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Say no to referendum

-Dr. Whapoe

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Just months before the holding of the mid-term senatorial election which is expected to include a referendum on reducing the length of presidential and legislative terms and the right to dual nationality, the political leader of the Vision for Transformation Party is urging citizens here to reject the referendum.

Dr. Jeremiah Whapoe, who is an organizing member of the Rainbow Coalition, a coalition comprising of more than 11 opposition political parties say altering the portion of the Liberian constitution that speaks to the issue of dual citizenship is not in the interest of the Liberian people.

Dr. Whapoe in an exclusive interview with this paper Monday during which time he spoke on a wide range of issues said the country is not prepared to grant non-negro citizenship here. He further noted that it is just dead wrong to entertain dual citizenship and yet deny individuals the right to hold elective positions.

He believes that for Liberians who have naturalized elsewhere and intend to be accepted through the dual citizenship clause should be allowed to hold elective positions except for the position of President and vice president. The Liberian Aliens and Nationality Law prohibits dual citizenship except in limited circumstances. This has been criticized as detrimental to links between Liberia and the diaspora.

Liberia confers nationality solely on the basis of race. Under the current Liberian constitution, only persons of black African origins may obtain citizenship, although Liberian law allows members of other races to hold permanent residency status.

Article V, Section 13 of the 1847 Constitution states: “The great object of forming these Colonies, being to provide a home for the dispersed and oppressed children of Africa, and to regenerate and enlighten this benighted continent, none but persons of colour shall be eligible to citizenship in this Republic.” The phrasing “persons of colour” was changed to “Negroes or persons of Negro descent” in a 1955 revision.

Article 28 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution also states: “Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the Person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia, provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country.”

It adds that no citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality. It could be recalled that during a debate on the provisions last year, lawmakers argued that Liberia shouldn’t encourage dual citizenship because it will cause divided loyalty.

SenatorGbleh-bo Brown of Maryland County argued at the time that being a citizen of two countries undermines the loyalty of the individual, saying everyone should hold loyal only to a particular country. According to him, accepting dual citizenship here will undermine Liberia’s sovereignty, warning further that it has a lot of disadvantages because more money will be leaving the country than coming in.

But Gbarpolu County Sen. ArmahJallah who countered the argument then said accepting dual citizenship will be more beneficial to Liberia as a whole.

Sen. Jallah argued then that if a foreign national is granted a Liberian citizenship, he or she will feel free to invest in Liberia, knowing that he is a citizen. For his part, Bong County Sen. Henry Yallahbelieved then that dual citizenship will bring development to the country, noting that Liberians will benefit a lot from it.

President George Manneh Weah re-awakened the dual citizenship debate here just while delivering his first annual message before the joint chambers of the Legislature in January 2018, when he described the Constitution as racist. Like his predecessor, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President Weah is supportive of dual citizenship, including people of non-negro descent becoming citzens here, arguing that it could lead to rapid development.

But according to Dr. Whapoe, whatever form in which politicians are decorating this provision about the dual citizenship, one thing that he opposes is the fact that dual citizens can’t hold elective positions. This he said of Liberians who have naturalized elsewhere and want to return and participate in the country’s democratic space. Of the non-Negros, he said mockingly, if you want to give non-negro citizenship you just as well should allow them to hold elective positions too.-By Othello B. Garblah

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