By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
One of the contemporary issues in post-war Liberia is that of “DUAL CITIZENSHIP,” sometimes referred to as “TWIN CITIZENSHIP, a system that allows a citizen of one nation to become a citizen of another. Although if was also a matter of discussion prior to the war, it was not profound as it is today, perhaps because of the increase in the number of Liberians in the Diaspora because of the civil conflict. As the debate on the subject matter continues, there are mixed reactions with some Liberians in total support, while others are totally against it on grounds of loyalty and prosecution.
It is because of the seriousness of the issue that the Governance Commission headed by former interim President, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer held a one-day Roundtable High Level at the Monrovia City Hall last Friday. As expected, some of the panelists differed on the issue of ‘Dual Citizenship’, citing reasons for that. Some of the panelists were Rev. Emmanuel Bowier, former Information Minister and Cllr. Pearl Brown-Bull, former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Today, I wish to join the discussion on the issue of placing some restrictions on Liberians with dual citizenship.
As stated, some of those who support dual citizenship did so with the view that there must be some restrictions on Liberians who find themselves in this category now or in the future. Basically, they want these restrictions on certain positions in government, meaning that these Liberians who bear dual citizenship would be automatically barred from holding some key positions in government.
In its presentation, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) which propounded on some constitutional and statutory issues on the matter, however, suggested that in spite of these Constitutional and statutory provisions, the Constitution of Liberia and the Alien and Nationality Law of Liberia could be amended to allow “Dual Citizenship” in Liberia.
Regarding restrictions, the Bureau recommend that “citizens (Liberians) holding dual citizenship do not contest for any elected office, such as representative, senator, president, vice president and occupy high or senior level of appointed positions, including Minister, brigade commanders to Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Immigration Commissioners, etc., until he/she have maintained a continuous domicile for the period not less than ten (10) years in Liberia.”
Furthermore, the Bureau pointed out that, “Naturalized citizens of Liberia should not be given the opportunity of “Dual Citizenship”; in that, acquiring another citizenship or nationality through naturalization in another country, after one has obtained a Liberian Citizenship, automatically nullifies his Liberian Citizenship…”
Similarly, female advocate, MamensieKabba, who supports dual citizenship, however said, “In as much as I support dual citizenship in Liberia, I am also sensitive to the plights of other Liberian brothers and sisters who hold loyalty to Liberia only therefore any Liberian who desirably chooses to hold dual citizenship must not be allowed to serve as minister proper, deputy minister, director, governor etc., most especially in strategic institutions like the Liberia Maritime authority, the National Port Authority, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, the Central Bank of Liberia and so on.”
“As for elected positions such as representative, senator, and president, the female advocate holds a different view. For this she said the people (electorates) should be allowed to determine who become their lawmakers or president by means of voting. She added that in order to make dual citizenship work in Liberia, the government of Liberia must empower Liberians who reside in Liberia and are more familiar with the people to disseminate the proper information about dual citizenship in Liberia. They must go from county to county, district to district, town to town, village to village etc.” Miss kabba added.
Two other panelists who support dual citizenship, but did not cite any restrictions were Pro-temp of the Senate, Armah Z. Jallah and Mr. Anthony Kesselly, Political Advisor in the office of the Vice President. Senator Jallah said, “I subscribe to and believe a maxim I have created which states: once a Liberian, always a Liberian! We must not shut the door before our kindred on the premise that they took up citizenship in other countries.
He went on: “I believe that the time is ripe to welcome home our returnee brothers and sisters to the land of their nativity and heritage. We must unite efforts in the rebuilding agenda of this country. We must harness our experiences and education and world pictures into a creative symphony meet for progress and prosperity”. He added: “Let us call into remembrance that the concept of dual citizenship is not altogether a new political or social phenomenon. This concept exists in nature itself amongst amphibians and some reptiles which dwell both on land and in water. We must go further to our theologies of citizenships on earth and in Heaven as espoused by our religions; so Dual Citizenship is not new!”
“The zealotry of some Liberians against this agenda is important but must be readily discouraged. We must rally them around the nexus that granting Dual Citizenship as a nation is not to protect narrow or parochial interests, but to open up our country to the global village in which we dwell. It is not for the poor to live at the mercy of the rich. This scenario draws my attention to a perceived oxymoron: we want to be citizens of other nations other than our own, but individuals from those nations from which we seek citizenship must never gain our citizenship especially our own Liberians,” he noted.
For his part, Mr. Kesselly, a former student leader and former president of the Union of Liberians in the Americas (ULAA), in outlining the advantages of dual citizenship argued that this would give Liberians equal rights with other citizens of countries that practice dual citizenship who are presently at liberty to naturalize here and that this would also give free pass to and sense of security for Liberians who hold other nationalities to increase their involvement in the economy of the country.
Additionally, my good MCSS friend and brother noted that this would also reinforce the capacity of Liberians in the Diaspora to advocate and lobby for resources, support, and opportunities for Liberia and Liberians and pointedly said that such would also open the way to other Liberians to legally pursue and advance themselves in careers that require citizenship of host countries for advancement to high level of achievements. He also believes that this would maintain security for Liberians who have naturalized in stronger countries to survive wars and disasters by way of evacuation so that they are in the position to help other Liberians who are unable to leave.
Frankly, I like the reasons propounded by the panelists on this matter, but my particular concern relates to the issue of restrictions. This brings me to the issue as to whether or not Liberians advocating for “dual citizenship’ want any restrictions on the issue of the governance system of the country. That is, are these Liberians seeking dual citizenship without being part of the governance system by being denied key positions?
The answer to this is a big NO! My interaction with some Liberians in the Diaspora on this matter is that natural born citizens of this country who had sought citizenship in other country, they want to be a part of the governance system. Some of them want to be lawmakers and also hold cabinet positions. Therefore, to insist on restrictions that would be counterproductive to their intent would definitely not be welcomed by them.
This is not about being Liberians and also Americans or Europeans; it is about being a part and parcel of the leadership in the three branches of government. Already, Liberians with dual citizenship enjoy the respect and recognitions as Liberians; some usually visit home and are wholeheartedly welcomed by relatives and friends, some of whom benefit from remittances from abroad. There has been no case of any Liberian with dual citizenship, being repudiated or mocked for this.
Noticeably, some of them are contributing to national development. Some are real estate, economic activities and even made contributions individually or collectively to the needs of society. In fact, they are making during the ongoing war against the Ebola pestilence.
But the million dollar issue or question is: is this all their intentions? I say a BIG NO, again. Until we realize the “intent” of Liberians advocating for dual or twin citizenship, this debate would be like a ship without compass. Hence, let us keep “hanging heads,” the local parlance for brainstorming. I Rest My Case.