Well, one can say confidently and conclusively that similar inseparability and interdependency characterize the relationship between Liberians at home and in the larger Diaspora, never mind the murmurings and machinations of a mean - spirited minority. Circumstances caused the separation, and not to recognize it is like telling biblical Israelites to have remained in Egypt. After all, it is worth remembering that the same God who made us all took them out of the bondage.
This brings me to the timing of this significant topic. I did not take a position on the Dual Citizenship discussion when it got started by the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) because; at the time I felt there were more pressing and existential issues at the fore in Liberia. With their abatement, I have decided to contribute to the debate for I find most of those opposed to be either misinformed or worse disingenuous about the socio-economic history of our country, Liberia.
First of all, one cannot claim to be a Christian without knowing and accepting Christ and being baptized in His name. So to truly appreciate the predicament of the Liberian Diaspora one ought to understand Liberian History from the late 1950′s onward. The curious desirous of serious data on which to base informed judgment must learn about the past. For instance, those successive waves of Liberians had traveled abroad seeking opportunities due to the fact that opportunities at home were reserved for a select few. Put another way, the Diaspora became the Equalizer. It morphed into the support base for dependents at home, which ironically includes some who now oppose dual citizenship. Needless remittance from the Diaspora sustained the Liberian economy and many during the darkest days of the civil war, and still supporting some at home under “relative peace”.
Additionally, not only that Diaspora Liberians have been resilient advocates for the human and constitutional rights of the voiceless and powerless at home, but also lobbied American senators, representatives, officials, etc. to intervene in stopping the genocidal civil war. There is a saying that every barrel contains few rotten apple, so with every society, and so too in the Diaspora. To stereotype then that Liberians in the Diaspora are crooks cut both ways.
Obviously, there is a disconnect in the debate. It is unfathomable that those who oppose Dual Citizenship seem bent on poisoning the hearts and minds of innocent Liberians at home against their own sons and daughters in the Diaspora. And strangely our ‘friends’ including few government officials are reportedly members of the anti – Diaspora clique too timid to support it openly.
Factually, there are two groups of Liberians living in the Diaspora. The first group is comprised of students working to support themselves here and families at home. Whereas, the second group is made up of Liberians who sought safe haven abroad due to the civil war; and then there is the third group which returned to Liberia and now strutting the corridors of power determined on disenfranchising Diaspora Liberians. But Diaspora Liberians are not aliens; they too are sons and daughters of the soil! Can any member of the third group claim never to have benefitted from Diaspora Liberians’ contributions to the country? We don’t think so. Truth be told, the evolving democracy, and other grudgingly granted rights like freedom of speech being exercised were made possible by the efforts of Liberians in the Diaspora and the Progressives at home.
Perhaps, it would be helpful to know who these dual citizens “Boogeymen” or “Devils” that some Liberians at home are afraid of. How did all the scaremongering begin?
For that let’s peel off few layers of the past: On December 8, 2012, Dr. George Klay Kieh, Jr. presented a paper at a conference in Washington, DC sponsored by ULAA. The topic was “Dual Citizenship in Liberia”. It was there he made a compelling case for Dual Citizenship as follows:
Until 1956 or more than a century (109 years) after declaration of political independence as a Republic (1847), there was no written law in Liberia for or against dual citizenship. As has been the case, almost, all of our laws, indeed, the 1956, Liberian, Alien & Nationality Law was borrowed from and modeled on the US, 1952 Law of similar title. This law was enacted not only because of Liberian, political/national infidelity and rampant dishonesty that gave rise to the nation’s continuous (up to this day), socio-economic and political under-development, but also because almost all other nations, including the United States, have adopted such legal conventions designed to protect and preserve the vital interests of the nation and its citizens. However, noting hypocrisy, disobedience and blatant violations of the new law, mainly, by prominent personalities and officials of the Liberian government, some of whom were dual citizens, the 1956 law was amended and approved in 1973 to its present form, in order to provide specificity and diligent enforcement. After the 1980 Event, the 1986 Constitution followed with Article 28, reinforcing earlier prohibition against dual citizenship. (Alien & Nationality Law)
…In Africa, Liberia is known as America's stepchild. Those who have the means and understand and know what benefits stepchildren get from their stepfathers and stepmothers, make use of those benefits. People from all over Africa come to Liberia with the hope of eventually benefiting from that stepchild connection that Liberia has with America. It is a unique relationship buried in history. The relationship is not going away or ending just now, whether dual citizenship natural-born Liberians is a reality or not…
…"National/political infidelity" of Liberians was/is not because they are America's stepchildren. It is because they are just mean and selfish, sectionalists and tribalists, and if I may add, troublemakers. They are not real revolutionaries. They hate paved roads, pipe-borne water, and most of all, they hate to see Liberia lit up. They love to be in the dark where corrupt activities flourish without end. Not only that. These awful and myopic people hate progress and will do everything to discourage meaningful advancement of the people whose children were driven out of Liberia and want to come back home with new experiences and new ideas for growth and a better future for everyone.
It was from this law, the - “They and Us” tactics got introduced into the Liberian Dual Citizenship Debate taking place today. The divisive method is not new. President William V. S. Tubman used it to his advantage to rule Liberia for twenty - seven years. Coincidentally, it is same number of years the late Nelson Mandela spent in prison fighting for the rights of the majority in South Africa.
But unlike Mandela, Tubman used the tactics on the ruling Americo-Liberian elites to play them against the indigenous population who were left out of the political and economic affairs of the country. Prior to his administration, the ‘country people’ were invisible people. Tubman changed that at the expense of his own kind for his despotic purposes. He was the first president who did not come from Rock Town. “Rock Town” was a euphemism for being part of the power - structure in the country. Where is this Rock Town, one may ask? It is Montserrado County, the epicenter of political and economic hegemony held securely by powerful families and Masonic members.
Thus, it is this ‘divide and rule strategy’ those who are against Dual Citizenship have resuscitated. They dragged it into the Dual Citizenship debate for one purpose only. To not be held accountable knowing that the voice and direct political participation of Diaspora Liberians will break the tenuous hold on power of some ushering in stiff competitiveness. Of course, the strategy is detrimental to the progress that is needed for the Liberian people, but reactionaries care less.
They argue as if Liberians from the Diaspora are sons and daughters of the soil, and are returning home specifically to take away their jobs and land. This is not only naïve but rather a silly way of thinking. Even the current President of Liberia Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her children and some of the people currently working for the government came from the Diaspora therefore, it is hypocritical to deny the current Diaspora Liberians of the same birth right.
As for the question, “Where you were when the civil war was fought?” is simply a resurrection of Tubman’s “They and Us Strategy”. These new players, many of whom have indigenous backgrounds and parents are being used, not knowing they are mere pawns on the chess boards of their users. It is about time those who are against dual citizenship to be for real! Their main motive for opposing Liberians in the Diaspora is simply selfish. They are standing in the way of the forward march of our country, and, definitely on the wrong side of history.
It seems that those at home who are against dual citizenship are being deliberately misinformed about the meaning of Dual Citizenship. For example, a person who has Dual Citizenship is a citizen of two countries at the same time. He/she has legal rights and obligations in connection with both countries. While dual citizenship gives certain advantages, such as easy residency in multiple countries and access to government programs; also it can make life more complicated. A dual citizen may have tax obligations in more than one nation, or may need to fulfill residency requirements between two homelands.
Simply put, those at home who are against Dual Citizenship want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to disenfranchise Liberians in the Diaspora yet need their support on national issues; and are wickedly prepared to sacrifice the most vulnerable segment of the society in furtherance of selfish aims and hidden unaccountable agendas.
Just imagine that in a period of twelve months (FY2016-2017), Liberia is spending over US$10.2 million on just six (6) public offices, namely: President, Vice President, Speaker, Senate Pro Tempore, Deputy Speaker and Chief Justice. The budget of these six offices far exceeds the two biggest referral hospitals in Liberia: JFK Medical Center (US$5.3 million) and Jackson F. Doe Hospital (US$2.9 million). Where does the interest of the people lie? The budget of these six offices in 12 months could pay 571 medical doctors per annum (a doctor currently receives US$18,000 per year in Liberia.
1. President – US$3,943,030
2. Vice President – US$2,431,003
3. Senate Pro Temp – US$1,369,423
4. Speaker – US$1,000,370
5. Deputy Speaker – US$930,132
6. Chief Justice – US$616,374
Total – US$10,290,332
From Martin K. N. Kollie, “Liberia and every Liberian could prosper if public finance is managed in the most disciplined way,” Says IMF Christine Lagarde (The Perspective, May 10, 2017)
For almost 12 years, these heartless Executive and Legislative branches of the government have been concerned for “Me, Myself and I.” They do so at the expense of the Liberian people. This is one of the reasons healthcare, education and other essential services are neglected by the Sirleaf/BoakaiAdministration.
Find below is Compensation Package for a Liberian Senator
Unbelievably and despite such bonanza compensation packages in the midst of life – denying poverty, the quality of health care services, under one of the most internationally supported postwar state, declined due to lack of essential services such as safe water supplies, electricity, adequate sanitation facilities, appropriate government policies regarding health and environment care. Thehealthcare policy of the Sirleaf/Boakai dysfunctional regime is deplorable. Imagine again that some Liberians didn’t die at JFK because their illnesses couldn’t be cured; instead, they died because they had no money on them.
Anyway, what do you expect from irresponsible political leaders who and their family members can afford to take annual health trips abroad for medical checkups and leave the downtrodden to die of preventable diseases?
A classic example is the deplorable condition at JFK for which the Liberian people refer to the hospital as: “Just For Killing”.
Recently, a Liberian gentleman described JFK in such manner: “If you get cut on your hand and you go to JFK for treatment, you will die; if you have fever and you go there, you die; don’t be an accident victim and they carry you to JFK, they will want payment first before attending to you; they will put you in the corner and after some time, you die. For this reason JFK has acquired a new name: “A place of no return (APNO)”.
Conclusion: As a warning to our HEARTLESS leaders, history will judge them harshly. Therefore, those who subscribe to corruption – like the sophists in Liberia who are against Dual Citizenship - should take a peek into our recent past. Kangaroo justice, and the VIOLATION and MISINTERPRETATION of the CONSTITUTION may someday come home to roost.
Liberia must rid herself of an ugly recent history. Too many dedicated citizens lost their lives for the living to reap the benefits they are enjoying today. We owe it to their memory to ensure that we do those things that will help us complete the transition from war to peace. This is why our international partners must work with us for some semblance of stability and peace to prevail by engaging the Sirleaf/Boakai Administration to administer a peaceful and fair elections come October 10, 2017 Elections. More than ever, this will be Liberia’s defining moment; a point in our history when we finally have the chance to show the world that we are capable of transferring power peacefully.
Let me end with the immortal words of our late cultural icon, public servant, writer, poet, Hon. Bai Tamia Moore.
This poem below is prosaically, yet profoundly defines the purpose of a worthy citizen. The moral arch leans towards substance instead of symbolism, reality rather than pretense; tellingly, what seems terribly lacking in the Liberia of our Iron Lady. The effect of the poem may be received by like-minded individuals like me as a rallying cry for our communities everywhere to maintain their oneness despite a Diaspora divide - regarding Dual Citizenship - in the collective victorious quest for stability and peace through national unity.
It is not the dress we wear that counts
But what we are and what we mean
For men will soon or later change
But what we do will here remain.
Men care not where we come
But watch to see what we have done
And when we’ve gone and turned our leaf
The watch the victory we have won.