• By: Omari Jackson

President Weah's Decision to Remove Citizenship Restrictions Draws Debates

A constitutional amendment that could eventually allow people of non-Negro descent to become citizens and allow them to own land in the country, as proposed by President George Weah in his state of the nation address on Monday, has not been favorably received by many Liberians interviewed yesterday in Monrovia.

"I don't agree," a young man who would not identify himself said. "Many non-Negroes or white people are rich and the chance that they will take advantage over our poor people to buy their lands cannot be ruled out."

He agreed that while the situation that caused the founding fathers in 1847 to put in a clause denying citizenship to non-negroes does not exist, the huge numbers of people who are poor make the proposed amendment unwelcome.

In an opposing view, Anthony M. Jones said he supports President Weah's announcement that restrictions and citizenship for non-Negroes have outlived their usefulness.

"Many Liberians have large tracts of lands that they don't develop," Jones said. "So if the laws are changed and White people become citizens and own lands, it will mean development for the country," Jones said, adding that the main problem may not be the non-Negroes but Liberian policies that may not be implemented to benefit Liberians.

Jacob Y. Willie said, "I don't agree with President Weah on that one and my reason is that because people of non-Negro descent traditionally have money, there will be too much disadvantage over Liberians."

He explained a recent experience with someone he described as a 'foreigner' that he helped to get some crushed rocks. "When we got there he decided to do things on his own and when I tried to get involved he ended up slapping me. I could do nothing because I could not have the law on my side."

When he was reminded that the issues under discussion have to do with fairness where many Liberians are allowed to become citizens and own properties in foreign countries. He said while that could be true, he still holds on to his position that those who are rich are fond of taking advantage over those who are poor.

On the other hand, Morris W. Cole said he agreed with President Weah because he is aware that others are built by the sweat of all those who are allowed to become part of those countries.

"We are talking about development," he said. "I think allowing non-Negro descents to become citizens and own properties can be a good thing for the country. If we want development, then of course, we must accept them. After all, they are already living with us, building our economy and doing their best to raise their families."

Among others interviewed, yesterday were two brothers Dominic and James Fayiah. Dominic agreed with President Weah but James did not.

Dominic said, "The world is for all of us - White, Black, and Yellow and so when they have that opportunity they will develop the country so we should agree with the President."

He added "It is like in the United States and Europe. There are Liberians who are citizens there so it makes sense that we offer those from there the same privilege to become citizens and own properties."

James on the hand said, "I disagree with the President because such people will have another citizenship somewhere they may be able to take our resources and we will be the loser."

Though the discussion, many admitted, was interesting and while the majority did not agree with President Weah's position, they nevertheless said it will be up to the Liberian people to collectively make decisions that will benefit the country.

"Since Liberia is part of the comity of nations," one said, "we should be prepared to change and be prepared to work for the development of our country."

It may be recalled that President Weah in his state of the Nation Address at the Capitol building said since the founding of the country in 1847, there have been restrictions on citizenship and property ownership that - in his view - have become serious impediments to the development and progress of the 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. The framers of the 1847 Constitution may have had every reason and justification to include these restrictions in that historic document. 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 safe refuge and a haven for free men of color, and so they restricted citizenship only to black people," he said.

President Weah expressed his willingness to grant non-Negros citizenship through a referendum that will be submitted as an additional proposal to the seven accepted among the propositions that were submitted to the Constitution Review Committee last year.

There are Liberians in the Diaspora who have been campaigning for such restrictions to be removed to allow them the opportunity to enjoy dual citizenship status so that they can feel accepted to return home and to benefit from investment provisions that are mainly allocated to Liberian citizens.

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