Liberia's Dual Citizenship
A case for Dual Citizenship
Dual citizenship, also known as multiple nationalities, is a term used to define the residency status of any individual who is lawfully considered a citizen in two countries concurrently. Having dual citizenship status enables an individual to live and travel freely between their native and naturalized countries without the restraints of immigration policies. Dual citizens have two passports and sometimes are granted privileges such as land ownership and voting rights.
Dual citizenship is a controversial topic within various Liberian social groups because many Liberian natives in the Diaspora would like to regain their citizenship status while keeping their current citizen status of their naturalized country. However, the Liberian Constitution does not permit dual citizenship, and those who left the country as a result of the years of civil war and gained citizenship elsewhere cannot regain citizenship unless they renounce their current naturalized citizenship status.
Many Liberians fled the country during the 14-year civil war, which began in 1989 and ended in 2003. They long to regain their citizenship status. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that of the of 2.8 million people living in Liberia in 1989, half of that population fled their homes at the time. The UNHCR estimated that 235,000 people sought refuge in Guinea; 160,000 people in Cote d’Ivoire; 17,000 people in Ghana; and 14,000 people in Sierra Leone. There are also thousands of Liberians who sought refuge in the United States, Australia, Europe, and other countries.
Those in bordering countries such as Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire returned home to Liberia when the war was over. Others in the Diaspora, like the Liberians in the United States, uncertain of the future of Liberia, pursued U.S. citizenship to provide stability for their families. With the ever-changing U.S. immigration laws, seeking citizenship was the best route to stability. The type of stability that was provided through American citizenship included federal education benefits, home ownership, and employment opportunities. With stability, Liberian-American citizens were able to advance their education and gain employable skills. With the new skills and education they received, some worked two to three jobs to help their families in their naturalized country as well as back in their native country. With their efforts, Liberians in the Diaspora sent over 1 billion U.S. dollars in remittances to family, friends, and loved ones during the Liberian Civil War. To date, hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars are sent back to Liberia annually to take care of family, friends, and loved ones and, according to MGAfrica, 26 percent of Liberia’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is the economic strength of a country, comes from foreign transfers. The 26 percent also makes up the number of those in the Diaspora who are lobbying for dual citizenship.
The opponents of dual citizenship are under the assumption that if dual citizenship is established in Liberia, punishing criminals who have dual citizenship status will be difficult. If an individual commits a crime, opponents of dual citizenship believe that it will be hard to prosecute said individual because that individual could flee to their naturalized country and flee the punishment of their actions. On the contrary, with dual citizenship, Liberia will have the right to hold their citizens accountable even if they hold naturalization elsewhere. Ignorance of the law will not be an excuse for those dual citizens because they will be required to uphold the nation’s laws whenever in Liberia. If not, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of Liberia’s law. Therefore, said individual will be fully charged under Liberian laws (to include jail time, fines, and loss of their citizenship privileges) with little intervention from their naturalized country.
Another opposing view is that if dual citizenship is established, those in the Diaspora will flood back to Liberia and take all the jobs because of job scarcity in the country. As a result of countrywide crises such as the civil wars and Ebola, numerous infrastructure and job opportunities were taken out the country. The assumption is that those in the Diaspora are more educated than native Liberians and will be more qualified for job opportunities. While that is a valid argument we must understand that job prospects are not the motivation for dual citizenship. Native Liberians are competing with their peers and those from other countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Lebanon, China, and India for the jobs. Sometimes development contracts are given to other countries to develop Liberia. Instead of hiring the native Liberians, these countries import their own workers for those positions, which take jobs and growth opportunities away from the average Liberian worker. Liberians in the Diaspora are more likely to create businesses in Liberia than those from other countries. They are also more likely to create employment opportunities for their fellow Liberians.
In an interconnected global economy, it is in the best interest of Liberia to utilize the skills gained by Liberians in the Diaspora to assist in the development of the country. Liberians in the Diaspora have proven they are willing to assist in the educational improvements, technological advances, and structural development of Liberia to stimulate the economy by the millions of dollars they send home every year to support these efforts. That money is used to hire native Liberians such as construction workers to build houses, farmers to grow crops, and housekeepers to take care of homes.
With the funds gained from their employment, Liberian workers in the country are able to send their children to school, thus paying the salaries of teachers to provide a livelihood for their families. Dual citizenship will create more job opportunities than it could possibly take away. When advocating for dual citizenship, Liberians in the Diaspora are willing to accept conditional dual citizenship. That means they are willing to put time limitations on their citizenship status. That includes foregoing applying for government positions, foregoing voting rights, or even land ownership for a period of time to include multiple years.
During the past 20 years some West African countries have established dual citizenship, and their economies have grown rapidly as an influx of needed skills and knowledge entered their countries. Ghana and Sierra Leone are two of those countries which have established dual citizenship and, as a result, their economy increased. The Ghana Citizenship Act of 2002 established dual citizenship for Ghanaians. Trading Economics estimated in 2002 that the GDP of Ghana was 9.9 billion U.S. dollars. In 2013, only 11 years after establishing dual citizenship, their GDP amplified to 47.8 billion U.S. dollars. In 2002, Liberia’s GDP was half a billion U.S. dollars. We can attribute the weak economy to the civil wars. In 2013, 10 years after the end of the Second Civil War, Liberia’s GDP was only 1.94 billion U.S. dollars.
While Ghana’s rapid economic growth is not only due to the success of dual citizenship, there is a positive correlation with economic success and an equipped, educated, and innovative population. Establishing dual citizenship will help Liberia grow that equipped, educated, and innovative population. Some may argue that Ghana was not destroyed by 14 years of civil war so the comparison to Liberia is invalid. For that, direct your attention to a country that borders Liberia: Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is not only a neighboring country of Liberia, but it also shares similar climate, history, and customs.
Sierra Leone experienced an 11-year civil war from 1991-2002. In 2002, after their civil war, Sierra Leone had a 1.1 billion U.S. dollar GDP and was struggling to keep their economy afloat. The Sierra Leone Citizenship Amendment Act of 2006 established dual citizenship for the country. In 2006, their GDP grew to 1.89 billion U.S. dollars, yet in 2013, just seven years after establishing dual citizenship, Sierra Leone’s GDP increased to 4.83 billion U.S. dollars of total output. In those seven years, Liberia’s GDP increased from .7 to 1.95 billion. Sierra Leone added almost 3 billion dollars to their economy creating jobs, access to education, and more opportunities for their citizens to achieve their dreams.
Only Liberians can help Liberia is a phrase that is commonly shared in Liberian communities, social media groups, and private conversations. Liberians, who are a part of the Diaspora, want to help Liberia. They have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy to assist in the development of the nation. In 2012, one-third of the economy of Liberia came from funds sent back to Liberia by Liberians in the Diaspora. Fortunately, Liberians in the Diaspora are willing to accept conditional dual citizenship. A survey conducted by the Dual Citizenship Committee under the leadership of Mr. Emanuel Wettee found that Liberians in the Diaspora advocating for dual citizenship are willing to accept restrictions such as limitations on holding public office.
Only Liberians can help Liberia, and if dual citizenship is passed to native Liberians in the Diaspora, Liberia will soar once again.
By Joseph B. Sawo