Historically, Liberia is a country of dual citizens, with the exception of the original tribes, who became citizens in January 4, 1904 based on President Arthur Barclay’s Native Plan. According to the Plan, original inhabitants of the land had to apply for citizenship on the following grounds: “The willingness of applicants to qualify for Liberian citizen by adopting the Christian faith, Western living conditions, and Western standards of conduct, dress, and general appearance. An African, in effect, would have to detach himself from his own customs by completely accepting the Americo-Liberian set of values. Citizenship and voting rights might then follow” (Yekutiel Gershoni, Black Colonialism: The Americo-Liberian Scramble for the Hinterland, 1985, pp. 37-38).
The Diaspora Dual Citizenship Bill is similar to Apartheid South Africa Segregation Policy
President Arthur Barclay who established the ‘Native Plan’ parents were immigrants from the West Indies. The fourteenth President of Liberia, Arthur Barclay was born on July 31, 1854 in Bridgetown, Barbados to Anthony Barclay and Sara Ann Bourne Barclay. The Barclays immigrated with their ten children to Liberia in 1865 while Arthur was then eleven years old.
The Good Guy Role
Senator Varney G. Sherman gave Liberians in the Diaspora hope with his double messaging – saying one thing and meaning totally different thing. For example, during the kicked off the debate on the Act which called for Amendment in the Alien and Nationality Law, and Dual Citizenship, Senator Sherman, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, described the laws as “inhumane, cruel and is contrary to the new terms of nationality concepts and practices.”
He added: “…most Liberians, who have taken United States citizenship, did not do so out of hatred for their motherland, Liberia, but due to circumstances that were beyond the reach of some.” These are his words!
He explained further, “due to the country’s civil war, many people, including youth migrated to other countries in search
of peace, security, economic opportunities, and some had to obtain the citizenship of these countries in order to fully enjoy the peace, security and economic opportunities for which they fled Liberia.
“For example, if you are a citizen of the United States and you are a resident of a state, to enter a university, especially a university of that State, the fee is 75 percent to 80 percent less than the person who is not an official resident or citizen. So some of these young people assumed dual citizenship, because that was the only way to go to school since they could not afford the high fees as non-citizen,” Sen. Sherman said.
“Why should we punish them by the law of the Liberian citizenship, which I submit is inhumane, cruel and is contrary to the new terms and nationality concepts and practices, because our Constitution says that no law should be made which is inhumane, which is cruel. I don’t think we are treating these people, our fellow citizens some of whom are our children fairly,” Sen. Sherman argued.
Sen. Varney G. Sherman who Proposed the Bill
According to the Senator, it is “the generally accepted practice, which is done in almost all of West African countries, except Liberia. Research has shown that dual citizenship enhances social harmony, and stimulates economic development through the participation of the dual citizen in the economy of the lesser developed country whose citizenship he or she holds.”
Based on Senator Sherman’s earlier arguments, I agreed when he said, “…Liberia should nullify these laws against dual citizenship and assume the modern term by giving dual citizenship to Liberians.”
But now, I disagreed with the limitation he placed on Diaspora Dual Citizens; especially, for NOT to be eligible to hold the office of the President, Vice President, Chief Justice, Speaker, Senate Pro Tempore, Minister of Justice, Minister of Finance & Development Planning, among others.
The Diaspora Liberians Dual Citizenship proposal submitted by Senator Varney G. Sherman failed miserably to take into consideration Liberia’s history of immigration; instead, he proposed an Apartheid style Dual Citizenship for Diaspora Liberians.
Senator Sherman’s Dual Citizenship proposal is disingenuous, at best – “tautology” and can be described as Apartheid or ‘taxation without representation’. In other words, Liberians in the Diaspora can become dual citizens but cannot enjoy full rights and privileges accorded citizens in the country of their birth; even if they are the most qualified! Such citizenship reminds me of Montgomery, Alabama, where African-Americans were allowed to ride public transportation, but must sit in certain area – the back of the bus, even when there are empty seats in the front.
Liberian Citizenship is our birth rights; therefore, the Liberian Legislature cannot deny us these rights because they feared us. We were born Liberians, therefore, we are prepared to see to its restoration.
We take our strengths from the profound statement made by Tony Lawrence:
Too many people are only willing to defend rights that are personally important to them. It’s selfish ignorance, and it’s exactly why totalitarian governments are able to get away with trampling on people. Freedom does not mean freedom just for the things I think I should be able to do. Freedom is for all of us. If people will not speak up for other people’s rights, there will come a day when they will lose their own.
In support of Lawrence’s statement, another unknown author wrote: “There are three kinds of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened".
We in the Diaspora fall in the first category – we make things happen. It has been our position in this journey of life.
The October 2, 2019 edition of the African Star reads, “… Critics say the bill went too far in imposing harsh restrictions on dual citizens, who are mostly in the Diaspora, from participating and directing the political affairs of their country.
“Vice President Jewel Taylor said during a press conference from her office inferred that the country cannot trust dual citizens who hold loyalty in other countries to occupy key positions in the Liberian government. She provided an example in which she indicated that dual citizens who are Americans will leave Liberia each year to file their taxes in the United States.”
I find it difficult how any Diaspora organization will accept Senator Sherman’s Apartheid Bill. Why would anyone accept a bill that makes dual citizens ineligible to occupy the positions of President, Vice President, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Pro-Tempore of the Senate, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Justice, Deputy Minister of Justice, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Minister of Finance, Deputy Minister of Finance, head and deputy head of autonomous commissions and agencies as well as Executive Governor and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia?
However, Mr. Emmanuel S. Wettee, Chairman of the Conference for Dual Citizenship told the African Star on Sunday, September 1, 2019 that he welcomes the bill because it represents an important start. He explained that his Conference of Liberians for Dual Citizenship feels that they have worked hard to reach this point. He stressed that those who disagree with the current bill should start their advocacy. What an insult!
But, Mr. Toto, former National Chairman of ULAA, told the African Star on Sunday, September 1, 2019 that the bill went too far with the limitations it imposed on dual citizens. He added that the new bill is designed to protect the interests of the Liberian legislators who view Diaspora Liberians as a threat to their power. Mr. Toto stressed that when the Legislature passed the bill and the President signs it in its current form, “We will campaign to have the dual citizenship amendment defeated in a referendum”.
According to the African Star, Mr. Dahn Dennis, president of the United Nimba Citizen Council (UNICCO) asserted that “the bill is ‘worthless’ and does not measure to a good work product to unite the Diaspora community to support Liberia’s recovery. …the bill is discriminatory and seeks to further divide Liberians who are supposed to rally their efforts to improve the living standards of the Liberian people. …it is unfortunate for our country to deny its citizens participation in the governance of their country”.
Proponents of dual citizenship contend that the automatic loss of citizenship violates due process rights as provided for by the 1985 Liberian Constitution and negates the factors that created the Diaspora Liberian population. The dual citizenship arguments reached the Supreme Court of Liberia. In the case: Alvin Teage Jalloh Versus Government of Liberia, Jalloh a dual citizen, who was born in Liberia and acquired U.S. citizenship, filed a petition with the West African nation’s Supreme Court to declare Chapter 22 Sections 22.1 and 22.2, Loss of Citizenship, of the 1974 Alien and Nationality Laws of Liberia unconstitutional.
Jalloh argued that Chapter IV, Article 28 of the 1985 Constitution of Liberia indicates that “no citizen of the Republic (of Liberia) 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”.
This writer applaud Attorney Alvin Teage Jalloh for his tirelessly advocacy on behalf of Diaspora Liberians.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding father of American reminds us that “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Unrestricted Dual Citizenship for Diaspora Liberians is good
For example, 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).
In addition, 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.
These statistics demonstrate and show that Liberia as a nation has benefited economically from its nationals in the Diaspora.
The August 11, 2019 edition of Globe Afrique states, “There are several individuals in several governments in Africa that hold U.S. nationality while serving in the legislature and policy-oriented appointed positions. Countries, where many of such individuals are found, include but limited to Nigeria, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Ghana, the Gambia, Zimbabwe, Benin, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon.
In a strongly worded reaction to Senator Varney G. Sherman’s Dual Citizen Bill, Cllr. Frederick A. B. Jayweh, International Affairs Director of the US-based Africa Center for Law and Human Rights wrote that the Bill bars native born Liberians from holding the posts of President, Vice President, Chief Justice, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Minister of Justice & Attorney General, R.L, and President Pro-Tempore, among other provisions of his Bill now before the Senate, is totally repugnant and patently un-constitutional and unlawful at best… the Bill is suspect and when enacted into law and signed by the President of Liberia, his organization will immediately and forthwith challenge the bill in the Supreme Court of Liberia for “being wicked, immoral, unconstitutional and violation of human and peoples’ rights.”
There is a Zulu proverb that says, Kushayw'edonsayo; meaning, when farmers plough the fields, usually using four or six oxen, they choose a lead cow. The lead cow is in the front so she can make sure that the rest follow her and that everything is done just right. The farmers watch her the most, and if anything goes wrong, she, and not so much the rest, always gets the whipping. Among many traditional African societies the ideals of mutuality and reciprocity were important aspects that shaped the daily social relations among them.
In all human societies it is rare not to have social tensions. There were occasions when mistrust among members of a group or society emerged. The Zulu Proverb – Kushayw'edonsayo is intended to underscore the relations among people under circumstances of mistrust that later creates social tensions. This proverb is used to capture the early symptoms of a potential conflict when all norms regulating social behavior are thrown out of the window and the ideals of mutuality and coexistence ignored. The proverb thus serves to show how adversaries create disharmony and tensions among individuals seeking to achieve the same ultimate results for their people.
The Kushayw'edonsayo proverb serves as hint to the wise; because when push comes to shove, the so-called advisors of President Weah who are against Dual Citizenship for Diaspora Liberians will desert him to save their own necks; because he is the leaders, ALL of the blame will fall on his shoulders. Therefore, President Weah should be wise and learn from the observation made by Mr. Kusi Boafo, head of Public Sector Reforms in Ghana on his recent visit to Rwanda.
According to Mr. Boafo:
I admit that as a Public sector boss from Ghana, I drive a better car than their finance minister. They’ve more ambulances than we have. Ambulances even placed in farms. There’s so much serenity in the country. I saw a Methodist Church in a village shut down because the building looked weak. The church was told to put it in good shape before they can get a permit to reopen. They don’t want to wait for it to collapse before they blame God. A minister told me that in 2008, Kagame gave loans to an equal number of men & women to do business. They’d account after 5yrs & the women had increased their profit in folds but most of the men didn’t survive. This explains why women receive 10% higher salaries in Rwanda than men.
Rwanda is a country that had one of the worse civil wars – genocide to be exact. Another observation that Mr. Boafo made that I feel those against granting full Dual Citizenship rights to Diaspora Liberians are missing:
“…Saw a lot of big plantations like coffee, tea and others. To my amazement, there were ambulances following farmers to the plantations in case there’s an injury. These small villages had hospitals with very young efficient working medics. I was in awe. I was stunned to learn that their minister of Public Sector Reforms schooled at the Univ of Ghana Biz Sch. A lot of them actually school in Ghana. Their free Education ends at the Junior High School Level. The Sec Schools are only subsidized. I was there with a 7 member delegation. We stepped out to find food. In fact, there was no seller on the streets and everything was in order…”
When President Paul Kagame was asked why he hasn’t selected a successor; his response to the question was: “The person who will succeed me will have to earn it.” President Kagame’s leadership example should be emulated by all African leaders, especially, Liberia where the Country, Congor divide is so divisive; despite its ugly history. I won’t mind if the next president of Liberia is either Congor or Country – as much as the person is patriotic and sincere; and we the citizens are honest to talk and write about our ugly history which will serve as reminder that it will NOT be repeated!
To some degree, I sympathized with those who since 2001 began advocating for the passage of Liberians in the Diaspora Dual Citizenship Bill for them and their children. I commend Attorney Alvin Teage Jalloh of the Conference of Liberians for Dual Citizenship in the U.S. and Europe of which Mr. Immanuel S. Wettee now chaired. Also, the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), the umbrella organization of Liberians in the Americas deserves credit for its undaunted support for Liberians in the Diaspora.
Moreover, the Conference of Liberians for Dual Citizenship in the U.S. and Europe has worked tirelessly on the Dual Citizenship Bill to become a reality – to appeal to the All-Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship (ALCOD) to come up with a resolution at its December 6 – 7, 2019 conference in Silver Spring, Maryland. The resolution should ask President George Manneh Weah to support the Diaspora Dual Citizenship Bill. Because the conditions attached to the approved Diaspora Dual Citizenship Bill disenfranchised us.
Many of us disagreed with individuals in the Liberian Diaspora who feel “It is something to hold unto, for now” (the Sherman Bill). This justification reminds me of a story about a slave named Toby and his master, Charlie.
Toby had been Master Charlie’s slave since he was a boy; but when he became of age – a young man, he decided to obtain his freedom. So, he planned to ask his Master to grant him his freedom. One evening after he had done his work; he said to his Master: “Master Charlie, having I been a good boy?” The Master
responded, “Oh yes Toby, you been very obedient; not like our neighbors’ slaves. Why are you asking me this question?”
To which, Toby said, “Master, I want my freedom!” Master Charlie wasn’t expecting such answer; he was shocked! His response to Toby was, “Boy, give me some time for me and my family to think over it.”
The ‘Freedom through Gradualism’ proposed by Master Charlie and his family caused big palava in Toby’s family. Toby and Ma Jamima, his wife agreed to the conditions. They said to their children, “Some freedom is better than no freedom. In fact, on those two (2) days, Saturday and Sunday, ‘we free’ to rest, and on Sunday, all of we will attend Pastor Leroy’s First Baptist Heavenly Bound Church (FBHBC)”. But their children were not only opposed to the freedom on conditions; they were in opposition to attending Pastor Leroy’s all day church service.
As Liberians, we must speak the truth even if it hurts the people we care about and admire. We must be united and speak with one voice as we fight for our birth rights as citizens of Liberia. We refuse to accept Second Class Citizenship in the country of our birth.
In short, I am reminded of the profound statement made by Ahmed Sekou Toure, the late President of the Republic of Guinean: “I don’t know what people mean when they call me the bad child of Africa. Is it that they consider us unbending in the fight against imperialism, against colonialism? If so, we can be proud to be called headstrong. Our wish is to remain a child of Africa until death,”
Gwei feh kpeh! (The struggle continues)
About The Author: Elder Siahyonkron J. K. Nyanseor, Sr. is a life-long activist (*Troublemaker) in researching the true history of Africa, the people of African origin in the Diaspora. He had dedicated his teaching of African culture; spent over 50 years advocating for human, civil, and constitutional rights of all people, especially the Liberian masses. He is a Griot, poet, journalist, and an ordained Minister of the Gospel. To keep TEH’S legacy and memory ALIVE, in 2012, Mr. Nyanseor joined other writers and became BLOJU TARTY TEH’S SCHOLAR. BLOJU TEH is the late Liberian Literary Genius, Writer, Storyteller, Human, Civil and Constitutional Rights Activist. Nyanseor can be reached at: [email protected]