Interview byNvasekie N. Konneh ~ (February 25 2006)
As to the legal matter, we are in the process of putting a legal team together so as to challenge § 22.1. of the Alien and Naturalization Laws of Liberia as unconstitutional. Liberians with multiple citizenships should know that the political branches, acting individually or jointly, do not have the authority to summarily deprive a Liberian of his or her Liberian citizenship. The right of Liberians to hold their Liberian citizenship is a fundamental right, and the Constitution requires the government to provide a person with due process of law before such a right maybe taken away....~ Cllr. Jalloh
Until Lusene Donzo’s recent admission of his status as a naturalized American citizen, the unwritten rule in Liberia has been like “don’t ask don’t tell.” That is to say, there are many people working at the highest level of government in Liberia who have American citizenship but won’t tell anyone and no one would ask them. Then came the election of 2005 during which George Weah’s French citizenship became a big issue. While Weah’s case was being debated, it was alleged that three presidential candidates with homes in the Metro Washington DC areas also carry American citizenship. With that information, speculations fell on Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Charles Brumskins, and John Morlue. All three denied ever being naturalized American citizens. Then the case against Weah was dismissed for lack of “sufficient evidence.” With Lusene Donzo’s public admission, the spotlight is once again on dual citizenship.
Recently, Liberian writer, Nvasekie Konneh, interviewed Cllr. Alvin T. Jalloh about the issue that has become the most controversial issue on both sides of the Atlantic. Below is the excerpt from that interview.
Nvasekie N. Konneh: There has been much drama going on about Liberians with American citizenship or Liberians who hold different nationalities since Mr. Lusene Donzo admitted being a naturalized American citizen. What is your view on this development?
Cllr. Alvin T. Jalloh: The public debate about Liberians with multiple citizenships is meaningful. The debate contributes to the growth of our democracy. As the debate continues, however, it is important to note that Mr. Donzo is not the first Liberian to hold multiple citizenships. It is a known fact that an appreciable number of Liberians have held and continue to hold multiple citizenships. Some of these Liberians have served and continue to serve at some of the highest levels in our government. But I believe Mr. Donzo was the first Liberian to admit to having multiple citizenships during an official inquiry for a governmental position. Each side to the public debate should aim to convince the other that its position is more persuasive than the other’s.
NNK: Some Liberians think that it's a matter of envy and jealousy on the part of Liberians who want to deny us our birthrights as Liberians. At a time when Liberia needs the resources and expertise of all her citizens, both inside and outside, why should we be talking about citizenship when we should be discussing how we should come together to develop the nation?
Cllr. Jalloh: I think a big part of the citizenship debate has more to do with misunderstanding than enviousness. For too long, a few political leaders, with exclusive access to the bully pulpit, advanced the unfortunate and erroneous argument that Liberians with multiple citizenships lacked the loyalty that Liberians should have, so such Liberians could not be trusted with leadership positions. And what was the premise of those who advanced such argument? Was it that every Liberian with multiple citizenships had political ambitions and, therefore, such a Liberian, after returning to Liberia and acquiring a governmental position, would turn the country of his or her birth and deep family and other ties over to foreign powers? With the workings of the present, democratically elected government in Liberia, it should be easy to address the absurdity of the loyalty argument, and convince the few who oppose multiple citizenships about what Liberia stands to gain from Liberians with multiple citizenships.
NNK: Some Liberians with dual citizenship have had children born abroad and at the same time, they have continued to maintain strong ties with their native land, by sending money and other material resources, by advocating and lobbying foreign governments for positive changes in Liberia. If we have done all this for the love of the motherland, why should anyone try to deny us the opportunity to participate in the reconstruction process of the nation?
Cllr. Jalloh: There are a number of countries that have laws or unwritten rules, which permit their citizens to have multiple citizenships. And these countries are enjoying the contributions of all their citizens, including those with multiple citizenships. When it comes to Liberia, it would be extremely difficult for even the most ardent opponent against multiple citizenships to ignore the facts of our nation’s tortured history, the present reality that confronts Liberia, and the huge contributions that Liberians with multiple citizenships have made to Liberia and could continue to offer Liberia.
NNK: Senator Cletus Wotorson has two of his nephews here in America whom we believe hold American citizenship. Should he be the one asking this dual citizenship question knowing full well that his own relatives could be affected?
Cllr. Jalloh: I can’t speak to the individual, immigration statuses of Senator Wotorson’s family members. But I do know Senator Wotorson has lived in the U.S., and has some of his family members who are presently in the U.S. The same can be said about other officials within the Liberian government who have lived outside Liberia, and have family members who have lived or are presently living outside Liberia. I believe Senator Wotorson and other lawmakers understand the facts of our nation’s tortured history, the huge reality that confronts our nation, and the continued contributions that Liberians with multiple citizenships could offer the nation. Moreover, President Johnson-Sirleaf has shown that she fully understands the importance of involving Liberians with multiple citizenships in the growth of their country. So, if necessary, the political branches could be convinced to act for the inclusion of all Liberians.
NNK: Cllr. Mohamedu F. Jones has advanced the idea that the Liberian government should grant Permanent Resident Status to Liberians with dual citizenships. As a legal person, do you think this is a valid legal argument?
Cllr. Jalloh: Cllr. Jones’s recommendation for Liberians with multiple citizenships to be granted permanent resident status is not a legal argument because, if necessary, such a status would have to be handled through the political process. Therefore, I believe Cllr. Jones’s recommendation is directed at the two political branches of our government. But one can reasonably conclude that Cllr. Jones is working with the assumption that § 22.1. of the Alien and Naturalization Laws of Liberia, which focuses on loss of citizenship, is constitutional. Or he wouldn’t have recommended permanent resident status for Liberians with multiple citizenships. I, however, believe that § 22.1. of the Alien and Naturalization Laws of Liberia is unconstitutional. So the argument for the government to grant permanent resident status to Liberians, who already have the constitutional right to have multiple citizenships, doesn’t convince me. Therefore, I respectfully disagree with Cllr. Jones’s recommendation for Liberians with multiple citizenships to be granted permanent resident status in their own country.
NNK: You are saying that § 22.1. is unconstitutional. How can this be unconstitutional when it's part of the constitution?
Cllr. Jalloh: § 22.1. of the Alien and Naturalization Laws of Liberia is not part of the Liberian Constitution. § 22.1. was enacted by the then-seated legislature and was signed into law by the then-seated president. Here, a logical argument could be made that § 22.1. was made invalid by, among other provisions, the not inconsistent language of Article 95 of the revised Liberian Constitution. The fact is our nation’s Constitution is the supreme law of the land. So where an act of a political branch, such as § 22.1., conflicts with the requirements of the Constitution, the court has the authority to declare that act unconstitutional.
NNK: Don't you think it will be alright if we were to start campaigning for a constitutional amendment rather than saying § 22.1 is unconstitutional?
Cllr. Jalloh: I am not against any constitutional amendment that will state the citizenship language in a clear and precise manner. While such a clarification would be easier for everyone, I believe that the Liberian Constitution, in its present form, permits Liberians to have multiple citizenships. Therefore, I believe § 22.1, whether presently valid or invalid, is unconstitutional.
NNK: With the citizenships issue one of the hottest in the current national debate, what should Liberians with dual citizenship do?
Cllr. Jalloh: Let me say that it is important for the few who oppose the constitutional right of Liberians to hold multiple citizenships to understand that the citizenship debate does not call for Liberian citizenship to be taken lightly. The fact that Liberians with multiple citizenships are even a part of the citizenship debate should serve as an indication of how they value their Liberian citizenship. Nor is the debate about the desire to violate any valid law or to hold governmental positions. Rather, the legal debate is about honoring the constitutional right of Liberians to have multiple citizenships, and the public debate is about acknowledging our nation’s tortured history and doing what is fair. As for what Liberians with multiple citizenships could do to convince the political branches to act, I think we would agree that the political branches could easily address the citizenship question. To this end, Liberians with multiple citizenships could organize themselves so as to present a strong and persuasive argument to the political branches.
As to the legal matter, we are in the process of putting a legal team together so as to challenge § 22.1. of the Alien and Naturalization Laws of Liberia as unconstitutional. Liberians with multiple citizenships should know that the political branches, acting individually or jointly, do not have the authority to summarily deprive a Liberian of his or her Liberian citizenship. The right of Liberians to hold their Liberian citizenship is a fundamental right, and the Constitution requires the government to provide a person with due process of law before such a right maybe taken away. That means that only an interpretive, judicial pronouncement may deprive a Liberian of his or her Liberian citizenship. So even if an opponent were to argue that § 22.1. survived the not inconsistent language of Article 95 of the Liberian Constitution, only a Liberian court in accordance with a valid law may deprive a Liberian of his or her Liberian citizenship. Therefore, if necessary, we will be prepared to take the citizenship question to court, where § 22.1. of the Alien and Naturalization Laws of Liberia will be strictly reviewed in accordance with, among other constitutional provisions, the strong language of Article 28, which states: “no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality.”