President George Weah’s call for amendment of the Constitution of Liberia in order to grant citizenship right to non-Negroes that would enable them to own land here, and dual citizenship right to Liberians has sparked serious debate among Liberians, characterized by mixed reactions even among members of the 54th Legislature.
The call is contained in President Weah’s first Annual Message to the Liberian Legislature delivered on Monday, 29 January at the Capitol.
Article 22 (a) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia states, “Every person shall have the right to own property alone as well as in association with others; provided that only Liberian citizens shall have the right to own real property within the Republic.”
Article 27(b) under the heading Citizenship stipulates, “In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.”
But the President believes these provisions of our Constitution are racist and discriminatory with an adverse effect of impeding sustainable investment and rapid growth or prosperity.
The Liberian senate, which debated the proposal Tuesday in plenary, is divided right in the middle with some senators welcoming the idea, while others think it is not yet time to grant non-Africans citizenship, giving the visible inequality that stare citizens in the face.
President Weah’s predecessor Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf brought this dual citizenship issue to the table during her administration, but the proposition was vehemently resisted, on grounds that any Liberian carrying two passports lack true allegiance. On the question of allowing people of non-Negro decent to become Liberian citizens, the elites are saying no problem, but for the majority who lives in grinding poverty, this license could be a recipe to confine them permanently to the fringes of society, and their rights could be trampled upon due to lack of economic power in a country where justice is for the highest bidder.
The political class, particularly those in leadership at the level of the Executive, believes strongly that granting citizenship to non-Negroes would attract more foreign investors to drive the economy, so they want this piece of legislation passed sooner than later.
But the poorest of the poor are concern about protection in such a capitalistic society. Would they still have rights to their cultural and traditional values when the economically potent non-Negroes are given the legitimacy to buy and own real estates? These are genuine apprehensions that need to be addressed before a definitive decision is reached.
Putting in place such guarantees squarely rests with lawmakers on Capitol Hill whose performance over the years have been found wanting, especially in safe-guarding national interests, evidenced by the ratification of bogus concessions during the past administration that gave away all, leaving nothing for locals. The proposal coming from President Weah needs critical analysis by all sides before taking it to referendum where a final decision would be made based on majority vote.