Liberian Diaspora Debates Reconstruction, Dual Citizenship

By IndepthAfrica
In Liberia
Jul 26th, 2012
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Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf arrives for the swearing-in ceremony of Senegal’s new president Macky Sall, on April 2, 2012, in Dakar. Macky Sall, who was sworn in as Senegal’s president today, is a stolid 50-year-old geologist, once tipped as former president Abdoulaye Wade’s designated heir, who defeated his former mentor at the polls. AFP PHOTO / SEYLLOUU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Liberians are observing 165 years of independence Thursday. To mark the occasion, the Liberian Diaspora in the United States held a one-day symposium in Washington to discuss their role in the reconstruction and development of their country, and the importance of dual citizenship.

Former Liberian foreign minister Olubanke King-Akerele, in a keynote speech, proposed a public-private sector partnership whereby Liberians abroad can set up businesses at home.

But, she said Liberians in the Diaspora must return home in order to make the partnership possible.

“I propose that serious consideration be given to the opening of a Diaspora Enterprise Entrepreneur Promotion and Investment office back in Liberia. In short, what I am proposing to you is [that] you have to be on the ground to help make what we want happen. You cannot stay over here [in the US] and say we are waiting for the government of Liberia,” King-Akerele said.

University of Toledo professor Sakui Malakpa called on the Liberian Diaspora to be part of the development of their country, irrespective of political and ethnic affiliations because, he says, there is no place like home.

He said this would be possible only if Diaspora Liberians are united.
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“When it comes to the development of our country, we must unite our forces because, by definition, sectionalism, ethnocentrism, and tribalism are antithetical to a sense of national unity and national development. In our collective action, we need to borrow from our National Anthem, that is, in union strong, success is assured,” he said.

Malakpa called on the Liberian government to do its part by creating a political climate to ensure that Liberians in the Diaspora are welcomed home.

Journalist and lawyer Kwame Clement called on the Liberian government and the legislature to create the political will for dual citizenship because, he said, there is nothing in the Liberian constitution that prohibits dual citizenship.

“There’s nothing in our constitution that says you can’t have dual citizenship. If it were in our constitution, then I think there will be a more difficult route to changing it because our constitution says it can only be achieved by amendment. But, it is a statute, and so it can be repealed simply by the legislature and by a law signed by the president. So, it’s something that can be done in one legislative section, if the political will is there,” he said

Mr. Clement said Liberia could emulate the example of other African countries like Cape Verde, by creating one or two legislative seats for the Diaspora.

Senator Sumo Kupee of Lofa County is one of the sponsors of a bill proposed two years ago in the Liberian legislature to amend the Alien and Nationality Law and make dual citizenship possible.

Kupee says the Alien and National Act contradicts Liberia’s constitution which guarantees all Liberians the right to citizenship.

“The objective is that Liberians, wherever they live, for political or economic reasons, who may have acquired foreign citizenship, should not be deprived of their native citizenship. Once a Liberian, ever a Liberian,” Kupee said.

Former foreign minister King-Akerele declared her unequivocal support for dual citizenship, but only for Liberians.

Among the challenges Liberians returning home would face is what King-Akerele called a new cleavage, or division, in Liberian society between those returning home from the Diaspora and Liberians at home.

“The cleavage is those went and those who stayed. You are coming home; you’re going to take our jobs. Isn’t it incredible that you have a new cleavage being developed in our society? But, we’re going to stop it. You are not going to let [it] explode,” King-Akerele said.

Most Liberians at the symposium agreed in principle that the Diaspora has a role in the reconstruction of their country and that they deserve dual citizenship. But, they said what is needed now is an awareness program to get Liberians both at home and in the Diaspora to understand that the benefits of dual citizenship supersede all apprehensions.VOA

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