Proposition One: All Liberian Diaspora Conference Debates Dual Citizenship Dilemma
Washington – Holding back tears, Rev. J. Edwin Lloyd reminisced about the genesis of Diaspora Liberians quest for dual citizenship. An effort initiated by the late J. Hudu Manston, a former Senator from Maryland County, the ailing Rev. J.K. Leevee Moulton and himself, is now swirling in controversy, drawing a wedge between Liberians at home and those residing in exile.
“Hudu is no longer here with us, and Rev. Moulton is ailing, but I’m standing,” Rev. Lloyd lamented Saturday, at a two-day All Liberian Diaspora Conference, held at the St. Andrews Ukrainian Orthodox Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The conference brought together dozens of Diaspora, international organizations, Local, and state officials, recognized Liberian experts, and notable friends of Liberia, joined by representatives of U.S. government, and international agencies in a bid to unite the Liberian Diaspora on major issues affecting Liberia.
National Referendum Hold Key
“There is perceived an arrogance displayed by some compatriots who have lived in advanced societies where others have built for themselves, exemplary democratic governance, good physical infrastructure, and efficient health, education and utility systems. On the other hand, some resident Liberians also adopt an attitude that Diaspora Liberians not having lived in Liberia recently do not understand the dynamics of the society. Frequently, these perceptions and attitudes evolve without serious reflections or introspection. In both instances, these compatriots display an arrogance that displeases, indeed offends, each other.”Cllr. Seward Cooper, Speaker, All Liberian Diaspora Conference
The summit is a joint venture sponsored by the leading umbrella Liberian Diaspora organizations representing the various regions of the world including the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), The European Federation of Liberian Associations (EFLA), The Federation of Liberian Communities in Australia (FOLICA), Conference of Liberian Organizations in the South Western United States (COLOSUS), the United Liberian Association Ghana (ULAG), and the Coalition of Concerned Liberians (CCL). The major Liberian Diaspora organizations are united under the aegis of the All-Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship (ALCOD), representing over 500,000 Liberians in the Diaspora.
Lloyd, Manston and Moulton were the driving force behind the push that would allow Liberians who fled the civil war to hold the adopted nationalities, along with that of the land of their birth.
The Clergyman and his peers exerted their personal resources and travel to push the issue in the national legislature. Sadly, he says, previous efforts had fallen on deaf ears.
Light appeared to be at the end of the tunnel, when in October, both houses of the national legislature approved an amendment to Article 28 of the 1986 Constitution, a dual citizenship proposition dubbed Proposition One, which has been endorsed by the All-Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship, comprising of The Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA).
The sticking point of Proposition One has been what some see as discrimination against those in the Diaspora trying to gain dual citizenship.
The Senate version of the proposition bars a natural-born citizen of Liberia from holding the citizenship of another country. However, it does state that the person 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.
The Senate version also 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.
The next major hurdle for the proposition could come next year when a national referendum will decide the fate of Diaspora Liberians.
In October, the government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that pursuant to a Joint Resolution of the 54th Legislature, it was proposing a Constitutional Referendum to Amendment several articles of the constitution, including the citizenship issue.
What the Vote Could Mean
According to the Official Gazette of the government: A yes vote on the measure means: “You have agreed that a person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a natural-born citizen of Liberia. Such person does not have to reach the age of maturity to decide his/her citizenship. Also, you have agreed that a natural born citizen of Liberia may hold another citizenship but shall not qualify for elected national positions or public service positions listed in the amended proposition.”
A no vote on the measure means, “the constitutional provision shall not change but will remain in its current form.”
Cllr. Seward Cooper, a strong advocate for dual citizenship, leading the argument before the Supreme Court of Liberia, at the Diaspora Conference in Silver Spring Maryland, Saturday, raised concerns that the law as is, does not offer anything relating to naturalized citizens.
Cllr. Cooper, who served as legal advisor to former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, drew parallels of division on the issue that is widening the divide between Liberians at home and abroad.
Widening Wedge, Arrogance on Display
“There is perceived an arrogance displayed by some compatriots who have lived in advanced societies where others have built for themselves, exemplary democratic governance, good physical infrastructure, and efficient health, education and utility systems. On the other hand, some resident Liberians also adopt an attitude that Diaspora Liberians not having lived in Liberia recently do not understand the dynamics of the society. Frequently, these perceptions and attitudes evolve without serious reflections or introspections. In both instances, these compatriots display an arrogance that displeases, indeed offends, each other.”
Both Cllr. Cooper and current Justice Minister, Frank Musah Dean argued in a filing before the Supreme Court in its march Term 2010, on behalf of complainant Alvin Teage Jalloh regarding the constitutionality of Section 22.1 and 22.2 of the Aliens and Nationality Law, Title 4 of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised.
Jalloh, a natural-born Liberian had sought travel from the US to Liberia but was informed through the website of the Liberian embassy in Washington, DC and later by staff at the embassy that pursuant to the Aliens and Nationality Law, he and other Liberians who had obtained naturalization in the US needed to obtain a non-immigrant visa from the Liberian embassy before they could be permitted to enter Liberia.
Mr. Jalloh, according to Cooper, contends that Sections 22.2, which were enacted before the adoption of the 1986 Liberian Constitution, purports to automatically deprive Liberian citizens of their citizenship rights if they do certain things such as vote in the elections of a foreign country or join the military of another country. These, he contends were repealed by Article 95(a) of the 1986 Constitution as being inconsistent with the due process clause of Article 20(a).
The government argued that Mr. Jalloh, having admitted to being a naturalized citizen of the US lacked the capacity to challenge the constitutionality of Sections 22.2 of the Aliens and Nationality Law; that Sections 22.2 do not violate the constitution’s due process clause and that Article 28 of the 1986 constitution authorizes the Legislature to enact laws by which citizen of Liberia shall lose his/her citizenship.”
The Jalloh case which is still before the high court was heard by five justices – two of which are no longer on the bench. Justice Philip A.Z. Banks has retired and Associate Justice Kabineh J’aneh was removed. The three remaining justices Jamesetta Wolokollie, Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh and Chief Justice Francis Korkpor.
According to Cooper, several countries – Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana – specific government positions that are not available to dual citizens.
In the Electorates Hands
The legal expert said many countries have rules prohibiting those with dual citizenship or who are naturalized citizens rather than citizens from birth from holding senior public office on the grounds that the loyalty of such persons should not be divided. “In Ghana, dual citizens may not hold a set of listed senior positions; in Senegal and several other countries, they may not be president; and in Cote d’Ivoire, the constitution prohibits those who have even held another citizenship from becoming the President of the Republic or vice president, speaker or deputy speaker of parliament. Mozambique has a prohibition on naturalized citizens’ being deputies or members of the government or working in the diplomatic or military services. Around 20 countries impose delays of between three to ten years before naturalized citizens can hold office.”
Now he says, the Liberian electorate would have to decide on the provisions of the proposed Constitutional Amendment that bar dual citizens from holding certain governmental positions, unless they renounce the foreign citizenship. A paramount interest is to halt involuntary unconstitutional loss of citizenship, marshal human resources committed patriotically to Liberia and preserve links with our people whose direct or ancestral navel strings are tied to Liberia.”
Funding Referendum Potential Hurdle
As many turn their attention to the referendum, the issue of financing the referendum could also prove to be pivotal. The government, through Finance and Economic Planning Minister Samuel Tweah has already alarmed that it could be challenged to finance the 2020 senatorial by-elections, raising concerns that the referendum could also suffer similar fate.
Minister Tweah, appearing on state radio, ELBC, on Monday, November 4, said the Government will not use its already struggling payroll to fund elections as much as the election is important. “We need to find resources; we have balanced the payroll and want to pay regularly. We are not going to affect the payroll because of elections. We will not take civil servant pay to fund elections if that will mean I am no more Minister Finance so be it,” the minister said.
He added: “We will have elections but that means we will have to find the money to do that. We are working on a lot of ways for money to come in. If some of those monies come in, it will be used to fund elections. Elections funding is a major process. We could rephrase some of the budget line items so the money that should be going to agriculture in the budget will be affected.”
At least fifteen senators are expected to go for re-election in 2020 in keeping with Constitution.
Amid the hurdles, Michael Mueller, Vice Chairman of the Board of the European Federation of Liberian Associations and co-chairman of the All Liberian Conference for Dual Citizenship stressed the importance of the dual citizenship issue: “We must rethink our economy and all side effects of it but also understand that the real Dual-Citizenship putting in place will have a major impact on our economic development.”
The proposition is not without its detractors. Mr. Amara Kamara wondered why many Diaspora Liberians are championing what he termed as a compromised referendum by settling for a proposal designed to carry out the most discriminatory law on the books in Liberia. “Not only that, it also provides the government, the legal right to do the wrongs designed and set forth in Article 22.1 of the constitution 45 years ago. The citizenship is so inalienable that it shouldn’t be lost if you truly intend to lose it.”