By T. Wehto Sungbeh
The Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), in collaboration with the Liberian Embassy and other Liberian organizations is spearheading a “Pro-Dual Citizenship” conference in Washington D.C from December 7-8 to increase awareness about dual citizenship.
According to Emmanuel Wettee, who chairs the All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship, the strategy is to “develop a comprehensive 4-point plan that will be presented to lawmakers” in Monrovia, with the hopes that the lawmakers will support the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of Liberians living out of the country who wants to participate in their country’s political and development process.
Attorney A. Teage Jalloh, who filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the Liberian government challenging sections 22.1 and 22.2 of the Alien and Nationality Act, said during an interview with this website that the law, which “automatically deprives a person of his or her Liberian citizenship,” also “violates the due process clause and other provisions of the 1986 Constitution.”
Even though Attorney Jalloh clearly stated that his lawsuit is not about dual citizenship, he however believes the law has to be challenged because it is unconstitutional.
This is hardly the first time this issue has gotten such mileage in the public sphere. In fact, the national and presidential elections of 2005 and 2011 forcefully elevated the dialogue and galvanized Diaspora Liberians, who always felt disenfranchised to push for an active role in the affairs of their birth country.
This is particularly true when people who were once denied their constitutional rights for a long period of time, opts for radical change that empowers and sheds light on their country’s ever-changing constitution.
At the end of the day, however, most Liberians were given a chance to speak on this issue, which has proven to be emotional to one group, and problematic to others because it’s about real people, real families and a country many left behind to find better opportunities in another country.
As it is with any burning issue, there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum who wants to be heard in the most colorful and dramatic way. On the other end, there are others whose thoughtfulness and compassion gives enormous reasons to seriously listen to the issues at stake.
The anti-dual citizenship groups, however, argues that the other side is pushing for dual citizenship only to game their adopted country, and would runaway as quickly as he or she can to their birth country (vice versa) when that person is in trouble.
What is often overlooked is the fact that Liberians who painfully leave their birth country for opportunities abroad have not forgotten their native country and the countless relatives, friends, schools, place of worships and the cherished and loving neighborhoods that influenced their upbringing.
Another thing that’s often forgotten is also the fact that those Liberians always transmit remittances to their relatives and institutions that helped them to be what they are today.
So if Liberians are unable to prosper in their own country because of their government’s inability to provide them opportunities for personal growth, would it not be in the interest of the Liberian government to warmly embrace those that wants to give back through dual citizenship and the other benefits that comes with it?
As a true believer in grassroots activities, I always looked forward to a day of this kind that get Liberians to address and possibly find practical solutions to the issues that confronts their country. I expect ULAA, as a leader among Liberian organizations to aggressively take on that role and many other roles.
Unfortunately, ULAA has shown no interest in advocating these issues, because speaking forcefully could possibly derail the employment chances of some of its opportunistic ‘leaders’ who aspires to be appointed to government jobs in the Sirleaf administration.
ULAA just cannot get off the hook from this end for staging a conference on dual citizenship, when the same ULAA continues to sit and watch silently from the sidelines as other equally important national issues make headlines in Liberia.
As an umbrella organization that supposed to represent the interests of Liberians, ULAA should have done more to inspire hope and confidence, but has been woefully negligent, grossly ineffective, painfully absent, fractious, missing in action, and poorly run to be taken seriously as an organization.
That has made ULAA irrelevant in the eyes of many Liberians. And staying relevant perhaps could be the reason why ULAA embarked on this dual citizenship issue – a far cry from their non-involvement in other hot-button national issues such as nepotism, corruption, poverty, decentralization, erosion/evironmental and unemployment that continues to make the daily news in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration.
Constitutional change is needed in Liberia, period. If the constitutional is revisited and genuinely amended could encourage business-minded Liberians to engage in business that spurs growth and development. That too could also encourage politically savvy and genuinely progressive Liberians in the Diaspora to settle there and run for office in their birth country.
That way, the Liberian people can be fully represented and not exploited. And their votes cannot be bought with empty rhetoric and bags of rice from “Senators” and “Representatives” who live in the capital, Monrovia, and not in their respective districts.
ULAA can definitely do better!