The Issue of Citizenship


By Mohamedu F. Jones


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 13, 2006


The issue of the 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 am not aware of any statutes that require that. (I stand prepared to be edified if there is such a law.) I guess the framers simply presumed that it was a non-issue. Well it is a major issue in 21st Century Liberia and it needs to be addressed in a reasonable, rational and deliberative way with a view to benefit the country and its people.

Luseni Donzo is a well-qualified, experienced and successful engineer; he also led a very good professional and personal life in the United States. But he kept his heart and eyes on Liberia all the time. If you are a licensed professional in the United States and thereby authorized to work in your profession, such as engineering, nursing, medicine, law, architecture, and accounting, etc., you will almost always achieve the “American Dream.” These professions tend to pay rather well. Mr. Donzo apparently did not go to Liberia to “look for job”; he had a very good job here in the U.S. He managed larger amounts than (it is sad to say), the entire budget of the government of Liberia. He was likely paid in the solid six figures. He returned to Liberia because he wanted to help his native country, at personal financial sacrifice.

It seems an incredible political misstep that President Johnson-Sirleaf would make such an appointment without first dealing off-media with Legislative leaders on the citizenship status question of appointees. It is similarly very short-sighted (and close to irresponsible) that the Senate would simply say “we will not confirm any appointee, who although a native of Liberia, had since assumed the citizenship of another country.” Now that the administration has made a proverbial early mistake, and the Legislature has demonstrated that it intends to be assertive with regard to its constitutional authority, it is time that the two branches address this situation in a rational way.

There are multiple ways to handle the situation, within the middle ground to the benefit of Liberia, even without passing laws; actually no new laws are needed. One compromise that Legislative leaders and the President could consider is that non-citizen appointments must be restricted to persons who were previously citizens of Liberia. Another outlook they might consider is restricting such appointments to “technical” areas. In addition, such appointments could be limited to sub-cabinet positions and below. National leaders might also agree that within a certain time frame, such appointees must re-assume Liberian citizenship.

The Donzo issue has sent a chilling effect throughout the Liberian community in the United States, even for people who were not interested in returning home to work for the government, but to be entrepreneurs and open businesses. Many now believe there is palpable animosity toward them, and are reconsidering returning to Liberia. This will be a great loss to the country.
Liberia has great resources here in the United States: present and former Liberian citizens and their assets. I believe that the economic assets of Liberians (and former Liberians) in the United States is substantially larger than all the non-natural resource economic assets in present day Liberia. When you combine those assets with their talents and skills, they may provide a significant part of the “engine” to jump start Liberia. It would be wrong and to the country’s disadvantage not to utilize these assets.

Senators, if Mr. Donzo packs and leaves, Liberia will lose him again, first because of war and now because his people rejected him. It is not right to do that to him or to the country he clearly loves.