Special Feature

“Once-a-Liberian” is not “Always-a-Liberian”

“Liberians in the Diaspora” argue, indeed adamantly, vehemently and ferociously, for adoption of dual citizenship in our county, based, mainly, on “birthright” claims – that birthright is “citizenship right”, expressed by their notion of “Once-a-Liberian” (born on Liberian soil, then you are), “always-a-Liberian”. We disagree.

Therefore, this Paper, though in line with our position against dual citizenship in Liberia, is in response to the notion of “once-a-Liberia, always-a-Liberian”, given the turbulent, devastating, negative facts of our past, recent past, history, to which we owe, mainly, to dual citizenship and the unpatriotic activities of dual citizens.

Backrack to Proponent’s initial Arguments, and our Responses

A gathering of US-based “Liberians in the US Diaspora”, billed as Pro-Dual Citizenship Conference, led and sponsored by Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, Inc. (ULAA), in cooperation the Embassy of Liberia, was held on December 7-8, 2012, in the City of Washington, the District of Columbia, USA.

The conference brought together Liberia’s US notables – attorneys, budding politicians, technocrats, academics/intellectuals, economists and business managers, other professionals and the average Liberians – all decked out in Liberia’s African best, traditional attire, with others who still cling to western “Botany 500” or “Brooks Brothers” elegant, fashion suits for men, and body-hugging, stressed jeans, pantsuits and dresses for women’s fashion plates. Indeed, it was a socio-cultural, tantalizing as well as a political and intellectual event, crowned by or culminated  in a stimulating, thought-provoking, political/intellectual argument, “Making the Case for adoption of Dual Citizenship in Liberia”, presented, on behalf the conference, by Liberia’s Dr. George Klay Kieh, Professor of Political Science, University of West Virginia, USA.

After the two-day deliberations, ULAA issued an official, Press Statement indicating the objective of the conference and the planned strategies and activities, designed and dedicated towards the achievement of the desired objective as follows, that:

1. “In a unanimous Resolution, ‘Liberians in the Diaspora’ have declared the 1973 Alien & Nationality Law (of Liberia) as unjust and unconstitutional, and are calling on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia) to issue an Executive Order to government agencies to immediately halt the enforcement of Chapter 22 of the Alien & Nationality Law, pending repeal . . . by the National Legislature”, and “prescribed a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on Dual Citizenship’ Executive Order (to be issued by and) from the President, directing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and consular Officers to ‘relax’ all stringent verification (of Liberian citizenship claims) methods upon natural-born (alleged) Liberians, by taking action to issue Liberian passports and travel documents to ‘natural born’ Liberians with valid documentation proving birth in Liberia, irrespective of being naturalized abroad as well as provide passports to children born abroad to Liberian parents, whether or not such children take (have taken) oath of allegiance when they (children) turn 18 (years of age)”, and that the prescribed “Executive Order should remain in place (force and effect) until a new law is enacted to repeal the existing, Alien & Nationality Law, which deprives natural-born Liberians of their birthrights . . .”.

2. In the argument (“The Case for Adoption of Dual Citizenship in Liberia”), Dr. George Klay Kieh held that:

(a)   “The political economy of Liberia provided the context, and was the basic reason for hundreds of thousands of Liberians to migrate to other countries and acquire naturalized citizenships; that the adoption of dual citizenship in Liberia “will benefit the country in various, major ways . . . social, economic development . . . Clearly, Liberians in the Diaspora . . . constitute the kernel of the country’s skill pool . . . Dual citizenship would enable them to bring their expertise . . . in helping Liberia to address the conundrums of democracy and development”.

(b)   “Liberians in the Diaspora or Dual Citizenship will benefit Liberia, particularly, in its current task of post-conflict reconstruction for social, economic and political development, because it (dual citizenship) will permit Liberian, dual citizens in the Diaspora with the requisite training and experience, to return to Liberia and contribute to the reconstruction and development effort”. 

(c)    “The anti-dual citizenship perspective of the conception of citizenship that an individual (may) can only be a citizen of a single country at a time is absolutist, Byzantine or overly complicated, inflexible”; therefore, ‘several countries – Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Israel, The United Kingdom and the United States – have liberalized their citizenship requirements, so that dual citizenship can be accepted. Similarly, in the case of Africa, several countries . . . do recognize dual citizenship”.

(3) And that “Dual citizenship is about expanding opportunities abroad for native (indigenous) citizens”. These “opportunities, limited in Liberia, include investments, real estate development, jobs (employment), education, travel, etc. . . . Dual citizenship will, definitely, expand opportunities for indigenous Liberians, their children and descendants, in Liberia and the USA, and that Dual citizenship has become a new, global phenomenon to access wealth worldwide; Liberia cannot afford to stay clear of the treasure hunt”.

Our Response

Indeed, the arguments for or against dual citizenship is as much an intellectual inquiry into the changing history of the relationship of the individual and the social, nation-state, as it is in or with respect to the practical realities of the day. This changed/changing, historical relationship had been and is dictated and influenced by socio-cultural, economic and political conditions   throughout recorded history.  Resolution of these passionate arguments and lies, reasonably, in answer(s) to the questions, who or what is a citizen, his/her relationship (though changing) to human organizations, the social state, particularly, in terms of rights, responsibilities and obligations?

But, first a revisit of our response to some of the early arguments by “Liberians in the Diaspora”, Proponents of Dual citizenship in Liberia, led by the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, Inc. (ULAA).

As to Item #1, above

“The Proponents (of dual citizenship in Liberia)”, we held, “failed to show, by constitutional or related legal citations, the unconstitutionality of the 1973 Alien & Nationality Law, a law duly passed and in full force and effect.  Rather, we note that the Proponents ‘prescribed a Don’t ask, Don’t tell on Dual Citizenship’ Executive Order, a request made or to be made of the President of Liberia to order/instruct the relevant ministries and agencies of government not only to ‘lay off’, relax or halt enforcement of the Law (Alien & Nationality (that the President of the Republic is, under law, sworn and obligated to implement and enforce), including verification of alleged Liberian citizenship claims, but also to issue Liberian passports or other travel documents to alleged “natural-born” Liberians, whether or not, such ‘Liberians’ are naturalized citizens of foreign countries. This request, an apparent return to or reminiscent of the past ‘smoke-filled, closed door, back-room, ‘political wheeling & dealing’ is deeply troubling. The problem with this approach of the don’t ask, don’t tell Executive Order, in this context, is that it is improper and illegal, including the indicated objectives”.

As to Item #2

a) In answer, “We agree and admit that the Liberian, Political Economy and its derivatives ( the political class and ruling group) bear the major responsibility for the massive, unprecedented exodus of Liberians into foreign countries. However, with or without these conditions (imposed by the Liberian Political Economy) any Liberian citizen, under Liberian law, may change, his/her Liberian citizenship to acquire any other, foreign citizenship, but he/she may not claim, simultaneously, both Liberian and foreign citizenships – dual citizenship – an act in violation of Section 22.1 of the Liberian, Alien & Nationality Law and Article 28 of the Liberian Constitution of 1986”.

b) “Clearly, Liberians that are trained, experienced professionals and technocrats in the Diaspora . . . constitute (an important part of) the kernel of the country’s skill pool”, we agree and admit; “however, it does not, necessarily, follow that these Liberians are eager, ready and will return to ‘. . . benefit’ Liberia in its social, economic and political development, while living abroad permanently with ‘exclusive’ loyalty and allegiance mortgaged to a foreign country. Most of the hard-cored, leadership of dual citizenship proponents are middle-class Liberians – academics, university professors, lawyers, engineers, doctors, business managers, IT professionals, etc. – some of who have been and are living out of Liberia (invested in homes and retirement income) for almost 15-20 years, although they know that their expertise is not only appreciated, but also in high demand  here, on the ground, in Liberia; for, effective/efficient, relevant change will come only with active involvement of the informed, educated, trained, experienced, courageous and dedicated citizens”.

“Importantly, to those Diaspora-based Liberians with interest for reform, improvement and transformation of our nation’s socio-economic and political order necessary to benefit them and all; to those living in foreign countries who observed and experienced, comparatively, the dynamics of world, democratic, political/economic systems and leadership; and to those who criticize, reasonably and rightly, the policies of our country, but pontificate policy solutions from the relative comfort of distant, developed foreign countries, it is important that we note that no matter the level of one’s academic training and knowledge of the issues; and one’s patriotism, passionate commitment and dedication to socio-economic and political transformation in Liberia, one must be on the ground in Liberia, because one cannot effect democratic change in Liberia by remote control or by osmsis. One must be physically present on the ground in Liberia to observe and experience the dynamics of the socio-economic and political, developmental process – who does and say what to whom, why, how, where, when and the context of these dynamics.

c) As we shall see later, we held that “Throughout human history, the term ‘citizenship’ described and denotes the relationship between the individual – the citizen – and the state, an organized, political community of citizens – the social state.  Although there had been and are continuing, timely changes in the relationships from state to state due, primarily, to peculiar socio-economic and political conditions/obligations that prevail in these states, the basic lawful, obligations are unchanged; therefore, the concept of citizenship remains, essentially and fundamentally, the same.  The handful of countries or nations, out of hundreds of nations worldwide, who ‘liberalized their citizenship requirements’ did so, apparently, in their effort “. . . that dual citizenship can be accepted’, consistent with their peculiar socio-economic and political conditions/requirements”.

“It does not, necessarily, follow”, we noted, “that because some western countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other African countries recognize and accept dual citizenship and ‘liberalized citizenship requirements’, Liberia should and must recognize and accept dual citizenship. In that, Dual citizenship is a clear violation of the basic, binding, lawful obligations – ‘terms & conditions’ – the citizen/state relationship”.

“Furthermore, sovereign nation-states reserve the right and authority, duly recognized by international law, to make and enforce laws, rules and regulations designed to guide and regulate local or domestic actions/interactions, promote, protect and defend their vital interests and those of their citizens, operative and enforceable within their territorial jurisdictions. Liberia is a sovereign nation-state, therefore, Liberia reserves the right and authority to make and maintain its own laws with citizenship requirements, consistent with such laws”.  

(3)  “Mr. A. B. Massaley’s (one of principal speakers at the conference) approach to dual citizenship, among negative others, is and will be license for native (indigenous) Liberians to abandon their country, in droves, in search of the proverbial ‘green pastures’ in foreign countries, in response his argument that ‘opportunities for investments, real estate development, employment, education, etc, are limited in Liberia’. On the contrary, the fact of this matter is that in this country, Liberia, with sparsely-populated, less than 4 million people, there is more land than there are people.  Our country, a tropical country with a history of agriculture as traditional, economic activity, there are tremendous opportunities for investment in food production, not only to provide food security in Liberia, but also for export trade. The enterprising, educated, energetic, idealistic, dedicated, young Liberians can/must take a lesson from neighboring La Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana for cocoa & coffee production, as world leaders as exporters”.

“Endowed with more than its share of natural resources, in relative terms, Liberia is a land of rich soil, lush greenery, adequate, daily sunlight energy, rainfall, rivers and streams with several species of fish, etc. The People’s Republic of China, Japan and India, that rival the USA today, were poor, under-developed nations like us, just some 50 years ago.  No, abandoning our country to take refuge in the comfort of developed, foreign countries, built by hard work and sacrifices of others is not an option, will not resolve the problem of ‘limited opportunities’ nor reduce and, eventually, eradicate poverty, hunger, decease and illiteracy, etc., but will exacerbate and deepen our socio-economic and political malaise.  But there are great and exciting opportunities in Liberia for all Liberians, not only for ‘native’ or indigenous citizens, but opportunities in all sectors of the economy, including foreign travel for investments, corporate partnerships and cooperation”.

Now, “Once-a-Liberian, always-a-Liberian”

As we indicated earlier, the Proponent’s claim of “birthright”, that birthright is “citizenship right”, expressed by and based on their notion of “Once-a-Liberian” (or once born on Liberian soil, then you are) “always-a-Liberian”.   Therefore, we indicated, also, that mutually-binding, timeless resolution of these arguments for and against dual citizenship lies, reasonably, in answer(s) to the questions, who and what is a citizen and citizenship, his/her and its relationship, though changing, periodically, throughout recorded history, to human organizations – the social state – particularly, in terms of rights, responsibilities and obligations, mutually-recognized and enforceable?

What, then, are the facts of history – The State of Nature

There was (or is) a concept of a period in-time, in moral and political philosophy, used in religious, social contract theories and international law, to denote assumed or hypothetical conditions in which people or individuals might or have lived prior to organized societies. This presumption raised some critical questions, such as what was life like before the social-state, how did government first emerge from such position, and what are the hypothetical reasons for entering a state of society, establishing a Nation-State?

This time-period prior to the establishment of government as we know it today, which political philosophers define as the “State of Nature” is known in modern, scientific era not only as hypothetical, but also actual.  This knowledge is the result of studies and investigations by such diverse disciplines as Paleolithic History, Archaeology, Cultural & Social Anthropology and Ethnology, “which (together) investigate the social and power-related structures of indigenous and un-contacted peoples living in tribal communities”.

The Social Contract

One of the noted, political philosophers, principal thinkers and original theorist of the Social Contract was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who held that there were no rights in the state of nature, only freedoms, and that it was and is the Social Contract that created and creates rights and obligations. Thus, the Social Contract, a development produced by human reason, led to the formation of the Social State that translated and translates the mutually-binding and recognized terms and conditions or rules & regulations with rights, responsibilities & obligations of the state to the individual or citizen, and the individual or citizen to the state, defined and dictated by the Social Contract.


An overview of the history of citizen/citizenship shows that, indeed, there was and is a changing relationship between the individual, the citizen, and the political community, the nation-state, based, more or less, on contextual variables. This mode of relationship, according to history, dates from the days of the political thinkers of the ancient, Greek city-states (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) through middle ages to our modern, contemporary times, influenced, primarily, by human reason, the evolution of ideas and socio-economic and political conditions/realities (the French and US Revolutions, etc.). Fundamentally, citizenship is defined by and based on “Love-of-country” – loyalty, allegiance and patriotism.

However, that relationship has been and, in fact, is a contract (the Social Contract), an agreement,  a socio- political contract with “terms and conditions” that defined, gave, and gives, “rights” in return for mutually-binding obligations/responsibilities – the state to the citizen and the citizen to the state – and that although there had been and are continuing, periodic changes in the relationships due, primarily, to peculiar socio-economic and political conditions, the fundamental, basic lawful, mutually-binding obligations are immutable; therefore, the basic concept of citizen & citizenship remain, essentially and fundamentally, the same. 

“Once-a-Liberian, always –a-Liberian”

According to Cllr.-at-Law, Varney Sherman

During his Independence Day (2013) Oration, Cllr. Varney Sherman declared the notion that “Once-a-Liberian, is always-a-Liberian’ and that a natural-born citizen’s rights and benefits of citizenship cannot (may not) be alienated merely by his/her assumption of . . . citizenship of another country”. Since then, Proponents have turned this declaration into a rallying cry for dual citizenship in Liberia. Posted on the worldwide web on September 1, 2013, was a color photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic march on Washington, D. C., USA, some 50 years ago, the proponents claimed that Dr. King’s, also, historic Speech (“I Have a Dream”) is an equivalent reinforcement of “once-a-Liberian, always-a-Liberian”.

1. Citizen/Citizenship/Liberian

These are socio-political conceptions defined, recognized and granted by law (the Social Contract) made by humankind in society – the Social State – an agreement with “terms & conditions” that define mutually-binding obligations/responsibilities of the individual –citizen – to the state – Liberia, in this case – and the state, Liberia, to the individual – citizen.

2. They (the terms) – citizen, citizenship and Liberian have been and are legal descriptions imposed by law (the Social Contract) and granted to individuals (citizens/citizenship/Liberians) by humankind in society (the Social State); therefore, the designations may be rejected, withdrawn or held in perpetuity depending upon the individuals’ disobedience or obedience of the mutually-binding, recognized and accepted rules & regulations or “terms & conditions”.  For examples, (a), one who was born in a foreign country may become citizen of Liberia; while (b), one who was born in Liberia (and citizen of Liberia) may become a naturalized citizen of a foreign country.

3. Jus Soli (right of the soil): There has been and is great deal of emphasis on “Liberia-born” or “birthright citizenship” that may not be denied, according to proponents of dual citizenship, an inalienable right of Liberian citizenship of those born on the soil or the territory of the Republic of Liberia. While this birthright, endowed by nature or a natural-right, may not be denied, with enforcement not only beyond the ability of the Social State, but also that birthright is not citizenship right; citizenship right has been determined and applied, is being determined and applied by humankind in society – the Social State – according to modern, socio-political thought, and on agreed terms and conditions.

And finally, “Stateless” states will grant nationality or citizenship to individuals that would, otherwise, be stateless, having been born on their territories, on ship or airplane. Moreover, Jus Soli is observed by a minority of the world’s countries, the United States and Canada are the only large economies that observe birthright citizenship, according to the IMF. Since 2004, no European country grants unconditional birthright citizenship based on Jus Soli.

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