Serving disadvantaged communities in West Africa by empowering local leaders who have a positive humanitarian vision for their community.
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That is the amount of money Liberians living in the United States send annually to family in Liberia. These remittances account for over 6.2% of Liberia’s GDP.
The significance of the diaspora’s economic contributions begs an important question: if these skilled, educated men and women were permitted citizenship in both Liberia and the US, would they be able to have a greater impact on the reconstruction and economic development of their country?
The majority of the diaspora population in the US immigrated as a result of the Liberian Civil Wars, which ravaged the country and destroyed its infrastructure. Many applied for US citizenship in order to benefit from scholarships and find employment that could support their families back home. Because Liberia does not allow dual citizenship, however, the diaspora is now unable to fully participate in the reconstruction and development of the country.
The concept of a diaspora is at the heart of GroundUp Global’s work with Liberian refugees in Ghana. Our fundraising strategy empowers the Liberian diaspora to invest in the future of their country by helping over 2,000 refugees return home.
The push for dual citizenship is gaining momentum in the diaspora community, but has its detractors as well.
I am very worried about this generally and feel strongly that dual citizenship would further entrench this diaspora divide and the inequality and social hierarchies it creates, reinforces, and sustains.
- John Sheehy, Grow2Feed Project
The issue is admittedly complex, and as a result there has been more talk than action surrounding dual citizenship in Liberia. The Liberian Symposium, organized by Ambassador Sulunteh and Press Minister Gabriel Williams, sought to galvanize these conversations into the beginnings of policy. Ambassador Sulunteh assured the Symposium that a full report of the speeches, discussions, and opinions expressed that day would be submitted to the Liberian government.
Major takeaways from the conference include:
• Many Liberians living in the US applied for citizenship in order to take advantage of the scholarships and job opportunities they knew would allow them to help their families back home. Doing so, however, meant they lost their Liberian citizenship.
• The Diaspora is Liberia’s middle class: an critical argument for their inclusion into the country’s decision-making process.
• Capital flight is an issue raised by both sides of the dual citizenship debate. Interestingly, recorded capital flight in Liberia actually reversed between 1999-2010 and, according to Tax Justice Network research, is now reversed to -2.2bn. Flight stock, however, was estimated at a considerable $5.5bn in 2010.
The former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Madame Olubanke King-Akerele, encouraged the creation of a private sector program that would allow members of the diaspora to invest in enterprise and entrepreneurship in their home country. She told the group “You have to be on the ground. You cannot sit in America and say ‘we are waiting for the government of Liberia.’ … Our economy for all practical purposes is in the hands of foreigners…We have to act. We cannot wait.”
Many panelists echoed this sentiment. Dr. Sakui Malakpa gave a beautiful speech whose refrain, “there’s no place like home,” became a mantra of the Symposium. Malakpa spoke of lasting trauma created by the Liberian civil wars saying, “the hurt cannot continue endlessly” and encouraging Liberians to focus on unity as a means of healing.
A long line formed behind the microphone as the Q&A portion of the first panel began. GroundUp Global Executive Director, Camilla Hermann spoke on behalf of the Liberian refugees on Buduburam, asking the panel what they thought the role of the diaspora should be in helping the displaced Liberians return home.
Many others told personal stories in support of dual citizenship. GroundUp Global asked our twitter followers to weigh in on the subject:
We need to proceed with caution, weigh the pros and cons, and reform the constitution.
- Saran Kaba Jones, FACE Africa
The vast majority of Liberians had no means to make it to the US [during the Liberian civil wars] and so they were stuck here and suffered through the conflict. There is a fair amount of resentment around that within the society, particularly as the new government has many of its more prominent leaders and ministers coming from exiles and the diaspora. There is a sentiment of, ‘where were you when we were barely surviving?’
- John Sheehy, Grow2Feed Project
I personally support dual citizenship but as a former student leader who has advocated for equitable distribution of our resources and realizing how most of our well-to-do have everything outside Liberia, I think we must proceed with extreme caution. We don’t want to give citizenship to folks who have no heart in Liberia. Capital flight, and the using of our country’s resources to acquire homes in other countries could stagnate our growth. There is a reason fo anti-diasporan sentiments. I personally think that our constitution is discriminatory. The entire constitution needs reform.
- Sheikh Kafumba Dukuly II, former student leader at the University of Liberia @sheikhkdukuly2
I think the anti-diaspora sentiments come from anger. We have it better. [We] had a chance to leave the suffering. Other’s didn’t. That’s why people are so mistrusting.