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Debating post independence-day issues, and Liberia’s development in the age of interconnectedness and Interdependence

Patience Coleman

Patience O. Coleman

 

Celebrating independence is an exciting historical moment for any country; but should not be a one-off activity. Liberia’s 167th birthday, which was observed on July 26, 2014, should continue to attract attention and reflections on some of our intractable constitutional, social, political, ecological, and economic challenges.

Although not strange for many democracies, since the armed war ceased for roughly 10 years now, there have been mixed feelings and perception that characterized Liberia’s current development trajectory, which poses long-term threat to policy-making, implementation and the path to reaching the status of a middle-income country by the year 2030.

Hence, looking into the future while seeking alternatives development channels is key to surviving these complexities. These issues should urgently claim the attention of policy, lawmakers, and the people of Liberia.

Our discussion here however does not encompass solutions to all these complex issues but intend to share some insights on key matters that are evidently and naturally taking stage on the country’s developmental agenda.

First of all, this year’s celebration was another disturbing one.

Liberia and its citizens, whom for the past few years freely celebrated in grand style, spending time with friends and family members, had to take serious precaution against the deadly EBOLA virus. At first this seemed exaggerated for some people, but the increasing reported death cases of health workers, and the danger to many families and communities have increased precaution measures.

Handling these issues is truly and seriously a matter of prayers and collective actions. In the world we live in, there are always some challenges to society such as outbreak of viruses, diseases, and natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes and floods), which shows a reality of the uncertainty of our world. Yet, how fast we put these things under control is what matters the most. This is true for Liberia as it is for many other countries in the region and other parts of the world. Thanks to local and international actors currently engaged with the issues.

Albeit, the danger of this virus and the limited resources available to fight it, although visible, emphasizes public health delivery challenges. It also tells a story about the difficulties or near impossibilities for today’s ‘independent countries’ to handle their domestic problems alone. In fact, this Ebola challenge, which is affecting countries across West Africa occurs at a time when Liberians need to understand some of the impacts and significance of globalization and interdependence of our world today.

Consequently, several questions can be raised: whenever we call on the help of external sources. How far do we go in defining who they are and how do we map actors of importance? Particularly, what difference will it make if Liberians created room to understand and look deeply into the role that Diaspora Liberians can play in Liberia’s development?

Recent activity that have inspired and led me to join the discussion on the significance of Liberia’s diaspora community is the role they played in Australia and elsewhere concerning the Ebola issue. I was moved when I was invited to sign a petition asking the Australian government to extend some help to Liberia for the fight of Ebola.

Even in countries like Australia where Liberia do not have a physical presence (embassy, resident ambassador, consul, etc.), citizens are representing the interest of their country of origin, and are enthusiastic about mobilizing support for mama Liberia. This is a thoughtful and timely venture in a period when the death victims of Ebola virus are increasing.

Additionally, two groups, CASE-MRU (Campaign Against the Spread of EBOLA in the Mano River Union and Diaspora Liberians EBOLA Crisis Response Campaigns, buildup a Facebook campaign to spread the news of Ebola and seek assistance. Some diaspora Liberians are mobilizing donations among themselves so as to contribute to safety materials for health workers. Steps taken in this direction show that diaspora Liberians are not just acting to protect their immediate families and friends although important, but they know their roots and are patriotic about development at home. These individuals are comfortably holding a second passport, which by the laws of Liberia they have relinquish their citizenship, but yet they still are involved with caring for lives and development in Liberia.

Still, though dual citizenship law is a frequent demand voiced by the Diaspora as guarantee to deepening their participation in key development in Liberia, its acceptance is often a very controversial aspect of citizenship reforms. In Liberia, for example, this law has not been tolerated despite the large extent of Liberians with a second passport wishing to have the right to dual citizenship. To admit, it is understandable while this issue have longed been seen as an evil legislation in Liberia and elsewhere. Given the history of colonization, most African countries became much more concerned about who they accept and how they define citizenship.

When Zimbabwe began to take over the large farms owned by white settlers most of whom has made their homes in that country for some generation and could be considered full citizens, attack against the Mugabe government was led by the United Kingdom. Indeed, these issues add up to the need for sensitive handling of diaspora affairs. From being an issue of low political importance, it should become a high priority on the political agenda, particularly in relations to security and development aid.

Nevertheless, as our world becomes more interdependent, rigid laws on citizenship at the expense of possible alternative development measures is not the safest place to stand. During independence, most African countries took the decision that dual citizenship should not be allowed, but have changed their rules in recent years to allow it, or are in the process of considering such changes due to the benefits it brings. Indeed, things have change greatly and Liberia cannot afford to be left behind when other countries are smartly defining their rules while finding alternatives to their own development.

‘Fate changes no man unless he changes fate’ says David Sanger, Washington Correspondent for the New York Times. In Africa, Kenya is the most recent story of diaspora intervention. It has increased responsibility of reaching out to its ethnic community abroad. Angola, Burundi, Djibouti, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Uganda, Egypt, Eritrea, and South Africa, allow dual citizenship but only with the official permission of the government. Countries and people need each other for success with much more to achieve.

Additionally, the untapped potential in the diaspora yield several benefits for Liberia’s foreign and domestic policy options. Economically, socially, and culturally, diaspora communities can be much more useful. Businessmen among the diaspora can be entry points for exports partners for home-based entrepreneurs on the basis of viable business proposition where necessaryin bringing to Liberia the needed technology and assistances.

Some citizens in the diaspora may even want to set up aid projects at home as part of their re-bonding; but only if Liberia can facilitate this. Liberia already supports much public-private partnership, which could be improved by involving these alternative actors. Young members of the diaspora may also be willing to volunteer their time to work on social, educational, and other projects at home. If not already happening, they could be major contributor of inward remittances when their interest in development projects at home increases.

Remittances have shown to often react positively to exogenous shocks such as natural disasters, and have highlighted their strong impact on poverty reduction and stabilization. It therefore becomes increasingly important to deepen our relationship with the leaders of the diaspora communities, and to sensitize them about what is happening at home. This works as a win-win framework for both diaspora Liberians and Liberians at home. Thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for already instituting a department on diaspora affairs. However, much is needed to further deepen our engagements to promote greater development avenues.

Therefore, when the Ebola issue is fully under control, policy makers and community leaders need to study the below recommendations:

  • What is needed in Liberia is complex but practical. It is a clear indication that Liberia’s success is dependent upon the decisions we make as Liberians. Although lawmakers and other government officials have key roles to play in this, decision for achievement does not depend solely on these actors. According to Chapter 1 Article 1 of the 1986 constitution of Liberia, ‘all power is inherent in the people’. Particularly, given that migration of Liberian citizens was driven by opportunity and economic hardship with the civil conflict playing major role, the right of return of these citizens (whether they have acquire another citizenship for survivor and progress) is definitely a human rights issue. It is predicated upon civil society, communities, family members and friends to mobilize support so that they have legal support from their motherland to become legitimate citizens. This could gradually be open further to include other alternative actors with prospect to contribute to development in Liberia. Whether we loose more of our citizens to other countries by constitutional denial or whether we decide to move beyond the current deadlock is all our decision.
  • Granting dual citizenship should therefore be a matter of evidence rather than sentiments. Gathering evidences for law or policy making is the proper thing to do and this has become clearer for Liberia. In Liberia several evidences can be drawn. While Liberia prohibits dual citizenship on paper— in many cases the rules are not rigidly enforced. Citizen can acquire another citizenship without facing adverse consequences in practice. This is not that the law is intentionally weak on this issue but it has naturally becomes flexible due to the need to respect and support brotherhood. If we do not move beyond sentiments to introduce new laws based on these undisputed evidences, Liberia is bound to loose great minds and resources in the age of increase migration and globalization. In the long run, Liberia will continue to experience perpetual resource drain and most of its talented citizens move and remain in rich countries. We need to start treating our overseas talent as a ‘resource bank’ on which Liberia might draw in the future, when economic opportunities improve.
  • In conclusion, if we are concerned about uniting for development, Liberia should amend its laws to allow dual nationality by adopting transitional provisions allowing those who had previously lost their nationality on acquiring another to recover it. As proclaim under Chapter II Article V of the 1986 constitutions of Liberia, ‘the Republic shall aim at strengthening national integration and unity of the people of Liberia… preserve, protect and promote Liberian culture ensuring that traditional values which are compatible with public policy and national progress are adopted and developed as an integral part of the growing needs of the Liberian society’. We need to go beyond just the ease of visa processes to much ownership mobilization in order to realize what our neighbors (Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere) are benefiting from their citizens living and prospering abroad. Citizens from these countries go to the UK and other countries but return home united to build decent homes and contribute to development broadly. The government and people greatly support this and so it is prospering and Liberia can be better at it. May God bless us all as we fight this deadly Ebola virus and be wise to attract alternative development measures where needed.

 

Patience O. Coleman is a graduate from the Australian National University with Master of Public Policy degree specializing in development policy, and Master of Diplomacy as part of the Australian Awards for Africa scholarship program. She also holds a graduate certificate in Public Administration and a B.Sc in Economics. Before leaving Liberia in 2012 for studies abroad, she has been involved with development from diverse sector perspective. Overtime since 2005, she has experience working with the public sector, civil society, NGO and the private sector. From her work and engagements, she participated in several development training, workshop, and advocacy both locally and internationally, which includes but not limited to the Long walk to freedom ahead of the G8 summit in Gleneagles-UK in 2005, the World Council of Churches 9th assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006, the United States Social Forum in 2009 and 2010, and the World Social Forum held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007, and a host of other programs in other parts of Africa. She is also the founder of the Liberia’s Ambassadors for Career Development (LAMCAD Inc.), a non-governmental organizations working to build lasting careers and empower youth, women, and students everywhere. Has inspired many (young and old) by her contribution and passion for community, national, and world development.

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