whom were born in the country. So strong is the Lebanese community that it is likely to influence (in fact, influences) major political decisions”.
However, Lebanese and all other persons of non-Negro race or descendants thereof are barred by law from becoming citizens of Liberia and, therefore, not permitted the right to vote.
This Rejoinder is our attempt to “fast-forward”, if you will, Liberia’s political thought and practice in twenty-first century, socio-political worldview, with prevailing conditions and realities, in respect of law-making and the treatment of persons of non-Negro race seeking Liberian citizenship.
Article 27(b) 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”.
Based upon this provision, Article 77(b) states that “…every Liberian citizen not less than 18 years of age shall have the right . . . to vote in public elections and referenda under this constitution”. Meanwhile, Article 22(a) seals the economic and political coffin by its provision, “that only Liberian citizens shall have the right to own real property within the Republic”. Thus, the socio-political development of this class of Liberian residents (the Lebanese), the highest consideration in terms of human desire, has been and is closed by law, period.
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.
Correspondent Paye-Layleh rightly pointed out that the Lebanese of Liberia own and operate several Import/export business enterprises dealing in general merchandise, including foods and, of course, the Liberian staple, rice.
To get an idea or the whole picture of Lebanese tight grip on and contribution to the Liberian economy, one needs a comprehensive study of the Liberian trade and commerce market – from clothes and shoes, all types and class; dry-cleaning and tailoring; foods of all sorts, displayed and sold in many altra-modern supermarkets; building materials for all needs and purposes; household utensils and electrical appliances; automobiles – American, European, Japanese, etc.; drugs and petroleum products; book and newspaper printing; furniture and related manufacture; real estate brokerage (although the Lebanese are not permitted to own real property); hotels and restaurants; now the worldwide expansion of computer use, sales and service; and the now-popular cellular telephone business. Need anything? Name it; if the friendly Lebanese trader does not have it in stock, he/she can order it.
Lebanese and other non-Negro businesspersons seeking investment opportunities for profit flock to foreign, investment-friendly, third world countries having positive, investment incentive policy such as lower taxes, industrial parks with factories and/or related facilities, aid in financing, etc., with Liberia being attractive in having the world currency (the US dollar) as legal tender in tandem with the Liberian dollar, free market, capitalist economy, a world of natural resources, and a cooperative, friendly people.
But barred by law from ownership of real property, the Lebanese and others affected by this law, invest only in “short-term” business ventures such as trade & commerce; they shy away from or avoid investment in agriculture, industrial development, land/real estate development, banking & finance, insurance, etc., because of the need for longer-term, greater outlay of capital investment in fixed assets with returns that they cannot pass on to their heirs.
However, to benefit from the lucrative residential and commercial real estate business, the Lebanese of Liberia lease existing buildings owned by Liberians “short-term”, at 20- 25 years, just enough time to recover invested capital with profit during their lifetime, before the property reverts to the Liberian owner. Inexpensively renovated and improved, these buildings are used (a) for stores and residential quarters by the Lebanese or (b) sub-leased to other Lebanese or high-profile Liberians at a considerable profit. The second approach is the lease of idle city lots at the usual “short-term” from Liberian owners; on these lots, the Lebanese build relatively inexpensive and simple, box-type structures (often described as “architectural eye-sores”); they are used for the same purposes as described above.
These conditions are the result of the fact that the Lebanese are barred from Liberian citizenship and, therefore, from real estate ownership. Since they are not permitted real property ownership, the leased, renovated property and the buildings erected on the leased, idle city lots and the city lots themselves, all revert to the Liberian owners at the end of the lease period!! This is the catch; it is the result of the shameful and depressing state of our capital city skyline of “architectural eye-sores”, as compared to skylines of our neighboring Freetown, Sierra Leone; Abidjan, La Cote d’Ivoire; and those of Maputo, Mozambique; Nairobi, Kenya; and Harare, Zimbabwe, etc.
Almost all of the buildings and skyscrapers that dot the skylines of these cities were the work of profit-seeking capitalists who settled in and were admitted citizens of these countries irrespective or race, color, or national origin. The fruit of the elders’ investments lawfully and equitably passed on to their heirs. In the event that the settlers and their descendants decide to leave, the buildings, skyscrapers and related developments will remain the property and beauty of the cities.
Lebanese fled from Political Persecution
The settlement of Lebanese nationals in Liberia was a search not only for economic opportunities, but also for socio-political justice. Indeed, the Lebanese fled from war, socio-political instability, ethnic/tribal and religious conflict, discrimination and segregation and political persecution in their native Lebanon. Unfortunately however, they are confronted with and subjected to socio-political racism, sanctioned by law, here in Liberia, the “Land of Liberty, Freedom & Justice” under the “Rule of Law”. Yet, the Lebanese plan NOT to leave for other parts. For, the present generation of Lebanese in Liberia was born, raised, and educated in Liberia; that generation speaks fluent, typical Liberian, provincial English with some members also fluent in Liberian tribal dialects, having been socialized in Liberian folk-lore and patterns of socio-cultural behavior.
As a matter of fact (and in personal terms), I attended elementary, junior and senior high schools with “full-blooded” and “half-blooded” Lebanese boys. One of them, the so-called “half-Liberian foreigner” or “half-blooded” Lebanese later became a prominent Liberian scholar and banking/finance executive, while the other “full-blooded” Lebanese followed the footsteps of his parents and became a successful merchant in Liberia. These two “Lebanese” are, perhaps, more “Liberian” than many of our “indigenous”, fellow compatriots. The mother of the “half-blooded Lebanese boy is a “full-blooded” Liberian. We have been and will be life-time friends and Liberians.
The Argument for Citizenship
The most critically important basis, in legal and logical terms, for granting Liberian citizenship to the Lebanese and others of non-Negro race resident in Liberia, lies in socio-political change consistent with changing and changed conceptions of political thought and practice, with respect to current conditions and the realities regarding race, respect for and observance of human, civil, and political rights.
During the days when our Country, Liberia, was founded by freed Negro men and women who fled (like the Lebanese) from racism, injustice, brutality and death, there was no one who cared enough to dare to challenge the established socio-political power on behalf of the disadvantaged – the poor, the weak and racial minorities – whose inalienable rights were routinely abused and denied with impunity. Indeed, there was no League of Nations or the United Nations to which one may or could appeal for remedy.
Under those conditions, it was reasonable, indeed mandatory, that having been freed from servitude and human bondage, achieved political independence with statehood and national sovereignty for Liberians, the citizens of the new Liberian Nation-State, to close their national borders and doors to the enslaving, non-democratic Class – non-Negro race of the West, who routinely and systematically brutalized and denied them (the Liberians) their socio-political and inalienable rights – from becoming citizens of the new nation of freed Negro slaves, for fear that the non-Negro race might gain socio-political control and, again, enslave and persecute its citizens.
However, time, socio-political thought and conditions have changed dramatically; therefore, socio-political practice must, inevitably, change correspondingly in order to not only reflect, but to BE consistent, commensurably, with the prevailing realities of the day; SO IT HAD BEEN THROUGHOUT HUMAN HISTORY AND IS LIKELY TO BE HENCEFORTH.
For, the Liberian Nation of freed slaves, has now become the high-profile, internationally-recognized founding member of the United Nations and a participating actor on the world stage, in this age of democratic pluralism, human, civil and political rights of all peoples. It was in this light that noting the Apartheid Policy of the Republic of South Africa, brutally practiced against the Negro Republic of Namibia, then under its trusteeship, the Liberian State took legal action against that nation (Republic of South Africa) in the International Court of Justice, for Racial Segregation and the Denial of Basic Civil & Human Rights as the core of that policy.
In the light of these modern developments in political thought and practice, how then do we, Liberians, explain our laws and policy action against the Lebanese and others of non-Negro race seeking justice and equality before and under the Rule of Law, for the protection of their inalienable rights? Are we not philosophical practitioners, aware and convinced of prevailing modern and enlightened, liberal democracy under “The Rule of Law” when we proclaimed to “…foster … maintain that only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify … to be citizens of Liberia” (Article 27(b), Constitution of Liberia, 1986)?
Are these constitutional prescriptions and actions there under not, in fact, blatant contradictions of our own, professed, belief systems, couched into and under the accepted/adopted “Rule of law” in respect to socio-economic and political justice, particularly regarding racial justice? Was it not because of these considerations that Liberia took legal action against the-then “racist” Republic of South Africa?
Moreover, it is now argued, and reasonably so, that the systematic exclusion of Liberia’s indigenous citizens from participation in political affairs of the nation in the past, created the conditions that led to the recent, Liberian national tragedy and resulting into the current “failed state” status of our country.
Given the foregoing, we are convinced that our current constitutional provisions – particularly Article 27(b) and those that bar law-abiding persons of good character from Liberian citizenship only on the grounds of race and the treatment of persons of non-Negro race are clearly outdated, insensitive and injudicious. I strongly believe and suggest that Lebanese nationals and other non-Negro persons resident in Liberia and desiring Liberian citizenship should and must be granted their wish, if qualified, without consideration of race.
We also believe and recommend that Article 27(b) and other constitutional provisions that bar Liberian citizenship and other rights – human, civil, and political – based on RACE, should and must be repealed.