The African Star, (an African on online news organ), reported that on July 9, 2019, in the “wake of Liberia’s crippling economic situation, where the country’s Finance Minister Samuel Tweah is apparently hoping that remittances from the Diaspora will salvage Liberia’s failing economy. Minister Tweah asserted recently that all remittances to individuals in Liberia, through Western Union, MoneyGram and other foreign transfer agencies, be paid to recipients in Liberian dollars” (https://www.africanstar.org/liberia-new-government-policy-targets-diaspora).
In my previous articles, I pointed out that there exist a prevailing perception among Liberians, that when a Liberian becomes a naturalized US citizen, the individual loses his Liberian citizenship. This point of view is indeed incorrect. According to Bella Consultants, naturalized US citizens are not legally obligated to give up their citizenship of their country. The United States has never ordered newly naturalized citizens to formally renounce their original citizenship. Legally, there is nothing in the Constitution and none from the United States Supreme Court preventing the United States (via the State Department) from requiring all naturalized citizens to officially renounce their citizenship to their native country as a condition for naturalization.
And now, the money gifted from the diaspora to their families, the government wants to convert their US Dollars to the local Liberian dollars?
The best action is the immediate passage of the Liberia Dual Citizenship Bill. The heading of this article is an idiom which means that you cannot escape the consequences and repercussions of evil deeds that you have done to other people. The bill for the passage of dual citizenship has been around for some time now and, the members of the Liberian Legislature continue to undermine its passage. As Liberians, we need each other.
The Importance of the Diaspora
In today’s global economy, developing countries like Liberia and others in Africa must endeavor to engage their nationals in the diaspora to help with economic developments. Other countries like Israel, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, etc., have realized the importance of the diaspora’s economic role in fostering national development through its annual remittances and project oriented initiatives. Individuals in the diaspora, who enjoyed dual nationality, have become a blessing to their respective countries of origin.
The diaspora has become gold mines for most developing countries. Most countries are encouraging their nationals residing in developed countries to obtain naturalized status of their host countries.
‘The Economist,’ in its November 2011 issue, published an article, ‘The Magic of Diasporas’ outlined how migrant business networks are changing the world, especially in developing countries.
According to USAID report “many of Liberia’s educated elite either fled or were killed during the civil war. The educational system was demolished, and the country lost a generation in which to educate and train its citizens to make productive contributions to development progress. Government, the private sector, civil society and international partners still are desperately short of qualified local talent. The existing, small cadre of highly qualified and motivated leaders struggles to have policies and decisions carried out by a low‐paid workforce that often lacks basic literacy, numeracy and other critical work skills”. To be frank, Liberians with dual nationalities are seemingly, Liberia’s best hope when it comes to economic development (http: www.usaid.gov/).
The World Bank’s report of 2012, relevant to global remittances, pointed out that Liberians in the Diaspora out-beat per GDP other Africans living abroad by “remitting $378 million in 2012, an increase of $18 million from 2011 remittance of $360 million, a more than 31% of global remittances and third of Liberia’s GDP in 2012” (The New dispensation, 6 February 2013).
The USD Explorer also provided its statistical information relevant to the remittances received by Liberia during the period of 2011 through 2015. Liberia accordingly, received $360 million in 2011, $516 million in 2012, $383 million in 2013, $495 million in 2014, and $693 million in 2015 as remittances from other countries (here). These statistics demonstrate and show that Liberia as a nation has benefited economically from its nationals in the diaspora; and this includes Liberians with dual nationality status.
If Liberia failed to accommodate her overseas nationals with dual nationality status, a generation from now, Liberia’s enormous potential will remain unfulfilled, and our beloved nation within the West African sub-region will remain a place where the few thrive in wealth and the many struggle
Let me reflect the following attributes, relevant to China and India as they relate to their engagements with their nationals residing in the diaspora.
Economist Devesh Kapur explored “the reasons that China and India historically differed so strongly in the nature of their respective Diasporas’ economic engagement. Chinese direct investment was twenty times the volume of India’s whereas, Indian remittances were seven times the Chinese in the 1990s. Kapur outlined each of the following:
First: “The Indian diaspora was largely professional while the Chinese diaspora was more entrepreneurial. Hence although the former was well off in the aggregate (for instance it is one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the U.S.), it did not have substantial numbers of high net worth individuals who would serve as potential investors.”
Second: “India was hostile to foreign investment until the early 1990s while China opened up a decade earlier.”
Third: “China, unlike India, did not have a strong capitalist class when it opened up – and hence faced little domestic opposition to incentives granted to diasporic (sic) investors.”
Finally: “local governments have played a much more proactive role in China relative to India, although this is changing in the latter. The involvement of Diaspora Indians in the software boom of the late 1990s has altered this equation to some extent. At least in this sector, Indian-born and Indian-origin entrepreneurs, in the United States particularly, acquired the capital and business connections to play an important role in foreign direct investment and technology transfer” (www.migrationinformation.org).
Liberian diaspora forming partnerships
Perhaps Liberians in the diaspora, need to join partnership with the initiatives of AFFORD, the African Foundation for Development. Accordingly, this organization started by African expats (short for expatriate) in the UK to broaden the diaspora’s contribution to African development. Liberians in the diaspora could also explore the activities of an organization called International Entrepreneurship, (Intent). This is a Dutch nongovernmental organization which for over twelve years, has assisted expats in Holland to start business in their respective countries of origin. The NGO is ‘continually expanding its activities, which began in countries from which sizeable populations in the Netherlands that emigrated from countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia, Morocco, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone and others’ (International Entrepreneurship Intent).
Liberians on the ground, need to perceive the Liberian Diaspora as a national asset not as an adversary. The engagement of citizens in the diaspora is certainly not a new phenomenon. Countries such as Israel, India, Ireland and China are constructively engaged and have led the field of reaching out to their nationals in the diaspora.
What is new, however, is the number of countries who are now realizing they have exciting possibilities if they can engage their overseas populations in innovative and creative ways. Few years ago, countries like Uganda, Indonesia and Vietnam have taken initiatives in this field.
Liberians in the diaspora need to also shy away from job seeking initiatives in the Liberian government and form business partnerships. While the Liberian government needs to harness the entrepreneurial drive of diaspora communities, especially those in the United States and the UK.
As I reflected in one of my articles in the Daily Observer, “Liberians in the Diaspora have the necessary academic and professional preparations, to help Liberia solve her problem of brain drain.” The Government of Liberia needs to encourage all its nationals to return home. Closing the doors on others, due to their dual citizenship status is not in the best interest of the socio-economic development of the nation. Other countries in Africa, Ghana for example, are increasingly engaged in strategies and programs to reverse the brain drain to retain skilled professionals at home. Perhaps, Liberia’s lawmakers need to understand and emulate the wisdom of Ghana, Nigeria and other countries within the sub-region and encourage dual citizenship participations at all levels of the Liberian Government (https://www.liberianobserver.com/opinion/have-liberians-with-dual-citizen become-de-facto-second-class-citizens-in-their-own-country-of-birth/).
The Liberian government should now be endeavoring to identify and connect with highly skilled Liberian individuals in the diaspora and link them to national economic development projects. And if there are laws that might have the propensity to discourage investments from the diaspora, repeal such laws if they already exist.
Those in the diaspora, also must realize that criticizing the actions of government all the time is wrong and it is not in the best interest of the nation. The diaspora must also positively conduct a constructive engagement with government; must get involved with the affairs (not just politics) of our countries of origin. It is their duty and right to be part of it. Just because they are not living in the country, does not mean they should gave up their rights to it.
Sometimes people in power may feel threatened with the involvement by the diaspora, but their insecurity or whatever reasons they may have, have nothing to do with those in the diaspora. A true patriot, should not feel intimidated, but rather, encourage and welcome such engagement. As explained above, such engagement, is in the best interest of Africa. Just analyze the case of Israel, perhaps the best example of it. The powerful lobbies continue to promote the interest of Israel all over the world. All those residing in the diaspora, are encouraged to invest and participate in the socio-economic and political participations of Israel.
It is disturbing when some Liberians on the ground (in Liberia), perceived their fellow brothers and sisters residing in the diaspora as foreigners, ignoring the fact, that these so-called foreigners, continue to send thousands upon thousands of US dollars to their relatives through remittances annually. It should not and it is not, a burden to accept or encourage the participation of people that left their homeland for whatever reasons. Liberia belongs to all Liberians, both those on the ground in Liberia and those residing in the diaspora.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of children born to Liberian nationals presently residing in the Diaspora. These children with their dual nationalities and exposures could help Liberia to navigate her destiny through the twenty-first century. Democracy indeed, is built on informed citizen participation, especially those who have lived and practiced it in developed countries. The ideal of democracy is meaningful participation of an engaged and informed citizenry.
Leopold Senghor of Senegal was correct when he said: “To build a nation, to create a new civilization which can lay claim to existence because its humane, we shall try to employ not only enlightened reason but also dynamic imagination.”
Indeed, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and others in government, have realized that Liberians in the Diaspora are undoubtedly the final frontier of hope for Liberia’s economic recovery and development.
Mr. Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor is an Educator & an Author. He can be contacted at: [email protected].
He is also on Twitter and one of the administrators of The African Intellectual Forum on Facebook.