Liberians can hold dual citizenship until the government takes them to court and a judgement is given against them.
In 2005, Sarah moved from Liberia to America with her parents. By 2010, she naturalised as an American. However, at her naturalisation, the Liberian Aliens and Nationality Law automatically revoked her Liberian citizenship and made her illegible for a Liberian passport. This law is in line with a constitutional provision that bars dual citizenship for adults.
Sarah's case isn’t uncommon. After he was denied a Liberian passport by the Liberian embassy in Washington because he was American, Alvin Jalloh - a Liberian who naturalised as an American- sued the Liberian government.
In a 2019 judgement, the Liberian supreme court held that despite naturalising, Alvin could not be denied a Liberian citizenship and passport till he was tried in court. The court opined that citizenship was a right that could not be revoked without trial.
Pursuant to this 2019 ruling, in September of this year, the Liberian ministry of foreign affairs was instructed to issue passports to Liberians who naturalised to other nationalities.
While there were Liberians who possessed passports of two countries prior to the new directive. It was illegal under the former law. The new government directive has created a legal loophole through which Liberians can hold dual citizenship until the government takes them to court and a judgement is given against them.
In an October 2021 press release, President George Weah described the decision of the supreme court as momentous and a victory for all Liberians. He also hailed the government’s directive as a “fulfilment of his long-held desire to ensure Liberians of all persuasions, who left the country due to the civil war, are not deprived of their rights and privileges in the land they regard as home”.
Citizenship in Liberia
In Liberia, citizenship is restrictive to a large extent. Liberia -which was formed by freed slaves from America and the Caribbean- restricts citizenship to people of negro decent, and prohibits adults from holding dual citizenship.
Liberians are largely split on the issue of dual citizenship. In 2008, a proposed bill to allow for dual citizenship didn’t pass in the legislature. Similarly, delegates in a 2015 Constitutional Review Conference voted to maintain the status quo with regards to citizenship. In 2020, Liberians voted against allowing dual citizenship in a referendum.
In contrast, large parts of Liberian society and Liberians in the diaspora have also supported and lobbied extensively in favour of dual citizenship. A significant portion of Liberians in the diaspora include Liberians who fled the country during its two civil wars that spanned 14years. A lot of these Liberians naturalised as citizens of the country they migrated to, thus losing Liberian citizenship as per the former law.
After assuming presidential office in 2018, George weah expressed support for dual citizenship. Weah himself is affected by the law as his wife is Jamaican, and his son is an American citizen who plays for the united states national soccer team.
Recently, numerous publications have reported the new directive and the 2019 supreme court ruling as a reversal of Liberia’s prohibition of dual citizenship, instead of a ruling on legal due process.
In a statement on October 21, the Liberian senate said that the issue of Dual Citizenship in Liberia is yet to be resolved. And while the Senate plans to propose amendments to the current law to allow for due process, they stated their belief that a referendum on the constitution is the permanent way to allow for Dual Citizenship.
According to Dr Robtel Neajai Pailey, a Liberian scholar and author of Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa, she says "The December 2019 Supreme Court ruling does not automatically authorize dual citizenship. It only states that a jus soli Liberian who naturalises abroad cannot be stripped of his/her Liberian citizenship without due process.”
She says further that while she believes dual citizenship is "inevitable for Liberia given national and continental trends, the country must address the many historical and contemporary inequalities that fuel backlash against dual citizenship as evidenced in a failed referendum proposition of December 2020.”
Much ado about citizenship
Liberians' split views on dual citizenship isn’t without its reasons. In Liberia, citizenship not only represents identity, it is also a statutory requirement for the ownership of land.
Land is a highly contested and expensive resource. However, the country’s gross national income per capita stood at just $530 in 2020. This, coupled with the domination of Liberia’s economy by foreign companies and a significant Lebanese and Asian trader community. There are fears that allowing dual citizenship could mean the introduction of actors with larger spending power who would outbid regular Liberians in the ownership of land and the economy.
Additionally, opponents of dual citizenship fear that it could provide a gateway to corrupt politicians looking to escape probe and persecution. This fear is not unfounded.
In 2013, Ellen Corkrum, the then managing director of the Liberia Airport Authority had American citizenship. When she was indicted on corruption charges, she evaded prosecution by fleeing to the United States.
In contrast, supporters of dual citizenship argue that it would open the country up for more investment. Liberia currently ranks 175 among 190 economies in the latest world bank ease of doing business ratings.
There is also the hope that Liberians in the diaspora would invest more in the country if given dual citizenship. World bank data state that personal remittances compose 11 percent of Liberia national gdp. In 2015, it stood at 20 percent.
In 2020, Ghana’s Minister of Tourism stated that the celebration of the Year of Return not only increased tourism and migration to Ghana, it also injected about $1.9bn (£1.5bn) into the economy. As Liberia prepares to celebrate the bi-centennial landing of freed slaves in Liberia. There is the hope that recent directives towards dual citizenship would help to trigger similar results.
While the issue of dual citizenship is far from resolved in Liberia, Sarah is more optimistic of the future. She agrees that there is more work to be done, however, she says she is happy and enjoying the “little wins”