Liberia: Dual Citizenship for Liberians - the Challenges, Advantages and Way Forward to the Future

opinion

Keynote Address By: Hon. Emmanuel S. Wettee, Chairman, All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship, Delivered at the Liberian Association of Wisconsin, Celebrating Liberia's 172nd Independence Day - July 26th, 2019.

Mr. President

My fellow Countrymen and Women

Friends of Liberia and Guests

And above all, our kids and youth.

It was in 2005, when ULAA National President Arthur Watson selected me as his Vice President for ULAA in this great city, and later on, I was confirmed by the ULAA National Board of Directors in Newark, New Jersey. Therefore, to me, it is an obligation to always render services to this chapter. When I was approached by my Booker Washington Institute (BWI) Senior, Kervin Soko, to keynote this occasion, I accepted it before the official invitation arrived. I consider myself a member of this great chapter.

On July 26th, 2019, our country Liberia celebrated its 172nd Independence. Some argued that there was no need for an official celebration because Liberia as a nation or country has nothing to show at 172. NOTHING TO SHOW? When asked, they claimed no good health care system, educational system, deplorable economic conditions, poor transportation infrastructure, poor communication systems and the pick of all is corruption. Corruption is the common denominator between or among all leaderships in Liberia. It is that one thing that transitions from one government to the next. Corruption is that virus that makes the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.

Before we discount those who believe that there should be no official celebration because of the reasons mentioned above, let us ask ourselves some questions. Do we have state-run universities in all of the political subdivisions in the country? Do we have a modernized road network in our country? Are we not seeing those that are paid by government seeking the best education and medical opportunities for themselves and family abroad and not developing similar institutions in Liberia? Policy and law makers' decisions do not impact their family members because they are not living in Liberia. Are these things not happening?

The case is also made by others for the official celebrations of our country at 172. They creed that Liberia's better days are ahead. In our lifetime we are witnessing and participating in an electoral process that involves debates, voters knowing their candidates, one man/woman one vote, people are witnessing in real time debates of lawmakers in the Capitol building. The thinking of developing road networks, construction of universities across the country, the testing of legal, legislative and executive powers by citizens of Liberia and the nationwide determination to fight corruption, provides hope like never before. Liberia shall rise again!

I was invited to speak to you on the topic "Dual Citizenship for Liberians Living Abroad: The Challenges, Advantages and Way Forward to the Future" and not to school you on the pros or cons of celebrating Liberia at 172. However, understanding the views of the two parties provides the justifications for dual citizenship in Liberia.

To enable me to perform my assigned task I will like to seek your permission to alter the topic to "Dual Citizenship for Liberians: The Challenges, Advantages and Way Forward to the Future.

"Liberia at 172 is a founding member of the United Nations, African Union, The Economic Community of West African States and signatories to many human rights organizations. Ambassador Angie Elizabeth Brooks-Randolph, a Liberian diplomat, was the first African woman to be President of the United Nations General Assembly in the 60's. In 1960, Liberia filed legal proceedings against South Africa at the International Court of Justice. In recent history, Liberia elected the first female President of Africa. Despite all these diplomatic achievements, the government of Liberia has from 1847 to now, discriminated against its own female citizens.

According to Liberia's 1974 Aliens and Nationality Laws, at the time of birth, the rights to citizenship only descend to a child by way of their father and not their mother. A natural born Liberian who migrated to another country and naturalized is no longer considered a Liberian and the same applies to their children. The 1974 Aliens and Nationality Laws do not support dual citizenship by allowing you to keep your Liberian citizenship and your naturalized citizenship. And since the constitution of Liberia states that only a Liberian can own land, any land owned by a Liberian before naturalization is no longer for them after nationalization. Also, their children born outside of Liberia who are citizens of another country can't take ownership of the land.

One of our challenges is the unwillingness of our political leaders and lawmakers who support Dual Citizenship to transfer their oral support to using their vast political and financial ways and means to advocate for dual citizenship. For ten years, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf verbally advocated for dual citizenship but failed to use her political will and enormous power and influence to impact any change in the law until she left her Presidency. President George Weah, like President Sirleaf has verbally advocated for Dual Citizenship and unlike President Sirleaf, he has gone a step further and made dual citizenship one of his legislative items. However, he has taken no action thus far.

Also, those with the means are purchasing land using Trust Funds to protect the future of their children who have different nationalities and not helping to change the law. The changing of the laws to allow dual citizenship will help address the concerns of those who are against the celebrations of Liberia at 172 and those in favor. Just like Ghana and Nigeria, dual citizenship will provide the legal safety net for Liberians in the diaspora with the needed skills to return home and help in the planning, development and support of building medical facilities, road networks, and universities across the country, and providing job opportunities for the people. Liberians abroad with the means can also help build and revitalize our tourism industry so Liberians can take vacations in various parts of the country to help support local businesses. Dual Citizenship will replace brain drain with brain gain. Dual Citizenship will help develop the middle class in Liberia. Dual Citizenship will enable diaspora Liberians to return home and provide identical or similar services that some Liberians seek outside of Liberia.

Before I suggest a way forward, let me provide you an update on the effort or status of our quest for dual citizenship in Liberia under the sponsorship of The All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship who is representing over 500,000 Liberians in the Diaspora and comprising of The Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), the European Federation of Liberian Associations (EFLA), the Federation of Liberian Communities in Australia (FOLICA), Inc., Conference of Liberian Organizations in the Southwestern United States (COLOSUS), United Liberian Association in Ghana (ULAG), and Coalition of Concerned Liberians (CCL)).

On January 2019 President George Weah listed Dual Citizenship as a legislative item. On April 2018, Senator H. Varney G. Sherman, GRAND CAPE MOUNT COUNTY introduced a Dual Citizenship bill in the Liberian Senate and a vote is expected in the near future. A decision is pending in the the Supreme Court of Liberia on a case heard on March 2017 challenging the constitutionality of the 1974 Alien and Nationality Law. Cllr. Seward Cooper represented plaintiff Teage Jalloh in this case.

Above all else, the topic of Dual Citizenship for Liberia is now a national agenda item. Therefore, one day in the future it will become a law. It is important to note that our advocacy is for natural born Liberians and those born of Liberian parentage. We are also advocating for restrictive dual citizenship, meaning that those with Dual Citizenship could be restricted from certain positions like President, Vice President or lawmaker.

Going forward we need to network with more diaspora organizations, and diaspora Liberians need to invest in the advocacy for Dual Citizenship. Moreover, our political leaders who support dual citizenship need to use their political capital to make dual citizenship accepted in Liberia through law. And it needs to happen NOW!

ONCE A LIBERIAN, ALWAYS A LIBERIAN - MAY GOD BLESS LIBERIA AND ALL LIBERIANS. OUR BETTER DAYS ARE AHEAD - THANK YOU!

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