Liberia: Diaspora Taxation – a Possible Compromise to the Dual Citizenship Debate

Published: 4/Jul/2020
Source: The Bush Chicken (Monrovia)

by Joseph Guannu Bartuah, Jr.

In recent times, there have been interesting conversations surrounding the issue of dual citizenship. The issue is sensitive to both diaspora Liberians (people of Liberian lineage living abroad) and home-based Liberians (Liberian citizens living in Liberia).

As a general view, diaspora Liberians contend that having dual citizenship will allow easy travel that could bring a lot of benefits to the nation, including tourism revenues, easy establishment of business ventures, and their ability to take ownership of family properties.

My understanding is that the current laws do not afford property ownership rights to non-citizens – including Liberians who were previously citizens but adopted another citizenship in a different country.

For home-based Liberians, the issue seems to be primarily of socio-economical concerns. They apparently view diaspora Liberians with suspicion and seek to exclude them from the limited resources of their society. They argue that dual citizenship disadvantages home-based Liberians, making it harder for them to fairly compete for jobs, given the generally more advanced educational standing and experience of most diaspora Liberians. They suspect diaspora Liberians will take on key government positions and send more of Liberia’s limited resources to their western-based families.

Ostensibly, the government of Liberia does not currently recognize dual citizenship. The failure of the government to recognize dual citizenship is assumed in the composition of the Aliens and Nationality Law of 1973. The statute basically states that any Liberian who obtains any other citizenship automatically loses their Liberian citizenship. While the law is still being enforced, its legality within a contemporary context is obviously a contentious topic.

Although not yet tested in court, many contend that the textual language of the Liberian constitution of 1986 prohibits outlawing dual citizenship for some Liberians. After all, the text of the constitution states, “All persons who, on the coming into force of this constitution were lawfully citizens of Liberia shall continue to be Liberian citizens.” The powerful legal language “shall” used in the text implies that at least, some Liberians (those persons who were lawful citizens when the constitution came into effect) will never lose their citizenship. The interpretation of this language is clearly dependent on the Liberian Supreme court.

In a recent case involving a Liberian-American man based in Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court of Liberia made the clearest attempt to solve some of the conflicts surrounding the dual citizenship debate. The case involves Alvin Jalloh, who tried to enter Liberia via the Robert International Airport with an American passport. Although Jalloh is a native-born Liberian, he was denied entry because he did not have a visa. He petitioned the court to declare the government’s action as illegal.

In its landmark ruling, the court made several observations. First, the court recognized that laws enacted before the 1986 constitution, such as the Aliens and Nationality Act of 1973, are enforceable. This opinion gives the government of Liberia a major win. In other words, the government can continue to enforce the Aliens and Nationality Act.

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Themes: Dual Nationality
Regions: Liberia
Year: 2020