On race, citizenship and property in Liberia: A sociologist’s point of view

Published: 19/Mar/2008
Source: The Perspective (Atlanta)

By: Konia T. Kollehlon

As Liberians begin to rebuild various aspects of their material culture (i.e, roads, bridges, buildings, etc) from 14 years of devastating civil war, I hope that they will also take the time to revisit, repair, and, where necessary, rebuild various aspects of their non material culture (norms, values, social structure ) as well.

A particular aspect of Liberia’s non material culture that concerns me in this essay is the norm (law/constitutional provision) regarding the relationship between race, citizenship, and the ownership of real property in Liberia. I propose that the constitutional provision which states that only Negroes or people of Negro descent shall become citizens of Liberia, and that only citizens can own real property be revisited and repealed.

This constitutional provision seems to be inconsistent with the modern view and practice of citizenship today, may be somewhat illogical upon closer examination, may impede the economic development of the country, and simply smacks of racism.

The position that I take here is quite consistent with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s view [in her Third State of the Nation Address of January, 2008] that “it is perhaps timely that we begin to think about possible changes to our constitution so as to bring it more in line with modern practices of governance.” She further adds that despite the changes that have been made to the original constitution of 1847 and the revised constitution of 1986, “there is still room for improvement and the need for revisions….”

In order to elaborate further on the above, it is necessary to, among other things, first present the verbatim wordings of this constitutional provision , state some fundamentals about culture and its components, as these have important bearings on the constitutional provision and the discussion that follows, and then provide some specific reasons why I think that this constitutional provision should be rescinded.

Article 27 (b) of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia states that: “In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.”

With respect to the ownership of real property (i.e, land, immovable infrastructural capital like buildings, etc), Article 22 (a) of Liberia’s 1986 Constitution further states that “Every person shall have the right to own property alone as well as in association with others, provided that only Liberian citizens shall have the right to own real property within the Republic.”

Article 22 (c and d) makes exceptions for non citizen missionary, educational, benevolent institutions, and foreign diplomatic missions, which may temporarily own real property as long as such property is used for the purpose(s) for which acquired.

With this exception, the gist of Article 27 (a) and Article 22 (b) is that for the preservation of Liberian culture, only Negroes (or descendants of Negroes) can become Liberian citizens; and only citizens (who can only be Negroes and/or their descendants) can own real property.

From the first provision, one can infer that Liberia bases citizenship rule primarily on the principle of ius/jus sanguinis (law of the blood/blood right), which is citizenship acquired on the basis of being a descendant of a Liberian citizen; since ius/jus soli (law of the soil/land right), which is a form of birthright citizenship, applies only to persons, one or both of whose parents is/are already a Liberian citizen. Non citizen Negroes (whether born in or outside of Liberia) can acquire Liberian citizenship through naturalization (of course, after satisfying other criteria).

Read further here.

Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, Dual Nationality
Regions: Liberia
Year: 2008