HONORABLE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:
I would now like to address you on what I consider to be my most urgent and imperative agenda.
Since the founding of this country in 1847, more than 170 years ago, there have been certain restrictions on citizenship and property ownership that – in my view – have become serious impediments to the development and progress of this country. These restrictions include the limitation of citizenship only to black people, the limitation of property ownership exclusively to citizens, and the non-allowance of dual citizenship.
Limitation of Citizenship only to Black People
The framers of the 1847 constitution may have had every reason and justification to include these restrictions in that historic document. In their own words, and I quote:
“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 color shall be admitted to citizenship in this Republic.” [Unquote]
They, as freed slaves, were fleeing from the oppressive yoke of slavery imposed upon them by white slave owners. They therefore wanted Liberia to be “...a refuge and a haven for freed men of color”, and so they restricted citizenship only to black people.
This may have been appropriate for the 19th century, and for the threats and conditions that existed at that time.
However, here in the 21st century, I am of the view that these threats no longer exist, and that these conditions have changed. In these circumstances, it is my view that keeping such a clause in our constitution is unnecessary, racist, and inappropriate for the place that Liberia occupies today in the comity of nations.
It also contradicts the very definition of Liberia, which is derived from the Latin word “liber,” Meaning “Liberty.” I believe that we should have nothing to fear from people of any other race becoming citizen of Liberia, once they conform to the requirements of our Immigration and Naturalization Laws, as maybe appropriately amended to address this new situation.
In fact, we have everything to gain. If we look in our region amongst the other member states of ECOWAS, especially our neighbors in La Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, it will soon be observed that permitting people of other races to become citizens has not marginalized their indigenes.
I believe that this is an anomaly that should not have found its way into the 1986 Constitution [Chapter 4, Article 27]. I therefore strongly recommend and propose, respectfully, that consideration should be given to removing it by appropriate measures provided for in our laws for amending the Constitution [Chapter 12].
Restriction of Land Ownership Exclusively to Citizens
The second provision in our Constitution which tends today to impede our progress and stunt our growth and development is the restriction of land ownership only to Liberian citizens [Article 22-a].
No foreign investor – in fact, not any investor – will be willing to make significant direct investments in our country if they cannot own property in fee simple. Furthermore, direct investments placed on leased properties are virtually unbankable, because most banks are reluctant to accept leaseholds as collateral for loans to persons and business entities for projects that could very well enhance our development and create jobs for our people.
It is inconsistent with my pronouncement that “Liberia is open for business”, while at the same time denying those who would heed our call and come to Liberia to invest, when they are prevented from owning property because of their lack of Liberian citizenship.
Liberian citizens are free to purchase property in any other country as non-citizens, yet our Constitution and laws will not allow similar privileged to be accorded to the citizens of other nations. I therefore strongly recommend that this restriction be removed, and that the appropriate rules and regulations of the Land Commission and other relevant agencies be amended and strengthened to accommodate this new development, if approved by referendum.
The third matter of concern to me is the restriction placed in our Constitution on Liberians holding dual citizenship.
I believe that most Liberians who are also citizens of another country probably acquired the additional nationality as a means to escape from the terrible atrocities, which characterized our civil conflict, and for economic survival in their new countries of residence. If, as a condition precedent for other countries to grant citizenship to these persons, they had to dis-avow their loyalty to Liberia and pledge allegiance to the laws of another country, then it could have been out of necessity, rather than a matter of the heart.
And if conditions now exist in Liberia that make them want to return home and contribute their quota to the development of our common patrimony, then I do not think that it is fair to treat them as noncitizens in the land of their birth. Many Liberians in diaspora have heard my clarion call to return home and bring their energies, skills, talents, and expertise to join us in the building of a New Liberia.
We need them, and so long as they were born in this country, they were Liberians first, and I believe that they should be welcomed back home with open arms. Whether or not they are required to renounce their adopted nationalities, should be a matter of their consciences and the laws which govern their naturalization in their respective domiciles. They should be free to make those choices and decisions.
HONORABLE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN
We are all aware that a Constitutional Review Committee was recently established during the previous administration to review these issues, amongst others. The Report was presented to the Executive, who then duly forwarded it to you for your consideration, and, to the best of my knowledge, it is still tabled and awaiting your action. Our people spoke.