Liberia: Diaspora Liberians See Resentment, Discrimination in Senate Amended Dual Citizenship Bill
Monrovia – Diaspora-based Liberians are weighing in on a controversial version of the Dual Citizenship Clause proposed by the upper house of the National Legislature.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
The most controversial component of the Senate proposition deals with the issue of jobs: “A natural-born citizen of Liberia may hold the citizenship of another country but shall not qualify for elected positions and the following appointed positions: Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia; Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers; all heads of Autonomous Commissions, Agencies and Non-Academic/Research/Scientific Institutions and Ambassadors.”
“It makes to coherent sagacity, to limit the right of a citizen especially a proposition that give them full rights as citizen of a country. We cannot help but to see this an effort to mute a campaign in terms of the citizen but still maintain the divisive nation of the very Article 28 of the 1986 constitution of the Republic of Liberia that have been deemed ancient and outlandish. This is not in the interest of “Liberia on a united and progressive front; which need to be revisited.”– Mo Sonnie, President, Union of Liberian Organizations in the United Kingdom
Article 28 of the Liberian constitution states: “Any person, at least one of whose parents was citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country. 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.”
Ex ULAA Heads: Resenting Liberians With Set Skills
The Senate version states: “Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a natural-born citizen of Liberia; a natural-born citizen’s right to citizenship of Liberia is inherent and inalienable; no law shall be enacted or regulation promulgated which deprives a natural born of the Republic of his/her citizenship right; and any law or regulation which alienates or deprives a natural born of the Republic of his/her rights is null and void.
For many Diaspora-based Liberians the Senate may be toeing the line of discrimination and resenting against Liberians who fled the civil war and took up citizenships in the United States and other countries around the world.
Vamba S. Fofana, the current head of the Union of Liberians in the Americas(ULAA), did not respond to inquiries on the controversy but Mr. Arthur K. Watson, Chairman Emeritus of ULAA laments that it is rather unfortunate for a country that is in such dying need of the relevant skill sets that its natural born citizens have acquired over these many years from various develop countries of the world to be utilized for the benefit of the country and they are now been denied by this so-called Bill. Said Watson: “I am really not too troubled by it because I believe when the case is made directly to the Liberian people, they will see the Bill for what it is, and they will vote down this Bill in a referendum. At least the debate and discussion has now started. Which is a good thing.”
Mr. Anthony Kesselly, another former ULAA President argues that the proposition places natural born Liberians who hold dual citizenship in a status far below the foreigners (Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ivorians, etc.) who naturalize in Liberia. “The naturalized foreigners can be elected, while dual citizen Liberians who were born on this soil cannot be. And mind you, most of these naturalized foreigners will be from countries that have much liberal dual citizenship laws. We will grudgingly accept this unfair version with the determination to continue the fight.”
“I am really not too troubled by it because I believe when the case is made directly to the Liberian people, they will see the Bill for what it is, and they will vote down this Bill in a referendum. At least the debate and discussion has now started. Which is a good thing.”– Holland Mayango Arku, President, European Federation of Liberian Associations, EFLA
Head of Liberians in UK: Alienating Natural Born Citizens
Mo Sonnie, President, Union of Liberian Organizations in the United Kingdom agrees. “While it is a welcoming development and an overdue measure by lawmakers in endeavoring to rectify what in this day and age seems a very primitive law enshrined in our constitution, it has been grotesque, and infringing on a fundamental right by alienating “a natural born citizen”.
“To put it brusquely”, Sonnie says, “this law could be described as divisive. Were the proposition to the dual citizenship clause (Article 28) of the 1986 constitution to be passed, it will be a convivial law for many Liberians at home and especially in the diaspora communities around the world; a campaign that has been ongoing for a few years now.”
Sonnie too have issues with the limitations on jobs for Diaspora Liberians returning to the land of their birth. “The limitations on this dual citizenship proposition where “a natural born citizen” shall not qualify for elected position and certain positions (Chief Justice and Association Justice, Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Heads of Autonomous Commissions, Agencies and Non-Academic/Research/Scientific Institutions and Ambassadors) seems an emasculation of the very fundamental right given to these “Natural Born Citizen”.
Liberians in Europe Frowns on Conditional Amendment
The Senate proposition is a welcoming gesture in an effort to get natural-born Liberians (citizens)! and their dependents an opportunity to reclaim their inalienable rights. Although it’s welcoming, the Senate has seemingly made their proposed bill “conditional”. Conditional in the sense of the limitations of qualified Liberians not being able to hold high positions in state-run entities.– Holland Mayango Arku, President, European Federation of Liberian Associations, EFLA
Sonnie laments: “It make to coherent sagacity, to limit the right of a citizen especially a proposition that give them full rights as citizen of a country. We cannot help but to see this an effort to mute a campaign in terms of the citizen but still maintain the divisive nation of the very Article 28 of the 1986 constitution of the Republic of Liberia that have been deemed ancient and outlandish. This is not in the interest of “Liberia on a united and progressive front; which need to be revisited.”
Holland Mayango Arku, President, European Federation of Liberian Associations, EFLA
Says while the attention to the issue is welcome the limitation raises eyebrows. “The Senate proposition is a welcoming gesture in an effort to get natural-born Liberians (citizens)! and their dependents an opportunity to reclaim their inalienable rights. Although it’s welcoming, the Senate has seemingly made their proposed bill “conditional”. Conditional in the sense of the limitations of qualified Liberians not being able to hold high positions in state-run entities.”
Few on Continent Allow Dual Citizenship
The dual citizenship debate is becoming a topical issue in most African countries. As of 2019, Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and South Africa were the only countries that allow dual citizenship. Botswana, Mauritius and Zimbabwe have outright rejection policies while Liberia is proposing a conditional acceptance.
Across the continent, several countries have rejected it including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Ethiopia, where authorities and some citizens fear people with two citizenships, mostly tied to jobs and insecurities.
A report in the German online, DW Akademie suggests that a number of African heads of state and high-ranking politicians who have dual citizenship themselves or roots in another country. “Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is a citizen of Somalia and the United States. Liberia’s former head of state Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has German and Liberian roots. Moise Katumbi, a leading DRC opposition politician, was an Italian citizen for 17 years. For this reason, he was banned from running in the 2018 presidential election.”
While the DRC does not recognize dual citizenship, the report notes, an exception is made for children born abroad. “They are allowed to keep both nationalities until they come of age at 21. Then they have a year to renounce one of their citizenships. An Ethiopian law of 1930 stipulates that Ethiopians acquiring another nationality will cease to be Ethiopians. Foreigners who want to become Ethiopians need to prove that they’ve already renounced or are able to renounce their original citizenship.”
According to the report, Tanzania does not allow dual citizenship but in 2007, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe presented a report which recommended an amendment to this law. But the government argued that such a change represented a threat to peace, security and the Tanzanian population’s livelihood.
In Liberia, Article 91 of the Constitution states: “This Constitution may be amended whenever a proposal by either (1), two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature or (2), a petition submitted to the Legislature, by not fewer than 10,000 citizens, which receives the concurrence of two thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature, is ratified by two-thirds of the registered voters, voting in a referendum conducted by the Elections Commission not sooner than one year after the action of the Legislature.”
The dual citizenship clause (Article 28), is labeled Proposition 1; while the reduction of the tenure of President, Vice President and members of the Legislature (Articles 46, 47, 48, 49 & 50) is Proposition 2; and the date of elections (Article 83(a), and (c), Proposition 3.
Democratic Process of Voting
The laws of Liberia provide that only Liberian citizens can own real property in the country, and the current 1973 Alien and Nationality Law as amended in 1974 through the Fourth Regular Session of the 44th Legislature strips natural born Liberians of their citizenship for assuming additional citizenship. This imposes legal restrictions on many Liberians by birth, who fled abroad due to wars and conflicts from investing in the country as they cannot own or inherit real property. It also stifles the participation of Diaspora Liberians in the re-construction and economic recovery of the land of our nativity. In addition, laws in Liberia do not allow Liberian women to pass on her citizenship to their children.
The proposition requires that both houses have to pass on the proposition and must be approved by the President.
As the debate intensifies, many in Diaspora feel the proposition is an attempt to marginalize and resent Liberians in the Diaspora. Mr. John Lloyd, Chairman John F. Lloyd, National Chairman, Coalition of Concern Liberians (CCL) says while he recognizes the recent legislative initiative as an effort by our legislators to reflect the current position of our fellow Liberians on the grounds, lawmakers should be careful not to fault Diaspora Liberians. “However, the fact cannot be ignored that the litany of restrictions and conditions contained within the legislation sends a sad message of an abiding resentment even in the wake of massive brain drain directly related to our years of civil crisis. It spells a challenge ahead to mend the fences and reunite our people.
Emmanuel Wettee, another former President of ULAA and currently head of the Diaspora Dual Citizenship Conference set up by various Liberian Diaspora organizations says the restoring of Liberian citizenship to diaspora Liberians who have dual citizenship by Liberian Senate provides the democratic process of voting, the right to land ownership and right for a woman to pass on her citizenship to her child.
On social media, the debate is even more, intense and many are already drawing comparison to South Africa’s xenophobia attacks, describing the Senate amendment as a “complete trash”. “It sets so much limitations on us and they don’t even realize how bad it will stall our growth as a country, laments Jenneh Kamara.
Brotha Titus adds: “All I see here is fear! A strategy to control the minds of already ignorant local Liberians(most) against those of the Diaspora.
Kamara suggests a referendum vote as the way forward. “I think they should’ve allowed the public to vote this in the 2023 election. Voters are not educated on dual citizenship and the positive impact it has. It’s our duty to educate them about what dual citizenship could mean for Liberia.”
I recognize the recent legislative initiative as an effort by our legislators to reflect the current position of our fellow Liberians on the grounds. We should be careful not to fault them for that. However, the fact cannot be ignored that the litany of restrictions and conditions contained within the legislation sends a sad message of an abiding resentment even in the wake of massive brain drain directly related to our years of civil crisis.
– Mr. John Lloyd, Chairman John F. Lloyd, National Chairman, Coalition of Concern Liberians (CCL)
Senator Abraham Darius Dillon(Liberty Party, Montserrado County), who has come under fire for putting his signature to the bill says he has no remorse for signing an amendment with the restrictions now sparking debate. “Again, I wish to state, as a reminder that during and after the senatorial election that brought me to the Senate, I publicly committed to signing and voting for Dual Citizenship for Liberian born, but with some restrictions. I have not veered from said commitment. In keeping with said commitment, I voted for and signed the proposition allowing Dual Citizenship for Liberian born, but with certain restrictions on elective offices and appointed government positions of influence in the best interest of national security.”
Corkrum Saga Fuels Ire
The dual citizenship debate has long been a lightning rod for strains between Diaspora-based Liberians and those at home, particularly over jobs, with most locals fearing those who fled during the civil war or residing in foreign lands return home to take jobs away from them. This has been even more complicated by recent scandals involving some Liberians linked to corruption investigations, after returning home to work in government.
The most prominent involving the case of Ellen Corkrum, the former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority. The Government alleges that she illegally procured the transfer of US$US$269,000.00 of public funds to a fictitious company, Diaspora Consulting, LLC (Diaspora), and to its CEO, Mr. Momar Dieng, her friend from the Kennedy School, Harvard University, for work that he and his company did not perform. Ms. Corkrum also authorized the illegal transfer of US$56,750 of LAA funds to her romantic partner Melvin Johnson, and his firm Melvin Johnson and Associates (a law firm in the State of Georgia, United States of America) allegedly for services rendered in connection with the security system at Roberts International Airport (RIA), which services were neither perform by Johnson or his firm.
The transfer was carried out by First International Bank (“FIB”) through its then-Head of Operations Mr. Jeremi Tegli) and another officer (Mr. Justin Ogugua), at Ms. Corkrum’s behest, despite the fact that the application for transfer did not contain the requisite authorizing signatures.
After months of legal wrangle, the ECOWAS Court of justice in May this year, ruled dismissing Ms. Cockrum’s suit filed against the Government of Liberia on September 22, 2016. The ECOWAS court ruled that the acts complained of by Ms. Corkrum against the Government of Liberia did not amount to the violation of her human rights. The Court ruled that if Ms. Cocrkum wanted to ensure that her case was tried, she should return to Liberia and submit herself to the court’s jurisdiction because the Government of Liberia cannot not try her in absentia.
A Painful Dilemma for Many
Jobs aside, some Diaspora-based Liberians see a double-standard for advocates against the dual citizenship, who are ignoring the impact the civil war had on Liberians who fled the conflict to seek refugee in foreign lands.
Mr. Ijoma Robert Fleiminster, who was a member of both the 47th and 48th Legislature and former emissary to late Interim President Ruth Perry, Chair of the Council of State, ponders where do Liberians want to draw the line. “I beg to inquire the following: How is it that I have travelled the world, active in high professional public and private pursuits in several countries of which I have acquired significant real and personal property; engaged in high level political activity in several jurisdictions; and, enjoyed the approbations and dignities of all such jurisdictions – yet all the while solely – ONLY – on my Liberian passport and Liberian citizenship? I have never relinquished my Liberian citizenship from the day I was born.”
Fleminster says while he appreciates the comment “…flexibility it gives the beneficent to avail of the opportunities to citizens of the countries in which he holds citizenship…”… But… Was I not also affected by Liberia’s various civil conflicts? Was I not also a political prisoner of Liberian governments – TWICE? Have I not also had real estate properties destroyed or occupied in Barnersville, Congotown, and Gbatala?”
Adds Mr. Fleminster: If I have lived as a pure Liberian regardless of place or country of residency… I am sure any other Liberian may also do so.”