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A perspective on the prospect of dual citizenship law in Liberia

By Cecil Franweah Frank


In recent time, the issue of dual citizenship has captivated Liberians living in the diaspora, particularly in the United States and some parts of Western Europe.

The draft of a dual citizenship bill was introduced in the National Legislature under the sponsorship of Senators Sumo Kupee (Lofa County), Cletus Wotorson (Grand Kru County), Jewel Howard-Tyalor (Bong County), and Abel Massaley (Grand Cape Mount County).

This bill has received the over-ringing endorsement of many Liberians in the Diaspora, who have in turn started a campaign to press for the passage of a dual citizenship law in Liberia. As a matter of fact, the weekend of December 8, the Liberia diaspora will be converging on Washington, D.C. to discuss the dual citizenship issue. This meeting will mark an important step-up effort by the diaspora to put public pressure on Liberian lawmakers for passage of the dual citizenship draft bill.

However, there are some Liberians like myself who are very suspicious of the underlying motives behind the push for a dual citizenship law now in Liberia, given that this has never been an issue before. This suspicion is underlined by the fact that most serious problems with Liberia’s Alien and Nationality Law have largely been sidestepped by both the sponsors of the dual citizenship bill, and overlooked by supporters of this bill in the Liberian diaspora as they push for its passage.

Some of the important shortcomings of Liberia’s current Alien and Nationality Law include the lack of a framework to regulate the implementation of immigration laws, the lack of court oversight of immigration decisions, eliminating outdated terminology, and allowing children whose mothers are Liberian citizens but fathers are citizens of other countries to acquire Liberian citizenship.

Right now, according to Subchapter B, Section 21.31 of the Alien and Nationality Law, such children are allowed to become Liberian citizens only if their fathers become citizens of Liberia. They will not acquire Liberian citizenship regardless of whether their mothers are Liberian citizens. This situation illustrates how the rights of women have historically been treated with contempt in Liberian laws.

 Legal Instruments Regulating Citizenship and Nationality Issues

The Constitution and the Alien and Nationality Law are the regulatory instruments for citizenship and nationality issues in Liberia. But both instruments have failed to address or offer any specifics on dual citizenship. Chapter IV, Article 28 of the 1986 Constitution introduces the requirement of renouncing the citizenship of any other country in order to maintain and/or acquire Liberian citizenship.

Even though the context of this requirement pertains to any person seeking naturalization, however, it may also be a relevant requirement that applies to “natural born” Liberians who took up the citizenship of other countries. As such, Article 28 may be construed to have ruled out dual citizenship in Liberia. At the same time, Article 28 strikes a distinction between citizenship and nationality: “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.”

The interpretation of this portion of Article 28 is that Liberians living abroad that took up the citizenships of the countries of their habitual residence lost Liberian citizenship, but retained Liberian nationality. The second legal instrument, Alien and Nationality Law, was first promulgated in 1956, and like most other Liberian laws, is modeled after the United States’ Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952.

Significant changes were made to the Alien and Nationality Law in 1973. Since that time it has not undergone any modification. Chapter 22, Section 22.1 of the Alien and Nationality Law specifically spelt out situations under which both natural born and naturalized Liberians may lose their citizenship. The provisions of Section 22.1 of the Alien and Nationality Law effectively reinforced the ban on dual citizenship (Manby, 2012, p.80).

The authors of the dual citizenship bill essentially threw out all the current provisions of Section 22.1; and say there should never be any conditions under which “natural born” citizens should lose their citizenship, yet they retained those provisions only for naturalized citizens.

Implications for Dual Citizenship

There are important implications if the dual citizenship bill is passed into law both for Liberia and Liberians. Aside from the economic and other arguments that are frequently made to advance the call for a dual citizenship law in Liberia, one important point is that the lack of dual citizenship has had a deleterious effect, and that given political and global circumstances have changed; and there is the large Liberian diaspora that would like to enact the dual citizenship bill into law.

Overall, there is the concern that Liberians in the diaspora have done more harm than good as far as contributing positively to the process of building stable and good governance, economic and social structures. Members of the diaspora have and continue to enjoy positions of trust, power and prestige, and have been at the forefront of decision-making.

The questions now are can the poor, unpatriotic performance of members of the diaspora in leadership in Liberia be attributed to the lack of dual citizenship? Will dual citizenship make Liberians in the diaspora more patriotic to their motherland?

For example, the culture of dependency in Liberia was imposed upon the country by members of the diaspora in leadership. This culture put Liberia in an under-developed state, which eventually led to a devastating civil war. It didn’t stop there. Even now in post-civil war Liberia where members of the diaspora constitute 90-95 percent of senior decision-makers, the rate of corruption and poor decision-making continue to leave analysts wondering whether the Liberian diaspora has anything to contribute to the country’s development.

Other issues of consequential effect that need to be discussed as part of any dual citizenship law include the following: (1) Eligibility for Public Office – The draft dual citizenship bill leaves open the possibility that Liberians holding dual citizenship will be able to run for President and Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, as well as for other public office.

This should never be the case as this will make Liberia prone to excessive foreign influence. Already as it is, the case can be made that many Liberians in the diaspora, particularly those in the United States owe their allegiance to “Uncle Sam.”

This explains why even though, historically, members of the diaspora have played and continue to play crucial role in Liberia’s decision-making apparatus, they have nonetheless paid less attention to developing Liberia and more attention and time to repatriating ill-gotten and/or legal wealth overseas.

For many senior government officials in the Johnson-Sirleaf Administration, and for those before them, Liberia is and has merely been a plantation-source of their wealth and not a place to invest. What else will explain why more than eight years after the Johnson-Sirleaf Administration took office, the government has not invested seriously in upgrading the healthcare system, and the President along with cabinet ministers take regular trips to the United States and Western Europe for medical treatment?

The best course of action will be to prohibit Liberians with dual citizenship from holding elected public office of any kind, but allow them to hold appointed public office. Another course of action is to require that “natural born” dual citizenship holders renounce fully their other citizenships and present official written proof of doing so before being allowed to run for public office.

In such cases, they should only be restricted to senatorial and house of representative seats, not the presidency or vice presidency. (2) Tax responsibilities of citizens – Members of the diaspora that served in political leadership in Liberia have somewhat intentionally refused and/or neglected to establish effective tax codes, primarily because they had no intention of investing in the country since they are already investing legal or stolen funds in the United States and Western Europe.

The passage of any dual citizenship law should make it a requirement for Liberians that took up dual citizenship to pay taxes on their total income from all sources worldwide, including income earned abroad while living abroad. Thus, because of the importance of the tax component and its consequential effect on Liberia’s revenue intake, it is important that before any dual citizenship law is passed, Liberia’s Internal Revenue Code first must be revised and streamlined to ensure that government can efficiently enforce the tax provisions relative to citizens with dual citizenship, and to ensure that the burden of double taxation is mitigated for dual citizens. Moreover, Liberia must insist that Liberian citizens travel into and out of Liberia on a Liberian passport, regardless of any other citizenship they may possess.

Conclusion

Passing a dual citizenship law in Liberia will be like putting the cart before the horse. The current draft dual citizenship bill, just like the 1986 Constitution, and the 1973 Alien and Nationality Law before it has not adequately addressed the hosts of legal and political issues pertaining to dual citizenship,  eligibility of dual citizens for public office, taxation, national cohesiveness, and insulating the country from potential foreign allegiance.

Moreover, by removing all conditions for the loss of citizenship by “natural born” Liberians as proposed by the authors of the draft law, and retaining those very provisions for only naturalized Liberians, might set a troubling standard of discrimination that already exist in our current laws regarding the eligibility for citizenship. This could also trample on the rights of Liberian women who have children by foreign citizens.

These are issues that need to be addressed first before even contemplating a dual citizenship law. By canceling provisions on the loss of citizenship contained in Chapter 22 of Section 22.1 of the Alien and Nationality Law, particularly, such provisions as naturalization in a foreign state or service in foreign armed forces, will further solidify Liberia’s ‘banana republic’ status.

Currently, Liberia like the United States does tolerate dual citizenship, even if both countries do not recognize it. Judging from recent news reports in Liberia, such as an article published on the Liberian online portal “Online Liberia,” it is safe to conclude that a large number of Liberia’s current officials in senior cabinet posts already have US or some Western European citizenship.

So one cannot understand why the hurry to push for removing dual citizenship from de-facto to de-jure. The diaspora should be admonished that any attempt to force the issue of dual citizenship might result in a backlash, and may face stiff resistance from local Liberians.

The irony is that given the negative perception of the role of members of the diaspora in Liberia’s history, the refocusing of the dual citizenship campaign on reform of the Alien and Nationality Law, and the establishment of good and sound governance practices in Liberia might actually provide the diaspora with an opening to overcome its negative image, and emerge as a force for good in Liberia.

REFERENCES Manby, B. (2012). Citizenship law in Africa: a comparative study [Edition 2, illustrated]. African Minds. Farley, J.D. (2012). Ellen caught between scissors. Online Liberia. Retrieved from http://www.onlineliberia.com/apps/blog/show/19838725-ellen-caught-between-scissors-

Cecil Franweah Frank is a PhD candidate at Walden University School of Public Policy and Administration 

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