Dual Citizenship And Article 27(b) Are Two Separate Issues
By: Mathu H. Gibson
Liberians are finally debating the issue of citizenship, and this is a good thing.In fact it is a debate that is long overdue, and the outcome could have either a positive or negative impact on the country. Therefore seizing upon the proper nuances and commonalityof this issue, and making changes incrementally may be the best approach to resolving the issue. Dual Citizenship and its attendant “negative” consequences as defined in Article 27(b) of the Liberian Constitution demand our full and undivided attention. However, we must not lose sight of our priorities, but rather be meticulous in bringing resolution to this highly controversial issue.
The Organic Laws of the Liberia as enshrined in Article 28 of the 1986 Constitution does not prohibit the duality of Citizenship—instead it encourages it and protects it: “No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality.”
Since the Constitution is undeniably the Supreme Law of the land and it does not explicitly nor implicitly deny natural born Liberians the right to obtain citizenship of another country while maintaining Liberian citizenship, then, we must support and give preference to all natural born Liberians seeking to retain their Liberian citizenship alongside any other.
The current debate on citizenship is emotionally charged, and the misconception that “it is unpatriotic for one to become a citizen of another country” has been unhelpful. Personally I strongly disagree! How dare anyone drag a flawed yard-stick into this critical debate by attempting to equate patriotism and love for Country or the lack thereof with the act of obtaining citizenship of an adopted country? This argument has feverishly inundated and contaminated the healthy discourse, and it must be debunked.
Separating The Issues
Most Liberians are confused and unable to differentiate between the Dual Citizenship issue and the need to amend Article 27(b) of the Constitution. Seemingly, the intentional fusing of these two separate issues is intended to drive the boisterous current of dissent and ill-will towards natural born Liberians maintaining their citizenship. There are even some who are exploiting the general lack of understanding of the subject in order to advance personal anti-dual citizenship rhetoric.
The resistance to dual citizenship is by no means exclusive to home based Liberians. There are objectors and naysayers within the diaspora population especially in the United States—who are playing political football with this sensitive issue; however, they are a tiny minority.
Natural born diaspora Liberians and those that have returned home having acquired another citizenship are interconnected and are an inseparable part of the Liberian mosaic which cannot be denied. Throughout our history we have allowed minority groups of loud voices, fast talking,
propagandist and shock-jocks to dominate critical decisions to the detriment of the majority—but this time around we must wrest the agenda and ensure that dual citizenship becomes a reality for all natural born Liberians desiring such a status.
Dual Citizenship Must Be Protected By Law
Diaspora Liberians wherever they reside are still an integral part of Liberia. And they have contributed tremendously to the economic, social and political development of the country. Those in the West, particularly the United States live and breathe Liberia. Across the contiguous United States—Liberian Communities are formed to preserve the Liberian culture as best as possible. On a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis Liberians come together to discuss Liberia and the communities they have left behind. When Liberia sneezes diaspora Liberians catch a cold. When home based Liberians hurt, the diaspora Liberian communities slump into depression. When home based Liberians are oppressed and suppressed—diaspora Liberians grab placards and take to the streets of their various capitals including Washington, DC and demand their lawmakers to ensure conditions are made better for their fellow citizens at home.
As the brutal 14 years war ravaged the country, claiming the lives of more than 250,000 men, women and children—Liberians in the diaspora ceaselessly forwarded remittances to sustain family and friends. They crisscrossed the world attending summits and conferences in search of peace. Liberians in the diaspora consistently shipped containers of food, medicine, clothes and other supplies to Liberia as well as various refugee camps where Liberians were hosted. And recently, as Ebola attacked indiscriminately like wildfire, diaspora Liberians once again sprang into action. They knocked on the doors of U.S. politicians lobbying support for the country.
To enumerate diaspora Liberians love, generosity, and compassion for Liberians at home will render this article endless. All in all, natural born Liberians deserve the right to dual
citizenship should they so desire because they are a crucial element in Liberia's growth and development.
A New Generation Of Liberians
As the dual citizenship debates intensifies, let us not forget that natural born diaspora Liberians have over the years had children who now have their own children - expanding the diaspora Liberian population. This generation, through the lenses of their parents, has developed a deep affection for Liberia. These are smart, articulate young people who are quite knowledgeable about their parents’ origin. And they have been taught various aspects of the Liberian culture - yes, they also crave palm-butter, cassava-leaf, potato-greens and tor-bor-gee. Though having grown up in distant lands, they also have mastered the fine art of swallowing GB and fufu. These are Liberians and will always be.
They are the future of diaspora Liberians who will carry on the legacy of their parents and promote the Liberian culture. However, they are closely watching the citizenship debate to see how their parents are treated. Many of these young people are excelling in higher education and becoming doctors, lawyers, engineers, educators as well as making inroads in government and the private sector. They are also members of top Fraternities and Sororities that wield much influence within the American society. There is no doubt the children of diaspora Liberians will in the future become Congressmen, politicians, top athletes, entertainers and decision makers in the countries where they reside. They are the ones who will lobby for Liberia’s interest long after their parents are gone.
Deconstructing Article 27(b)
I agree that article 27(b), which denies people of non-negro descent the right to acquire Liberian citizenship, must be eliminated from the Constitution. However, I strongly believe we should incrementally deal with the issue of citizenship in an orderly manner beginning with the granting of dual citizenship to natural born Liberians. I also agree that Article 27(b) is
outdated, but it should not be removed without proper legislation that protects the ordinary natural born citizen. Also we must first strengthen the economy, create a middle-class, redesign and strengthen our education system, overhaul and rebuild the health care system—and create jobs for the many impoverished and disaffected youths. Land and property laws must be strengthened and we must seriously commit to the recodification of our immigration laws to bring it into conformity with 21st century realities. With these structural frameworks in place then we can lay bare the argument for the removal of article 27(b).
There is a big push by some home based Liberians—stressing the urgency to remove article 27 (b) from the Constitution. One of the mythical arguments they have proffered is that “opening the doors to people of non-negro descent will unlock the flood-gates to unlimited investments which will bring new dollars to purchase land and other tangibles.” I believe this is wishful thinking.
While some Liberians are truly sincere and passionate about the removal of article 27(b), others are simply driven by selfish reasons undergirded by greed and “what’s in it for me”. If the doors were flung open with the stroke of a pen, granting citizenship to persons of non-negro descendants—does anyone cerebrally coherent believe that Anglo-Saxons and Caucasians will suddenly rush to Liberia in droves to gobble up the land? The answer, I believe, is a resounding no!
Institutional memory informs me that in the recent past the slick-politicians, the fast talking hucksters, con-artists and snake-oil salesmen convinced the masses that the immediate sale of Liberian Oil Blocks would create jobs for thousands, rejuvenate the economy, and
improve living conditions. Now we all know that was a lie intended to enrich only a few. This is precisely what is being attempted yet again with calls for the hasty removal of article 27(b).
In the absence of strong legislation those most likely to seek Liberian citizenship will be unscrupulous shysters attempting to make a quick buck, exploit our resources and flee the country. However, if we are patient and calculating in our resolve as it relates to this issue, at the end of the day, we will reap great benefits by revising the country’s citizenship laws.
The Way Forward
Today, we live in an alternative world where nothing is enshrined in black and white; but rather, there are shades of gray. Liberians at the moment are experiencing high stress levels, therefore bringing up the explosive issues of dual citizenship and amending Article 27(b) without proper planning will not help the debate. Currently Liberia is a broken nation fresh from serious battles, Ebola being the most recent. The country is in need of expertise, intellectuals, remittances and other support from diaspora Liberians. And we must ignore the fact that the vast majority of Liberians now holding another citizenship were forced to do so because of the protracted Civil War and the attending political instability. It’s time to come together and rebuild our lives, rather than forge more division and hatred.
I propose that we proceed with addressing the citizenship issue in the following way:
1.Enact legislation granting dual Citizenship to natural born Liberians and their children; and
2.Enact legislation granting voting rights to all diaspora Liberians beginning in 2017; and
3.Enact legislation granting citizenship to persons born in Liberia irrespective of race; and
4.Amend Article 27(b) after enacting laws that protect the ordinary citizen and prevent massive land grabs by anyone.