OP-ED: Dual Citizenship as The Law of The Land: A Myth or a Reality?

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Recently, the idea of granting dual citizenship to nationals of African nations has become a contentious issue. Even those from countries that already recognize some form of dual citizenship are flirting with the idea of repealing such laws.

Take the case of loyalty issues with dual passport holders in South Africa as reported by the Eyewitness News. However, dual citizenship is becoming the norm on the continent and it is here to stay.

In spite of opposition, some African nations have amended their citizenship laws to provide dual citizenship rights to their nationals. According to The African Bulletin, a number of African countries, including Sierra Leone, have amended their citizenship laws to allow some form of dual citizenship to their nationals.

However, conspicuously absent from this list is Africa’s oldest republic, Liberia.

Liberia, so proudly boastful of being one of the oldest, should take the lead not just on this issue, but should also take a leadership role in fostering democracy and a thriving society on the continent. But it seems as though the proverbial adage that age comes with wisdom is not always true.
The question of Liberia amending its citizenship law to allow dual citizenship to its nationals is a no-brainer, as proponents have given compelling reasons why this would benefit the nation in the long run.

We live in the 21st century where most countries are gravitating toward dual nationality because of globalization and its ensued benefits. The prospect that some Liberians would vehemently oppose dual citizenship to such a length to ensure it is denied to Liberians in the diaspora is wrong morally and constitutionally.

From a moral prospective, every single Liberian has equal right to this land, regardless of their current residence or status. Naturalizing oneself in another country should not be misunderstood or misinterpreted as loving Liberia any less than those residing in Liberia.

On the other hand, some appointed government officials from the diaspora have not helped this argument.  But, to suggest that all Liberians in the diaspora arbitrarily took up citizenship of other nations while denouncing their homeland in the process because they love Liberia less is absurd.

The fact is Liberia remains the birth place of our forefathers and us as well. This fact is irrefutable and irreversible; you cannot change it, as it is what it is. It is just as impossible to change the natural birth mother of a child by the stroke of the pen as it is to change the natural order of things. The child will always be hers. So, to negate this fact and allow other Liberians’ fate to be determined by the stroke of a pen is shamefully wrong.

The majority of Liberians who migrated to other parts of the world did so not by choice but by circumstance. They were fleeing from a brutal civil war that we all agree today was senseless; a protracted war that took over fourteen years and 250,000 lives, not to mention billions of dollars in property damage, before it finally ended.

Liberians were displaced all over the globe as refugees as a result of the war, and they had to take advantage of opportunities in their newly-found host countries in order to thrive, which required being either a permanent resident or a citizen.

I am not a constitutional scholar or one who professes to know much about constitutional laws, but in the context of the constitution it seems chapter 22 of our 1973 Alien and Nationality law, which is often referenced by opponents as the catalyst for rejecting dual nationality, contradicts the 1986 Constitution and as such must be repealed.

Take the case with article 27b of the 1986 constitution which qualifies Liberian citizenship, either by birth or naturalization, to any Negro or of Negro descent. It implies that any foreign nationals of African descent can become a citizen of Liberia, regardless whether or not his country of origin recognizes and allows dual nationality for its citizens. This supports the argument that a naturalized Liberian whose country of origin recognizes and allows dual citizenship can still be a citizen for both countries, despite what the Liberian law says.

The end result should be dual citizenship for naturalized Liberians. In contrast, a Liberian-born citizen who takes the oath of another nation as citizen automatically loses his Liberian citizenship rights according to this antiquated law. Essentially this law creates a two-tier citizen, which violates its very essence.

Now, let’s see how this scenario plays out: a foreign national of African descent whose country allows dual nationality goes to Liberia and takes the oath of citizenship and therefore loses his country of origin’s citizenship, but only according to the Liberian law.

His country of origin is under no obligation whatsoever to honor such law on their soil once it contradicts their constitution. Therefore, this African country cannot disavow this naturalized Liberian, as appeasement to the Liberian law, his birth-given rights when he returns home.

How then do we reconcile this conflicting law? On the one hand, the law denies dual citizenship to Liberians by birth, and on the other it is confined and enforceable only within the territorial boundary of Liberian. It cannot be enforced in countries with dual citizenship laws, hence the conundrum.

One argument by opponents of dual citizenship is that maintaining this law would be in the best interest of the nation. The support for this assertion is that it would prevent robbing the nation’s coffer of its resources by self-serving politicians coming from the diaspora. These imported government officials have the tendency to embezzle development funds and subsequently run to the west for safe heaven to support their unsustainable lifestyles.

It would be disingenuous of me to dismiss this argument by opponents of dual citizenship. Obviously people who cannot be trusted with power or public monies should not be allowed access to the nation’s resources, in spite of their qualifications. Our leaders should be trusted not on the basis of their rhetoric and qualifications, but rather on their honesty and their records. Therefore, every measure must be instituted to protect against such impending catastrophe.

But, let’s take a pause momentarily and think whether denying Liberian-born citizens the right to dual citizenship deters would-be criminals and subsequently solves this problem. It seems apparent that a few bad apples within the diaspora communities with government jobs in Liberia take advantage of loopholes in the system. But what is appalling is the lack of enforcement of existing laws by government which is responsible for this problem.

People with criminal minds or intent always gravitate towards power and money, and that’s inevitable. Dishonest politicians are found everywhere, whether in the diaspora or in Liberia. So, it makes no difference where they come from. What is needed is a rigorous and verifiable vetting process to yield the most qualified and trustworthy candidates for government positions, and not hiding behind a law that denies citizens the right to dual citizenship.

Laws and diplomatic maneuvering must be pursued to deny safe haven on planet earth to criminals of this sort. These are the types of deterrents that are needed and not scapegoating dual citizenship rights to Liberians as the end solution to this lingering problem.

The fact that a few diaspora Liberians behave reprehensibly in the discharge of their duties to the nation should have no bearing on granting dual citizenship rights.  It seems rather peculiar and disingenuous to cast blame of impropriety of a few diaspora Liberians on the entire population.

The die is cast, and dual citizenship may seem to suffer a minor setback for now, but it is on an irreversible course as we know it. It is just the matter of time to gain momentum as the facts and realities are revealed.

There is no denying that dual nationality is the new normal across the continent. Liberia cannot isolate itself from this prevailing norm as it unravels, and yet claim to be Africa’s oldest nation. If Liberia is to remain relevant in Africa, it must join in and take the lead not only on dual nationality but other progressive issues that the continent faces. The solution to Liberia’s problems is mustering the political will of the leaders to change the status quo. Liberia should be a nation of laws, one that does what it says, not a nation of men.

Zopon is a Mechanical Engineer with over eight years of building mechanical systems evaluation and design experience. He currently oversees and provides IT support for over fifty employees.

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