AT THE HEIGHT of the civil war, Liberians from all walks of life fled into exile into various countries about the world, in a bid to escape the carnage that not only killed and maimed scores of its citizens, but ruined physical infrastructures as well.
WITH THE WAR over and the country now on the verge of its third successive elections, the issue of Diaspora voting is once again on the burner of discussion surrounding the impact Diaspora Liberians are making on the local economy and the political discourse.
THE ISSUE is also taking a new dimension in the wake of recent changes in policy regarding Diaspora voting in a number of African communities including Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, Benin, Algeria, Namibia and Mozambique, among others, which has given Diaspora citizens the opportunity to vote from afar during election.
MAKE NO MISTAKE, the numbers are still low for countries giving the Diaspora voting a try. Only thirty out of one hundred and fifteen African countries grant the right to vote to their nationals abroad.
FOR MANY OF THOSE residing in countries outside, social media have become their only means of becoming direct participants in political events back home.
ADMITTEDLY, IT IS no secret that Diaspora Liberians like their counterparts in other nations, continue to make financial remittances that help keep many of their friends, family and loved ones afloat.
SIMPLY PUT, THESE Diaspora residents are directly contributing to the economic welfare through remittances and numerous homeland projects but when it comes to the political process, they are not allowed to cast their votes.
MANY WHO feel victimize make trips back home to register in a bid to feel part of the process.
THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE. Liberians both at home and abroad must begin exploring ways and means to reinvent their connections to their homeland beyond the symbolic value by becoming more expressive and participatory in the democratic process.
THIS WILL GO A LONG way in reaffirming and reinforcing their citizenship.
THE ARGUMENT IN SOME quarters is that many of those residing outside have taken citizenships in nations around the world which raises a whole new question about dual citizenship. Equally so, there are countless more who have not.
SOME HAVE DELIBERATELY not taken up citizenship in those countries because they want to feel part of the political process back home.
THIS ALSO applies to Liberians abroad on study or foreign trips who may not be able to cast their votes because circumstances made it simply impossible for them to make it in the time allotted to vote and participate in the democratic process.
THE DIASPORA VOTING discourse is not a new phenomenon for Liberia. The late Lofa County lawmaker, Eugene Fallah Kpakar, in 2011 introduced a bill for natural born Liberians living as permanent residents in other countries to be able to votes.
THE LAWMAKER argued at the time that his legislation was supported by the Liberian Constitution. “If you look at Article 77-B of the Liberian Constitution, it says that all Liberians shall be entitled to register and vote in as much as you as a Liberian reached the age criteria of 18. And I believe that all Liberians are covered by this provision of our Liberian Constitution”.
THE LAWMAKER was also right in his argument that Liberians in the Diaspora contribute substantially to the growth and development of this country by virtue of the political and economic contributions that they continue to make to this nation. So, I think that Liberians in the Diaspora should be allowed come 2011 to be registered and to vote in determining who their president will be and who their vice president will be.”
THE LAWMAKER was not successful in his push but the discourse remains relevant today and for the foreseeable future.
WHATEVER DIFFERENCES Liberians at home have against their counterparts outside should be beside the fact. The bottom line is, they owe as much to Liberia as anyone and denying them a right to cast their votes is a travesty and a gross violation of the constitution.