MONROVIA, Montserrado â€“ London-based Liberian scholar Robtel Neajai Pailey held a lecture at the University of Liberiaâ€™s main campus last Wednesday to present the findings of her doctoral research on dual citizenship and nationality.
Her 350-paged thesis, which is titled, â€œThe Love of Liberty Divided Us Here? Factors Leading to the Introduction and Postponement in Passage of Liberiaâ€™s Dual Citizenship Bill,â€ studied the various constructions and practices of Liberian citizenship throughout history. Paileyâ€™s effort was particularly geared at understanding public opinion and sentiments regarding the 2008 dual citizenship bill sponsored by four senators, including Jewel Howard Taylor.
That bill, in addition to legislating dual citizenship, attempted to reconcile the conflict between the constitution and the Alien and Nationality Law. The Law discriminated against women in allowing citizenship to only be passed to children of Liberian men, but not of Liberian women.
Pailey spent 14 months interviewing seven Sierra Leonean policy makers as well as 202 LiberiansÂ from a wide demographic of society including policy makers, domestic citizens, returnees, and diaspora Liberians in the capital cities of Ghana, Sierra Leone, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Liberia.
Her framework looked at the various layers of citizenship to better understand the issue. Â In the study, Pailey found that people of different race, gender, age, class, and ethnicity experience citizenship differently in Liberia. For example, because of their trading and migratory patterns â€“ fundamental elements associated with their ethnicity and identity â€“ the Mandingos are not viewed as citizens by many other Liberians. Lebanese and Indian nationals are another group in the country who cannot, despite being born in Liberia, become citizens because of the notorious â€˜Negro clauseâ€™ in the constitution that bars them.
In the interviews, Pailey saw a broad definition of citizenship. Citizenship was viewed from as a simple birthright, to the more active definition where citizenship is based on oneâ€™s contributions and responsibilities in society. Â On the active end, it is expected for you to â€œdo more than just exist as a Liberian.â€
Not surprisingly, Pailey said people based in Monrovia â€œwere more concerned about the contributions or the responsibility or the obligations side of the spectrum than those who were abroad.â€ That observation was consistent with similar conclusions arrived at by scholars in the field.
â€œOne of the things I noticed is that domestic citizens have a particular stake in development that transnational citizens may not and that boils down to the fact that when you have elections in Liberia and a particular legislator wins, those who are residents in the country feel the effects of that particular legislative decision more than those who live outside the country,â€ Pailey said, explaining the tangible reason for the skew in Monrovia-based Liberians being more concerned about active citizenship. â€œAnd I suspect â€“ and this is my hypothesis â€“ that those who reside in Monrovia were particularly wedded to the contribution spectrum of the Liberian citizenship continuum much more than those who live abroad because they feel the effects of underdevelopment. They feel the effects of political turmoil much more than those who live abroad.â€
Accordingly, the fact that the dual citizenship bill did not clarify the rights and obligations of dual citizens was concerning to her interviewees: â€œSo for instance, questions came up about whether a dual citizen could be the president of Liberia. Questions came up about whether or not a dual citizen could be the minister of defense of Liberia, whether or not a dual citizen could own land,â€ she said.
Pailey summed up the reasons why some Liberians refused to support the proposal: â€œThose who reject dual citizenship say itâ€™s going to privilege an already privileged people.â€ These Liberians feel that they would not reap the full benefits of citizenship if others were provided a path to citizenship.
The discussion Liberians are having on dual citizenship is nothing new to countries around Africa. â€œThe same discussions, the same consultations, the same tensions weâ€™re having in Liberia â€“ Sierra Leone went through the same pattern of discussion,â€ Pailey said. Sierra Leone â€“ and Ghana â€“ eventually passed dual citizenship laws.
After her extensive research on the issue, the Liberian academic concluded that the currently proposed bill was lacking in specificity. â€œThe dual citizenship legislation as we know it now has to reconcile with those claims about the fact that citizenship is not just about the passive end â€“ the identity-based, the rights and privileges side of the spectrum; citizenship is also about the active-based rights and responsibilities part of the spectrum,â€ she said. â€œYou have to specifically and explicitly state in the bill what it means to be a citizen and also what your obligations are as a dual citizen.â€
Pailey is currently a senior researcher at the University of Oxfordâ€™s International Migration Institute, and she is currently writing a book proposal based on her thesis to send to interested publishers, including Cambridge University Press. She previously served as an adjunct instructor at both the University of Liberia and Stella Maris Polytechnic.
This article has been edited to indicate that Pailey interviewed 7 Sierra Leonean policy makers as well as 202 Liberians instead of 200 Liberians. Featured photo by Jefferson Krua